We continue with our Big 10 Football Q & A sessions by taking a look at some of the teams that could show the most improvement over last season, and which teams may be overrated.
We are once again joined by our panel of Big 10 football experts, including Joe Beale of Eleven Warriors, Kevin McGuire of the Nittany Lions Den, Eric Cooper of Buckeye House Call, Andrew Coppens of MadTown Badgers, Ryan Aylsworth of Midnight Maize and The Saturday Edge’s own Maggiore enlightening us with his Big 10 football acumen.
Joe Beale - Eleven Warriors: The easy answer to the first question is Ohio State. With the level of talent that OSU has, they could hardly do worse than last year’s record of 6-7. And with Urban Meyer now at the helm, this team is a few WR’s and a consistent offensive line away from wreaking havoc in the conference.
A sleeper for this question is Indiana. The Hoosiers could not do worse than last year’s 1-11 mark, and with one of the nation’s easiest non-conference schedules they should do a lot better than that. They could give Illinois and Penn State (both with first-year head coaches) a run for 4th in the Leaders division.
Most overrated: Wisconsin. There’s no question that Montee Ball is a great runner, but there are numerous questions for this team to answer and relying on another transfer to come in and save the day at the team’s most important position is not exactly a confidence-builder, especially when that transfer is not Russell Wilson.
I know I said above that O’Brien could become a star, and that is certainly possible, but last season he threw 10 interceptions against only 7 TD’s, and this year he will be playing against more difficult competition. Everyone thinks that the Badgers can just reload after losing so many starters but count me as one who is suspicious, especially considering what Brett Bielema’s track record was before Wilson stepped on campus.
Kevin McGuire - Nittany Lions Den: Illinois is a team that is seeing their stock rise after making a coaching change. Removing Ron Zook from the program and replacing him with Tim Beckman should revitalize the offense a bit and could see Nathan Scheelhaase really shine as a dual-threat option. Beckman took Toledo from a 3-9 program to contending for a MAC championship with a high-scoring offense. That will be needed after seeing the offense lose their sizzle as the 2011 season played on.
With a decent offense and a solid defense that should still be good in 2012 despite losing some key players, Illinois could surprise some people around the Big Ten this season, if they can show more consistency from start to finish, that is.
As much as I believe Michigan is capable of making a run to a Big Ten title in Brady Hoke’s second season in Ann Arbor, I am a tad surprised they have received as much hype as they have to this point. The offense loses three wide receivers and a pair of tight ends and two offensive lineman, which means the Denard Robinson show will be in high gear once again. But how much can Michigan rely on Robinson? This season everybody will have a game plan for him like never before, starting with Alabama, who will attempt to set the standard right out of the gate.
Also, take a look at Michigan’s schedule. The Wolverines not only open the season against Alabama on a neutral field, but they also make trips to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State this season. Those trips are rarely easy, and could be extra tricky this season with all three looking for revenge wins after last season.
Eric Cooper - Buckeye House Call: I know I shouldn’t be biased, but it’s hard to imagine this years Ohio State squad going 6-7 again, even in Urban’s free year. Not all of the tools are their in Columbus yet, and Urban has made this blatantly clear, but I believe this team will improve to a 9-3 season this year if not better in Coach Meyer’s first season in Columbus.
Wisconsin should be ready for a down year. Even with Montee Ball coming back for an encore and Maryland tranfer Danny O’Brien coming in to replace the uber talented Russell Wilson, Wisconsin hemorhaged coaches in the offeason, losing the majority to departed offensive coordinator Paul Chryst at Pitt. You don’t lose nearly all of your coaching staff and expect to produce the same results.
Andrew Coppens - MadTown Badgers: Overrated is easy to pick to me and that’s Ohio State. Yes, Urban Meyer will make this team better, but most are predicting a one loss campaign coming from pretty much exactly the same team that had a losing record last season. Asking that kind of a turnaround is a bit much if you ask me.
Staying in the Leaders division I think you’ll see the greatest improvement from Illinois. Beckman has an absolute gem of a QB in Nathan Scheelhaase who just didn’t have the confidence late last season and I don’t think you’ll see a Beckman coached team go 6-0 and then 0-6 to end the season. They may not have a much better record but they will be a much better team.
Ryan Aylsworth - Midnight Maize: OSU struggled last year for so many reason. With Meyer as the new coach I I expect them to be improved.
As for overrated, I hate to say it but it has to be Michigan. The schedule is brutal. We lost Mike Martin our best defensive player and Ryan Vanburgan so the defensive line has a ton to prove. The wide outs are thin on talent with Stonum being tossed from the team and Junior Hemingway graduating. Someone will need to step up in that group as well.
Tomorrow we conclude our Big 10 football Q & A by taking a closer look at the Alabama vs Michigan game. Tell us who you think ate some of the overrated and underrated teams in the Big 10 this year. Thanks – Pez.