The number in parenthesis is how I have them finishing in 2007, which was a real bear to calculate with 4 teams finishing with identical conference records.
But before I get to my picks, here's a note on the conference strength:
I recognize 2007 was an off year for the Big 10.
What I didn't realize until I researched this was how young the teams were. With the exception of Michigan under a new system and Purdue, you can expect every team to look better in 2008. (Yes, this includes Illinois.)
Perusing the top half of the conference:
OSU plays USC early to determine who keeps their hopes alive for the title.
Penn State is an early season dark horse for the NC game.
Illinois showed against Missouri they were already to the level they could challenge the Big 12 2nd place team, pulling to within 3 in the 4th before loosing by 6.
Wisconsin showed that even hampered with injuries, they were already at the level they could challenge the SEC 2nd place team, driving inside the 15 for the go ahead score in the 4th in a loosing effort.
Michigan State showed they could compete against the ACC 2nd place team, taking Boston College deep in the 4th before loosing by 3. C'mon folks - by the way most would determine the tie breaker, this was the Big 10 8th place team, the Big 10 equivalent to Maryland, Alabama, Rutgers, and Stanford.
1 (1) Ohio State - If you ain't got them here pre season, you're a homer, a hater, or both.
Gone is Gholston. Back is Wilson, considered the better of the 2 before breaking his leg in the 07 opener. The real battle will be for the 1 open OL spot. The other faces to watch are Posey, who will try to work his way into an already filled WR lineup, and the development of Pryor (an overlooked late signing rumored to be a decent prospect) as he tries to secure the 2009 starting position from Henton.
Side story - The buckeyes go for their 3rd consecutive outright title - something that hasn't occurred before in the 112 year history of the Big 10.
2 (5) Penn State - I am not buying into JoPas prediction of competing for the NC, but they have a lot going for them. They lost 3 games in 07 by a TD or less - They could have easily gone 11-1 and a BCS bowl. They have a lot of starters retuning, including a top group of receivers. Gone is the 07 backfield, including Morelli, which kinda makes it a bonus given that the backup QB looked promising in last year's bowl.
If there's a down side, it's the Lion's road schedule, drawing OSU, Wisconsin, and Iowa on the road.
Side story - is this JoPa's last year, and if not, should it be? 11-1 going to a BCS bowl would be a nice way to go out, but I don't see it happening unless Bowden keels over or the administration mans up and lays it on the line with a time table.
3 (4) Wisconsin - and not just because I consider Wisconsin to be a generally sure bet to finish 3rd give or take a spot. Their biggest question going into 08 is QB. All but a handful of starters return.
Another hurdle is brutal scheduling. They open the Big 10 against Michigan, OSU, Penn State, Iowa, Illinois, and then Michigan State.
Side note - Wisconsin was hit hard in 2007 with injuries and suspension. Their future depends on remedying this, with a lot of top names still gimpy going into spring practice.
4 (2) Illinois - Mendenhall and their experience at Safety are notably gone. With half of their conference wins by a TD or less repeating will be tough without Mendenhall toting the rock.
Side Story - Was 2007 the new standard or just the exception for the Illini? After several years of solid recruiting, Zook's optimism aside, I think the Illini are back and overall are a better team in 2008... just not quite enough for consecutive top 3 finishes yet.
5 (8) Michigan State - My hair is grey enough not to bet the farm predicting Michigan State.
The Spartans finished 07 with a 7-6 record, all 6 losses by a TD or less - a decent showing for a 1st year coach.
Still not convinced? In 07, in a game where they dominated in most stats, the Spartans were beating the Hawkeyes until Iowa tied the game late in the 3rd, and the game went into OT after the 4th. If Michigan State had pulled out the win, thy would have finished 5th in 07.
Side Story - 2007 is the same story that has inexplicably plagued the Spartans since I was in High School (back when the alphabet only had 17 letters - and we liked it that way!): If it's not consistency, it's their ability to finish. Can the new coach change their fortunes and take Michigan State to the next level?
6 (6) Iowa - The youngest team in the Big 10 in 07 looked the part with inconsistent play, improving as the year progressed. There is a lot of talk about the RB and the need to fill a defense hit by graduation. What they really need is improvement from their OL.
Have they fixed their woes? I don't think they are all patched, but I think enough will be fixed to hold their 6th spot - no small task when you consider who they're behind.
7 (3) Michigan - New Coach dedicated to a scheme requiring his players to demonstrate a skill set vastly different than they were recruited to fill.
A simple fact - they will likely have a starting QB that wouldn't be starting on any other team from the top half of a major conference.
Not a lot of time to work in his new philosophy, starting the Big 10 against Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State, and Michigan State.
The question isn't why I am projecting them so low, it is why so high - if the QB situation happened to another team you would have them in the bottom 3 of any conference. The answer is a stacked bench at the other positions including a scary defense which made it tough not to optimistically place them 6th.
8 (7) Northwestern - Why I ended Michigan's slide at 7 - new offensive coordinator, new defensive coordinator. Not playing Penn State or Wisconsin coupled with a favorable non-conference schedule gives them a shot at a bowl game.
Side story - the ONLY Big 10 team to not play in a bowl game either of the past 2 years.
9 (9) Indiana - The feel good story of the Big 10 2007 season had a lot of help along the way to their bowl invitation - a schedule void of OSU and Michigan, while both Iowa and Northwestern finished ahead but missed bowl with their eligibility rules. I am not looking for a repeat.
Side note - their star QB is currently on suspension, and his return is uncertain. Loose him and my prediction drops the Hoosiers to last.
10 (10) Purdue - I love the coach. I love the way they are easing in the next coach. What I don't like is all the holes they need to fill, including loosing 6 of the defensive front 7. Purdue will need some more 07 quirks to make it back to a bowl in 2008.
11 (11) Minnesota - Kudos to the coach - he finishes the year with 1 win and seeing much of the top local talent pack their bags, yet still lands a recruiting class ranked in the top 30, in no small part due to some nifty recruiting of the Junior Colleges. The JC recruits will start to pay off in 2008, perhaps filling almost half the positions on defense with experienced 3 and 4 star recruits, so don't be surprised if they challenge Purdue and Indiana in 08, or when they finish .500 in 2009.
Need more convincing? In 2007 they lost 6 games by a TD or less, and 1 other game by 13 - they really aren't that far from .500 now...
For the fans the schedule looks entertaining.
After coming close in 07, Illinois tries to even the record against Missouri - 2 surprise 2007 teams people are watching to see if their success will be the rule or the exception.
Iowa plays their in state rival, Iowa State
Michigan plays Notre Dame, 2 big name programs with some big questions
Michigan State travels to California
Penn State hosts Oregon State
Purdue steps up and takes a stab at Oregon (good luck with that one Boilermakers)
There is no bigger inter conference match up before the bowls than USC hosting OSU
Conference Byes There are not a lot of critical match ups skipped
My top 4 projections all face off.
My bottom 4 all face off to battle for the bowl spots.
Every team faces off against the teams I have projected ahead and behind them except Iowa-Michigan and Illinois-Michigan State.