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Big 10 Football Preview
by Ben Burns - 06/24/2009
All you Big Ten haters better be changing your tune.
The Big Ten is back, with four teams capable of making a BCS-sized impact and a couple of upstarts flying under the publicâ€™s radar.
In recent years, the conferenceâ€™s reputation has taken a major beating.
The Big Ten went 15-26 ATS in non-conference games in 2008. Ohio State and Penn State each got clobbered by USC, and the Buckeyes looked slow in BCS Championship Game losses to Florida and LSU.
But this year you can put the Big Tenâ€™s four best teamsâ€”Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois and Iowaâ€”up against any other conferenceâ€™s top four and feel confident.
Thereâ€™s a significant drop off after those four, who all return experienced quarterbacks. Of the remaining teams, only Minnesota returns an established starting quarterback. Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin could have opening day starters, who have never played in a Division I game.
Oddsmakers have pinned the Buckeyes (+150) as the favorites to win the conference. But Penn State (+250), Iowa (+500) and Illinois (+600) are in the mix. At +7500, Purdue, with new coach Danny Hope, is the biggest longshot.
Overall, the Big Ten will be an improved conference, especially up top. There is money to be made, as long as the publicâ€™s perception of the Big Ten remains a slow, out-of-date conference.
Big Ten Projected Finish
ATS records are from last three seasons
1. Ohio State
ATS: 22-15 (Home: 9-10, Away: 12-3)
Thing to remember: Being away from Columbus hasnâ€™t affected the Buckeyes. They are 11-2 ATS in their last games as road favorites.
2. Penn State
ATS: 19-18 (Home: 11-8, Away: 6-9)
Thing to remember: The Nittany Lions have been lethal as double-digit favorites. Theyâ€™ve covered 13 of their last 18 when giving up at least 10 points.
ATS: 15-21 (Home: 7-11, Away: 5-9)
Thing to remember: The Hawkeyes own the Big Tenâ€™s best in-conference ATS record this decade. Since 2000, Iowa is 43-27-2 ATS in conference play
ATS: 16-18 (Home: 7-9, Away: 9-5)
Thing to remember: Illinois gets off to hot offensive starts under Ron Zook. The Illini has averaged more than 25 points a game in the first month of the season in Zookâ€™s four years. Thirteen of their last 19 September games have gone over the total.
ATS: 16-20-1 (Home: 8-13, Away: 7-6-1) Non: 0-4
Thing to remember: In Rich Rodriguezâ€™s second season at West Virginia, the Mountaineers went 9-3 ATS, including 7-0 in conference.
6. Michigan State
ATS: 17-18-2 (Home: 7-11-3, Away: 9-6)
Thing to remember: It took coach Mark Dantonio three years to get things turned around at Cincinnati. He enters his third season at Michigan State with 15 returning starters and his best team yet.
ATS: 18-18 (Home: 10-8; Away: 6-8) Non: 2-2
Thing to remember: The quarterback situation is a huge question mark. Senior Dustin Sherer was inconsistent while splitting time last season. The only other option is talented redshirt freshman Curt Phillips.
ATS: 16-18 (Home: 7-10; Away: 7-8) Non: 2-2
Thing to remember: Eight starters return on a defense that held opponents to 20 points a game, the lowest total points allowed by a Northwestern team this decade. Bonus: The Wildcats still donâ€™t deal with success well. They are 3-12 ATS after a straight-up win the past three seasons.
ATS: 17-19 (Home: 7-11; Away: 10-6)
Thing to remember: Fading the young Boilermakers early, before switching gears and backing them late could pay dividends.
First-year head coach Danny Hope inherits an inexperienced offense and a talented defense, with multiple NFL prospects.
This team will mature into a dangerous squad come late October and November.
ATS: 18-17 (Home: 8-9; Away: 9-7)
Thing to remember: The Golden Gophers return 17 starters, the most in the Big Ten.
ATS: 14-20 (Home: 9-10; Away: 4-9)
Thing to remember: Both of Indianaâ€™s safeties are coming off ACL injuries and might not be at full strength until late in the year at best. One corner is converting from wide receiver; the other is an inexperienced sophomore.
Good quarterbacks should be able to shred the Hoosiersâ€™ secondary.
Bonus note: The Hoosiers havenâ€™t posted a winning ATS record in conference play this decade.
Play the over on â€¦
Rich Rodriguez knows how to score points.
During his time at West Virginia, the Mountaineers averaged more than 30 points in six of his eight seasons, including his second season in charge.
Now, Rodriguez enters his second season at Michigan, trying to make up for last yearâ€™s 3-9 (2-10 ATS) debacle.
With 10 starters returning on offense and a quarterback tailored for his spread option, expect the Wolverines to put up 30-plus often this season.
Defensively, Michigan is inexperienced up front.
New defensive coordinator Greg Robinson promises to aggressively attack with frequent blitzes.
If the Wolverines arenâ€™t on all the same page immediately, theyâ€™ll surrender some big plays, especially early in the season.
Play the under on â€¦
The Hawkeyes boast an offensive line capable of wearing down opponents then pounding them on the ground.
Three starters return from a unit that pushed South Carolina all over the field a dominating Outback Bowl performance.
Iowa built a 31-0 lead and basically ran out the clock in the second half against the Gamecocks.
That could be a familiar scene for Hawkeyes games this season, especially against opponents who struggle to contain the run.
Talent-gauging September Games
Check out these early games to see how the Big Ten stacks up
Missouri vs. Illinois, Sept. 5
USC at Ohio State, Sept 12
Notre Dame at Michigan, Sept. 12
Michigan State at Notre Dame, Sept. 19
Arizona at Iowa, Sept. 19
California at Minnesota, Sept. 19