Big Ten – A Postseason Nightmare

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – The Big Ten has won 51 of its last 70 non-conference regular season FBS games, but when it comes to the postseason, the league has taken it on the chin. Only one league club (Iowa) was able to win a bowl game last year, and since ’04, when the league went 3-3 SU and 5-1 ATS in the postseason, the Big Ten is 9-20 SU and 12-17 ATS.

Last season was also disastrous for those wagering on the 11 teams in out-of- conference play, with a 15-26 ATS mark (37%) the penalty for betting on those clubs. The winning percentage against other BCS squads was the same 37%, with a 7-12 ATS record. More important to the league itself was its horrible showing against the other top five conferences. The Big Ten won only six of 19 games SU, with only Iowa and Northwestern


11) NORTHWESTERN – The Wildcats won nine games for the first time since 1996. Bet against them after a victory, since they are 7-22 ATS of a SU win the last five years.

Offense – It will be a rebuilding season without the starting quarterback, top two running backs and top three receivers. Mike Kafka will start at QB, but the senior has a lifetime 3-8 TD/INT ratio in 145 attempts. The o-line returns four starters, but the same scenario occurred in ’06 and the team had its lowest rushing totals in seven years.

Defense – The Wildcats not only limited opponents to just 20 ppg, they allowed 50 fewer rushing yards per game (in Big Ten play) compared to ’07. Unfortunately, four of the top six tacklers from the front seven will not be back. In addition, star DE Corey Wootton is coming off reconstructive knee surgery.

Outlook – The media is calling Northwestern a Big Ten sleeper this year but the last time the club had a winning record, it won just four games the following season. The Wildcats should win five in ’09 but only two will come in conference play.

10) PURDUE – The Boilermakers flopped to a four-win campaign, their worst record since 1996. They are 2-5 ATS as home underdogs the last three years.

Offense – Most experts feel this unit will fall completely flat without Curtis Painter, but the QB had a dismal senior season. Furthermore, the Boilermakers are loaded at RB, and the ground game will be prominently featured under new head coach Danny Hope.

Defense – Purdue ranked number one in the Big Ten against the pass primarily because they were last vs. the run. There is reason for optimism, as eight of the top 10 tacklers return after the club played last year without five of its top six.

Outlook – Penn State and Iowa are off the schedule (Purdue is 1-7 vs. those clubs the last four years) and the defense is the best it’s been since ’04. The Boilermakers match last year’s marks at 4-8 and 2-6 in the Big Ten, with at least one huge upset along the way

9) INDIANA – The Hoosiers laid an egg with a 3-9 record after reaching the postseason for the first time in 14 years. They are 16-34 ATS as underdogs the last six years.

Offense – The Hoosiers will feature the pistol offense, which will help improve the running game behind their finest o-line in years. Ben Chappell is an unknown commodity at QB but his 6.54 yards per attempt eclipsed that of counterpart Kellen Lewis and wasn’t that far behind the 6.89 mark Lewis had during the ’07 bowl season.

Defense – Indiana finished last in the league in both scoring and total defense. Greg Middleton recorded just four sacks after leading the nation the year before, but Jammie Kirlew picked up the slack with 10.5. Both return this season, and if injuries don’t sideline the DBs, look for the Hoosiers to have one of their finest defenses in years.

Outlook – Indiana improves three games to reach the .500 mark (2-6 in league play) and finishes above .500 ATS after last year’s 2-9 record.

8) MICHIGAN – It was a trying season for Rich Rodriguez in his first year in Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines won only three games. They were 0-4 ATS in non- conference play (2-10 ATS overall) and are now 4-13 in that department over the last four years.

Offense – The offense was not expected to score much last season with only three returning starters, but the club did average 22 ppg in Big Ten play, only three points fewer than in ’07. A lot of that had to do with a 70% red zone TD percentage, which topped the league. The offense will improve in the second year of the new system.

Defense – Michigan returned seven starters and still finished 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense. This year five return but the unit loses seven of its top 12 tacklers. In addition, 41% of the lettermen will not be back compared to only 20% the year before.

Outlook – The team battles its way back to .500 at 6-6, with three Big Ten victories.

7) MICHIGAN STATE – The Spartans recorded back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in over 10 years. They are 4-1 ATS as road favorites the last two seasons.

Offense – Even with Javon Ringer at tailback, the offense averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, the school’s lowest total since ’03. Brian Hoyer had a disappointing senior season completing only 51% with a 9-9 TD/INT ratio, but MSU still ranked third in passing in Big Ten play. It’s doubtful their replacements will improve the team’s 25 ppg scoring total.

Defense – The Spartans were one of only five teams in the country that allowed more yards per game compared to ’07 despite giving up fewer points. They finished first in the league in red zone defense but that was due to their out-of-conference heroics since they ranked next-to-last in Big Ten play. Ten of the top 13 tacklers return, so the “D” should improve.

Outlook – MSU was picked to finish third by the media but there are an awful lot of question marks heading into the season. Look for a 6-6 record with only three conference wins.

6) WISCONSIN – Even though the Badgers went bowling for the seventh straight time, they had their worst league record (3-5) since a 2-6 mark in ’02. They are 5-11 ATS in conference play and 1-4 ATS as a road underdog the last two years.

Offense – The Badgers ran for 211 ypg last year, good for 14th-best in the country. John Clay will be the next great Wisconsin RB, but the o-line loses three longtime starters. The team was in a similar spot in ’05 and the rushing numbers actually increased from the year before. Quarterbacks Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips have a very underrated group of receivers so Wisconsin will post higher offensive numbers than last year.

Defense – The Badgers allowed 26.5 ppg in ’08, their worst total since ’01 and second worst since 1989. The last three times less than six starters returned, the Badgers allowed at least 4.0 rushing yards per carry. Only five come back this year. The secondary is one of the best in the conference but might suffer with only two starters back from the entire front seven.

Outlook – This season won’t be as bad as last with four Big Ten victories and eight wins overall, but Wisconsin will be a major player in the conference race in 2010.

5) IOWA – The Hawkeyes won their final four games (including an upset of Penn State) to finish 9-4 after missing the postseason in ’07. They are 63-44-2 ATS this decade.

Offense – Shonn Greene and his 1,850 rushing yards must be replaced, but Jewel Hampton, who injured his knee in July, should be the featured back after averaging 5.1 ypc last season. Ricky Stanzi was fourth in the conference with a 135 QB rating, and the o-line is the Big Ten’s best.

Defense – Iowa loses its two DTs, who combined for over 450 career tackles. However, the top four tacklers all return and the secondary allowed only nine passing TDs with 23 interceptions. The Hawkeyes have not given up over 21 ppg since ’00, but the “D” won’t be as good as last year’s unit that allowed just 13 ppg.

Outlook – This is still a very good team even with the losses, so look for nine wins overall and five in the Big Ten.

4) MINNESOTA – The Golden Gophers tied Rice for the largest regular season turnaround in the country, going from 1-11 to 7-5. They are 2-5 ATS as a home favorite but 6-2 as a road underdog the last two years.

Offense – The Gophers not only return 90% of their offensive lettermen, they are just one of two league teams to bring back their starting QB, leading rusher and receiver. Minnesota finished last in total offense (in Big Ten play) but there has been a tremendous increase in talent under head coach Tim Brewster and the pieces are in place for a major hike in production as the club switches from the spread to a power running game.

Defense – The team made huge strides on this side of the ball allowing only 25 ppg after giving up 37 the year before. Only Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa allowed fewer TDs in league play, and even though the Gophers finished eighth in the league inside the red zone, they were first vs. the rest of the Big Ten. Four of the top six tacklers return and former Wisconsin safety Kim Royston will help bring stability to the secondary.

Outlook – The schedule is difficult but this team will upset more than its share of unsuspecting teams. Eight wins, five in the Big Ten, is very possible.

3) OHIO STATE – The Buckeyes failed in their attempt at a third-straight trip to the BCS Championship game even with 19 starters from the year before. They still went 4-0 ATS as a road favorite and are now 14-3 in that area the last four years.

Offense – The ’09 offense is not much different than the ’07 version that lost its leading rusher and the top two receivers. The only disparity is that Terrelle Pryor returns, when Troy Smith did not. That team saw its scoring average drop only a field goal. With an o-line that sports four players with 10 or more starts, OSU will average four touchdowns per game.

Defense – The Buckeyes gave up 11 TDs in five non-conference games. They allowed only 10 in eight conference battles. Seven starters return, but there were some key losses. LBs James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman were the club’s top two tacklers each of the last three seasons, and Malcolm Jenkins was always matched up against the opposing team’s top receiver. It’s still a very good “D” but will allow its highest scoring total since surrendering 18 ppg back in ’04.

Outlook – OSU disappoints the Columbus faithful with only nine wins, six in league play.

2) PENN STATE – The Nittany Lions won their second conference title in four years but fell to Southern Cal by two TDs in the Rose Bowl. They are 14-8 ATS as a home favorite since ’05 and 10-3 ATS in non-conference play since ’06.

Offense – The Lions topped the Big Ten in scoring and total offense, and finished sixth nationally in third-down percentage and red zone efficiency. This year’s totals will not match those rankings with only five returning starters after nine came back last season. Joe Paterno has done an excellent job recruiting the last few years so don’t expect a major decline, especially with QB Daryll Clark and RB Evan Royster still in the fold.

Defense – This defense is somewhat similar to ’06 when PSU returned only five of its top 13 tacklers and had to rebuild its entire secondary. The losses didn’t affect the team’s play that year as the defense allowed just 14 ppg and 287 ypg, besting both totals from the year before. This season, just four of the top 13 tacklers return, but the club does regain the services of LB Sean Lee, who missed last season with a knee injury.

Outlook – The Lions are 26-2 the last four years at home and they’ll finish 8-0 this season. However, two road defeats will drop them to 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten.

1) ILLINOIS – After winning nine games in ’07, the Fighting Illini fell to 5-7. They are 6-1 ATS as a road underdog, but a dreadful 1-9 ATS in non- conference play the last three years. Surprisingly, they have not been on the plus side in turnover differential the last seven years.

Offense – This will be one scary offense and the best the Big Ten has to offer. Illinois was number one in league play last year in total offense but ranked fourth in scoring due to a 10th-place finish inside the red zone. With the addition of Jarred Fayson at WR and a healthy Arrelious Benn, look for the Illini to average five TDs per game.

Defense – Illinois allowed just 22 ppg in ’07 (fifth in the Big Ten), but ended up in ninth-place in scoring last year giving up 27 ppg. Interestingly enough, the “D” actually allowed 27 fewer yards per game in ’08, even with only one career start (prior to the season) amongst the two-deep roster of safeties. Look for better overall numbers in ’09.

Outlook – Three years ago, the Illini (1-7 in the Big Ten) outgained their conference opponents by 24 ypg, and went 6-2 the following year. Last year, they were second in the Big Ten at +86 even though they finished 3-5. Look for another 6-2 record (10 wins overall) and a Big Ten championship with wins over both Penn State and Ohio State.


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