Monday afternoon QB and half season reviews...
Well, we found out a little more about the Big Ten this past weekend. Congrats to AndrewJ1313 for going 5-0 and getting the tiebreaker over fellow nut Buckeye Nation. AJ - you know the drill.
Along the path this season, we have found out a lot about the Big Ten - the topsy, turvy (compared to my preseason predictions) Big Ten. Follow along for a look at where each team stands in general, and compared to what I saw heading into the season. Also, see who BigTen.org has chosen for POTW honors compared to yours truly...
Player of the Week ... The Big Ten folks and I agree this week, though the choice was actually tougher than you might think. I really liked what Terrelle Pryor did against Michigan State. But how can you pass on Shon Greene? This guy is a monster and gives the Big Ten the three best backs in the nation - in my opinion (Greene, Ringer, Wells).
Team by Team - some comments on where teams stand and the mid-season review of my predictions versus reality (in order of my best to worst predictions to date)...
Minnesota - No big surprise here that Minnesota is the team I missed the mark on by the most to this point in the season. The Gophers are four games better than I predicted and well on their way to one of the best bounce back seasons in NCAA history.
I picked Minnesota to finish tied for 9th, with a 2-2 OOC slate, 2-6 conference record and 4-8 finish. To this point in the season, I had the maroon and gold pegged to be 2-5 (2-2/0-3). Instead, the Golden Gophers are 6-1 (4-0/2-1).
There are five games left and nothing will be easy, but eight wins seems like a lock at this point. That should be good for the Champs or Alamo Bowl.
Indiana - This one is at least mildly surprising, given what talent Indiana brought back this year, but injuries have killed this team and it just doesn't look to get any better the rest of the way. IU probably won't be favored to win again this year, making them the bizzaro Minnesota.
I picked the Hoosiers to finish tied for 7th, with a 4-0 OOC record, a 3-5 conference finish, good for 7-5 and a bowl berth. As former IU boss Lee Corso would say, uh, not so fast my friend. To this point in the season, I had the cream and crimson5-2 (3-0/2-2). Rather, the Hoosiers are 2-5 (2-1/0-4).
There are five games left and IU won't be expected to win any of them, including when Central Michigan comes calling. Grind out what you can and hope it doesn't kill the future completely.
Michigan - Apparently, I got caught drinking the RichRod cool-aid. Or at least I thought he might not try so forcefully and frequently to jam the square pegs he inherited into the round holes he was introducing. The offense, is, well, offensive. The defense is nothing like we thought it would be. The special teams - average at best.
I picked U-M to finish tied for seventh - so I'm not far off there - with a run of 4-0 and 3-5 to go 7-5 and make the Champs Sports Bowl. Yikes, not even close. My predictions had the Wolverines at 5-2 (4-0/1-2) right now. Instead, the maize and blue are 2-5 (1-3/1-2).
Michigan also has five games left. The Wolverines might be favored in one (at Purdue). This will be the worst season since 1967 and the end of a lengthy reign as the team to go to the most consecutive bowl games.
Purdue - Hmm, much like I got caught up in the spread offense hype that is Rich Rodriguez and the "new" Michigan, I got busted thinking Purdue might send Joe Tiller out with a gusto. Maybe it was the way the Boilers lost to Oregon. Maybe this team just wasn't that good to begin with. Either way, this might be the second time in Tiller's long tenure that the Boilermakers are home for the holidays.
I picked PU to finish in solo sixth place with a 7-5 (3-1/4-4) record and an Insight Bowl berth. At the Big Ten midpoint, I had the gold and black 4-3 (3-1/1-2). Reality? 2-5 (2-2/0-3).
Purdue has to win four of give just to become bowl eligible. That won't be easy. At least Purdue should send J.T. out with a rivalry win. That's going to have to be the rallying cry now because a bowl game is a big, BIG stretch...
Wisconsin - Oh how the mighty have fallen. After Coach Bielema started off 17-1, his Badgers have gone a very ho-hum 7-8. Included in that are the stunning loss to Michigan and the absolute annihilations at the hands of Penn State and rival Iowa. The Badgers can rebound but will they?
I am two games off on UW at this point, but the past four have been downright ugly (well, except for one half at Michigan and generally against OSU. I had the Badgers tied for 2nd at 8-4 (3-1/5-3) and heading to the Alamo Bowl preseason. At the conference mid point, I had Wisconsin earmarked at 5-2 (2-1/3-1). Instead, the Badgers are 3-4 (3-0/0-4) and mired in the longest losing streak in Madison since 1996.
The Badgers have their work cut out for them with what appears to be two sure wins left and three toss ups. I think there will be a slight rebound, but it will be just six or seven wins for this team en route to the Insight Bowl at best...
Penn State - I said it before, I'll say it again - this is the best Penn State team I have seen since 1994. Yes, the 2005 team was excellent (11-1) but something about this team reminds me an awful lot of the team that got jobbed out of a share of the National Title in 1994. My level of accuracy completely depends on this weekend's game in C-bus...
Penn State has even surprised me a little - I'm two games off so far. With the losses along the front seven on defense for myriad reasons, I thought for certain this would be a very good, not great, Penn State team. I was wrong. I picked the Nittany Lions to go 9-3 (4-0, 5-3) and tie for second - eking out a BCS berth a la Illinois a season ago. Halfway through, I saw the Nits at 6-2 (4-0/2-2) but they are 8-0 (4-0/4-0) and on a roll.
Penn State stays squarely in the Big Ten and National Title pictures with a signature win at Ohio State and probably stays on pace for the BCS and another double digit win season even if they lose to the Buckeyes.
Iowa - Iowa is one of those teams I was wavered on a bit this summer. I loved the defense, hated the offense. Little did I know Shon Greene would emerge as he has. The defense has been fantastic and the offense is coming around. Sometimes it's a fine line between a winning season and a losing campaign, but Iowa is walking the right side of that line right now.
I picked Iowa to finish tied for 9th - shows what I know - with a record of 5-7 (3-1/2-6). The Hawkeyes are poised to prove me wrong and then some. Given my prediction, Iowa should be 4-4 right now (3-1/1-3) but instead sits at 5-3 (3-1/2-2). The schedule doesn't ease up much, but there should be more victories in sight.
This week is a bye for Iowa and there is at least one more very winnable game (Purdue) left. I think Iowa finds a way to get two, maybe three more, finish up 7-5 or 8-4 and battle for the Champs or Alamo Bowl.
Northwestern - The Wildcats are a fun team to watch this year. They play with a ton of passion and love for the game, no doubt passed along by their Hall of Fame coach. I actually am not all that far off my prediction for NU at this point, but I think they'll blow it away...
I predicted a 6-6 (4-0/2-6) record and a tie for 9th place for the purple and black. I figured the back loaded schedule might burn them but I am cruising to be wrong. So far, I had the Wildcats marked to be 5-2 (4-0/1-2) but they are instead 6-1 (4-0/2-1) and looking strong. The back-loaded schedule, which consists of Michigan and Indiana (also OSU, Illinois and Minnesota) sets the men in purple up for a nice finish.
On the low side, NU will win two more games. I'm thinking it will be more like three, however, meaning the Wildcats will finish 9-3. That will be good enough for the Outback Bowl as one of the most improved teams in the nation. Wouldn't it be great to see a Northwestern-Vandy match-up in Tampa?
Illinois - The Illini have been a bit disappointing. While the losses to Mizzou and Penn State were nothing to cry over, the loss to Minnesota at home was borderline unforgivable, no matter how much better the Gophers might be. Juice Williams is an absolute monster this year, but Illinois is missing Mendenhall on "O" and Lehman on "D".
I predicted a 9-3 (4-0/5-3) finish and a tie for second place, with a Capital One berth for the Illini. To get there, I had them at 5-2 (3-0/2-2) at this point of the season). Reality isn't that far off as Illinois is 4-3 (2-1/2-2) but something about the inconsistency bothers me a little.
The pending trip to wounded Wisconsin is much tougher than it looks. So is the neutral site game against Western Michigan. The Illini still entertain Iowa and Ohio State and travel to Northwestern. Three wins is doable, but I expect nothing more than that, which means 7-5 and a likely trip to the Insight or Motor City Bowl.
Michigan State - OSU lambasting aside, Michigan State is actually a game ahead of the pace I set for them. The Spartans are far more consistent this year than in years past and seem to have a bit more of that "it" quality needed to persevere and win games. The loss to Ohio State proved that there is still a talent gap and that MSU has work to do, but the Spartans look better than expected right now and are set up for a nice finish.
I had the green and white going 8-4 (3-1/5-3), good for a tie for second and an Outback Bowl berth. That record equates to a prediction of 5-3 (3-1/2-2) at this point in time. MSU is one game better than that, however and should be favored the next three weeks.
The next three opponents that the Spartans face are a combined 1-10 in the Big Ten right now. None of them will be gimmes, but look for State to get its first win in Ann Arbor since before I was in college this weekend and to get to nine wins and a trip back to the Capital One Bowl.
Ohio State - The Buckeyes are exactly where I had them pegged to be. Well, except I didn't think we'd have the full time Pryor show yet and there were some more struggles than expected in that start. Still, the scarlet and gray served notice to the nation in East Lansing that the Buckeyes are not dead and in fact might be poised for the title game berth trifecta.
I had Ohio State going 11-1 (3-1/8-0), finishing solo first place and making it back to the national title game. They are right no pace right now and are exactly (down to the right loss) where I had them pegged.
Saturday's battle with Penn State is, in essence, for all the Big Ten marbles. Upsets can and will happen, but the winner is squarely in the driver's seat. In order for my prediction to remain on track, OSU needs the win. I won't pick that one until I have to, but I will say this - OSU loses no more than one more en route to some sort of BCS berth...