Monday, July 30, 2007
Big Ten Bloggers - an opening salvo
A consortium of bloggers -- Penn State's Black Shoe Diaries, Michigan's Maize-n-Brew, and THE Ohio State's Around the Oval decided that the Big Ten's finest bloggers (if "finest" is defined as "everyone who bothered to reply to a particular mass email") needed a group that was founded for the express purpose of promoting intraconference discourse and interblog flamethrowing. That is to say, this network of bloggers will make it far easier to show one another our Pokemans.
There's been some discussion of coming together on common topics in conjunction with the Big Ten football meetings to which, as far as I know, none of us have obtained access. In the spirit of outright audacity, I have picked myself(!) to lead open the discussion with this august group of blogmeisters, and with any luck people will find the questions I asked interesting enough to warrant a response. Look for a roundtable wrap-up post on this blog in the coming days!
On to the questions:
1a. The press and the coaches will be predicting the Big Ten champ at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago on Wednesday. That's fine, but overdone. In lieu of boilerplate predictions of who will come out on top, which Big Ten team will be the most surprising? Remember, surprises can be good or bad; the underdog who comes out of nowhere to share the title is just as surprising as the favorite who winds up with five losses and no bowl bid.
I'd look for Indiana to be your surprise team this year, although that's largely by the process of elimination. I would be genuinely shocked if the top four in the conference wasn't made up of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State. Out of the remaining teams, you have Minnesota and Michigan State in shambles and with first-year coaches. You've got the Zookster at Illinois with his stable of decent recruits and absolute vacuum of coaching prowess. Then there are Iowa and Purdue, sometimes-contenders whose gameplans have both been figured out by the rest of the conference. Iowa might make some noise if Drew Tate's replacement shines, but the general feeling appears to be that this is a "rebuilding year." As for Northwestern, they will certainly annoy one legitimate contender and remain irrelevant the rest of the way.
So I pick Indiana. Lewis and Hardy are a remarkable tandem, and if other threats emerge in the IU offense, they just might be able to mitigate the damage that opponents will wreak upon their awful defense. And of course the Hoosiers will have an emotional edge, having just lost Terry Hoeppner. I think IU has a chance to be the fifth-place team in the Big Ten this year -- that's the upper half, people.
1b. Imagine it's December, and the consensus in the media is that your team's season was "surprising." Is this a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? What would have to happen for you to consider your team's season surprising?
Almost definitely a bad thing, unless you're part of the fanbase that has persisted in whining about "no respect!" for the past decade. In a worst case scenario, both Tyler Donovan and Allan Evridge turn out to be interception machines and/or headcases, new left tackle Jake Bscherer allows rushing defenders to flatten the aforementioned QB, Jack Ikegwuonu is made to stay off the field for his XBox harvesting mission in DeKalb, and the team generally suffers a meltdown. Maybe Washington State upsets the Badgers and the road trips to State College and Columbus become nightmares. We wind up with 6 losses and are shamed in the Motor City Bowl by some MAC team. The surprising 2007 Wisconsin Badgers are bad Wisconsin Badgers indeed.
2. A preseason player of the year will also be dubbed in Chicago. For your team to succeed, which player or unit is going to have to put forth a "player of the year" performance? What's the one position that would take your team to the next level if it performs above expectations?
With nine returning starters on offense and seven returning starters on defense, the Badgers aren't in a bad position at all. And of course, fretting over the quarterback is a logical and all-too-simple thing to do. So I'm going to go with the second-most-obvious position to worry about: safety. Roderick Rogers and Joe Stellmacher were above average safeties, meriting a second team all-conference award and an honorable mention, respectively, and each played important roles in giving the Wisconsin defense teeth last year, notably Rogers with his interception to kill Penn State's momentum in the first half of last year's game. Aubrey Pleasant and Shane Carter have both shown promise but need to be lights out right from the get-go for the Badgers to have a shot at containing teams that like to throw the ball.
3. Which Big Ten team's out-of-conference schedule would you most want to have this year? Why? Do you think your team will have out-of-conference losses this year?
I want Iowa's OOC schedule. They've got a neutral-site game against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field, a game at Iowa State, and home dates against Western Michigan and Syracuse. Two MAC teams and two major conference basement-dwellers is a fine if unexciting OOC schedule.
Michigan State has scheduled well too, with home games against UAB, Bowling Green, and Pittsburgh preceding a road date with Notre Dame. Everyone else has been digging in the I-AA cookie jar, which is simply unappealing. I still can't believe I'm paying actual US currency to see the Citadel.
4. Here's a chance to look like a complete genius in a few months: pick the biggest in-conference upset that will happen this season. Justify your prediction!
I don't have the heart to pick Michigan State over Michigan even though it's a classic trap game (a road date for the Wolverines the week before @Wisconsin and then Ohio State.) So I'm going to pull one straight out of my be-hind and pick another matchup from that same date. A bruised but exuberant Penn State team is coming off a very hard-fought victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes and, with one last home game before visits to Temple and Michigan State, the Nittany Lions plan to coast to Big Ten glory. Pass-happy Purdue comes to Happy Valley and catches the Penn State secondary napping in the first quarter, and an Anthony Morelli interception and another quick strike puts the Boilermakers up 21-0. The Lions wake up and play three solid quarters after that, but they never make up the ground they gave away early on, and Joe Tiller's team wins by six or less.
5. Say something nice about the Big Ten school whose name precedes yours alphabetically. Say something mean about the one that comes after.
The Purdue Boilermakers run one heck of an engineering school. Their bell tower is cool looking. They were a real pleasure to watch during the Drew Brees era, and I like the World's Biggest Drum a lot. Also, their head coach looks like the kind of guy who can really appreciate a nice bukket.
As for Indiana, it is a loser school for losers. It employed Bob Knight, one of the most classless individuals to ever be hallowed by a collegiate basketball program. (And don't give me any of this "Oh, he graduated so many of his students!" I care a little, but that doesn't forgive the tantrums or the fact that ESPN wasted my time with "A Season on the Brink.") Also, Indiana broke everyone's heart when they beat the Badgers 63-32 in 2001. Screw you, Randle-El!
edit: D'oh!!!! How dumb am I? Dumber than a loser attending a loser school majoring in loserese. So intent was I on drubbing Randle-El that I failed to acknowledge the existence of Illinois. Augh!
Just for that, Illinois is, of course, the sworn enemy of Wisconsin. The states are enemies, anyway. Illinois is full of cheap bastards who charge you to drive on their roads, then bring their H2 Hummers up I-39 to go to "the lake" and generally be obnoxious. The schools are big-time rivals too, academically, being near equals in a lot of the same fields. Unfortunately, the state of Illinois has numbers on its side, and the UW campus is inundated with snooty kids from Naperville who got some sort of Mercedes-Benz product on their sixteenth birthday and had to trade it in for a newer model before they moved to Madison, where its primary purpose is to be parked illegally on Langdon Street. I imagine that these same kids are present in Champaign in even greater numbers.
As far as athletics are concerned, the Illini are straight-up funny. Year in and year out, they await the Second Coming of Kurt Kittner, and Ron Zook coaches their team. Their basketball team is a perennial bridesmaid, which I probably shouldn't mention given the Badgers' performance in the NCAA tournament this past year. Illinois, you have my disdain. It is no wonder I skipped over you and wanted to talk about Indiana instead.
6. USC: great football program, or greatest football program? Also, how about that SEC? Damn, those guys are fast!
USC is clearly the greatest team ever, until Notre Dame wins its next bowl game. Hollywood Pete sure can coach; I'm glad that Southern Cal not only gets the job done on the field, but also that they have such luminaries as Nick Lachey and Snoop Dogg orbiting their program. Every school should strive to achieve such levels of intellectual heft.
As for the SEC, there's no question that speed kills. The Auburn Tigers and Arkansas Razorbacks sped their way to Citrus Bowl defeats at the hands of the Badgers, and Penn State's win over Tennessee really hammered home the concept that the plodding Big Ten simply can't compete with those Southern teams. Of course, Ohio State being blown out by Florida is the only thing people will remember about the SEC's postseason achievements, so come December we'll undoubtedly be subjected to the same old farce ... and the Big Ten will win half their games, once again.