With just under 70 days until Navy steps into the Shoe, cretins like us everywhere are starting to turn our focus away from summer lounging and towards the start of the '09 season. There are Steele data points to digest and preseason composite rankings to scrutinize, after all.
Part of the countdown to kickoff are predictions out of people barely qualified to do so (though not us, of course). Corey got the ball rolling with his Indiana preview last week, and this week we check in with our ballot for the annual Lake The Posts Big Ten Blogger Preseason Awards. Many thanks to LTP for putting this together and now on to the ballot.
Coach of the Year: Mark Dantonio
There's a genuine feeling of optimism in East Lansing these days. Not the "John L might get the boys back to the Alamo" variety, but a very real sense that better things are on the way. And maybe, just maybe, now is a good time to close the gap on the snooty bunch down the road. We're buying it.
Dantonio followed up a solid debut at Michigan State by winning nine games last season -- good enough for a third place finish in the Big Ten. His Spartans had a chance to tie for the league title heading into the final week of the season, but were dropped by Penn State in what is quickly becoming one of the conference's better rivalries.
Though topping nine wins will be tough, we won't exactly be shocked if Dantonio pulls it off, either.
Tressel was our runner-up selection and let me say one more time that it's a TRAVESTY the man has yet to win the award despite owning the conference for the better part of this decade.
Best Heisman Candidate: Terrelle Pryor
This one was pretty much unanimous when we discussed it. We try to put the homer shades down and realize that there are other great players in the league -- Benn, Williams, Royster, Clark, Decker and others -- but Pryor has everything working for him heading into this season.
Despite being just a sophomore, he's the league's most well-known commodity, playing for the league's highest profile (and likely highest-ranked) team and if recent history is any guide, the Stiff-Arm Trophy likes quarterbacks.
If Pryor wants the award, he'll have to be ready by week two. But could you ask for a better campaign kickoff event?
Sleeper Team to Crack the Upper Tier: Minnesota
"Upper tier" can be kind of a broad term. Does it mean the top half or the top handful? For our purposes, we're going to assume it means the top four teams.
Ohio State and Penn State will definitely be there. Michigan State should be there and then you can pull from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan or even Northwestern to be that fourth team.
But when you're talking sleeper, we think you have to look at the Gophers, batshit crazy (see below) coach and all. They have a new field this year and ticket sales are booming. Ohioans remember the affect the Jake had on the Tribe and there's a good chance the new park helps an improving team get an extra win or two this year.
Most Likely to John L Smith (Lose It): Tim Brewster
As much as we like the Gophers as a possible surprise team this year, Brewster has to be considered a liability. And a possibility for an epic postgame meltdown.
When he isn't participating in revisionist history or calling out beat writers, @Play4brew is supplying Twitter with a steady stream of testosterone (and exclamation points). Look for said meltdown during the brutal four week stretch that goes: @ Ohio State, @ Penn State, Michigan State and Illinois.
Internally, our votes were scattered on this category, with Zook coming in second and Bielema and Rodriguez also garnering some support. Strangely, no Joe Pa.
Shonn Greene Award (Player to Come from Nowhere): John Clay
(We're loosely defining "nowhere" as "has not had a season as a regular under his belt" because to truly pick another Shonn Greene, we'd have to scour the roster of a middle-of-the-pack team for a 2nd or 3rd string guy (remember when Paki O'Meara was going to be the man in Iowa City) and then watch the guy lock up Big Ten MVP honors. It can happen, but predicting that guy is damn near impossible.)
We were actually split on this one with votes going evenly to Wisconsin's Clay and DeVier Posey. Both guys were Army All-Americans and both will probably develop into outstanding players. Clay looks like Chris Wells in another uni and really does cause us to have nightmares. Plus, selecting him can't hurt to make us look like we aren't the total homers we know we are.
Most Likely to be the Highest NFL Draft Pick
Down the road, it might be Pryor or someone else, but looking ahead to the 2010 NFL Draft, Benn gets our vote as most likely to go first from the Big Ten (assuming he leaves early -- and he will). As a soph, Benn put up monster numbers (67 for 1,055) and though he didn't get into the endzone as often as you'd like if your name is Ron Zook, another year of working with Juice should help push his numbers up across the board. At 6-2/215, he has the frame scouts drool over and the speed to go along with it.
Navorro Bowman was our runner-up for this award with his mate Sean Lee finishing third.
Must See Game of the Year: Ohio State @ Penn State
Another no-brainer. The conference's two best teams should meet November 7th for the de facto championship game. Pryor gets a chance to avenge the fumble and Nittany Lion fans finally get to see a quality opponent on the schedule.
Upset Special: Penn State @ Michigan
While Penn State at Michigan state on November 21st looms as a potential upset, how big of an upset would that be, really? The real upset special in the conference is on October 24th, when Penn State visits Ann Arbor. The Nittany Lions finally solved the Wolverines last season, but then again, everybody solved the Wolverines last season. Though SS RichRod is still very much a mess-in-progress, chances are they'll be better this season and when a team owns another team...
The Big Finish
Corey will be counting down these teams in the coming weeks, but here's a quick look at how we see the conference winding up:
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Michigan State