The Big Ten, America's favorite punch-line conference, took a much-needed first step toward regaining respectability with a pair of BCS bowl wins and a 4-3 bowl record in 2009. Most impressively, all four wins came against top 15 opponents (Ohio State over Oregon, Iowa over Georgia Tech, Penn State over LSU and Wisconsin over Miami).
But one year alone won't burnish from existence all the prevailing stereotypes that much of the nation holds toward the men of the Midwest. The next step will be to produce a couple of elite teams that beat a staple program nationally in a meaningful game. (Read: Not the Capital One Bowl.) The Big Ten will have a couple of early opportunities when Penn State visits Alabama and Ohio State hosts Miami. But in the league's dream scenario, a representative heads to the BCS title game and beats an SEC or Big 12 foe. With veteran teams returning in Columbus, Iowa City and Madison, they can dare to dream.
After keeping training wheels on their once-celebrated recruit for nearly two years, Ohio State's coaches let their 6-foot-5 QB air it out against Oregon in the Rose Bowl, and Pryor did not disappoint. He set career records for completions (23), attempts (37) and passing yards (266) while running for 72 yards on 20 carries to lift the Buckeyes to a 26-17 victory over the Ducks. While it's clear at this point that
It remains to be seen how much work Pryor will be able to do during the spring after undergoing knee surgery in February that proved more complicated than expected. During a procedure to help heal a partially torn PCL he suffered midway through last season, the operating doctor found "there were a lot of things wrong with [the knee]," Pryor told the
Ohio State has the pieces in place to produce its most explosive offense since the
Last season's Wolverines defense was just plain awful. Michigan finished 82nd nationally in total defense, 90th in rushing defense and 77th in scoring defense. A combination of recruiting missteps by predecessor
Obviously, second-year defensive coordinator
Iowa's teams have long fit a certain blue-collar mold under Ferentz, with the one constant being the position he once coached under
On paper, then, the 2010 Hawkeyes are a bit of a reversal. They return quarterback
It seems fairly certain Iowa's defense, so dominant throughout last year's 11-win season and Orange Bowl victory over Georgia Tech, will be a strong point again. Defensive end
Penn State has quietly produced back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time since 1985-86, and has won at least nine for five straight years. The one constant: coordinator Bradley's perennially elite defenses, which seem immune to personnel turnover. From
This year, however, Bradley must replace a particularly large group of standout veterans -- defensive tackle
You have to figure if
All three of these gentlemen figure to be coaching for their jobs in 2010. In the case of Illinois' Zook and Minnesota's Brewster, a good number of their teams' fans can't believe they made it past '09. Zook was retained for a sixth season despite a miserable 3-9 year that saw the Illini's offense completely implode despite the presence of a four-year quarterback (
Brewster's stock, meanwhile, seemed to plummet seemingly overnight. After earning raves for bringing a rare top 20 recruiting class to Minnesota in 2008 and following it with a six-win improvement, the third-year coach garnered heavy criticism for the Gophers' return to mediocrity (6-7), especially on offense, where quarterback
As for Indiana's Lynch, he endured one of the most hard-luck seasons in the country last year. The Hoosiers took Michigan to the wire before losing on a controversial interception (who could forget Lynch's infamous gum-toss?), blew a 28-3 lead against Northwestern, watched a 24-21 fourth-quarter lead against Iowa deteriorate into a 42-24 defeat (again, with no small help from the Big Ten replay officials). Lynch, who took Indiana to its first bowl game in 13 years upon succeeding the late