2015-08-31

FBS - Preview 2015 - The Big 10 Conference

The Big10 is on a high at the moment.
Ohio State won the conference last season and after that they did win the National Championship.
As a result of this, the Michigan Wolverines, Ohio States arch rival, did make a big splash in the coaches marked and pulled one of the biggest names available.
The got Jim Harbaugh, who was let go by the 49ers after the 2014 season.
It will be fun to see, if he can live up the hype.

Many other teams did change coaches or did sharpen their coaching personal, so a nice season should be coming.

Big Ten Conference
The best thing of the Big10 to say from my point of view is, that they did get lost of the idiotic division names (Legends and Leaders) and gave the divisions "normal" names, East and West.
The team list got bigger when Rutgers and Maryland did join last season and they also changed some teams from one division to another one.
Overall I think the conference did their homework and as far as it can be judged now, it should be ready for the next seasons to come.

The 14 teams are:

East Division:
Indiana University Hoosiers
University of Maryland Terrapins
University of Michigan Wolverines
Michigan State University Spartans
Ohio State University Buckeyes
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) Nittany Lions
Rutgers Universityâ€"New Brunswick Scarlet Knights

West Division:
University of Illinois at Urbanaâ€"Champaign (Illinois) Fighting Illini
University of Iowa Hawkeyes
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
University of Nebraskaâ€"Lincoln (Nebraska) Cornhuskers
Northwestern University Wildcats
Purdue University Boilermakers
University of Wisconsinâ€"Madison (Wisconsin) Badgers

Now let's get a bit into the details:
East Division

Indiana Hoosiers
It's not an easy time at Indiana.
In basketball the team did had a great season in 2012/2013 (conference champion) and since then for the last 2 seasons they did not really click.
For a basketball school that's not good.
In football, the team did had their last bowl season in 2007 with a 7-6 record, including a bowl loss.
Some experts did see a turnaround in 2013, but the team felt short with 5 wins to qualify for a bowl and last season they ended up with 4 wins.
No easy times in Indiana.
I'm not expecting a big turnaround this season, either.
Kevin Wilson, the HC, is in his 5th season and I'm not sure if he can survive another sub bowl season.
They will start against Southern Illinois (FCS) to get an easy win and will then play FIU, which probably will be a win, too.
WKU the week after will be tougher and they might get upset here, but if all things go normal, they should win here.
The last non conference game will be against Wake Forest on the road, which might end up in a loss.
I picked Wake Forest as a loser here, so the Hoosiers might end up with 4 wins after those 4 games.
Sounds unbelievable.
They got of the west division Iowa at home and Purdue on the road, which might be a bad combination.
Iowa is never easy and even at home this might be a stronger team than Indiana can handle.
Purdue on the other side might be a team in the league as Indiana, but on the road it will get tougher, especially as a 2nd consecutive road game as it is this season.
The rest of the games are against their division teams, with most of them better than Indiana is at the moment. I think.
Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan? Losses, all of them. A win there would be a huge upset.
Which leaves Rutgers at home and Maryland on the road.
I think, if they have a chance here, it's the Rutgers game.
Maryland looks like a rising force, Rutgers might need some time.
Overall the whole schedule inside the conference looks challenging for Indiana, hence the prediction they might not get a bowl season.
Even if they win all 4 non conference games, they might not even win that 1 conference game they won last season.
If that happens, I think we will see a coaching change.
I pick them last in the division.

Maryland Terrapins
It's the 2nd season for Maryland in the Big10, coming from the ACC, where they had some tough seasons in the past few years.
Ralph Friedgen, a long time HC since 2001 took them through highs (2001 conference title and several very positive seasons) and lows (2009 only 2 wins, several losing seasons) and was let go after the 2010 season.
The not so funny thing in this case is, 2010 the Terps did win 9 games, including a bowl win.
Still, he was fired and did accept a new job in 2014 for Rutgers as OC.
His successor at Maryland became Randy Edsall, at that time a long time UConn HC.
He started 2-10 and brought Maryland up to 7-6, including a bowl loss, in 2013, their last season in the ACC.
In 2014 the finished with the same result, just a different bowl and with 1 more win in the conference and 1 less win against non conference teams.
Overall he is 20-30 (in 10 season was Ralph Friedgen 75-50), so the question is if the Terps will go down a bit this season, or up?
They will play all non conference games in September, starting with Richmond (FCS), Bowling Green, South Florida and West Virginia on the road, which is a rivalry game.
Don't expect too much here.
Richmond will be a win, but Bowling Green is a tough cookie from the MAC, as could be South Florida and regarding the WV-game I see only a loss.
A record of 3-1 is still possible.
Playing Iowa and Wisconsin won't help much to get some wins and if they are lucky the will win 1 of those, but I expect 0.
The rest will be not very funny.
Indiana and Rutgers will be the most likely beatable teams.
I do expect a split record against those teams.
The home game most likely a win (Indiana).
This adds up to even less win than last season.
Don't get me wrong, I think they Terps are on a good way, the thing is, I think most of the other teams in the Big10 are improving faster.
I see them as 6th in the division.

Michigan Wolverines
Brady Hoke is gone, he burned his reputation at Michigan.
Maybe the step was too much for him from San Diego State to Michigan, maybe the stuff around the Michigan job, the media, the fans and so on, was too much?
Anyway, the team went from 11 wins, to 8 wins, to 7 wins and on his last season to 5 wins.
It was clear the administration had to change something and they fired him and got Jim Harbaugh.
The Coach of the San Francisco 49ers and former HC of Stanford.
He left the 49ers with some anger I think, getting more or less axed after a 8-8 season, following 3 consecutive division titles, 11+ win seasons and 3 trips to at least the NFC championship game.
That was a big splash for the Wolverines.
The hype is up and that's what Michigan needs.
Ohio State, their arch rival, did win the national championship last season, while they did not even reach a bowl.
Now there are 2 big name coaches in the same division.
It's like the Big10 does copy the SEC with the Saban-Miles rivalry (if there is one ....).
I'm sure the fans will be waiting for the season final, when the Buckeyes will come visiting.
I'm not convinced the game will have any big impact on the division standings THIS season, but for sure the Wolverines will play the hardest game of the season.
Michigan will not start soft. Utah, Oregon State, UNLV (OK, that's a bit soft) and BYU are the non conference games and those won't be easy.
Granted, all teams won't be big splashy powerhouses, but this schedule beats any typical FCS-MAC-SBC-CUSA-bashing-schedule.
It's hard to predict the impact Harbaugh will have in his 1st season, but he needed a few seasons at Stanford to make them the contender they are still today.
He added 3 wins in his 1st season at Stanford.
I think Oregon State and UNLV will be wins, but Utah on the road as 1st game and BYU at home might be tough.
I give them at the moment 2 wins here, maybe 3.
Minnesota and Northwestern are probably the best can happen to Michigan to sharpen the team.
The Gophers at home will be a challenge they might not be up to this season, but a win is possible.
Northwestern has to be won.
Inside the division, the question marks will be there against Michigan State, which is rival game, at Penn State and of cause against Ohio State at home.
The Spartans have a 2 game winning streak in their rivalry, and I think they will add a 3rd game this season, even if it will be closer than last season.
Penn State will be a coin toss. With Franklin in his 2nd year, I think this will be a loss for the Wolverines, too.
The Game Ohio State - Michigan rival game nick name)?
Believe it or not, there might be upset potential.
On paper for me Ohio State is a giant favorite. Meyer has his team clicking, while Michigan has to find its new strength.
But ... it's the end of the season, it's at home and it's the GAME.
I won't pick Michigan, but I don't think they will go down as the last few seasons.
Still, I think they will lose.
Adding this all up I get .... 7 to 8 wins in regular season and a bowl spot, which would be much better than last season.
Believe it or not, I pick the Wolverines as 4th best in the division.

Michigan State Spartans
Mark Dantonio, in his 9th season, had great seasons during his reign with the Spartans.
He has 2 conference titles and another division title.
He has played in a bowl in each of the 8 seasons with the team and won 4 in a row.
Last season his team was only defeated twice, by Oregon and Ohio State, the teams which did play out the National Championship in January.
We are talking about a top team here.
The big question mark regarding the Spartans is, will they be able to compensate the loss of the defensive coordinator?
He was one of the masters behind the Spartans success in the last few seasons and is now the HC of Pitt.
The team will face some easier teams for the start, except Oregon.
Western Michigan, Air Force and Central Michigan are lock for wins, but Oregon as 2nd game of the season will be tough.
Too tough?
Not necessarily.
Oregon has to compensate some losses, including their QB, and the game is at home.
I can imagine a win even here. But it will be close.
They got Purdue (a win) and Nebraska (probably a win) from the West, which is easier than it could have been.
The rest ist up to the Michigan game (a very likely win), the Penn State game (at home, very likely a win) and Ohio State (on the road, which is likely a loss).
In theory the team can get through the season unbeaten.
But I can't get my head around a Ohio State loss.
At the end, the Spartans will fall short a division title and will eventually end up in a big bowl.
I see them as 2nd place team.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Urban Meyer won a National Championship with the Buckeyes last season.
It's his 3rd and he now is one of the 2 football coaches to win such a championship with different FBS teams (Nick Saban is the other one).
All hopes in Ohio are for a repeat and chances are good.
The team is in good shape and the rest of the teams are in rebuilding or reloading mode, got new coaches or did lose some key parts of the organization.
No guarantee, but good circumstances for a repeat at least regarding the Big10 championship.
The schedule is OK, for my opinion lacks a bit of strength, but that will be judged by the playoff committee.
Virginia Tech on the road as a start is nice, but then do visit Hawai'i, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.
Hawaii will be a push-over, Northern Illinois a nice match, but also a win and Western Michigan will also be no challenge.
If they lose here, the season for a repeat will be very likely over, even if they win the Big10.
Having Minnesota at home from the west and Illinois on the road will be a nice combination with another 2 wins.
Trouble inside the division?
Penn State at home will be quite tough, Michigan State at home also, and "the Game" against Michigan on the road.
All solvable problems, all very likely wins.
At the moment, it looks like the Buckeyes will go unbeaten into the Big10 Championship game, and from there they might jump to Championship, playoffs, and another championship, but we will see.

Penn State Nittany Lions
The Lions did get James Franklin from Vanderbilt last season as new HC after Bill O'Brien did go to the NFL.
On one hand, I felt a bit betrayed by O'Briens move, but on the other hand I do respect how he handled the whole "After the Abuse Scandal" situation at Penn State and he left when then team was in calm water already.
With Franklin they got a coach who was able to make Vanderbilt a winner, which looks like a miracle.
Vanderbilt is normally the prey in the SEC and he was able to turn the team around in 2 season and had after a 6-7 1st season campaign 2 seasons with 9-4, including bowl wins.
Before that, in 2010, the Commodores were 2-10! And that's not unusual for this program.
It's not a bad program, it's just the weakest school in the SEC.
So, when Franklin did win there, it was clear he can do stuff.
Now he is at Penn State and his 1st season was 7-6 with a bowl win.
Expect a better season in his 2nd year.
The Lions will start with a road trip to Temple, which should be a win.
Add Buffalo, San Diego State and Army, all at home and you can see a quite nice start with non conference games.
Strongest team will be San Diego State, but Penn State should still be able to win this.
With Illinois and Nortwestern from the west they got a mid-field team and a bottom team, nothing the team shouldn't be able to handle.
Only negative here is, that the Northwestern game is on the road, which will make this game a bit more challenging.
Inside the division, the team has to face of cause all other teams and if I'm right, the team can forget about the Ohio State game (on the road) and the Michigan State game (also on the road) and instead focus on the rest.
The Michigan game is at home, which should give them a plus. All other teams I see as beatable.
If you count all those games together, a 10 win season is possible.
This would still only be worth a 3rd place in the East division.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Kyle Flood is in his 4th season with the team and on paper it's the first time he is guiding his team though a 2nd season in the same conference.
2012 was Rutgers in the Big East, which then did split into the American Athletic in 2013 and after that season did Rutgers move to the Big10 in 2014.
With a 8-5 record including a bowl win the team looks like the team did adopt to the Big10 quite nicely.
If you kept the picks of the other teams in mind, you see I pick the team 5th.
Why that?
A rising Michigan and Penn State team will leave the Knights only to that spot. According to my picks.
The schedule they have is not optimal.
Norfolk State (FCS), Washington State, Kansas and Army are quite easy non conference games, but for the conference standings only conference games do count.
So even if Rutgers will end up with a perfect record over those non conference teams (which is not granted, Washington State and Kansas will be challenging) they still have to win against the conference foes and the chances are slim.
They got Nebraska and Wisconsin from the west, which will probably be the main contenders there.
I'm expecting 2 losses here.
Add Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State (road game) as not so optimal games or even impossible to win games, they will have to get the wins out of Indiana (road), Michigan (road) and Maryland.
I pick Indiana and Maryland as wins, which gives them overall probably 6 wins for a bowl spot and the 5th spot in the division.


West Division

Illinois Fighting Illini
BRAND NEW: Tim Beckman was axed on Friday based on reports which did found him responsible "to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing despite injuries."
He had 3 seasons with the Illini and had 2 wins in 2012, 4 wins in 2013 and 6 wins in 2014, plus a bowl spot last season, which ended in a loss.
Now they will be guided by the new named interims coach Bill Cubit, the OC up to now.
Cubit was Western Michigans HC from 2005 to 2012 and has a 51-47 record with the team, including 3 bowls, all lost.
They will start with Kent State, which still should be a win.
Western Illinois (FCS) will also be a win, but then will they travel to North Carolina, where they probably will end up with their 1st loss.
Middle Tennessee will then be the final non conference game, which they should be a win, but under this situation you never know.
A 3-1 start would be nice.
But then will come the conference schedule.
It's hard to imagine them playing better than the established big shots in the division.
They will have to prove they can beat those teams.
I see them fighting against Purdue, Northwestern and maybe Iowa or Minnesota for the better places in the midfield.
With Ohio State and Penn State from the east they got 2 very good teams from that division, so don't expect wins there.
They got Nebraska and Wisconsin at home, which might give them upset potential, but I doubt it.
Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue are all road games, so there will be some losses, too.
Only "easy" home game will be Northwestern on season finale.
If I scan the whole schedule I can't imagine many conference wins, which would mean, the linear trend of Beckman will be stopped, no bowl spot and a losing season.
I think they will fight against being last in the division.
Under the current circumstances, it's very likely.

Iowa Hawkeyes
Since 17 years is Kirk Ferentz head coach of the Hawkeyes and it looks like he will stay until he leaves on his own terms.
Good season, bad seasons, the Hawkeyes had it all and the program is still in his hands.
He is in constant (small) fire, because his wage is one of the highest of all coaches, but his results are not in that top range, but that's something the school has to justify.
So here they are.
Last season was again one of those heaven and hell seasons, with a bit more hell and a bit less heaven.
They lost against all the bigger names and won most of games against weaker teams.
They lost also the bowl game.
This season, they will probably have a quite similar season.
Illinois State (FCS) is a nice start, the rival game against Iowa State should better be won, since the Cyclones are not really a tough team and Iowa lost last season.
Pittsburgh at home should be OK, but they have a new coach, so things might happen.
North Texas should be a win.
Nice start, could be 4-0, could be 3-1.
Now the conference games.
They got Maryland (home) and Indiana (road) from the east, which should be wins.
The Terps-games could be challenging and might become one of those typical Iowa collapse games, ending in a loss. But those games are hard to predict.
I see Wisconsin and Nebraska (both road trips) as losses and the most challenging teams of the rest will be Minnesota and Purdue, which are both home games.
Adding up the games will end in maybe 9 wins, which would be a better result than last season.
If they win against Minnesota, they might end up 3rd in the division.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
When Jerry Kill took over the Gophers in 2011, the team was a mess.
He managed to get them into the winning zone in 3 seasons and kept them there.
So far, only a bowl win is missing too call this turnaround a complete success.
Well, a division title or even a conference title wouldn't hurt either.
The contenders will have their say in that quest and I'm not sure Minnesota can get to the top.
They will start against TCU, which is one of the favorite teams to win the Big12.
That's a way to start a season!
Then they visit Colorado State, which might or might not play like last season. Not easy, too.
Kent State and Ohio will be the relaxing parts of that non conference games.
A 3-1 record is possible, but 2-2 might be the more likely, if CSU plays strong after that TCU match.
Now, they have to face the conference foes and they got Michigan at home and Ohio State on the road dealt to them.
Even if Michigan will not flourish in the 1st season under Harbaugh, this won't be an easy game and most likely a loss.
Ohio State is for sure a loss.
If you look then on the division games, the games against the division title contenders, like Nebraska and Wisconsin, are at home, which will probably make this close losses, but never the less, losses.
on the other hand the mid field teams will be played on the road, which will make those games much tougher and it's the main reason for me to predict a down year for the Gophers.
Summing up the likely wins and losses, I see a bowl season, but not much more.
They would have to win against Iowa on the road to get the season close the 8 wins from last season, which I doubt.
My pick is they will finish 4th in the division.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
There are voices stating the move from the Big12 to the Big10 was a mistake.
Overall, I have not enough data to judge this move.
The success was bigger in the past in the Big12, but the Huskers were not the driving force in the Big12 when they decided to move and they are still not the driving force in the Big10, since they joined the conference.
Bo Pelini was axed after last season, a 9-4 season, and he never won less than 9 games during his time at Nebraska.
The main reason for his departure was probably the missing titles.
He won 4 division titles (3 Big12, 1 Big10), but never a conference title.
His bowl record was 4-3, so also not that bad, but obviously not enough to keep his job.
He is now the HC of Youngstown State, a FCS team, getting still money from the Nebraska job. Not that bad.
New coach became a quite surprising choice, the longtime coach of the Oregon State Beavers, Mike Riley.
I'm not sure, why they selected him, but it must be something the numbers don't show.
He had a 93-80 record with the beavers.
He had good times and bad times with them in 14 seasons and the press is stating, most coaches do respect his work there.
But is that enough to satisfy a quite greedy Huskers nation?
We will see.
I think he will have 1-2 seasons to get comfortable and then the fans want to see something worth the money.
And in Huskers nations that means, titles.
Lucky for Riley, he does not inherit a losing team, instead he gets a well-oiled machine.
So expectations are high (also mine) and if he does not get the team to a 1st to 3rd place in the division, the question marks will emerge very fast.
Let's get over with the non conference games, which might be the safety net to get a bowl spot (at least for some teams).
BYU as opener is risky, but should be fun.
South Alabama has to be won and Miami (FL) will be tough, but should also be a win.
With Southern Miss the last game is a walk in the park and the Cornhuskers are able to get out of this by 4-0.
From the east they got Michigan State at home and Rutgers on the road.
The Knights should be beatable, but the Spartans? That's likely a loss. A good point to make a statement, if they win.
They play Wisconsin and Iowa at home and Minnesota on the road.
If that teams gets a good start under Riley, this mix might become the division title mix, but I have doubts regarding Wisconsin.
They are a tough team and even a team under new management who is known for smash mouth football.
I give them the edge here.
The rest I see as wins, but they are not for sure.
The season could become a total success, or a total failure.
I bowl is very likely, a upper half finish also, but I don't see a division title.
My pick is a 2nd place.

Northwestern Wildcats
It's hard to predict a Northwestern team, each season.
The Wildcats are normally a team winning some games, but losing more games than winning some during a season.
But they also won some conference titles in the past.
Since 1995 the team did win 3 conference titles, but since 2001 did the team not claim any title at all.
For season 2006 the school hired Pat Fitzgerald as Headcoach and now, in his 10th season he can claim at least the 5 bowls in a row (2008 to 20012, with only 1 win) but had the team on a losing record the past 2 seasons (each 5-7).
The problem with Northwestern is, they have some money, but not a good reputation regarding football (they have a very good one regarding education), which does automatically mean, they don't get many good recruits.
So Fitzgerald has to make the best out of his team, each year.
The power levels inside the division and inside the conference did shift a bit and it seems he lost a step against other teams.
The Wildcats will open the season against Stanford, which will probably end in a loss.
Eastern Illinois (FCS) has to be a win, Duke on the road will probably be a loss and Ball State at home should also be a win to close the non conference part of the season.
Getting 2 wins out of this is very likely, every additional one will be a bonus.
Michigan and Penn State are 2 teams from the east they will lose to.
They might have a chance against both, but it looks slim.
Key game for them will most likely be the Purdue game to clarify the 5th or 6th spot in the conference.
Lucky for them they play at home.
A big question mark is there regarding the push the Boilermakers might or might not make.
I think the push will be bigger than Northwestern can handle.
The Minnesota game beginning of October could also be a chance, played at home, but I'm sure the Gophers will get a win in a close game.
So my pick is, they will finish 6th in the division.

Purdue Boilermakers
Darrell Hazell came in in 2013 and changed stuff.
He went 1-11 with the team in 2013, 3-9 in 2014.
Feeling the heat?
It's there, under his seat.
He took over a 6-7 team, and was supposed to make it better.
So, how much better will the team become, this season?
A road game against Marshall might give them their 1st loss of the season, Indiana State (FCS) should be won, Virginia Tech, even at home will be challenge and probably another loss and even against Bowling Green could the team fall.
Assuming some progress been made, I think they will be lucky to get off this schedule with non conference teams with a 2-2 record.
Now we add the east teams of the conference, Michigan State and Indiana and I do add another split record here.
I don't see the team in the same league as the contenders, so they will probably battle Minnesota, Northwestern and maybe Iowa.
Minnesota is played at home, so a big chance here. I pick them still as losers, but this game could be crucial.
As will be the Northwestern game on the road. Here I see them as the winners.
Iowa on the road should be too much, pending a Hawkeyes collapse, and Illinois is played at home and it should be a sure win.
Adding this all up, they could end up 4th to 6th in the division.
I pick them 5th and I think they will again not play a bowl.
Will Hazzell survive this? Probably.

Wisconsin Badgers
The last team, the mighty Badgers.
Gary Andersen came in 2013 and had the team on 2 good seasons, winning the division last season and left then to Oregon State (which still doesn't make much sense if you think about money, but sometimes it seems there is more than money involved).
New HC became Paul Chryst, the now former HC of the Pittsburgh Panthers, where he coached 2 season and had 2 mediocre seasons.
Now he gets a beast he has to control and chances are good the team will keep on winning.
His coaching style does fit to the team, so except some adjustments, the team should fly.
The will play Alabama in Jerry Jones football temple in Texas for season start, which will end most likely in a loss.
Fitting coaching style might be good, but don't expect such a team win against one of the best team in the nation on their 1st game.
The other 3 non conference games are for relaxing, having Miami (OH), Troy and Hawai'i.
A 3-1 start is good, but the money is earned inside the conference.
The team got Rutgers and Maryland from the east, which is a very weak selection. Add 2 wins here.
Now inside the division, the most anticipated games will be Iowa (at home) and Nebraska (on the road).
I picked them in both games as a winner.
The Iowa game at home is great to make the last adjustments in a friendly environment to travel the next week to Lincoln and win probably the division.
Of cause there are still many games to play and if the team does not click, they might fall fast, I see them overcoming those problems of the start and win it all.
They will probably get stopped in the conference title game, but that's another story.

So my TIP is:

East Division:
Ohio State Buckeyes
Michigan State Spartans
Penn State Nittany Lions
Michigan Wolverines
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Maryland Terrapins
Indiana Hoosiers

West Division:
Wisconsin Badgers
Nebraska Cornhuskers
Iowa Hawkeyes
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Purdue Boilermakers
Northwestern Wildcats
Illinois Fighting Illini

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