Spring Picks: B1G Leaders
Jon Miller offers up his first Big Ten football predictions for 2011…sort of…these are spitball, quick glance takes. Click Here to read his picks for the Legends Division. Don’t run the math on these predictions to see if it all adds up, because again, these are spitball takes. We’ll fine tune things in June.
1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes lose a pair of starting guards in Justin Boren and Bryant Browning plus WR Dane Sanzenbacher, but everyone else returns. Sanzenbacher led the team in receptions (55) and yards (948) and touchdowns (11) so his loss is not insignificant. RB Brandon Saine was the third leading receiver for Ohio State, but Devier Posey (2nd) and Jake Stoneburner (4th) return. Posey is good and I am sure someone in the OSU stable will be there to play his opposite number. Both tackles and a center return, but one of those tackles (Mike Adams) will sit the first five games, as will QB Terrelle Pryor, RB Boom Herron and Posey. To say this offense could sputter over the first five games is not a reach. OSU hosts Michigan State in game five and is at Nebraska in game six. I think they split those games. I also think they lose a non conference game, finish 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten which should be good enough for the Leaders title.
2. Penn State: The Nits return seven starters on each side and the quarterback battle between Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden should be a lot of fun to watch. McGloin was more productive but Bolden has more upside and it was hard not to be shellshocked as a true frosh. He played at Alabama and Iowa last year during the first five games. Evan Royster is gone, the school’s all time leading rusher. Losing Stefen Wisniewski is a huge loss on an offensive line that struggled last year and they lose another OL starter. The OL was shaky this spring, as has been the case in each of the last two years. They lose two of three starters at LB and Ollie Ogbu on the DL is a big loss. I see them as a, 8-4 team overall and 5-3 in league play, with the one game in conference drop off from OSU being huge and on display at The Show on November 19th.
3. Wisconsin: must replace two NFL offensive linemen in Gabe Carimi and John Moffit. They must replace TE Lance Kendricks and WR/Returner David Gilreath, a two year starter at quarterback in Scott Tolzein and RB John Clay. Clay is the easiest player to replace, as the Badgers have a full running back stable. Kendricks was their leading receiver, with Gilreath 4th. Carimi and Moffit were beasts…yeah, I give the Badgers the benefit of the doubt on the OL the way I do Iowa, but not the benefit of the doubt they are going to have two players step in at that level…plus, the quarterback situation is a total wild card and their heir apparent is not in place. On defense, they lose JJ Watt and their other two top tacklers from one year ago, but do return three DL starters…just one LB, and they lose SS Jay Valai and Nile Brinkley. I see this as a 7-5 team, but their schedule (no true road game until October 22nd) will make their record better. I say 8-4 overall 4-4 in Big Ten.
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3. Illinois: Last year’s defense was salty and the Illini’s losses on that side are significant; Corey Liugett, Martez Wilson, Nate Bussey…on offense, they lose RB Mikel Leshoure and that is a significant loss. Can Jason Ford carry the mail? Leshoure was a Rashard Mendenhall type runner and the Illini fell off the face of the earth after he departed. However, when he left they also lost a great blocking fullback and two real good OL. This year, they return four OL starters and a better passing QB prospect than was Juice Williams in Nathan Scheelhaase along with their leading returning receiver. I think they have a shot at a 6-0 start this year and have a shot at finishing 5-3 in their division. That is what I wrote down at first blush, but I deduct a game from their totals each year due to the Ron Zook factor, so we’ll put them at 4-4 in the Big Ten but 8-4 on the season if they can beat Arizona State at home on September 17th.
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5. Purdue: Rob Henry is back at quarterback and he was also their leading rusher. They return a lot of starters on both sides of the ball including 4 of 5 on the offensive line. Ryan Kerrigan is a huge loss on defense, but he is one of just two players that does not return. I see them at 6-6 right now but lean more towards 7-5, with a 3-5 Big Ten record the worst case scenario and 4-4 more likely. Not looking forward to Iowa’s trip to West Lafayette this year.
6. Indiana: New coach, new style similar results. They went 5-7 last year, 1-7 in Big Ten play. They lost some heartbreakers (by 7 to Michigan, 3 to NW, 5 to Iowa, 63 to Wisconsin…wait) but they lose QB Ben Chappell and that is a lot. They had next to no running game last year so it was all on Chappell’s shoulders and he threw for 24 touchdowns to just 9 INT’s and more than 3200 yards. Still, I don’t see the Hoosiers being much more than a road bump for most teams this year.
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SUMMARY: This is not a great division. The Legends is far more balanced, with five teams that should be in bowl games and five teams that believe they can challenge for a title. While I see the chance for five teams in the Leaders to fight for a bowl game (then again, doesn’t everyone in this day and age), the difference between Ohio State and the rest of the pack is big, starting at game six. Penn State and Wisconsin have way too many questions to answer for me to think they can be a serious threat for the division title, even though I have Penn State one game back of Ohio State. If OSU didn’t have the suspensions to deal with, I’d tab them at 7-1 as a minimum, but I think they lose at Lincoln the first game back for the Tattoo Five.