The Daily Gopher has been exclusively Gopher-centric in it's short lifetime. I'd like to branch out a little bit and talk a little Big Ten. The Gophers are sitting at 1-1 in conference play (ahead of Wisconsin and Iowa!) but where do they "really" stand. After six weeks of play I feel I have seen enough to comment on every team in the league.
I've broken the teams into groupings that I feel they belong in. The standings may not shake out exactly as I list them but I believe the teams will stay within their group when all is said and done (for example Ohio State may beat Penn State, but they'll both finish top 2). This may not be a true power rankings as there is some predicted order of finish to this, but I'm not about to put Wisconsin on the bottom because of their 0-2 start when I still believe them to be a top three or four team.
The Spread HD has come to Happy Valley and the results have been impressive. The Nittany Lions are giving up 11.7 points per game and scoring 44.8 for a differential of +33.1. I am very happy the Gophers are not going to Happy Valley this year. They are screwed a little by the Big Ten schedule as they have to go to Madison and to Columbus. But I believe this team is good enough to take care of business on the road and run the Big Ten table.
Assuming they run the table I believe you would see Penn State in the BCS Title game. Whether you believe a Big Ten team should be there or not, going undefeated, beating a Pac 10 team and beating both OSU and Wisconsin on the road would bump them up to a top two ranking.
I was skeptical of what inserting Terrelle Pryor would do for the Buckeyes. But my skepticism was way off base as Pryor has injected some life into the Buckeye offense. He hasn't been perfect but he is a much better passer than I was willing to give him credit for and his athleticism is everything it was hyped to be. Then you add Beanie Wells who is arguably the best RB in the country and all of a sudden this team is back.
Because the BCS title game is determined by the minds of AP voters and coaches I don't see how Ohio State creeps back into the top two. If they dominate the rest of the season and teams ahead of them lose I still see them moving up to no higher than third or fourth nationally. Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas and Missouri would all have to lose twice while Georgia, USC, Florida, BYU, Texas Tech and Penn State would have to lose one. I just don't see that happening. All of that might end up being better for OSU. Assuming they run the table, they'll end up in the Rose Bowl with a shot at USC having Wells back or better yet USC is in the title game and Ohio State can get a BCS win over the likes of Cal or Oregon.
Close but not good enough
I know they have yet to win a Big Ten game and lost to a struggling Michigan team, but I still believe this is the third best team in the conference. I think they'll lose to Penn State this week but then win out to finish 5-3 in conference play (9-3). Capital One Bowl, perhaps? I'm done with post season predictions but Wisconsin is rather good. It isn't going to be a BCS season as the fans in Madison had hoped, but they'll finish strong and carry some momentum into a Jan. 1 bowl. For my groupings I am putting them in their own class as I think they are a lock for third place.
I think Illinois is vastly overrated, especially at the national level. But I think they are a solid #4 in the conference. Offensively they are Ohio State, but they give up way too many yards and points to be taken seriously. The Gophers head to Champagne this weekend with a slim shot at pulling an upset. If Illinois plays their game they will score a lot of points and give the Gophers their second loss of the year. But this team is far from perfect and susceptible to the upset. After a spectacular week by Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn maybe they'll spend the week reading headlines about themselves and not take Minnesota seriously.
I was tempted to put Michigan State ahead of Illinois based on the embarrassing defensive stats you see tied to the Illini. But I'm giving them a mulligan because those stats are a little misleading since they played Missouri.
Javon Ringer has been a beast and is carrying the Spartans to a potential top 5 finish. They avoid Illinois on the schedule which is too bad cause I'd like to see them play. Their schedule has played out nicely for them early but it gets tougher over their last six games. Sandwhiched in between road games to Northwestern and Michigan is a home game with Ohio State. The road games will make or break their season as far as I'm concerned. Were they home games I think the Spartans would be favored, but on the road it will be a test. If they can come away 2-1 in their next three games they'll justify my #5 ranking.
Great Story but no fairytale ending...
It has been a lot of fun this year and has made for a great story. But lets not get carried away here, this is not going to be a top five finish and sixth place would really be a a great finish to the 2008 season. I find it interesting how little attention the Gophers are receiving outside of Minnesota (and within the borders as well). Northwestern is the surprise team of the Big Ten, but I still believe Minnesota is a better team. Time will tell and it will be determined on November 1 in the Metrodome.
The team is making far fewer mistakes and the defense is greatly improved. By the end of the year the Gophers will be the "surprise team" of the Big Ten and Northwestern will fall back in line behind them.
Again, a great story but just not talented enough to pull off an upset big enough to catapult them into a winning Big Ten season. While everyone points to Minnesota not playing anybody of significance this year, the Wildcats have also successfully avoided anybody with quality resume. I suspect they'll be exposed this week by Javon Ringer, rattle off a couple more wins and then come to Minnesota with a 7-1 record (6-2 worst case).
They avoid Wisconsin and Penn State which gives them a chance for two wins that would otherwise be considered a loss. Because of that they may finish with a better record than Minnesota but I think they lose to the Gophers and are truly the 7th best team in the league.
In Curtis Painter and Joe Tiller's final season there was some real excitement in Boilermaker territory for the 2008 season. They got Penn State at home and avoided Wisconsin on the schedule. The good news is that Purdue leads the league in passing offense. The bad news is that they are last in rushing offense, rushing defense and passing defense.
They will likely lose at Ohio State this week, but then their schedule gives them an opportunity to win each of their final six games. Whether or not they'll play consistently enough to do so is another question.
Does watching the Wolverines feel familiar to Gopher fans? A brutal turnover ratio, an offense struggling with a new system and a disappointing defense that gives up inopportune big plays. Some of us saw this coming, regardless of talent and a "new strength/conditioning program" implementing a spread offense with smash mouth personnell is a challenge. I sincerely wish we were playing Michigan earlier rather than later in the schedule. They have a talented roster but they just can't get out of their own way.
Seeing them get four more Big Ten wins wouldn't shock me, but neither would finishing 1-7. Michigan fans feel it is incomprehensible that they could lose at home to MSU, @Pur, @Minn or home to NW; but it is possible. Michigan is down and the rest of the Big Ten (minus Wisconsin) is smelling blood.
Off topic prediction. Next year in August you will hear players talk about how much more comfortable they are in the new systems. How last year they were worried about where to line up and now they can concentrate on excecution. Sound familiar?
Realistically they have two opportunities at a Big Ten win and both are on the road. At Indiana this week and at Minnesota to end their season are their best chances. I see them getting Indiana but by the time the Gopher game comes around they'll be mentally beat down and ready for the offseason.
Iowa has lost three close and tough games in a row. They can bounce back to beat Indiana this week but I don't think they have a chance when they get Wisconsin, Illinois and PennState to follow. They are fortunate they miss Ohio State this year but it won't matter as they finish very near to the bottom.
It was a good run for the Hoosiers through the first two weeks, but it is over. I was not impressed and they'll be lucky to steal another win the rest of the season, including Central Michigan at home.