Wisconsin is the hottest team in the Big Ten. It’s true. This is a new world Big Ten, where traditional heavyweights like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska all are looking up at Wisconsin. This is the Badgers’ world … and everyone else is just living in it. The Badgers are coming off back-to-back Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances, going an aggregate 22-5 overall the last two seasons (13-3 Big Ten).
Purdue is coming off a 7-6, the program’s first winning mark since 2007. That has some people in West Lafayette thinking big, as the program aims for back-to-back bowls for the first time since 2006-07 when Joe Tiller still was the coach.
You have questions, and I have answers in this week’s football-heavy mailbag. I said the mailbag was football-heavy, but I did receive one great question about the chances of the Minnesota men’s basketball team making a Final Four run this year. Got to love Big Ten hoop fans! Read my answers to all of your queries in this post. And remember, if you have a question, send it to me in the comment section at the bottom of this post.
Penn State is entering a difficult era of NCAA probation and sanctions that figure to cripple the program for years. But first-year coach Bill O’Brien is moving forward undaunted and undeterred. The Nittany Lions can’t go to a bowl or win the Big Ten title, so O’Brien and Company must focus on regular-season success in the dawn of the post-Joe Paterno era that began in 1966. Penn State will have a chance to impact who wins the conference crown with games vs. the likes of Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska, as it aims to begin the healing process in pursuit of the best record possible.
Mick McCall’s offense is ticking at Northwestern. The Wildcat offensive coordinator, who is in his fifth season on the job, has developed one of the more consistently potent offenses in the Big Ten under Pat Fitzgerald. Last season, the attack ranked second overall in the Big Ten (420.9).
I love lists. And I bet you do, too. With that, did you see Athlon’s ranking of the Top 50 Big Ten players? No shock to see Wisconsin running back Montee Ball No. 1 and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson No. 2. But, honestly, that’s too obvious.
At Ohio State, it’s about turning the page. A new era has begun—and the possibilities seem limitless. Last season was difficult, as the Buckeyes endured the program’s first losing season (6-7) since 1988, which was John Cooper’s first campaign. The program also was shackled with NCAA probation stemming from the Jim Tressel era.
The USAToday preseason poll is out. And, stop me if you have heard this before: LSU is No. 1 followed by Alabama—the teams that played for the BCS title after last season. Please, football gods, don’t give us a rematch. Interestingly, Bama had more first-place votes (20) than LSU (18).
In case you were wondering, here is the official NCAA document that spells out the ifs, ands, buts and whatnots about Penn State players transferring to other schools. You may want to print this, cut it out and put it in your wallet—assuming you are a crazy college football fan. (If you are reading this, you are one.)
Nebraska’s maiden voyage in the Big Ten has to be considered a success on many fronts. The Cornhuskers finished 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten. But along the way, Nebraska found out it needs to get bigger and more physical on defense to better deal with Big Ten offenses. And the Husker offense must improve its passing game to give the attack better balance.
After Don Treadwell left to be head coach of Miami (Ohio) after the 2010 season, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio turned to offensive line coach Dan Roushar to be offensive coordinator. And that has proven to be a good move. Last season, the Spartan attack ranked fourth in the Big Ten, averaging 390.4 yards during an 11-3 season that included a Legends Division crown and triple-overtime Outback Bowl victory over Georgia.
It’s four bowls in a row and counting for Northwestern. And that’s a school record. The next goal: Win the program’s first postseason game since claiming the Rose Bowl after the 1948 season. If you are scoring in Evanston, that’s nine bowl defeats in succession. Pat Fitzgerald knows all of this. And it keeps him motivated. His offense has been clicking and doing its part in recent years.
Last season was one of transition for Minnesota. Tim Brewster was out after three-and-a-half years and a 15-30 overall record (6-21 Big Ten). Jerry Kill was in, arriving after a successful three-year run at Northern Illinois that produced a 23-16 overall mark and three bowl bids.
Feuds are what help make college sports great. They get fans fired up. They create additional interest in already great games. So long those lines, the fellas at Lost Lettermen compiled a list of their top 10 college football coaching rivalries, and the Big Ten is well-represented. As you read, you’ll notice one coach who appears more often than some others.
It’s the Monday following Big Ten Media Days, we’re getting closer and closer to the college football season, so there’s plenty of terrific Big Ten web links from around the web. Get all of Monday’s top clicks in this post.
Michael Mauti looks like he’s ready to hit somebody or something. The Penn State linebacker sports slicked back hair that covers his neck, his suit coat pulled tight across his arms and shoulders as he leans forward answering questions and staring at a water bottle in front of him. They are tough questions about teammates transferring, and Mauti speaks with passion. He speaks from the heart. It’s refreshing.