Wisconsin will face Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. . . Dog bites man. . . Film at 11.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are some thoughts as Big Ten teams prepare to chow down at their annual kickoff luncheon in Chicago on July 24.
The Badgers are such a no-brainer in the title game, the Big Ten ought to rename it the Elroy ``Crazy Legs’’ Hirsch Bowl.
Wisconsin has appeared in five of the first seven Big Ten championship games. And the fact that the Badgers have lost their last three either means that they are due—or that the Big Ten West. . . isn’t that good.
Here’s one of my favorite factoids from Phil Steele’s chocked-full-of-factoids College Preview:
There are four Badgers on Phil’s pre-season All-America first team: RB Jonathan Taylor, OG Beau Benzschawel and OT David Edwards on offense, and LB T.J. Edwards on defense.
That’s as many as Alabama (2) and Clemson (2) combined. And it’s one more than the rest of the Big Ten combined: Iowa TE Nick Fant, Michigan LB Devin Bush and Ohio State DE Nick Bosa.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The Badgers will need to be wary of their Big Ten opener in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes have taken down every juggernaut this side of the New England Patriots. Ohio State and Michigan have had their seasons spoiled at Nile Kinnick in November the last two years.
Iowa and Northwestern stack up as the chief obstacles to Wisconsin in the West. But Iowa has been inconsistent lately. And Northwestern has been downright skittery, especially while starting 2-3 and 1-3 the last two seasons.
Let’s give some love to Minnesota and Nebraska, which seem to be on the Road to Relevancy, courtesy of their new coaches. But let’s also give second-year Gopher reality star P.J. Fleck and the Cornhuskers newbie, Scott ``walk on water’’ Frost, just a little more time.
In other words, if any school besides Wisconsin is in the Big Ten championship game, it will be led by the coach of the year. And he’s getting a big raise.
Ohio State, on the other hand, is a tougher nut to crack.
The Buckeyes, who are aiming for their fourth Big Ten title game appearance in six years, are a perennial contender for the College Football Playoff, which they have reached twice in the last four years.
Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State all are capable of rising up in the Big Ten East. But that’s not the way to bet.
On this, I defer to Phil Steele. (I will even leave his space-saving terse-but-stat-laden prose intact.)
``Ohio St has to travel to both Penn St and Michigan St, but last year had a combined 1,053-478 yard edge in those two and are capable of winning both.’’
And: ``In ’12 Ohio St. went 12-0, in ’14 they won the National Title, and in ’16 made the playoffs. It is an even numbered year, so I will call for a 3rd playoff berth in five years with the most talented team in the Big Ten.’’
Even-numbered year! I love trends like that.
Some other nuggets from Mr. Steele.
Regarding Michigan: ``Despite getting as high as #12 AP in ’15, #2 in ’16 and #7 last year, they have finished no higher than 3rd place in the Big Ten East!’’
We’ll address the Harbaugh Conundrum in greater detail down the road. But that sums up the issue—exclamation point and all.
Regarding Purdue: ``[Jeff Brohm] exceeded my expectations every year [at Western Kentucky].’’ And ``Purdue trailed by 5 or less at the half in 5 of their last 6, but lost them all.’’
Let me add that I am a big Jeff Brohm fan. If he can gather in enough talent, Brohm could put a dent in the plans of all those Big Ten West teams to move up.
Regarding Illinois: ``In 2015, Bill Cubit’s squad was 5-7 and just -16.5 ypg in Big Ten play. Lovie Smith has opted to tear down the program to build it up.’’ And ``last year 16 true frosh earned starts. . . When those Frosh are Juniors, Illinois will have a better shot at a bowl.’’
In other words, it’s another autumn of Wait Till Next Year in Champaign? Phew. I tend to agree. I also wonder how Lovie and my many Illini friends will handle another year of struggles.
And regarding Northwestern: ``NW got off to a slow start at 2-3, but now have the nations longest winning streak at 8 and went 10-3.’’
NOTE: Since Central Florida won all 13 of its games last year, I’m gonna guess that Phi meant to say Northwestern has the longest winning streak among Power-Five conference teams. I haven’t crunched every number on that, but that seems right. Surprisingly.
Coming off their nice 10-3 season, Pat Fitzgerald’s lads will have their work cut out for them this fall, Phil noted: ``Drawing Mich & Mich St from the East, Notre Dame in the non conf, it will be tough for them to match ‘17s 10 win total.’’
That’s especially true, considering Northwestern’s tendency toward slow starts, and especially with QB Clayton Thorson coming off a major knee injury in its bowl game. NU opens at Purdue on Aug. 30, a dangerous game. It also starts Big Ten play against Michigan (Sept. 29), at Michigan State (Oct 6) and vs. Nebraska (Oct 13). The Wildcats also have a home date with Notre Dame (Nov. 3) sandwiched between Wisconsin (Oct. 27) and a trip to Iowa (Nov.10).
That’s a lot of dangerous opponents.
Add it all up and that opener at Purdue shapes up as pivotal for NU. The Boilermakers, you may recall, gave Louisville fits (Fitz?) before losing 35-28 in their opener last year at Indianapolis.
I can’t wait to see all of these regular-season games. Even knowing that Wisconsin and Ohio State will meet in Indy in December doesn’t diminish the journey.[/membership]