Big Ten has split personality

By: Oscar Mattingly | Friday, August 28, 2009

QB Darryl Clark will lead the Penn State offense.

The Big Ten had a bit of a split personality a year ago. Conference teams were 22-17 SU in non-league games against other BCS teams, the best mark for any league, but just 1-6 SU in bowl games. Michigan wasn’t Michigan, and in a sign of the conference’s weakness, Northwestern jumped up to finish tied for fourth.

Ohio State and Penn State are still the class of the conference, with the Buckeyes shooting for a share of their fifth straight conference title. The second tier includes Illinois, Iowa and Michigan State, with none of those schools seemingly dominant. When it comes to beating up on each other, no one is better than the Big Ten, which means bettors should proceed with caution when it comes to wagering on ‘over/under’ win totals.

Over/under win totals are from and only count for the regular season.

Penn State - 10 wins

The Nittany Lions opened things up offensively last year to the tune of 38.9 points per game. A trio of game-breaking receivers are gone, but the school returns ringleader Darryl Clark, a senior who threw for 19 touchdowns against six interceptions a year ago. And he can count on junior running back Evan Royster to step up from his 1,236-yard season of a year ago.

Penn State has just four starters returning to its defense, but this is “Linebacker U” and the Lions are stacked there. Navarro Bowman and Josh Hull are back from last year, and the best of the bunch could be Sean Lee, a fifth-year senior who missed last season after tearing his ACL.

LIKELY WINS:  Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois, Minnesota, at Michigan, at Northwestern, Indiana  

UP FOR GRABS: Iowa, at Illinois, Ohio State, at Michigan State

NOTEWORTHY:  The Nittany Lions get the first four at home and won’t have to break a sweat before facing Iowa in their fourth game. They also get Ohio State and Iowa – perhaps their two biggest threats to a Big Ten title – at home.

Ohio State – 9 ? wins

Coming off a national title-game appearance and with 19 returning starters, the Buckeyes didn’t live up to expectations last year, falling to 10-3. They have 11 starters returning this time, and just four on offense. But one who is returning is the dynamic Terrelle Pryor. The dual-threat sophomore quarterback learned on the job last year and will benefit from knowing he is the man this year. He lost his leading rusher and receiver to the draft, but junior Brandon Saine and sophomore Dan Herron should be a formidable tandem in the backfield.

The Buckeyes haven’t allowed more than two touchdowns per game in three years, and trend could continue. OSU has eight starters back, including secondary standouts Chmidi Chekwa and Kurt Coleman.

LIKELY WINS: Toledo, at Indiana, Wisconsin, at Purdue, Minnesota, New Mexico State, at Michigan

UP FOR GRABS: Navy, USC, Illinois, at Penn State, Iowa

NOTEWORTHY: The Buckeyes don’t have a bye, but maybe the next best thing – a visit from New Mexico State – before traveling to Happy Valley.

Iowa – 8 wins

The Hawkeyes were a bit of a surprise at 9-4 a year ago, with the losses by a combined 12 points. However, they managed to draw a schedule with just one top-25 team (the marquee 24-23 upset of Penn State). They also lost the Big Ten’s leading rusher in Shonn Greene. Still, expectations are high with junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi as the leader. They also have sophomore Jewel Hampton, a diamond in the rough who rushed for 463 yards as a true freshman

The defense, returning eight starters, was stout last year by allowing 13.0 points per game. Linebackers Pat Angerer and AJ Edds are stars and the secondary is loaded with talent, including Amari Spivey and Tyler Sash.

LIKELY WINS:  Northern Iowa, at Iowa State, Arizona, Arkansas State, Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota

UP FOR GRABS: at Penn State, Michigan, at Wisconsin, at Michigan State, at Ohio State

NOTEWORTHY:  The Hawkeyes get the benefit of just four road conference games. Of course, it’s no help when those games could be against the four other best teams in the Big Ten.

Michigan State – 7 1/2 wins

The Spartans have 15 starters returning from a team that went 6-2 SU in the Big Ten a year ago. But those two losses against Ohio State and Penn State occurred by a combined s 94-25 score. The Spartans need a new quarterback and running back, but they have a veteran offensive line to grind people down.

The defense, which held four foes to a touchdown or less, returns eight starters. That includes tackling machines Greg Jones and Eric Gordon.

LIKELY WINS: Montana State, Northwestern, at Minnesota, Western Michigan, at Purdue

UP FOR GRABS: Central Michigan, at Notre Dame, at Wisconsin, Michigan, at Illinois, Iowa, Penn State  

NOTEWORTHY:  Beware the Chippawas, who start a string of five straight tough games for the Spartans. But not having Ohio State on the schedule should help.

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