Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wrapping up 2009...
It's hard to believe that another year - heck, another decade - has come and gone. Here we sit just a week or so from the end of a great year. One full of highs and lows for the Big Ten. One ending with seven teams fighting for league cred in bowl games. One closing with talk of expansion. One fading out with our first (finally) ACC-Big Ten challenge win and tons of past and future hoops success on the horizon.

And can you believe that between this blog (circa August 2006) and the old TheFinalScore.net site (Established in 2000) this wraps ten years of me carrying on about this conference? WOW!

It's been a fun ride and I hope to continue to pontificate about all things Big Ten for years to come. In the meantime, my annual football "report card", the first league play picks for Get Gamm Basketball and a link to the bowl picks follow.

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. GO BIG TEN!

Team by Team
Time for a quick synopsis for each team (in order of my preseason predictions), including a look at how my predictions played out and what is left for 2009 before the books are officially closed...
Grading Scale (average of total and conference games missed):
0 off = A+
.5 off = A
1 off = B+
1.5 off = B
2 off = B-
2.5 off = C+
3 off = C
3.5 off = C-
4 off = D
4.5 or more off = F

Purdue Boilermakers - An early season disappointment that came on strong in conference play. The Boilers were snake bitten early, stung by a close loss at Oregon, a late in the game home loss to rival Notre Dame and a head-scratching home defeat at the hands of Northern Illinois. The Boilermakers did manage to shock the Buckeyes and get a long awaited win in Ann Arbor and were oh-so-close to knocking off the Spartans and likely making a bowl. You could say that a foundation was built for the future, but there will be some attrition that needs to be tended to in spring ball. All in all, a much better year than I projected.

Prediction: 2-10 (0-8), 11th - Home for the Holidays
Actual: 5-7 (4-4), T6 - home for the Holidays
My Grade: Missed them by three games overall and four in conference. C-

Indiana Hoosiers - I commented in my preview that IU's trend was 3, 4, 5, 7, 3 wins over the previous five seasons. That logically had to mean that 4 was next in the cycle, right? Indiana was actually not quite as poor as the record indicates. The Hoosiers had Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Penn State on the ropes but wound up losing each of those games. The offense is young, the defense growing. Bill Lynch might be on the proverbial hot seat entering next year, but I will already ask - "why?" The Hoosiers need consistency at the top and they are very close to being a team that can at least contend for six or seven wins year in and year out.

Prediction: 3-9 (1-7), 10th and Home for the Holidays
Actual: 4-8 (1-7), T10th and Home for the Holidays
My grade: Missed it by one games overall, nailed the conference record. A

Northwestern Wildcats - What a great year for the Wildcats. Despite a tough loss at Syracuse and a home shocker at the hands of Minnesota, Northwestern did as Nike says and "Just did it." The Wildcats have no superlative players, rather a collection of eleven on both sides of the ball that know how to get the job done. Whether the comeback win over Indiana or the sweet, sweet victories over Illinois and Wisconsin to close the season, NU showed a fight we better get accustomed to as Pat Fitzgerald further grows in his role as the head man in Evanston.

Prediction: 7-5 (3-5), T7th and an At-large bowl berth
Actual: 8-4 (5-3), T4th and an Outback Bowl berth
My grade: Off by one game overall, two games in conference. B

Michigan Wolverines - After a rip-roaring start to this season, even amidst player backlash and NCAA allegations, no one saw this coming. The mighty Wolverines went from 4-0 to 5-7 with a thud and are bowl-less for a second straight season. The natives are restless in Ann Arbor and if this keeps up, the Rich Rod experiment will end after next season. Internal strife happens everywhere, because you can't keep 105 players happy all the time. But to rat out the coaches for violations? I'm thinking those who may have helped kill any Les Miles to Michigan deal a few years ago are second guessing that. The worst part? I don't see that the maize and blue made enough strides in key areas to think 2010 will be any different.

Prediction: 6-6 (3-5), T7 and a Motor City Bowl berth
Actual: 5-7 (1-7), T10th and Home for the Holidays.
My grade: Missed it by one game overall, and two in the conference. B

Wisconsin Badgers - Aside from Northwestern, the team I most underestimated. The young defense came through, the new signal caller had flashes of brilliance and the rushing attack was at times, spectacular. The Badgers probably deserve a New Year's Day bowl, but bowls are business and given that the hoops and football team was in Hawaii in a two week period, UW lands back in Orlando. Wisconsin is well set for the future with a nice bounce back from 2008's dud in hand...

Prediction: 7-5 (3-5), T7th - Insight Bowl berth
Actual: 9-3 (5-3), T4th - Champs Bowl berth
My Grade: Off by two games overall and in conference. B-

Minnesota Golden Gophers - The Golden Gophers both trilled and appalled over the course of the 2009 season. The new stadium in Minneapolis is a gem, some of the performances there? Not so much. For the big wins, there were games that were way too close for comfort and a couple of absolute uglies too boot. Minnesota lost star receiver Adam Decker for the season and nearly watched a bowl slip away. Still, this program is making strides and should really benefit from the extra practice that a bowl berth brings - even if it is the same bowl game as last year.

Prediction: 7-5 (4-4), 6th and an At Large Bowl berth
Actual: 6-6 (4-4), 8th and a return trip to the Insight Bowl.
My grade: One game off overall, perfect in conference. A

Illinois Fighting Illini - You'd think I would have learned my lesson after Illinois laid an egg in 2008. Not so much. Illinois won two games over FBS foes. Two. Yes, there were tough losses but in this day and age I am amazed that Ron Zook kept his job. Players are transferring. Some are opting out early for the NFL. I am struggling to see the bright side of the big picture. One thing is for sure, with no more Juice at the helm, Illinois will be carving out a new identity. Coach Zook better hope that translates to victories.

Prediction: 8-4 (5-3), T4th and an Alamo Bowl berth
Actual: 3-9 (2-6), 9th and Home for the Holidays
My grade: Missed it by fives games overall, three games in conference. D

Iowa Hawkeyes - Iowa never did it with much in the way of style or pizazz, but man did the Hawkeyes get it done. Two blocked field goals in seven seconds seals the season opening win. Comeback wins in nearly every game, capped by the last play game winner in a thriller in East Lansing. Who knows, if not for the injury to Ricky Stanzi, we could be looking at Iowa in the BCS title game. Plain jane and vanilla as it gets or not, Iowa knows how to win. That's why I think they will win the Orange Bowl and serve notice that they will be a favorite in the league in 2010.

Prediction: 9-3 (5-3), T4th and a Capital One Bowl berth
Actual: 10-2 (6-2), T2nd with an Orange Bowl berth
My grade: Missed it by one games on both ends. B+

Michigan State Spartans - The facts. MSU won three less games than in 2008. MSU lost five of six games by a total of 23 points, three of those by a combined seven points, two on the very last play of the game. It was oh-so-close to great, but in the end, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. The off-the-field actions immediately following the Penn State loss capped a disappointing season. The good news is that the best players are young - freshmen, sophomore and juniors. Not much departs and the class coming in is good. But the black eye of the "Rather Hall Brawl" needs to subside and State needs to put up a good undermanned fight at the Alamo Bowl for this season to have some semblance of success.

Prediction: 10-2 (6-2), 3rd and an Outback Bowl berth
Actual: 6-6 (4-4), T6th with an Alamo Bowl berth
My grade: Four games off overall, two games off in conference. C

Ohio State Buckeyes - Five straight titles. Another win over Michigan. Another loss to USC. A resounding road win over Penn State. A thrilling, title clinching OT win over Iowa. Yep, this season had it all. The road win streak was snapped but once again, in the face of doubters, this team rose to the top. Hard to believe that this marks the first trip for the Buckeyes to Pasadena since the mid 90s. This program reloads and will be the favorite again in 2010.

Prediction: 10-2 (7-1), T1st - BCS Bowl berth
Actual: 10-2 (7-1), 1st - Rose Bowl berth
My grade: Perfection! But OSU is getting mighty easy to predict. A+

Penn State Nittany Lions - All in all, a solid season for Penn State. We saw with the early home loss to Iowa that this team was not going to be the elite team many expected, and that was verified with a resounding home loss at the hands of Ohio State. Despite a cupcake OOC slate that would make even Glen Mason blush, the Nittany Lions did some nice things, including manhandling both Michigan and Michigan State on the road. There is some turnover coming at key positions for the Nits in 2010, but we all know they will be right in the thick of things.

Prediction: 11-1 (7-1), T1st - Rose Bowl berth
Actual: 10-2 (6-2), T2nd - Capital One Bowl berth
My Grade: Missed them by one game on both ends. B+

Get Gamm Basketball (picks due by 12/29):
12/29 - Purdue at Iowa
12/29 - Penn State at Minnesota
12/30 - Northwestern at Illinois
12/31 - Michigan at Indiana
12/31 - Ohio State at Wisconsin
1/2 - Minnesota at Iowa
1/2 - Michigan State at Northwestern
1/3 - Wisconsin at Penn State
1/3 - Ohio State at Michigan

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let the Bowling begin!
BruceS will have his picks added once he gets them to me. Time is flying away, however, so here are my picks for the bowl games. Maybe, just maybe, the conference can silence the critics and win some games this year...

Champs Sports Bowl - Orlando, FL: 8pm on December 29
Wisconsin vs.
As I previewed a few weeks ago, this is an interesting match-up of power versus speed. Early on, I gave the edge to Miami, but now I'm not as sure. Wisconsin has a solid defense and the Badgers can dominate on the ground while also getting good use out of an NFL-caliber tight end. Miami has been really prone to turnovers of late and historically, these sorts of games are uninteresting the the 'canes. Wisconsin wants to get the taste of last year's whipping by Florida State out of its mouth. John Clay runs for 150 and the Badgers keep the Miami air attack at bay. Wisconsin 24 - Miami 20.

Insight Bowl - Tempe, AZ: 6pm on December 31
Minnesota vs.
Iowa State
Looking for something exciting to watch before you head to that swanky New Year's Eve party? Uh, don't watch this! Sorry Gophers but this game has zero appeal. In main statistical categories, these teams combine to have four rankings worse than 100, and only one better than 75. Minnesota showed flashed of brilliance against Michigan State and then barely limped home to six wins. Iowa State has improved a lot since last season. The Gophers have more to prove with this return trip to Tempe. Minnesota 23 - Iowa State 17.

Outback Bowl - Tampa, FL: 11am on January 1
Northwestern vs.
First New Year's Day game since 1997? Check. Best chance for a bowl win since 1949? Yep. Northwestern matches up well against the Tigers. Auburn has a nice offense and a really good pass rusher in Antonio Coleman but finished with a thud, losing five of its last six conference games. The Wildcats, on the other hand, finished strong, beating then top five Iowa and Wisconsin to leap into a January 1 game. Mike Kafka is an underrated threat at quarterback and the NU defense has been improving week by week. History is not on Northwestern's side, but streaks are meant to be broken. Northwestern 30 - Auburn 28.

Capital One Bowl - Orlando, FL: 1pm on January 1
Penn State vs.
Louisiana State
On paper, this looks like one of the easier match-ups for the Big Ten. Penn State's offense is far more efficient and powerful than the LSU attack. And Penn State has a solid defense, if not quite as good as the one the Tigers field. Both teams are probably a bit disappointed that they missed out on the BCS, but this is arguably the best non BCS game on the slate. It could go one of two ways... Penn State could still feel snubbed by the BCS and come out lethargic. Or, the Nittany Lions could come out with a chip on their shoulder, ready to prove the BCS wrong for passing them by. I think it will fall somewhere in the middle. Penn State puts the Big Ten over the bowl hump early with a nice win in Orlando. Penn State 27 - LSU 18.

The Rose Bowl - Pasadena, CA: 4:30pm on January 1
Ohio State vs. Oregon

This one is all about strength versus strength. A stout OSU run defense versus a potent Oregon rushing attack. This is the Buckeyes' first trip to Pasadena in over a decade and that one was an instant classic. The scarlet and gray have the athletes to stay right in this game, but Oregon was better all season long. The one common opponent - USC - nipped the Buckeyes in C-bus and got shredded by the Ducks in Eugene. OSU's best shot it to ditch the conservative offense and let Pryor loose. Not sure that will happen. Oregon 31 - Ohio State 27.

Alamo Bowl - San Antonio, TX: 9pm on January 2
Michigan State vs. Texas Tech
Have you heard the news? Michigan State has suspended a bunch of players for the bowl game. Texas Tech has one of the most potent passing attacks in college football. Oh my. Perhaps the Spartans should just stay home. Give me a break. I'm tired of hearing how State has no chance. Yes, this game would be tough even with a full compliment of players but let's get something straight - MSU lose ONE defensive starter. Not six. Yes, he is a corner but he's also a corner who did more bad than good this year. What no one wants to point out is that Texas Tech doesn't stop the run very well and ranks at the bottom in rushing offense. I think with a dented receiving corps, MSU sticks to the ground, sprinkles in Blair White and the tight ends to keep it honest and runs a fair amount of "Wildcat" with Keshawn Martin. It'll be a shootout, one that MSU finds a way to win. Michigan State 41 - Texas Tech 38.

Orange Bowl - Miami, FL: 8pm on January 5
Iowa vs. Georgia Tech
If you look at this one from a stats only point of view, you have to assume that the Jackets will roll. Ah, but not so fast my friend. Iowa is year in and year out one of the Big Ten's most consistent bowl performers. With five weeks to prep, I like the chances of Norm Parker's defense against this classic option attack. I think Tech comes out rusty, Iowa stays nice and balanced and makes big plays on defense and wins with a key special teams play. Iowa 26 - Georgia Tech 24.

Quick weigh in on expansion...
Maybe my last post got the Commish thinking it is time to go with a 12th team. Or maybe not. Either way, I like that the topic is back on the table.

Many schools are being tossed around but I think only one or two is a worthy candidate. Here is my breakdown of "serious contenders", "maybes" and "uh, hell nos".

Serious contenders:
Notre Dame - they'll say no, but we have to ask again. Geographically it makes sense. TV revenue it makes major sense. Should be the league's first choice, even if they say no before they say no

Pittsburgh - my personal pick. Already a natural rivalry built in with Penn State. Strong academics. Strong sports programs in general. Not a new TV market, but a great fit in every other way.

Syracuse - an intriguing option. A new-ish market, albeit upstate New York. Rivalry potential with Penn State. Worthwhile for many reasons.

Rutgers - I'm not impressed with the quality of athletics, but the academics are strong, the addition of the New York market is huge and again, there is the potential for a rivalry with Penn State.

Missouri - Another natural fit in terms of a ready-made rivalry (Illinois) a good media market (St. Louis) and decent academics.

UConn - Seems a little far away but a growing football program, solid basketball programs, major media market... worth a look anyway.

Uh, no way:
Cincinnati - Great recent success but generally - yawn....

West Virgina - Poor academics, no major media market, do I need to go on?

Louisville - Not a bad idea but on the scale, they fall between WVU and Cincy.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Let's go bowling
I'm really glad that the Big Ten is extending the football slate into Thanksgiving weekend starting next season. This sitting around waiting, speculating and gathering rust is not helpful while the other conferences are hogging up the spotlight.

In fact, I wish the Big Ten would hurry up and add a 12th team so that we can just have a conference championship game already. It could even rotate between Detroit, Indy and Minny to spread the wealth. But that's another wish for another story.

Time now to focus on here and now. The Big Ten bowl bids more or less shook out as expected and finally, the conference might have a chance to quiet its critics and win some ball games. And something that none of the pundits are willing to point out very readily - this is the ninth time in 12 BCS years that the Big Ten sends two to the "big bowls." Since the inception of the BCS in 1998, the Big Ten has qualified 21 teams for BCS bowls, more than any other conference. Not bad at all...

Champs Sports Bowl - Orlando, FL: 8pm on December 29
Wisconsin vs.
An interesting match-up of power versus speed. I do think that the Badgers stack up better here than Northwestern would have and in fact, this might be one of the best pre-New Year's Bowl contests. The Badgers hammered Hawaii and likely wound up here due to a gut feel that UW fans might be travel fatigued after the basketball and football teams have been in Hawaii in the past three weeks. Early edge? Miami-Florida.

Insight Bowl - Tempe, AZ: 6pm on December 31
Minnesota vs.
Iowa State
A good match-up for the Big Ten. Minnesota is back to Tempe for the second-straight season and this time seeks a victory. I am a little surprised that the Alamo passed on Minnesota based on the off the field stuff hitting the fan in East Lansing, but then again, MSU provides a better match for Texas Tech. Iowa State had a great turnaround from last year's two-win campaign. The Golden Gophers limp into this but want to win to set the tone for next year. Early edge? Minnesota

Outback Bowl - Tampa, FL: 11am on January 1
Northwestern vs.
I've always been a fan of this game. You wake up after a late night bringing in the New Year and viola, football is on and the Big Ten is front and center. You can bet Northwestern is loving it too. After being snubbed for Iowa a season ago, the Wildcats snuck past Wisconsin. That is all about the fact that UW has been to Hawaii and back recently. Plus, frankly, the match-up is better. I like the Wildcats' chances in this one. Their first New Year's Day contest since 1997 and a shot at their first win in 60 years. Early edge? Northwestern

Capital One Bowl - Orlando, FL: 1pm on January 1
Penn State vs.
Louisiana State
A classic New Year's day tilt between two college football powerhouses. And hey, if JoePa stays around long enough, this could preview a coaching match of the minds of the future in the Big Ten (that is if RichRod fails and Les Miles comes to the rescue in Ann Arbor). Penn State is probably a little disappointed that it got passed over by Iowa for the BCS at-large berth but you all know how I feel. When all else is tied, the head-to-head winner should get the nod. LSU never quite materialized this year while PSU also had its share of head scratching moments. Still, I like this match-up too. Early edge? Penn State

The Rose Bowl - Pasadena, CA: 4:30pm on January 1
Ohio State vs. Oregon

This should be the best BCS game outside of the National Championship. The Buckeyes defense versus the Ducks potent offense. Two of the more athletic quarterbacks in college football. Surprisingly, given their successes, the first Rose Bowl jaunt for either team since the mid-90s. The last time here the Buckeyes won on a late Germaine to Boston TD pass to beat Jake the Snake and the ASU Sun Devils. Oregon's last trip to the hallowed grounds was a loss to Penn State. I can't wait to watch this one... Early edge? Oregon

Alamo Bowl - San Antonio, TX: 9pm on January 2
Michigan State vs. Texas Tech
I have already heard everyone from Fox to ESPN to the Big Ten Network call this a major mismatch. I'll forgive them for being so presumptive so quickly. The Spartans will go into this with a chip on their shoulder. Riding a three game bowl losing streak, without some notable players and all the talk about how the Red Raiders will shred the MSU secondary. So be it. I think that if MSU can get some pressure and also shut down the run game, this will be a chance to silence the critics. And the State offense is pretty good too, with or without a few wide outs. This is perennially one of the better non BCS games, it might be again. Early edge? Texas Tech

Orange Bowl - Miami, FL: 8pm on January 5
Iowa vs. Georgia Tech
This one is very intriguing to me. Iowa has one of the most underrated defenses in the nation. Georgia Tech is a throwback joy to watch with the triple option. I know that with the limited access to triple option capable scout team players, the Yellow Jackets should have an upper hand, but I want Norm Parker on my side every time in these cases. My bigger fear is Iowa's attack. It hasn't been great and Stanzi will have to shake two months of rust. Still, as we get closer, I'll like Iowa's chances to get it done. Right now? Early edge? Georgia Tech

As for the rest...
Illinois - what a painful - if not appropriate - way to end the season. It looks like Zook will be back but the noose is on and will quickly tighten if the Illini don't get back to winning next season.

Indiana - the really bad news is that IU doesn't have hoops to look forward to quite yet. Will be a long winter in Bloomington, but this program has a chance to take a step up next season.

Michigan - I'm not sold that this team is poised to make the next step next year. Yes, the defense was young but it was also really bad. The offense isn't where it needs to be yet and there are rumors that Forcier might be supplanted by a newcomer next season? Not the start this program needs for 2010.

Purdue - The Boilers came on strong this year but have to replace some key pieces and parts. I do like the fire Danny Hope brings to the table, however, and think Purdue will make some noise in the near future.

The final Get Gamm picks - bowl style - are due by December 28. And BruceS gets to pick with me for winning the tiebreaker on the week 12 picks...