In this week’s edition of B1G Ten Ballin’, WNUR’s Greg Mroz reflects on the Big Ten football season.
B1G Ten Ballin: The Gridiron Squad
Volume 14: The Culmination
Now is the time where we would want to as Big Ten fans sit back and reflect on the season. Yet I want to take a different approach to it as the season ends. Some teams, a bowl game is the next stop. For others, there will be no post-season, with those programs either reloading or blowing it up all together. There is no beating around the bush, this was the weakest the Big Ten has been in a long time, and it clearly showed. This is a conference that will get one team in a BCS bowl game, and it does not even have enough teams eligible to fill all of its bowl slots. So as our season winds to an end, let us take a look at the year that was in Big Ten football.
Oh what could’ve been for Ohio State. They were only one of two teams to go undefeated in the regular season, had the best quarterback in the entire conference in Braxton Miller, and it didn’t mean a damn thing. The Buckeyes could’ve chosen to take their one year bowl ban last year, but they decided against that and elected to take it this year. To their defense, they didn’t know they would be so good this year, but with a coach like Urban Meyer, how could you not take a program with that much talent to such a high level. For now and forever, we will be wondering what could’ve been for the Buckeyes. One thing is for sure, and that is that Ohio State is back, and they are the wrecking ball in the Leaders division.
After what had transpired over the course of the previous year, people thought it was going to be an extremely tough year for Penn State. As it turned out though, the Nittany Lions fought well through adversity and were good enough to finish 8-4 on the season, going 6-2 in conference. Matt McGloin played well throughout the year, and guys like Mike Mauti showed the conference that Penn State can still bring the heat on defense. I would love to say that the future is bright, but as more scholarships are stripped, it will become harder for coach Bill O’Brien to recruit. Don’t expect Penn State to add more talent, but expect a football team that will continually be ready to play.
Nebraska was a team that I looked at before the season and saw them as a one dimensional offense that was going to be pretty average on defense. Well, in many ways, the Cornhuskers proved me wrong. Nebraska went 10-2 with their only loses coming to Ohio State and UCLA. Taylor Martinez slowly developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, while Ameer Abdulah emerged as a versatile weapon. The work is not done yet for the Cornhuskers, who must beat Wisconsin on Saturday in Indianapolis in order to go to the Rose Bowl.
Speaking of the Badgers, they stunk compared to what we are normally used to seeing. Danny O’Brien didn’t pan out, and when they finally found their QB in Joel Stave, he ends up getting hurt. The Badgers offense outside of Montee Ball was less than impressive, but this was what you could call a season of heartbreak for Wisconsin. They lost three overtime games in conference and lost a game to Oregon State in which they only scored 7 points. All five of Wisconsin’s losses were by 7 points or less, with three of those losses being by exactly 3 points. They only lost by three to Nebraska the first time around, so for Bret Bilema’s squad, an upset is not out of the question on Saturday.
After winning the Sugar Bowl last year, Michigan had high hopes going into this year and was mentioned as the favorite to win the Big Ten. The Wolverines had a pretty decent year, but they had a buzzsaw of a schedule. Their four losses came to Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State, who have a combined record of 45-3 on the year. That’s pretty insane when you let that sink in for a moment, but the loss of Denard Robinson as a quarterback (he finished up the year playing running back) hurt what chances Michigan had of getting back to a BCS bowl. The defense is solid and new QB Devin Gardner looks to have the Wolverines going in the right direction. A Florida bowl game is in the Wolverine’s future.
If you read WNUR Sports, then you already know what could’ve been for the Wildcats this season. NU had a really good year, and they are the last team on this list that had a respectable season. Michigan State, Minnesota, and Purdue are all going to bowl games, but each team finished 6-6. The Spartans had no pass offense the entire season, the Gophers are still developing (although the future looks bright with Philip Nelson), and Purdue started 0-5 in conference before winning their last three conference games To top it all off, Purdue fired Danny Hope before the bowl game, leaving the door open to hire a prime time candidate (Hello Jim Tressel?).
The three I’s were all terrible. Iowa had no offense, Indiana had no defense, and Illinois had no everything. The four of them combined for four conference wins, none of which were won by Illinois. To Indiana’s defense, they are getting better, but Iowa is getting worse, which makes people wonder about the future of Kirk Ferentz. If it weren’t Tim Beckman’s first year, he would’ve been fired already. If Illinois cannot turn it around, expect another coaching change in Champaign.
Our book is almost complete here for this year’s Big Ten Ballin: The Gridiron Squad. This column will switch to basketball next week with the debut of Big Ten Ballin: The Hardwood Hustlers. I sincerely hope you have had as much fun with this as I have, and no matter what time of the year it is, you can never get enough Big Ten Football!