Reason No. 4: Our Defense > Your Offense
Now that the snow piles built up along streets and in parking lots have shrunk into soft carbon heaps, and mid-day temperatures are mild, it's time to turn our attention to new beginnings. Starting next Monday, we'll debut Big Ten 2010, an eleven-week, comprehensive look at the conference. We'll preview each team in reverse order of last year's conference finish, starting with Indiana and ending in late-May with Ohio State. It will be the largest project we've ever taken on.
To get the juices flowing, let's look at five things the conference has going for it heading into 2010.
5. The Big Pieces Are in Place
The Big Ten posted four wins over Top 15 competition in the postseason. No other conference can say that. But the real prize is what's still in the cupboard. Together, the four Big Ten bowl winners return 60 of 88 starters. That's 13 for Penn State, 14 for Iowa, 15 for Ohio State, and 18 for Wisconsin. While most clubs put stock on the talent that's in the pipeline, Big Ten teams can consistently count on leadership and experience in the huddle.
4. Our Defense > Your Offense
If nothing else, 2009 was the year momentum in the eternal struggle of offense versus defense shifted back to the D. After half a decade of wreaking havoc with spacial attacks, offensive coordinators from coast to coast were frustrated by fundamentally sound defenses that had their number. No where in the country was this more evident than in the Big Ten, where three top ten defensive units (No. 5 Ohio State, No. 9 Penn State, No. 10 Iowa) routinely chewed quarterbacks up and spit them out.
But wait, they just looked good because Big Ten offenses are bad, right? Wrong. When put to the test, Big Ten defenses squeezed the life out of several of the country's premiere attacks (Oregon, Georgia Tech, Miami), proving that defense still wins championships.
3. Veteran Quarterbacks
It's been a while since we got to say this, but the best teams in the Big Ten are flush behind center in 2010. Experienced league quarterbacks like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien should continue to push Big Ten offenses in the right direction. Minnesota and Indiana also return familiar faces.
On the other hand, Purdue, Northwestern, Penn State, and Illinois will miss their experienced signal callers.
(Michigan and Michigan State were intentionally omitted from this list. If you can figure out where to put them, be my guest).
2. Star Power
Just for fun, here are two stat lines.
Tackles Solo TFL Sacks Int FF 108 57 5 2 5 1 115 53 8.5 4 5 3
One is from James Laurinaitis' 2006 season, the other is from Ross Homan's 2009 season. Not much of a difference... is there?
Laurinaitis was a 1st Team All-American in 2006 and was named the best defensive player in college football, Homan wasn't even 1st Team All-Big Ten.
1. Title Condenders
Sure, we love our conference. But let's face it. The Big Ten hasn't had a legitimate national championship contender since Ohio State ran through the regular season in 2006. That's bound to change this year as no less than three Big Ten teams will be in the title hunt. Think that's a little too optimistic?
Ohio State will likely start the season in the driver's seat in the Top 3. If they can get by a wounded Miami Hurricanes team at home, only the conference slate stands in their way. Jim Tressel has demonstrated a knack for getting the best of Big Ten opponents.
Consider that Wisconsin, predicted to start the season in the Top 10, doesn't have to play Penn State and gets Ohio State at home. Their toughest non-conference opponent is Arizona State.
Iowa is primed to start the season in the Top 15. They'll get Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State at home.
It's not a far stretch to think that one of these clubs will be undefeated heading into November. Will they finish the job?