Thursday, August 17, 2006
As far as overall quality of teams, the Big 10 is not the best conference in the country (that would be the SEC). However, as far as star power goes, there might not be anyone better than the Big 10. Let's take a look.
Player of the Year: At this point, with the way last year ended, Troy Smith of Ohio St. has to be the favorite. He's fast, accurate, and has a strong arm... basically the closest thing in college football to Vince Young (right down to the jersey number). Smith's a top 5 Heisman candidate, and definitely the favorite for the Conference POY. But don't count out his teammate Ted Ginn Jr. Ginn is one of the fastest player in the country, and if he can contribute on special teams as well, he may have a shot to overtake Smith. Also in the discussion are a couple of Michigan juniors - Chad Henne and Michael Hart. Both were superb as freshman, and both dropped off a little as sophomores. Henne was a little more inconsistent because he didn't have quite as good of a running game backing him up... because Michael Hart was injured, which was his problem. With both guys healthy, Michigan has a great shot at a conference title and these guys both have a shot to be the conference player of the year.
But the list of candidates doesn't stop there. You also have to take a look at Penn St.'s Paul Posluszny, probably the best defensive player in the nation. Then there's Drew Tate and Drew Stanton, two mature QBs looking to improve consistency as both of their teams will be in the top half of the conference. And finally, for a real darkhorse, take a look at Northwestern RB Tyrell Sutton. He's just a sophomore, and was excellent last year rushing for 1474 yards and 16 TD. He should be an even bigger part of their offense this year, which means even more big numbers. However, when it comes right down to it, I'd put my money on Troy Smith, who should make the Buckeye offense one of the best in all of college football.
Freshman to Watch: The best player entering the Big 10 this year is Ohio St. RB Chris Wells. From all reports, he's one of the best incoming freshman in America, in the mold of Eddie George, and should push Antonio Pittman immediately for playing time. Much like Kevin Grady last year for Michigan, he'll be behind a proven back, but should still get some solid playing time. Another guy to watch is Illinois QB Isiah Williams. He may not start the year as the starting QB, but I'd be willing to bet he ends the season as the starting QB.
Breakout Players: One guy to watch for here is Penn St. QB Anthony Morelli. He obviously never got the opportunity last year because he was behind Michael Robinson, but he has good physical tools as well as excellent talent around him to be very successful. Tony Hunt returns at RB, and WR Derrick Williams is one of the best all-around players in the conference. Another guy that's just getting his shot is Minnesota RB Amir Pinnix. With Gary Russell not eligible, Pinnix should rack up a lot of yards even though the Gophers O-Line isn't as strong as it has been in the past. A lot of people know about Mario Manningham already, but I'm guessing most college football fans will know about him by the end of this year. Jason Avant is gone, which moves Manningham into the starting lineup, and he looks like the next excellent Michigan receiver. And as the Penn St. game last year showed, he has a knack for the big play.
Other things to watch: It's going to be strange watching Wisconsin this year without Barry Alvarez manning the sideline as the head coach. Another interesting thing is that Michigan and Iowa went into last year with huge expectations and underperformed... this year they both look just as strong going in, but may be a little underrated.
- Penn St. at Ohio St. - Huge game early in the year... Ohio St. takes on Texas two weeks before this game... could it possibly be 2 losses in September for the Buckeyes? (September 23rd)
- Minnesota at Wisconsin - I like the Gophers so maybe I'm a little biased, but if you saw this game last year, you know what this rivalry means. (October 14th)
- Iowa at Michigan - Two talented, veteran teams. Can Kirk Ferentz lead the Hawkeyes to a win in the Big House? (October 21st)
- Michigan at Ohio St. - National title and conference title implications... do I need to hype this up at all? Didn't think so. (November 18th)
Projected Order of Finish
1. Ohio St.
4. Penn St.
5. Michigan St.