I will do a team by team, then my conference predictions, none of which will probably come to fruition.
I will start with my beloved Illini. Very few people know this, but we had the top rushing game in the Big Televen last year. That may not repeat itself, but you never know. "Juice" Williams, our QB is going to be a star. All he has to do is get his completion percentage up and opposing defenses will have to start cheating on the wide outs - then he can run like a deer. Our receivers last year sucked big time, but we have some very good recruits there this year. Our defense will be better, and we return a very good linebacking corps. I am predicting 5-7, or maybe 6-6 and a crappy bowl if the stars align. That will be great improvement from last year, and will set us up for a MONSTER 2008.
Wisco. I live here in Madison and get a lot of Wisconsin news and other tidbits. I had started to pick them to win the Big Ten, but now I am having my doubts. They have a star running back in PJ Hill, but their backup, Clay, has been declared ineligible. Now Smith, the great freshman from last year has had issues from apparently beating up his girlfriend. He is suspended as of now. If Hill doesn't have adequate backup, the rushing will suffer. Add to this a very inexperienced QB and you have some problems. Wisco's defense will be awesome though. They have to go to Penn State and Ohio State and Illinois (chuckle) but have Michigan at home. A much tougher road to hoe than last year. If they end up the season with one loss, they will have problems getting into the BCS because of their super weak non conference schedule, which borders on the ridiculous. Wash St., Northern Illinois, The Citadel and at UNLV. Geez.
Purdue. Joe Tiller is under the microscope for whatever reason. The Boilermakers have had a pretty good run. Nobody gained more yards last year in the Big Ten, but their defense was totally porous and that was their downfall. The team returns just about everyone and should go to their 10th bowl game in 11 years. Their offense scored just 3 against Wisco last year, so consistency will be the key. Their team will probably win seven or maybe eight games. They are a lock for a bowl though in my opinion.
Northwestern. The Wildcats should be over the death of their coach Randy Walker. That had to get old at the beginning of every game to deal with that moment of silence. Anyway, Northwestern has a pretty damned weak schedule and should put up six wins. They have a solid QB and RB. The defense has been traditionally small (compared to most Big Ten behemoths) but this year they are larger and should be better. Nobody had better be sleeping against the Wildcats.
Indiana. The poor Hoosiers have had only the kind of success that Illinois has enjoyed over the past several years, which is to say none. They are now dealing with the loss of their head coach during the off season (what is it with the dying Big Ten coaches?) and that, I think may be a distraction. They have a great up and coming QB, Kellen Lewis that they will need to help out in the backfield so he can make some things happen. Their D is still somewhat small. While the Hoosiers will be improved, they still won't improve their standing in the Big Ten too much.
Iowa. Scheduling favors the Hawkeyes this year as they don't play Michigan or Ohio State. They still have to come to Madison to play the Badgers and that is always a challenge. All of Iowa's receivers are back along with almost all of its sensational defense. Their coach, Kirk Ferentz is always on the short list of NFL coaching opportunities. If the Hawkeyes can stay healthy they may make a run at the Big Ten. Time will tell.
Penn State. JoPa is back for his 173rd year at Penn State and he has a pretty damned good team this year with him. Anthony Morelli will be better at QB for the Nifty Lions this year and if he turns into a star they will be in the hunt for the Big Ten title. Their defense will be great this year, and their offense is going to put points on the board, no doubt about that. Their back seven on defense will probably be second to none in the nation, much less the Big Ten. If they can keep their turnovers down, watch for the Nittany Lions to make a run at the Big Ten.
Michigan. What can you say. The hated Wolverines are always good and this year is no exception. I shouldn't have to say much about all American candidate Mike Hart and that massive offensive line. It really is pretty scary. Their defense took a pretty big hit in the NFL draft this year, but that offense...damn they look good. Their schedule is very easy - only one 2006 bowl team on it. But one problem. That team is Wisco and that game is here in Madison. Tough by any standard. I will be attending that one, I guarantee. They have eight home games this year (wtf?) including the Ohio State game. Everyone has Michigan as their favorite to win the Big Ten and maybe go further...with good reason.
Ohio State - Wow they lost a lot of talent last year in the draft. After that beat down by Florida in the national championship game they will get a lot of berries from the fans. Watch them go 8-0 right out of the gate with a very soft schedule, then the serious business begins for the Buckeyes. Their offense will be good enough, but their defense with some very seriously good linebackers will be outstanding once again. They might not be good enough to win the conference, but with lady luck could lock down second place.
Michigan State. First, I have to thank the Spartans for letting Illinois break the streak of a couple dozen Big Ten losses. That said, with a new coach and a few good athletes, MSU will contend for one of the bottom third spots with the rest of the Big Ten wannabees. It is going to be tough for the Spartans, as they have to replace Drew Stanton on offense and the defense will take lots of chances to try to steal a game here or there. Nobody is really looking for much from Michigan State this year and that may help them.
Minnesota. Another first year coach. The Gophers have been looking for a long time to be a have and not a have not in the Big Ten. They did go to a crappy bowl last year and that is a massive improvement. The new coach has a good pash rush to use and that may wreak havoc on some Big Ten teams. With the talent (or lack therof) they have, Minnesota will probably be no better than a .500 team.
Sooo, prediction time. Man this is tough. I don't see anybody running the Big Ten unscathed this year.
1. Michigan 7-1
1. Wisconsin 7-1
3. Penn State 6-2
3. Ohio State 6-2
5. Purdue 5-3
5. Iowa 5-3
7. Illinois 3-5
7. Northwestern 3-5
9. Minnesota 2-6
10. Indiana 1-7
10. Michigan State 1-7
Cross posted at Saturday Football Update.