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