Re-harnessing the spirit of prognostication, let's take advantage of a lukewarm afternoon to unleash a few "shot in the dark" predictions about Big Ten football in 2009. Like a good cocktail, these predictions come garnished with a twist: I'm pouring only the unlikely suspects. Expect the unexpected.
5. Ohio State doesn't win the conference outright...
Drained on defense, and inexperienced on offense, the 2009 Buckeyes could well drop a few games in conference play. Suspect upsets: @ Penn State (11-7), and one of the following, @ Purdue (10-17), Iowa (11-14), and @ Michigan (11-21).
4. But they do beat USC...
If the combination of Nos. 4 and 5 seems out there, it might be because you're desensitized to the rigors of competitive conference play. Sure, when it comes to inter-league density, the Big Ten has been about as deep as a contestant on The Bachelor, but let's not allow the exception to swallow the rule.
Conference challenges should be dog eat dog, if only for the common tenor that comes from sharing a payout, recruiting geographic, and the familiarity of seeing a team year after year. There's a reason why Pac 10 featherweights seem to be the only ones who can sack the mighty Trojans.
When USC visits Columbus in early September, they'll face a new kind of enemy: the volatile twelfth man: an angry sea of 107,000 corn-fed, no bull Ohioans -- feverish proud, and void of silicon. With all due respect to Strawberry Canyon, this is a new kind of away game.
Expect a young quarterback, either transferee Mitch Mustain, Aaron Corp, Matt Barkley, and (long shot Senior receiver) Garrett Green, to swallow his tongue a few times on third-down -- mistakes that just might be the difference in a surprisingly low scoring showdown that signals a resurrection of the Big Ten's national legitimacy.
(Then again, that's what I said last year.)
3. No team finishes conference play undefeated.
Okay, so we know how the Buckeyes bite it. Penn State -- forced back to a standard definition offense goes down either @ Michigan (10/24) or @ Michigan State (11/21). Iowa drops @ Penn State (9/26), and Michigan State loses to Iowa (10/24).
2. Purdue wins six games, but doesn't make a bowl.
In their first year under the suitably-named Danny Hope, the Boilermakers heat things up, capturing a few landmark wins in the process. The likely exclamation points: Northwestern (10/3), and Illinois (10/24).
1. The Big Ten goes 7-2 in bowl games.
Talk about a turnaround, but as our resident bowl expert put it "no team goes 8-0 in conference...no team finishes with less than 2 total losses...As a result, the Big Ten only puts one team in the BCS. And as a result of that, the Big Ten has its first really good bowl season in a long time."
Here's the breakdown:
Ohio State over Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Penn State over Ole Miss in the Capital One Bowl.
Tennessee over Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
Michigan over Georgia Tech in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Michigan State over Kansas in the Alamo Bowl.
Illinois over Missouri in the Insight Bowl.
Northwestern over Western Kentucky in the Motor City Bowl.
Minnesota over UConn in the Papa John's Bowl.
Auburn over Wisconsin in the Independence Bowl.