As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.
Who will win the Big Ten championship?
You never want to eliminate anyone from contention for a league title. Even Purdue. OK, maybe Purdue.
But the point is, if it is declared that the race for the Big Ten title comes down to two teams — Ohio State and Michigan State — and then something crazy happens, well then what was all this for, anyway?
It would figure that the Buckeyes, the preordained favorite to win the conference and land a spot in the brand-new College Football Playoff, would be one of the teams to beat. After all, their relatively soft non-conference schedule, their track record of success under Urban Meyer and their Heisman-candidate quarterback all would point in that direction. Despite a silently suspect defense a season ago, Meyer has a new coordinator and returning playmakers, including three players along the defensive line — Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and Noah Spence — who could wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Braxton Miller, that aforementioned Heisman-candidate QB, is as good as they come in college football, a true dual-threat quarterback who can beat you in any number of ways. And while the Buckeyes have lost their last two games, those are the only two they’ve lost in two seasons under Meyer.
Remember, teams are picked as favorites for good reason.
It would also figure that the Spartans, the reigning Big Ten champs and reigning Rose Bowl champs, should contend for that conference title, as well. Mark Dantonio returns plenty of playmakers from last year’s nation-best defense. That includes Shilique Calhoun, the defensive end tabbed by writers as the preseason favorite for the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and Kurtis Drummond, a safety earning plenty of preseason recognition of his own looking to keep that “No Fly Zone” tradition alive from last year. But even though Pat Narduzzi’s defense should again shine, it’s the offense that has Michigan State fans and observers hopeful for a big year. Quarterback Connor Cook is expected to take a big next step and become one of college football’s elite QBs. Add in talented running back Jeremy Langford and a strong offensive line, and there’s recipe for a dangerous offense to go along with that lock-down D.
But here’s the kicker: We won’t get a rematch of last year’s Big Ten title game because these two teams are now in the same division. The addition of Maryland and Rutgers has shuffled the divisions into East and West (much preferable to the confusion of Legends and Leaders). But it means that one of the two teams playing for the conference championship won’t be the Buckeyes or Spartans.
It would figure a Nov. 8 showdown between the two in East Lansing will be a de facto Big Ten East championship game, with the winner heading to the title game a few weeks later.
[B1G 40: Who will win Big Ten Coach of the Year?]
But, to quote one of college football’s more famous analysts, not so fast my friends.
It’d be easy to just say that the winner of that game would be the Big Ten champ. But remember when a 7-5 Wisconsin team dropped 70 points on No. 14 Nebraska in the 2012 Big Ten title game, earning a trip to the Rose Bowl? In college football, nothing ever seems to go as planned (except maybe when you’re Alabama, and still we had the “Kick Six” last season). There are plenty of other contenders that at least warrant a mention in this conversation.
Wisconsin has a Heisman contender of its own in running back Melvin Gordon, who certainly seems capable of getting the Badgers to the conference championship game and beyond. How about a pair of teams out West in Iowa and Northwestern who return a ton of experience and could definitely slip past division-favorite Wisconsin? Dream seasons are possible out East, too, where sleepers like Michigan and Maryland might have something to say. And if any of those teams lands in the title game, all it takes is one win to raise the trophy.
[B1G 40: Can Spartans win Big Ten title again?]
Yes, there are two favorites, surely, in Ohio State and Michigan State. If you’re looking for a prediction, here you go: I like Michigan State to win back-to-back Big Ten titles, defeating Iowa in the Big Ten title game.
But this is college football, where you can’t guarantee anything. It’s what makes the sport so much darn fun.