Today we turn our attention to the Midwest. The Big Ten and Mid-American Conference will be put under the microscope. Both leagues are coming off fairly disappointing 2008 campaigns. The Big Ten had a dreadful out of conference and bowl record last year. Iowa in the Outback Bowl was the only Big 10 bowl victor. The MAC had an equally unimpressive post season going 0-3, including a loss in the Motor City bowl to a Sun Belt squad( Florida Atl.). There is reason for optimism this year. We will begin with the Big Ten.
PROJECTED BIG TEN FINAL STANDINGS
1. Ohio State
3. Penn State
4. Michigan State
Ohio State returns alot of quality on defense and their offense should be improved. Pryor is in his second season and the staff will trust him with a slightly more exciting gameplan. OSU is not a national title contender, but all the other Big Ten teams have too many questions not to pick them to take the title. I believe that the Fighting Illini had everything go wrong last season that could. They will more resemble the 2007 Rose Bowl squad in Juice Williams final year. Penn State lost many weapons from last years team. QB Darryl Clark will have even more responsibility to make things happen. I think the Nittany Lions will still be formidable, but take a step back from last year. Coach Mark Dantonio has done a tremendous job at Michigan State. He will keep them competitive , but they lost too much at the skill positions to win the title. Ricky Stanzi, if he cuts back on INT’s, will be a star at Iowa. Kirk Ferentz’ squad still has the same problem they’ve had for years. They can beat anybody in the conference or lose to anybody. Rich Rodriguez is a winner and a good coach. Michigan won’t be winning the Big Ten this year; but I expect at least 6 wins and a bowl game, even if the QB situation stays muddled. Coach Bret Bielema is only 11-10 in his last 21 games. That mediocrity, plus a very vanilla offense, isn’t sitting well in Madison. A 7th place finish like I predict could put him on the road out of town. Minnesota’s recruiting under coach Tim Brewster is way up. Don’t expect much yet, but this team is on the rise. Northwestern’s offense lost pretty much everything. A solid defense will be counted on heavily to get Northwestern to the post season. The Old Oaken Bucket game between Indiana and Purdue will also get to decide last place in the conference. Both teams are in poor shape.
Bowl Teams: Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan St., Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota
Offensive MVP: Juice Williams, QB Illinois
Juice does everything Terrelle Pryor does and he’s a senior. That’s why he get the nod. Also his 3200 yards passing and 700 yards rushing last year doesn’t hurt.
Defensive MVP: Corey Wootton, DE Northwestern
The 6 foot 7 defensive end is a monster on the defensive line. He had ten sacks last year and countless disruptions of the opposition.
Team most likely to be way better or worse than I predicted:
Northwestern. This team went 9-4 last season and has a potentially stellar defense returning. I left them out of the bowls because of an offense that could be putrid. They lost every starting skill position player including QB CJ Bacher. New QB Mike Kafka is a completely different kind of QB than the Wildcats are used to. If they adapt, Northwestern could shock some people. Including me.
Best TE in the league: Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois
The 6’5″ 270 lb TE has a name that is difficult to pronounce and a game that’s difficult for opposing LB’s and SS’s to cover.
Best Coordinator: Tom Bradley, DC Penn State
Admittedly this has a little bit of a lifetime achievement feel to it. He is in his 31st year at Penn State, 10th as defensive coordinator. But you can’t argue with what he did last year. The Nittany Lions only gave up 14 pts a game and finished 8th in the nation in total defense, their 5th straight year in the Top 15.
PROJECTED MAC FINAL STANDINGS
1. Bowling Green
6. Miami (OH)
7. Kent State
1. Western Michigan
2. Central Michigan
3. Ball State
4. Northern Illinois
6. Eastern Michigan
MAC Championship game: W. Michigan over Bowling Green
The East division is a mess of slightly above -average teams. One of three or four teams could win it. It’s a monument to its unpredictability that I’m going with a Falcon team that fired its coach to to win the division. Turner Gill is the most overrated coach in football. It’s not that he’s not good its just that his 15-23 record doesn’t justify the hype. His team’s biggest victory was a 42-24 win over Ball State last year, not exactly legendary. But they will compete for the league title again. Both Ohio U. and Akron head into the season with experienced QB’s which at least gives them a chance. Temple is improving, just not there yet. New coach Mike Haywood takes over a Miami(OH) program that is not used to being this down. The RedHawk faithful will not be very patient. Kent State is very shaky at QB and that will hurt them against the elite of the conference. The West division is where the real story is at. On October 17th in Kalamazoo the league title may well be determined. Dan LeFevour will lead C. Michigan into battle against W. Michigan. The Chippewas of CMU have got the better of it lately ,but playing at home in QB Tim Hiller’s senior year, I think Western takes it. Ball State will come in a respectable third, but losing Nate Davis and coach Brady Hoke is too much to overcome. N. Illinois loses almost everybody on defense which will make it tough against some of the offensive powerhouses in their division. Toledo is starting over with a new coach. The talent is down at Toledo, but Tim Beckman will eventually rectify that. Eastern Michigan gets ex-Michigan and Louisville DC Ron English as the new head man. Boy, is it a tough job. I wouldn’t want to be him.
Bowl Teams: Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Bowling Green
Offensive MVP: Dan LeFevour, QB Central Michigan
He has been called a poor mans Tim Tebow. He’s taken CMU to 3 straight bowl games and combined for 27 TD’s last season.
Defensive MVP: Austin Pritchard, LB Western Michigan
The Senior linebacker had 12.5 tackles for a loss in his 86 tackles overall last season.
Team most likely to be way better or worse than I predicted:
Bowling Green. The falcons have tons of potential this season, but they will have to over come a few things. For starters, they will need to adjust to new coach Dave Clawson and his more ball control offense. The defense only returns 3 starters, so QB Tyler Sheehan and company will be asked to play very smart and outscore some people. If things don’t go right, they won’t be the East division champs.
Best TE in the league: Madaris Grant, Ball State
The big, pass-catching tight end will be called upon to provide an important target for freshman QB Kelly Page. Especially in the red zone.
Best Coordinator: Mike Bajakian, OC Central Michigan
Coach Bajakian has developed the perfect offense to highlight Dan LeFevour’s skills. The true test will come next year when those skills are gone.
Next post will cover the SEC and Mountain West.