Twelve predictions for 2012 Big Ten football season
Football season is slowly approaching. Less than four weeks from now, in fact, the games will be underway. To help kill the time between now and then, I’ve provided what I think is a bold prediction for every Big Ten team. See all the predictions in this post. Have a bold prediction of your own? Tell me in the comment box at the bottom of the post. Or you can tweet it to me, @BTNBrentYarina.
Illinois – Redshirt freshman running back Josh Ferguson will win the Thomas-Randle El Award, presented to the Big Ten’s top freshman.
Why it’s bold: Ferguson figures to share totes with sophomore Donovonn Young, so he may not have a true starting gig like last last year’s winner Braxton Miller, who was the starter most of the season.
Why it could happen: While small in stature, Ferguson is blessed with speed and elusiveness – he’s a lot like Wisconsin’s James White, come to think of it, and White surpassed the 1,000-yard barrier as a freshman two seasons ago.
Indiana – Stephen Houston will finish the season in the top 5 of the Big Ten in rushing yards.
Why it’s bold: The Big Ten is blessed with a handful of standout running backs, not to mention its share of dual-threat quarterbacks, and the junior college transfer finished 10th in the department last season (802 yards).
Why it could happen: Unlike last year, Houston will be Indiana’s featured back all season long.
Iowa – James Vandenberg will lead the conference in completion percentage, in addition to completions, yards and touchdowns.
Why it’s bold: The quarterback finished sixth in completion percentage last season, third among 2012 Big Ten returners.
Why it could happen: Vandenberg is a proven senior, he plays in an offense that will feature the pass, and regardless of what Texas fans say, Greg Davis played a role in helping several quarterbacks become national stars.
Michigan – The Big Ten favorites will enter conference play with a 2-2 record. A nonconference slate of Alabama (neutral site), Air Force, UMass and at Notre Dame is grueling, to say the least.
Why it’s bold: Michigan lost a total of two games last season, in 13 games.
Why it could happen: For obvious reasons: Alabama is the reigning national champ and the game at Notre Dame, a team that’s perennially overrated, isn’t exactly easy.
Michigan State – As many as six Michigan State defensive players will earn All-Big Ten first-team recognition, from either the coaches or media. The top candidates, in alphabetical order: Johnny Adams, Denicos Allen, Max Bullough, William Gholston, Isaiah Lewis and Chris Norman.
Why it’s bold: Only three Spartans (Adams, Jerel Worthy and Trenton Robinson) earned such honors in 2011, and Michigan State was the Big Ten’s top unit.
Why it could happen: Hype always helps with these kind of things, and Michigan State’s defensive unit enters the season with a ton of fanfare.
Minnesota – Someone other than quarterback MarQueis Gray will lead the Gophers in rushing yards.
Why it’s bold: Gray’s 966 rushing yards last year were 327 more than his next competitor (Duane Bennett) and 737 more than the second-leading returner (Donnell Kirkwood).
Why it could happen: It’s Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era and he wants a running attack that, you know, features the running back. For what it’s worth, Kill didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher in his first season at Northern Illinois, and then Chad Spann did it each of the next two years. Pressure is on Kirkwood or JC transfer James Gillum.
Nebraska – Brett Maher will have a perfect season.
Why it’s bold: Well, for one, he has such a powerful, accurate leg that Bo Pelini trusts him from just about any distance. Also, he missed four field goals and one extra point last season.
Why it could happen: Maher is deadly accurate from within 50 yards, evidenced by three of his four misses last season coming from the rarely attempted distance.
Northwestern – Kain Colter will make it on some expert, some blogger’s weekly top Heisman candidate list at least once this season.
Why it’s bold: Of the many positions Colter played last season, quarterback was not his best. And let’s be serious, it’s not every day you see a Northwestern player getting this kind of national love.
Why it could happen: Colter is a versatile and exciting talent, the kind of player who’s capable of making a jaw-dropping, did-you-see-that play every week.
Think Colter-Heisman talk is crazy – it is – there’s already this video:
Ohio State – The Buckeyes, not the Spartans, will feature the Big Ten’s top-ranked defense.
Why it’s bold: Michigan State returns eight starters from last season’s dominating unit that led the Big Ten.
Why it could happen: Ohio State is strong at all levels, especially defensive line where John Simon and Johnathan Hankins figure to dominate.
Penn State – Bill Belton will surpass Silas Redd’s 2011 touchdown total.
Why it’s bold: Belton has huge shoes to fill with Redd’s decision to transfer to USC, plus it’s not like he’s running behind a strong line or plays on an offense that features a vaunted passing attack.
Why it could happen: As great as Redd was in 2011, he only ran for seven touchdowns – not a huge number, by any means.
Purdue – Kawann Short will win the Nagurski-Woodson Award, handed out to the Big Ten’s top defensive player.
Why it’s bold: The Big Ten is loaded with big-time defensive stars, from Ohio State’s John Simon to Penn State’s Gerald Hodges, among many others.
Why it could happen: Short is as disruptive as any Big Ten player, and with offensive lines also having to keep tabs on Ryan Russell and Bruce Gaston, he should only improve upon last season’s 17 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
Wisconsin – Montee Ball will add another 30-score campaign to his historic, record-breaking career.
Why it’s bold: Several reasons, including the graduation of all-world QB Russell Wilson, the news Ball won’t be ready for the start of camp as a result of this week’s unprovoked attack, and the fact it’s 30 touchdowns, an average of 2.3 scores per game over the course of a 13-game season.
Why it could happen: Since becoming a regular fixture in the backfield midway through the 2010 season, Ball has averaged 2.8 touchdowns the last 19 games.