2008 Big Ten Football Preview

By: Matt Baxendell

The Big Ten had a tough 2007 as the conference dealt with the fallout from 2006's stunning showing during the bowl season where both Ohio State and Michigan lost badly after finishing the regular season both ranked in the top 3 and boasted 23 wins combined. Despite the Big Ten's bowl record of 2-1 against the SEC, it was open season on the conference, especially down south. How did the Big Ten respond? By preseason top five selection Michigan losing to Appalachian State in one of the biggest upsets in history! The Big Ten had a big chance to redeem itself in the Rose Bowl and BCS National Title Game but Illinois and Ohio State lost both of those games as well, furthering the perception that the conference had fallen off. Needless to say, the Big Ten is in need of image rehabilitation after a down year.

Luckily, 2008 is looking up for the Big Ten, which returns a huge number of returning players and features three legitimate top ten caliber teams in Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. The conference returns 8 teams with 13 or more starters along with eight returning starting quarterbacks. Another major storyline will be the debut of new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who marks a huge departure from traditional Michigan football after using the spread offense to turn West Virginia into a perennially successful team. As always, conference strength ebbs and flows amongst the major powers and this year should be a strong year for the Big Ten and the conference could answer all of its critics with a strong year.

Ohio State (Predicted Conference Record: 8-0)
2007 finished much like 2006 for the Buckeyes, with a loss on college football's biggest stage. The Buckeyes were at least competitive last year before falling to LSU (unlike the previous year's stunning flop against Florida) but they have become one of the country's most hated teams after consecutive title losses. What was overlooked by the nation last year was that Ohio State had to replace their entire offense and wasn't expected to even win the Big Ten, much less make the National Title Game. This year was supposed Ohio State's year and the Buckeyes return 19 starters, including no less than five seniors who turned down a shot at getting picked in the 1st round of the NFL draft, to a team that has played in the last two National Title Games! The Buckeyes might be the most experienced team in the BCS era to challenge for a National Title and expectations are enormous.

Penn State (Predicted Conference Record: 7-1)
Penn State had a solid 2007, finishing 9-4 with a bowl victory. The Nittany Lions have now won three consecutive bowl games and have amassed a 29-9 record the past three years despite fierce criticism towards PSU's aging icon, Joe Paterno. Penn State returns 16 starters this fall and should far exceed what appear to be surprisingly low expectations outside of Happy Valley.

Wisconsin (Predicted Conference Record: 6-2)
Wisconsin was a solid team in 2007, finishing 9-4 in Head Coach Brett Bielema's second season while playing in their fourth consecutive January bowl game. In fact, Wisconsin has won 40 games in the last 4 years and has only lost one home game during that span! Furthermore, the Badgers return 17 starters from last year's team, meaning that Wisconsin could be a very dangerous team this fall.

Michigan State (Predicted Conference Record: 5-3)
2007 may turn out to have been a groundbreaking year at Michigan State in Head Coach Mark Dantonio's first season. Unlike years past, Michigan State responded to adversity during the middle of the year and finished the year strong to make a bowl game instead of falling apart as was traditional under former coach John L. Smith. Dantonio, who was Ohio State's defensive coordinator during their national title season of 2002 and Cincinnati's head coach for three years after that, is a strong recruiter and defensive coach and he returns 13 starters from last year's team in a year where Michigan State may take another step forward to make an impact in the Big Ten race and nationally.

Illinois (Predicted Conference Record: 4-4)
2007 was nothing short of a phenomenal and stunning season for the Fighting Illini, catapulting from a 2-10 mark in 2006 all the way to a 9-4 finish and a Rose Bowl berth! Head Coach Ron Zook's turnaround of a previously moribund program has been founded on his exceptional recruiting and a continued improvement on defense. Illinois suffers a lot of big losses from last year's surprising team (only 13 starters return) so many of Zook's young recruits will be given their first chance to take ownership of their team.

Michigan (Predicted Conference Record: 3-5)
2007 can only be described as a massive disappointment for the Wolverines. First the Wolverines began the year ranked #5 only to lose to Appalachian State, following that up by getting blown out by Oregon the next week. Then after they rebounded to win 8 games in a row, Michigan's senior class failed to beat Ohio State for the 4 th straight year, meaning the graduating seniors never defeated their archrival! Head Coach Lloyd Carr announced his retirement soon thereafter and Michigan sent him out properly with a bowl win over Florida in the Capital One bowl. Michigan's new boss is former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez will bring his vaunted spread offense to Ann Arbor, a transition that may cause the Wolverines to struggle on offense this fall. However, after losing their all-time leaders in quarterback starts, passing yards, rushing yards, the #1 pick in the NFL draft, three other starting lineman and both of their starting receivers, Michigan would have struggled anyway. With only two starters back on offense and nine overall, Michigan could see its worst year in a very long time.

Iowa (Predicted Conference Record: (3-5)
Iowa had a very difficult 2007, opening the year sluggishly before fighting their way back into the bowl picture and then inexplicably losing the final game of the season at home against Western Michigan to remove them from bowl consideration. It was a stunning turn of events for a program which finished #8 in the country for three consecutive years from 2002-2004 and has only won a total of 19 games the past three years! Head Coach Kirk Ferentz isn't on the hot seat yet but a disappointing 2008 could put him there. As off-field issues continue to dog the Hawkeyes, Ferentz will have to hope that 13 returning starters can be the foundation of a team which returns to a bowl game and prevents his job security from worsening.

Purdue (Predicted Conference Record: 3-5)
Purdue finished 2007 with a solid 8-5 mark, their best record since 2003. The Boilermakers were led by a solid passing attack en route to a bowl victory in Head Coach Joe Tiller's penultimate season. This fall will be Tiller's 12 th and final season in West Lafayette and offensive line coach Danny Hope is his appointed successor. So, expect the theme of this fall to be to win one for Joe. However, the Boilermakers only return 12 starters so there could be some growing pains, especially on defense.

Northwestern (Predicted Conference Record: 2-6)
Northwestern had a difficult 6-6 season last fall in former star linebacker Pat Fitzgerald's second season at the helm. The Wildcats missed out on a bowl game because of an awful loss to Duke at home and their defense regressed as well. 2008, however, is looking bright in Evanston, as Fitzgerald's stated goal this fall has been to reach a bowl game. With 15 starters returning from last year and a favorable schedule, the Wildcats may well prove him right.

Minnesota (Predicted Conference Record: (2-6)
2007 was a catastrophically bad season for Minnesota, finishing with a 1-11 record in new coach Tim Brewster's first season. After firing former coach Glen Mason for not getting the Gophers over the hump to the top of the conference, Minnesota went 0-8 in Big Ten play and lost in embarrassing fashion to Florida Atlantic, Bowling Green, and D-1AA North Dakota State! However, Brewster has an infectious personality and is proving to be a great recruiter; He brought in one of the nation's 20 best classes this spring. Expect 15 starters and a year of experience for both the players and their head coach to translate into a much stronger season this fall.

Indiana (Predicted Conference Record: (1-7)
2007 was a very successful year for the Indiana Hoosiers, winning 7 games in the regular season and making the program's first bowl in fourteen years! Last season was an emotional one, as the bowl berth was dedicated to recently deceased coach Terry Hoeppner, who had changed the climate around the program during his two years at Indiana. This fall, Hoeppner's successor, Bill Lynch, has been made the permanent coach and he has thirteen starters back as the Hoosiers try to reach a bowl game in back to back years for the first time in nearly two decades.

The Bottom Line for the Big Ten in 2008
The Big Ten had a rough year in 2007 but this fall should be a much better year. Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern, and Minnesota should all be better than their 2007 versions and Illinois should still be a strong team in spite of taking a step back. Furthermore, Michigan may struggle this fall, but they remain a dangerous team that could beat many of their conference opponents on any given Saturday. However, this fall will be about four teams in the Big Ten race: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. Expect Michigan State to be a very solid contender this fall and serve notice that they will be a major player for future Big Ten Championships. Meanwhile, Penn State and Wisconsin should prove to be tough competition for Ohio State and both are legitimate top ten caliber teams in their own right. I fully expect the winner of their Oct. 11th matchup to qualify for a BCS at-large bid and both should go into the bowl season with 10 or more wins. Expect 2008's conference theme to be redemption on a national level.

However, when I said that this fall was about four teams in the Big Ten race, well, I lied. The 2008 Big Ten race is all about Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the conference's best team by far and are also one of the country's elite teams. Ohio State simply has far too much talent and experience to lose a game in Big Ten play this fall and I expect them to win their third consecutive outright Big Ten Title. Furthermore, I expect them to defeat a dangerous but retooling USC squad in September. That means, America, Ohio State will end up playing in their third consecutive National Title Bowl Game this January and perhaps the third time will finally be the Buckeyes' charm.

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The 2008 Big Ten football preview was written by Matt Baxendell. CollegeSports-fans.com provides fans with coverage of the College Football & Basketball all year long and also features a great selection of affordable college hats, clothing, Fatheads & other NCAA merchandise.

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