Before diving into all the individual team previews, a few insane ideas popped into my head. I call them, you guessed it, bold predictions. What you are about to read here are things not likely to come true. However, even if they have a five-percent (or better) chance, we must, as football crazies, debate on them. These are the Big 10/12 /14 /We-Secretly-(Not-So-Secretly)-Want-Notre-Dame Bold Predictions:
No. 1 – Michigan loses a heart-breaker to Ohio State in The Game, dropping the Wolverines to 6-2 in the league and 10-2 overall. Its other loss has them on the outside of the divisional tiebreaker meaning they don’t even make the conference title game; however, Ohio State steamrolls the division champ in said championship game, meaning both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines eventually make the BCS. Michigan earns an at-large berth and wins, finishing the year at 11-2 and ends with a top-five ranking in the final AP.
My thoughts: Outside of the Notre Dame night game in Ann Arbor, eight weeks of the season are pretty manageable. Yes, the road trips to East Lansing and Happy Valley could trip them up but based on the talent returning, especially at quarterback, Michigan could be in great position heading down the backstretch. Of course, Nebraska or Northwestern (and possibly Michigan State) could wind up stealing the spot in the B1G title game. So goes the problem with a bold prediction with many moving parts.
No. 2 – Iowa stuns the league and makes a New Year’s Bowl by going 9-3, wins that game, and finishes somewhere between eight and 13 in the final AP.
My Thoughts: My Hawks had some real stinkers last year as they introduced a lot of new faces on the field and on the sidelines. They won’t be as bad as last year’s 4-8 squad, and honestly, with injuries and bad luck, coach Kirk Ferentz’s team was better than that record. That being said, the schedule is not a fun one: Northern Illinois and a trip to Ames to take on Iowa State before even getting to the league slate. At OSU, Northwestern, Wisconsin in three straight weeks. Michigan and then at Nebraska to end the season. Even the games against unranked league foes are tough. At an improved Minnesota, Michigan State and at a pesky Purdue team. Even 6-6 seems like a stretch with that schedule but Iowa has had a knack for playing its best when things look the darkest.
No. 3 – Illinois and Indiana go a combined 17-7.
My Thoughts: A year ago these two combined to go almost the exact opposite at 6-18. Indiana showed signs of improvement, however, and because Illinois went oh-fer in the league, the Illini can only go up. Here’s the problem though: they face each other as divisional foes, so right away that is a combined record of 1-1. Can they really go 16-6 the rest of the way? Even with the predicted improvement in Indiana and a marginal improvement at Illinois, it’ll be a stretch. The Hoosiers could turn in an incredible year with nine wins, but that’s putting a lot of pressure on Illinois to get to eight to hit this mark. I put the odds of this at a big, fat, zero-percent, thus ignoring my own five-percent possibility rule.
No. 4 – Wisconsin makes Rose Bowl number four in a row and finally wins despite being the worst team on paper of the four. It happens because Ohio State makes the national title game.
My Thoughts: This would be a huge BCS double-dip for the conference. OSU doesn’t make Pasadena because the Buckeyes go 13-0 and remain undefeated under Urban Meyer. That alone seems rough, but then Wisconsin needs to win early and often as well. The best possibility of this happening comes with injuries really plaguing other squads and Wisconsin’s starting quarterback situation being solved right off the bat.
No. 5 – Northwestern doesn’t meet the hype, it exceeds it, goes 10-2 or even 11-1 in the regular season, wins the title game and heads out to the Rose Bowl with 11 or 12 wins.
My Thoughts: The ‘Cats are ranked No. 22 heading into the season so they have a lot of buzz already. They travel to Madison and Lincoln as well as host Ohio State and Michigan. It would be tough to win two of those four games, especially with the lack of home-crowd support we’ve grown accustomed to at Ryan Field. As for the other eight game, a road trip to Iowa City actually looks like the most difficult game. To wrap this all up, to make this come true, NU just has to split the four toughies and sweep all the winnable games. This bold prediction seems the most likely happen. To me at least.