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HN Big 10 Predictions: 3rd, 4th & 5th

May 27, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation

Time to take a look at Jon Miller’s 2010 Big Ten football predictions for the teams he believes will finish 3rd, 4th & 5th.  If you missed any of the previous predictions, here are the links:

Predictions for 10th & 11th
Predictions for 8th & 9th
Predictions for 6th & 7th

T-4 WISCONSIN 5-3 in Big Ten play, 9-3 overall:  Athlon ranked Wisconsin #7 in the nation in their preseason magazine.  What they don’t do is forecast where they think teams will finish the year, which is how I like to do it.  To each his own of course.  Phil Steele picks the Badgers at #23 in his preseason magazine, and Lindy’s had the Badgers ranked 6th.

I like the Badgers, and they appear to be a classic Wisconsin team.  However they play at Iowa and at Michigan, in addition to hosting Ohio State.  They could win every one of those games, or they could lose all three.  I think the latter is what’s going to happen.

Wisconsin returns 16 starters, including 10 on offense; the loss is TE Garrett Graham, and that is a big loss.  He had 51 catches for 624 yards and seven touchdown receptions and he was also a competent blocker.  Quarterback Scott Tolzein developed into a solid signal caller, and he threw for 2,705 yards to go along with 16 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.  Those passing yards rank high in Wisconsin team history for a season, especially when you combine their powerful rushing attack.  John Clay returns this year to carry the ball, and he gained ,1517 last year to go along with 18 touchdowns…both of those totals would rank in the Top three all time at Iowa for a single season.

This may be the the most balanced offense in the Big Ten this year, which always give you a chance.

Defense is the thing that could keep the Badgers from living up to the preseason hype, however, as they lose three of their front four, including breakout star end O’Brien Schofield, who had 12 sacks one year ago.  They also lose their leading tackler in linebacker Jaevery McFadden, plus a free safety.

WR Nick Toon is back (54 receptions, four touchdowns and 805 yards), as are a pair of experienced receivers.

Can their offense score enough points to stay ahead of what the defense may allow?  Ball control is always a key for the Badgers and will be incredibly important this year to shorten games and keep the opponent’s offense off the field.

Predicted Wins:  @UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State, Austin Peay, @MSU, Minnesota, @Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern

Predicted Losses: Ohio State, @Iowa, @Michigan

Predicted Bowl:  Gator Bowl

Wisconsin went 9-3 in the regular season one year ago, and that included an 8-point win at home in the opener against NIU, a 34-31 double overtime win at home against Fresno State the week after, a three point win at Minnesota and a three-point win at Indiana.  They did what they had to do in the close ones for the most part, and I see that as a strength, not a weakness.  However, I believe they have a glass ceiling of around nine regular season wins again this year.

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T-4 MICHIGAN 5-3 in Big Ten play, 9-3 overall:  Some may feel this ranking is too high…and it probably is, given Michigan’s 8-16 record over the first two years of the Rich Rodriguez era.

However, I think the offense is going to kick it into a consistent gear.  I believe that Dennard Robinson is going to get the starting nod at quarterback and run with it, literally and figuratively.

He still has a lot to prove on the playing field as it relates to being a competent thrower, but we have all seen the damage he can inflict with his legs.  he gained 351 yards on the ground last year, over 5 yards per carry in spot duty.  As a passser?  14 of 31 for 2 TD’s and 4 INT’s…so he has a way to go there.

However, Rich Rod’s offense has been its most effective when it has had a dual threat quarterback and I don’t think Tate Forcier can do that through an entire season.  Robinson has blazing speed to boot.

The bad news for Michigan is that Robinson is their leading returning rushher, as Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are gone…they split starting time.  The Big Ten lists Michigan as returning 10 starters, but that’s not entirely accurate.  They have ten players back that started along the way last year, which would be like listing Adam Gettis as a returning starter for Iowa, along with Allen Reisner, which the Big Ten did not do in its spring prospectus, nor should they have done that.  Still, the Wolverines have talent at running back and that is one of the best positions for a young player to come in and contribute right away.

On the good news/bad news front for a second straight year, the Wolverines return a lot of players on defense, but the Michigan defense from 2009 might have been one of the worst in school history; they allowed their opponent to score 30 or more points in six of their eight conference games!  In the two games where their opponent scored less than 30, they went 0-2.

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Their best defensive player and one of the best in the league is gone, and that was DE Brandon Graham.  They also lose All American punter Zoltan Mesko and their placekicker

Predicted Wins:  UConn, @Notre Dame, UMass, Bowling Green, @Indiana, Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin

Predicted Losses:  @Penn State, @Purdue, @Ohio State

Predicted Bowl:  Capital One

I’ll admit right now that this is shaky…this team has not shown maturity or much chemistry under Rodriguez and he is on the hot seat.  The entire ball of yarn could come unwound in week one when Michigan hosts UConn, who might win the Big East this year, or if they stub their toe at Notre Dame the following week.  Truth be told, any Big Ten team on their schedule this year can probably believe they can beat Michigan, because most have over the past two seasons.

Michigan has lost its helmet mojo; teams know they can beat them and they aren’t down on the mental scoreboard before the game begins.  That has been a big psychological advantage for Michigan through the decades, and if they don’t get it back this year through better play, Rich Rod will be gone and the program could be set back several more years.  If they do get it back this year, Michigan might be the preseason favorite to win the league in 2011.  It’s one direction or another this year for the maize and blue.

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3rd Penn State 6-2 in Big Ten play, 9-3 overall:  The Nittany Lions have to replace QB Daryll Clark, who was a very effective starter for them the past two seasons.  They also lose TE Andrew Quarless and both tackles from an offense line that took a long time to round into shape last year, but center Stefen Wisniewski returns to anchor the line along with both guards.  Running back Evan Royster is back, one of the best backs in the league, along with speedster Stephfon Green.

The excellent receiver duo of Derek Moye and Graham Zug return with their 13 combined touchdown receptions…but one of the big questions remains just who will throw them the ball.  You should expect inconsistent play at quarterback early in the year, which is one reason why I don’t give them much of a chance against Alabama in week two or at Iowa on October 2nd.  After that, and thanks to three cream puffs on the schedule, I think they could even out.

They will have to find some answers on defense to replace some excellent players.  Gone are SE Jared odrick and DE Jerome Hays.  Odrick is a huge loss; he could play inside and outside.  They also lose their entire starting linebacking trio of Josh Hull, Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, plus excellent punter Jeremy Boone and his nearly 44 yard per punt average.

DL’s Jack Crawford and Ollie Ogbu return, so that is a good foundation up front.  Penn State always has linebackers in the live well, but I don’t think anyone can assume that this year’s PSU defense will be anywhere near last year’s group, even if that group was rarely at full speed because of injuries.

Still, there is talent in that program and I give their defense the benefit of the doubt after having watched them reload through the past few years.

Predicted Wins:  Youngstown State, Kent State, Temple, Illinois, @Minnesota, Michigan, NW, Indiana, MSU

Predicted Losses: @Alabama, @Iowa, @Ohio State

Predicted Bowl: Outback Bowl

NOTE:  I would wager that the Big Ten media will vote Ohio State first, Iowa second and Wisconsin third when we get to Chicago in early August.

FOR FRIDAY: It’s down to Iowa and Ohio State!

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