Tuesday, December 12, 2006

’06 Football Season in Review…
There is no other way to slice it – what a year. Three, count ‘em, THREE teams in the BCS Top Seven. One team in the BCS Championship Game. Another in the Rose Bowl. A third who perhaps should be in a BCS game but is left out because they just don’t want the Big Ten hogging the spotlight! The Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien, Walter Camp, Lombardi and more, all reside with players from the Big Ten.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. You can have the SEC, ACC, Big East, Big 12, PAC 10 and all the others. Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, there is no great athletic conference in the land than the Big Ten. And, truth be told, we probably should be looking at an all Big Ten title game.

That said, it is time to take a look back at my predictions, how teams fared versus what I foretold and who gets the TFS hardware. Starting with worst, to first, here is a recap of what played out during the 2006 season.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Prediction = 3-1 OOC, 2-6 Big Ten for 5-7 overall, 8th Place
Actual = 1-3 OOC, 1-7 Big Ten for 2-10 overall, T10th Place

To forget: Only two wins this season when I expected a breakthrough of sorts and one of those was against 1-AA Eastern Illinois. There were far more close games this year than last but still, two wins is not a step in the right direction.

The bright side: Illinois got a rare Big Ten win and in the process introduced the league to Juice Williams, who might just be the next great quarterback to garner an invitation to NYC for a December trophy presentation.

Grade: D-. Not an F if only because of Juice. This team has a long ways to go.

Michigan State Spartans
Prediction = 3-1 OOC, 5-3 Big Ten for 8-4 overall, 5th Place
Actual = 3-1 OOC, 1-7 Big Ten for 4-8 overall, T10th Place

To forget: How about the last eight games and a quarter? Who knows what it would have meant to hold onto the gargantuan late game leads against Notre Dame but one thing is for certain, losing it likely was the difference between 4-8 and 8-4.

The bright side: Sorry John L. Smith, but the bright side is that MSU has a new coach. Mark Dantonio might not carry a lot of sizzle but he is just what the doctor ordered for this program. A little bit like Saban and a lot like Tressel, he should bring respectability back to East Lansing. Oh and the record comeback against NU was pretty cool too.

Grade: F. Flat out a failure. That’s why Smith was fired. This team had the starting talent to compete in the upper tier of the conference. Too bad it had the attitude to do no better than guide MSU to its worst Big Ten slate since the late 50s.

Northwestern Wildcats
Prediction = 3-1 OOC, 1-7 Big Ten for 4-8 overall, T9th Place
Actual = 2-2 OOC, 2-6 Big Ten for 4-8 overall, T8th Place

To forget: Northwestern’s season, in a nutshell, was the heartbreaking, jaw-dropping loss to Michigan State. These Wildcats were a scrappy bunch but you just don’t forget blowing a 38-3 second half lead at home.

The bright side: Northwestern was a little more competitive than I had them pegged to be and really should have squeezed out at least one more win. The team was young and the strong finish bodes well for next season.

Grade: C. Realistically, you just couldn’t expect more out of this team. Not with the loss of Coach Walker over the summer and the overall inexperience. The good news is there are plenty of players coming back and the nice finish could mean a better season is in store in 2007.

Iowa Hawkeyes
Prediction = 4-0 OOC, 7-1 Big Ten for 11-1 overall, T1st Place, Rose Bowl
Actual = 4-0 OOC, 2-6 Big Ten for 6-6 overall, T8th Place, Alamo Bowl

To forget: In retrospect, the loss to Ohio State showed that perhaps Iowa had all of its season’s eggs in that basket. From the 4-0 start prior, Iowa went 2-6 to close the season, including an inexplicable two more losses at home, one of which came at the hands of Northwestern.

The bright side: Despite a forgettable season, Iowa gets to go bowling against a very good Texas team in a state where it really recruits well. A season like this takes the black and gold off the radar screen and let’s them sneak up on opponents once more in 2007.

Grade: F. I know it sounds harsh, but hey, I had this team representing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. Drew Tate never got his game back to the levels he flashed as a sophomore and junior and Iowa just never got it going on offense.

Indiana Hoosiers
Prediction = 3-1 OOC, 1-7 Big Ten for 4-8 overall, T9th Place
Actual = 2-2 OOC, 3-5 Big Ten for 5-7 overall, T6th Place

To forget: Indiana will spend its entire off-season pointing to two games that were the difference between the school’s first bowl bid since 1993 and another holiday season at home. Losses to 1-AA Southern Illinois and then UConn kept Indiana from a huge step forward. That said, so did a lambasting at Minnesota and a tough loss at Purdue.

The bright side: Coach Hoeppner seems to be healthy and building something worth watching in basketball town. He asked his team to lay it on the line against Michigan State and they responded with a huge win. 5-7 is ahead of schedule with several young players getting quality time in 2006.

Grade: B-. It was better than I expected, particularly in league play, but it should have been better than that. There is no reason that this team should not be sitting 7-5 and bowling, perhaps even against the likes of Texas.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Prediction = 3-1 OOC, 1-7 Big Ten for 4-8 overall, T9th Place
Actual = 3-1 OOC, 3-5 Big Ten for 6-6 overall, T6th Place, Insight Bowl

To forget: Ohio State and Wisconsin flat out annihilated the Gophers and it took a blocked field goal to beat North Dakota State – at home.

The bright side: The Gophers won three straight after the blow-out loss in Columbus to get back to a fifth straight bowl game.

Grade: B. It was a far better rebuilding effort than I predicted. Kudos to Glen Mason and his staff for squeezing out every ounce of effort possible to get back to that all-important bowl game.

Purdue Boilermakers
Prediction = 4-1 OOC, 4-4 Big Ten for 8-5 overall, T6th Place, Insight Bowl
Actual = 3-2 OOC, 5-3 Big Ten for 8-5 overall, T4th Place, Champs Bowl

To forget: Purdue struggled against some less than stellar MAC foes to start the season and then looked abysmal in losing four of five during the middle of the season.

The bright side: The gold and black reeled off three Big Ten wins to close conference play and put up a good effort in the never easy trip to Hawaii. Eight wins is just where I had them pegged and given where things were at various points of the season, it is a nice way to end the campaign.

Grade: B. It was really just about what I expected, give or take a loss here or there. The loss to Iowa – or at least the blowout part - looks a little bad when you look back, but the others were to be expected. A solid season from Tiller and Co.

Penn State Nittany Lions
Prediction = 3-1 OOC, 6-2 Big Ten for 9-3 overall, 3rd Place, Outback Bowl
Actual = 3-1 OOC, 5-3 Big Ten for 8-4 overall, T4th Place, Outback Bowl

To forget: Penn State was unable to beat any of the big dogs on the schedule this year including Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

The bright side: Each of the four losses came to BCS Bowl bound teams (or in the case of Wisconsin BCS worthy). The defense was stellar while the offense struggled and instead of a transition year like Penn State had been experiencing of late, things were a bit ahead of schedule.

Grade: B+. I overestimated the loss of Michael Robinson. With him, this team may well have found nine or more wins. Then again, I also overlooked the revamping that had to take place up front. Once that started to solidify, the Nits dug in and had a pretty good season.

Wisconsin Badgers
= 4-0 OOC, 4-4 Big Ten for 8-4 overall, T6th Place, Alamo Bowl
Actual = 4-0 OOC, 7-13 Big Ten for 11-1 overall, T2nd Place, Capital One Bowl

To forget: Not much. Maybe the dismal offensive performance in the second half at Michigan. Then again, who had any luck against the Michigan defense this year outside of Ohio State?

The bright side: With very little back on offense and a rather no-name defense, not to mention a new coach, the Badgers only won the most regular season games in school history! The entire season was standing next to the sun bright.

Grade: A+. A season I thought might see some growing pains and real struggles on offense never played out that way. True, the non-conference slate was pretty easy and not playing Ohio State helped, but folks, this was one heck of a football team. Ranked No. 7 in the BCS poll, Wisconsin is arguably better than some of the other teams that got into the BCS Bowls by default. Barry who? Brian who? Great season by the Badgers.

Michigan Wolverines
= 3-1 OOC, 6-2 Big Ten for 9-3 overall, 4th Place, Outback Bowl
Actual = 4-0 OOC, 7-1 Big Ten for 11-1 overall, T2nd Place, Rose Bowl

To forget: Nothing much. Maybe the near debacle against Ball State and certainly the passing of the legendary Bo Schembechler just hours before the biggest game ever played between Michigan and Ohio State.

The bright side: The off-season moves within the coaching staff paid dividends, most notable on defense. The Michigan defense was spectacular all season long. Basically the same cast of players went from 7-5 to 11-1 with an excellent chance to win 12 games and win the Rose Bowl.

Grade: A. It was better than expected but at the same time, this is Michigan. 7-5 seasons are the exception, not the rule. 11-1 seasons are much more normal. The loss at Ohio State was tough to take as was the late shifting in the BCS polls, but all in all, it was a fantastic season for Coach Carr and crew.

Ohio State Buckeyes
= 4-0 OOC, 7-1 Big Ten for 11-1 overall, T-1st Place, Orange Bowl
Actual = 4-0 OOC, 8-0 Big Ten for 12-0 overall, 1st Place, Tostitos BCS Championship Game

To forget: Ah, hmm, let me see here… well, er, huh. Nothing. Ohio State came in number one, finished number one and gets a chance to win another national title.

The bright side: Number one all season long. One of only two teams to go unbeaten (Boise State was the other). A Heisman Trophy winner. I could go on and on and on… you get the picture. This season was as bright as it gets from big time road wins against Texas and Iowa to showdown victories over Penn State and Michigan.

Grade: A+. I expected something big but maybe not this big. I guess I thought the personnel losses on defense would be harder to patch up than they were. Was I wrong or what? This team was dominating from week one in all facets of the game and is one win away from the second national title in five years under Tressel. WOW!

Postseason Awards
Prediction: I had Michigan State's Drew Stanton pegged as the offensive MVP, Penn State's Paul Posluszny as the defensive MVP, Ohio State's Ted Ginn as the special teams MVP and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz as Coach of the Year.

Actual: Offensive MVP goes, hands down, to Troy Smith. Winner of the Heisman, Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp awards.

Defensive MVP goes to Lombardi winner LaMaar Woodley of Michigan. Guy was flat out dominant all season long.

Special Teams MVP is Indiana’s Marcus Thigpen. A 30.1 yards per return average and 3 TDs.

Coach of the Year could go to Jim Tressel or Lloyd Carr or even Terry Hoeppner but I have to give it to Bret Bielema. Wisconsin rose above all expectations this season and a lot of credit goes to first year man Bielema.


A.G. said...

ESPN.com's recap of the Big Ten season: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=2688353

AndrewJ1313 said...

Great recap, Andy.