When Penn State joined the Big Ten a few years ago, it was assumed that Joe Paterno would be the coach you would least want to face. Not so.
With Joe Pa fighting off Father Time and a growing impatience in "Unhappy Valley" over losing, the torch has been passed to Iowa’s boy wonder Kirk Ferentz.
Under Captain’s Kirk’s guidance, the Hawkeyes have gone 31-7 over the last 38 games — the best three-year run in school history. Iowa went 10-2 last season, but more importantly 9-3 against the spread.
In six years at Iowa City, Ferentz is 47-24-2 ATS. The Hawkeyes are basically covering two of every three outings, and wound up last year upsetting LSU 30-25 as a 6Â½-point underdog. Iowa’s loss to Michigan went a long way to allowing the Wolverines to wind up in the Rose Bowl.
Look for plenty of fireworks in this year’s rematch Oct. 22 at Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes have an 18-game winning streak. But five or six teams can win the Big Tenthis year. The league is that strong.
We see a battle among Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Minnesota. And, don’t sell old Joe Pa short at Penn State if the Lions can generate any kind of offense. The defense is solid.
Perhaps the most intriguing game in the nation comes real early (Sept. 10) when the Buckeyes host Texas in Columbus. Texas and Michigan played one of the greatest Rose Bowl games ever last year. Ohio State has home field and Ted Ginn Jr., a genuine game-breaker anytime he touches the football.
Michigan has played in a national record 30 consecutive bowl games and Lloyd Carr (95-29) is a cinch to surpass 100 wins in his 11th season at Ann Arbor. The Wolverines were 9-3 last year, but a disturbing 5-7 ATS. In fact, Big Blue is a woeful 57-65-1 ATS under Carr. They win, but often struggle as a road favorite.
Purdue has become a consistent winner under Joe Tiller, going 62-37 in eight seasons. The Boilermakers return 18 starters, don’t have Michigan or Ohio State on the schedule and host Iowa.
However, conference road games at Minnesota, Wisconsin and Penn State won’t be easy. Upset alert: Sept. 17 in the desert against Arizona the week before Minnesota.
As for Minnesota, tailback Laurence Maroney could break 2,000 yards rushing this season with ex-running mate Marion Barber III now in the NFL. If the Golden Gophers can just beat Michigan (back-to-back three-point losses), they could win the Big Ten.
The rest of the league isn’t that shabby. Northwestern went 6-6 SU last year with Brett Basanez, the best QB in the league.
Basanez, a capable thrower and runner, has made 28 straight starts and needs five wins to become the winningest QB in the modern era at Evanston. We’re betting he gets the five and maybe another one or two.
Michigan State is dangerous, especially against Notre Dame. Illinois has a new coach in Ron Zook, who was pushed out of Florida to make way for Steve Spurrier only to have ex-Utah coach Urban Meyer wind up in Gainesville.
Note we haven’t mentioned Wisconsin. The Badgers are the X factor. Barry Alvarez will be retiring at the end of the season so expect the Badgers to play with lots of emotion for a popular coach.
Bottom line: We just can’t see any team going unbeaten in league play. An 11-1 record will be awesome and deserving of national title.
Next week: A preview of the new look ACC.