I live in the Midwest which is Big Ten country. Once conference play starts virtually every Big Ten game is televised in my region and I commit myself to try and watch all of them. I have three televisions set up as some games are being played at the same time. I have no bias or affiliation to any Big Ten team as I am a lifelong Notre Dame fan (I include ND games in my viewing schedule as well). My comments and reports are qualified only by my love of the game and an extreme commitment to watching and following Big Ten football.

Monday, January 8, 2018


The Big Ten was shut out of the national playoffs, and under the current system I have no argument against that. I may have an argument with the current system (leaving the teams’ fates in the hands of a group of self-absorbed panelists who actually believe their “eye test” is an accurate barometer to determine the best teams in the country), but that’s a different matter altogether. Top to bottom, this has been the strongest the conference has been in years in my opinion, and consequently the teams beat up on each other just enough to leave no team undefeated. I firmly believe three teams from the conference, while not necessarily better, are as good as whoever may win the national championship. Strong at the top, but the real difference now is the strength at the bottom. And it starts with the coaches. Gone are the Darrel Hazells and Tim Beckmans, replaced with solid coaches like Jeff Brohm and Lovie Smith. No easy outs in this conference.
I’ve listed a comparison of my preseason prediction vs. the actual outcome, and some comments on how my predictions turned out and a general overview of the teams’ performances.

What I said:
7) - ILLINOIS- (2-7) (3-9)
I know they say it takes three years, but I still think the first season is a good indicator. HC Lovie Smith’s first season?...not so good. I actually do expect some improvement. Nothing that will show up in the win-loss record, though.

7) - ILLINOIS- (0-9) (2-10)
I did expect a couple of conference wins, namely against Rutgers and Indiana. But Rutgers had a nice mid-season surge and I knew Indiana would be the better team, but figured the Illini might steal one at home. Looks like Lovie will need all three years and I think a third season is worth a look. Youth and injuries are the lament of most losing teams, but I think there’s some validity to that in the Illini’s case. I like the new RB, but he got hurt, and the new QB shows promise. This team fought hard and was close in all but the last two games. My last couple sentences were accurate, I think. Drastic drop off in stupid penalties from the Beckman era, and we have to consider just how bad the Beckman era was. Still, we’ve seen quicker turnarounds and it’s rare that a coach becomes consistently successful after a start like this, but it is Lovie Smith. Just wonder if recruiting isn’t a challenge for him. I’d say give him another year but if things don’t improve it’s time to re-evaluate.

What I said:
2) - MINNESOTA- (5-4) (8-4)
New HC P.J. Fleck comes in highly touted. And the Gophers have been very competitive lately. I’m seeing some losses in the road games on the schedule.

6) - MINNESOTA- (2-7) (5-7)
The Gophers lost their road games and then some, dropping them to a distant sixth place finish as opposed to the three way tie I predicted. This wasn’t a terrible football team; I don’t think any team in the Big Ten was. So with a competitive conference, the record looks worse than the reality. Still, I figured this program to maintain the mid to upper level division status that was established under the Jerry Kill regime. But coaching changes can mean a step back in the first season, so a mulligan is certainly warranted. This team will need a QB. I’m a bit wishy-washy in my opinion of HC P.J. Fleck. I think he deserves more time, and although I can’t put my finger on exactly why I feel this way, I have a feeling Fleck may be in over his head. But that’s just a hunch. Next season will be telling.

What I said:
4) - NEBRASKA- (5-4) (7-5)
New QB, new DC, but I’m expecting more of the same from the Mike Riley era. Good, but not great.

5) - NEBRASKA- (3-6) (4-8)
The Mike Riley era is finally over after three seasons.  It’s well documented on this blog that I’ve been expecting this since not too long after Riley was hired. I overestimated their finish a bit – I wasn’t really sure if a new QB would help the Riley/Nebraska situation. It didn’t. An early season loss to Northern Illinois exposed the Huskers as a subpar team, by any standards, let alone the high standards established in Lincoln. Consequently, I was able to cash in a few times wagering against the Huskers. We’ll have to see if things improve, now that Riley has been returned to from where he came, probably feeling like this whole stint was just a bad dream. Husker fans are counting new HC Scott Frost to end the nightmare. I don’t know too much about Frost but I expect he’ll do better than this in his first season.

What I said:
5) - IOWA- (4-5) (6-6)
New QB, new OC, and same Kirk Ferentz. Throughout the years, Iowa (and Northwestern) has been one of the most difficult teams to figure out. You never know with this program.

4) - IOWA- (4-5) (7-5)
I got the conference record right, but it was good for fourth place in the division. Typical Iowa season. Some really great wins and some head scratching losses. Every now and again, usually when the grumbling gets intense, Ferentz turns in an exceptionally good season. But most of the time, this is what you’ll get. And from the couch it appears that everyone in Iowa is fine with that. Oh, I’m sure there’s some grumbling after a season like this, but if the standards were all that high, a change would have been made long ago. QB Nathan Stanley was slightly above average in first season as a starter, and shows promise to be even better next season. I don’t really see him as ever becoming elite, though. The new OC, Ferentz’s kid, wasn’t outstanding, but was much better than I expected considering the nepotism. Josey Jewell was the best linebacker I’ve seen in this conference, and RB Akrum Wadley was under-appreciated in a conference full of good RBs. The Hawkeyes struggled in big games to get Wadley in open space, where he is most effective.

What I said:
6) - PURDUE- (4-5) (5-7)
I thought Purdue showed signs during the last tenure and even the tenure before. Played hard, just poorly coached. The new guy is supposed to be good, and I like QB David Blough. I expect significant improvement from the Boilermakers.

3) - PURDUE- (4-5) (6-6)
The significant improvement I expected came to fruition. In fact, I feel pretty good about how the season played out compared to my preseason take. I knew it. This team could be good with decent coaching. I had my finger on the pulse of this team all season, save a mid-season dip when the Boilermakers lost to Rutgers and Nebraska. The dual QB system in this case seemed like a good idea, and it paid off when Blough went down with an injury. In stepped a very experienced and capable Elijah Sindelar. I’m not a big fan of QBs sharing time, but there’s something to be said for it when you consider there’s a good chance, probably better than most would guess, that the QB is going to be injured at some point in the season. I cashed in on this team a few times, and should have cashed in a few more times.

What I said:
3) - NORTHWESTERN- (5-4) (7-5)       
Many are projecting Northwestern to make a serious run at the Western Division title. Maybe; they have a lot of returning starters. Contrary to many of the experts, I’m not completely sold on QB Clayton Thorson, though.

2) - NORTHWESTERN- (7-2) (9-3)
I had my “I told you so” ready after the early season blowout loss to Duke. But the Wildcats finished much better than I projected. No shame in losing to Wisconsin and Penn St., and the Wildcats ran the table from there. Always have to have a head scratching loss in there, often times early in the season. Northwestern was never on Wisconsin’s level, though, so a serious run at the division title was never a consideration. Overall, I’d say Thorson did better than I expected, although some of my complaints about him would come to fruition. Just not as often. I compare HC Pat Fitzgerald to Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. Both are long tenured because they do just good enough to keep their job, but not good enough for anyone to lure them away. Every good season, such as this, seems to have a strange loss, and every not so good season, such as Iowa’s, seems to have a big win in there.

What I said:
1) - WISCONSIN- (8-1) (11-1)
I think this team was as good as any in the conference last season and most all of the starters are back. The schedule is kind, too. Yet another new DC is a concern, but otherwise, I see this team in the playoff discussion deep into the season.

1) - WISCONSIN- (9-0) (12-0)
It’s difficult for any team to go undefeated, so I figured the Badgers would stumble somewhere along the way. Aside from that, I think I can put my preseason prediction for Wisconsin in the “I told you so” category. Well, me and probably several others. But while most of the preseason publications I was reading may have had Wisconsin at or near the top of the division, none of them seemed to think the Badgers were going to be quite as successful as I was predicting with the late season playoff discussion. And Wisconsin may have made the playoffs with a little bit better play out of QB Alex Hornibrook in the championship game. Don’t get me wrong, Hornibrook didn’t play terrible, but he needed to play one of his best games and he didn’t. And am I the only one wondering where was Jonathon Taylor in the second half? He wasn’t even on the field during some key possessions. Heck, I thought he must’ve been hurt there for a while.

What I said:
5) - INDIANA- (2-7) (5-7)
A new coach in Bloomington. He sounds serious and receives credit for last season’s dramatically improved Hoosiers defense. Nine defensive starters return and a talented starting QB returns. I think the Hoosiers will be a tough out, but I don’t see ‘em knocking off any of the big boys.

7) - INDIANA- (2-7) (5-7)
The Hoosiers were in just about every game, but didn’t knock off any of the big boys. The new coach is dedicated and, for better or worse, emotional. QB Richard Lagow suffered a mid-season swoon and was benched for either injury or performance, I’m not sure which, but really the Hoosiers were a decent team in a conference that, top to bottom, is the most competitive it’s been in some time. This is one of the best last place teams the conference has had in years.

What I said:
7) - MARYLAND- (1-8) (3-9)
I’m always skeptical of transfer QBs. The experts call for better from the Terps based on signs of improvement last season. Those signs aren’t so obvious to me. Last season’s team got spanked when up against quality competition. I just don’t see many wins on a tough schedule.

6) - MARYLAND- (2-7) (4-8)
Maryland turned some heads right out of the gates with a season opening upset over Texas. The transfer QB I was skeptical of eventually played, but started the season third on the depth chart as Maryland lost two QBs to injury. This team had some impressive playmakers on offense, and actually wasn’t all that bad. But from the couch it appeared there were times during the season when this team would quit when things weren’t going well. That could account for how the Terps faded down the stretch, but we can’t dismiss the tough schedule I mentioned in my prediction.

What I said:
6) - RUTGERS- (2-7) (4-8)
Adding Jerry Kill to the staff is a big plus. I’ve got the Scarlet Knights winning one or two more conference games than most of the experts are predicting, mostly for that reason.

5) - RUTGERS- (3-6) (4-8)
Rutgers did come up with a couple of unexpected conference wins, although I’m not sure how much Kill had to do with that. Kill just retired amid reports that he relapsed into his health issues during the season. The Scarlet Knights put together a mid-season run winning three of four conference games, which immediately turned the season into a success by recent standards. After that, it seem as though this team was content to rest on that success as they closed the season with three losses by a combined margin of 13 – 116.

What I said:
3) - MICHIGAN- (6-3) (9-3)
The Wolverines lost a lot of starters, but hey, it’s Michigan. That means something now that Harbaugh is in charge. It wouldn’t surprise me if Michigan does better than I’m projecting, but it wouldn’t take long to find the three tough spots I’m seeing on the schedule.

4) - MICHIGAN- (5-4) (8-4)
 Michigan lost one more game than I predicted, against Michigan St. This team struggled at the QB position. Wilton Speight was injured early in the season, but really wasn’t playing well at all before he got hurt. John O’Korn struggled as well as the replacement. Freshman Brandon Peters was inserted late in the season and his play had me and I’m assuming others wondering why he wasn’t inserted earlier in the season. Eventually Peters was injured, but his brief stint left him appearing to be the future QB for the Wolves. Speight saw the handwriting and has recently transferred. Too bad the offense struggled so much, the defense was very good.

What I said:
2) - PENN ST- (6-3) (8-4)
The reigning champs have a lot returning and consequently, large expectations. I’m not completely sold, though. I love QB Trace McSorley, the kids a winner. Has a lot of swagger. Maybe too much. I know he’s a junior but I’m a expecting a bit of a sophomore jinx from him and most of the team. They’ll be good, just not as good as they might think they are.

3) - PENN ST- (7-2) (10-2)
Penn St. turned in a better record but finished lower in the division than I predicted. It took me a long time to warm up to HC James Franklin, but I have to give the man credit. He’s got this program back on track. I didn’t find this team to be overconfident at all, and they weren’t too far from going undefeated and playing for the conference championship. The loss to Michigan St. was a tough spot coming off a heartbreaking one point loss to Ohio St. in the most hyped regular season conference game of the season. Don’t want to take anything away from Sparty, but the outcome may have been different if Michigan St. fell on any other date on the schedule.

What I said:
4) - MICHIGAN ST- (4-5) (6-6)
I don’t expect a sharp rebound all the way back to the elite after last season’s fall from grace. Not without an experienced QB. Dantonio is a good coach, though. But like others, I’m wondering if last season was just a mulligan or has the Dantonio era reached its peak.

2) - MICHIGAN ST- (7-2) (9-3)
We got our answer concerning Dantonio. The man hasn’t lost his touch at all. I was dead wrong—the Spartans turned things around in a big way. Well, at least in the won-loss column. And that’s all that really matters, right? I wouldn’t call this a dominating team, many of the wins against like opponents were by very thin margins. And a couple of the losses, Notre Dame and Ohio St., were blowouts. Still, have to hand it to Dantonio and the whole Spartan program.

What I said:
1) - OHIO ST- (9-0) (12-0)
I thought new OC Kevin Wilson was overrated as a Head Coach. Nothing overrated about his offense, though. I mean, the man ran an offense that could put up points against anybody while he was at Indiana. Giving him access to the talent that parades through Columbus just isn’t fair.

1) - OHIO ST- (8-1) (10-2)
The Buckeyes weren’t as dominant as I thought they’d be, especially on offense. Wilson’s impact wasn’t near as apparent as I expected, and at one point during the season reports of tension between HC Urban Meyer and Wilson surfaced. The Buckeyes were good enough to compete with any of the teams in the national playoffs, but with two losses probably should not have been invited. The loss to Iowa was a dagger, but much of that has to be chalked up to a letdown after a big “showdown” against Penn St. the week before.

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