Big Ten Ballin: The Gridiron Squad
Greg Mroz ((@theemrclean)) is back at the dawn of College Football season. He will once again be bringing you his weekly – and very entertaining -Big Ten Ballin’ column.
Volume 1: Welcome Back To The Soil
From the plains of Lincoln Nebraska to the valley of the Nittany Lions, Big Ten Football is back in action. Since the Big Ten title game last year, much has changed. New coaches are in place at Illinois, Penn State, and Ohio State, and the amount of teams eligible for a Big Ten title has been reduced from 11 to 10.
Ok, now lets clear the air for a moment. What happened to Penn State is one of the most if not the most severe punishment ever handed down by the NCAA. A four year bowl ban, a 60 million dollar fine, and vacation of Penn State victories from 1998 to 2012. It took Joe Paterno from the all time winningest coach in NCAA history to the 12th. Penn State football has been torn to the ground, yet despite all of it, they still expect to fight and be competitive.
Let us head west to Columbus, where Urban Meyer is now the coach, and a new hope has been restored to Buckeye football fans. Braxton Miller enters his second full season as the starter, hoping to fully come into his own. Meyer is a proven winner, plain and simple, but how long will it take for his system to take form? You can take it to the bank though, that once it clicks in Columbus, the Buckeyes will vault back to the top of the Big Ten.
Up in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Wolverines have returned to their winning ways under coach Brady Hoke , going 11-2 with a Sugar Bowl win. Denard Robinson is back for his senior season, and that alone should have Big Ten defenses scared out of their wits. The defense drastically improved last year from the horror that was the Rich Rodriguez era. The first game of the season will prove to be a big test, as the Wolverines face defending champion Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. While a loss may be coming their way, expect the Wolverines to be a favorite to win the Legends division.
Head west a bit from Ann Arbor to East Lansing, and you will find a Michigan State Spartan team that is essentially in a semi rebuilding mode. Kirk Cousins is gone, but the stiff defense lead by William Gholston is still in tact. The Spartans are a funny bunch, because they are always in contention despite what might be stacked against them. Mark D’Antonio is a brilliant tactician who will pull a trick out of his hat to win at least one game this year, if not more. Pencil in the Spartans for at least 9 wins, and possibly more if Andrew Maxwell develops into a star. The first contest of the year is against Boise State, which is no walk in the park even with Kellen Moore graduated.
Up in Madison, the Badgers are facing a bit of trouble. After an attack on Heisman finalist Montee Ball in the offseason, the powerful Wisconsin running game may have suffered a bit, but as Ball says he has recovered, so have the chance of Wisconsin to win the Big Ten title for the third consecutive season. Transfer Danny O’Brien looks to follow in Russell Wilson’s shoes leading a balanced offensive attack. The schedule sets up for the Badgers to do a lot of damage, with games against Michigan State and Ohio State at home. Bret Bilema has enough experience on his roster to where a spot in the Big Ten title game should be reserved for the Badgers.
These schools are the powerhouses of the conference, but what about everybody else? Nebraska enters its second year in the Big Ten, yet their key question remains the same as it did last year. Can Taylor Martinez actually throw the football? In Champaign, Ron Zook is out and Tim Beckman is in, which begs the question of how will Illinois, yet mainly quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase respond to a new system? In West Lafayette, the question will be whether this season is Danny Hope’s last, as Boilermaker fans have not seen any improvement in the team since Joe Tiller retired. In Iowa City, will the Hawkeyes be able to replace the losses of running back Marcus Coker and receiver Marvin McNutt? For Minnesota, how will the Gophers continue to get better, and for Indiana, how can Kevin Wilson make sure that his team isn’t the worst in Division I-A football? And for Northwestern? Well, if you are reading this, then you probably already know the ins and outs of Coach Fitz’s squad.
Once the first ball is kicked off the tee, you can throw all of the questions and predictions right out the window. Big Ten football is unpredictable at times, which is why it can be so exciting. There is truly nothing like a well played, tough, and gritty Big Ten football game. So for fans of Northwestern, the Big Ten, or just football in general, welcome back to the soil. It missed you as much as you missed it.