One obstacle to assessing the final verdicts on the Big Ten: a lot of ties. Ties are a total cop-out in the prediction racket but often skew everything in the end. From the preseason consensus of 18 publications at Stassen.com, from most underrated to most overrated:
|Illinois||7th||T-2nd (6-2)||+ 5||USA Today (5th)||S&S, J. Feist (11th)|
|Indiana||11th||T-7th (3-5)||+ 4||Athlon (7th)||Five 11th Place Picks|
|N'western||10th||T-7th (3-5)||+ 3||Eight 8th Place Picks||Three 11th Place Picks|
|Mich. State||9th||T-7th (3-5)||+ 2||Street&Smith (7th)||Three 11th Place Picks|
|Ohio State||3rd||1st (7-1)||+ 2||CPA, BlueRibbon (2nd)||Jim Feist (5th)|
|Iowa||5th||T-5th (4-4)||-||Eight 5th Place Picks||GamePlan (7th)|
|Michigan||1st||T-2nd (6-2)||-1||Six 2nd Place Picks||Twelve 1st Place Picks|
|Penn State||4th||T-5th (4-4)||-1||Four 5th Place Picks||Phil Steele (T-1st)|
|Purdue||6th||T-7th (3-5)||-1||Lindys, USAT (7th)||Six 5th Place Picks|
|Wisconsin||2nd||4th (5-3)||-2||SureFire (4th)||Seven 1st Place Picks|
|Minnesota||8th||11th (0-8)||-3||Four 11th Place Picks||Seven 7th Place Picks|
Be wary of the "underrated" nature of Indiana, Michigan State and Northwestern up there, each of which I have listed as tied for seventh place but which also, by definition, tied for eighth, ninth and tenth place, too. The true bolt from the blue - besides mythical championship finalist Ohio State, which not one single outlet predicted would win the conference with an entirely rebuilt set of offensive skill players - was Illinois, previous winner of two conference games in three years, a leap a certain someone saw coming way back in June:
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Fortunately for him, Tim Brewster's complete Big Ten predictions never reached publication.
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A few teams with a reasonable degree of optimism based on the reason past were predictably mediocre: Penn State did not challenge for the conference championship, Wisconsin defied most everyone's expectations by failing to reach a BCS bowl, Purdue's long streak of futility against ultimately winning teams outside of the MAC (based on final record) reached 16 games and Iowa's persistent failures on offense allowed me to bask again in the "Purdue Rule," which holds that any team whose greatest asset is the teams it doesn't play - in Iowa's case, as in touted-but-disappointing Purdue's in 2005, that meant missing Ohio State and Michigan - is a team to be regarded with maximum cynicism. The Hawkeyes were fortunate to finish 4-4 in-conference, preventing Illinois from a conference championship in what now looks like a great upset and winning a game against Michigan State in which Iowa's Jake Christensen completed three passes for fewer than 30 yards in regulation.
No team, though, fell harder than Minnesota, which began the Time Brewster Era by parading turf from the Rose Bowl around the Minnesota practice facility, immediately lost two of its first three games to Bowling Green and Florida Atlantic, later was rolled for 394 yards rushing by I-AA North Dakota State en route to fielding by far the worst statistical defense in the nation and counting an overtime comeback against the Ohio-based Miami as its only win. Maybe more surprising, given the Gophers' success through the early and middle years of the decade prior to Glen Mason's firing, is that so many pundits saw the Gophers' fall coming a mile away:
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The buzzkill, obviously, was Michigan, which very few prognosticators saw failing to win the conference and none saw dropping below Ohio State; if any team was going to knock the Wolverines from the frontrunner's seat, it was supposed to be Wisconsin. But then, all predictions re: Michigan were burned after the first Saturday of the season, so who's counting?