I guess I can't really be upset with the Big Ten coaches for not wanting to do pre-season predictions this season. After all, they're usually wrong, and who wants to be humiliated by having your bad predictions printed in every midwest newspaper and then getting reminded of the mistakes when the season is over?
Still, as fans and readers of multiple papers and blogs, we want to see predictions. We want to talk about what this writer or that one said, and pick apart their conclusions. We need a narrative to frame the season, and expectations create part of that. We also want to know what players we will be rooting for and against.
Regardless of what the B1G coaches desire, many will no doubt offer their own predictions. A few already have. I also have a few predictions to make, but mine will not be like what you'll find on other blogs, at least I hope not. A couple years ago, we made some predictions as a group with the usual categories: offensive and defensive POY, best pro prospect, most intriguing game, etc.
As much as I enjoy trying to pick the biggest upset or the most improved player, I'd like to do something different this time. I've prepared a few categories that are, shall we say, off the beaten path. I'm hoping that the road less traveled by will make all the difference (for better or worse).
MOST LIKELY TO GROW HIS HAIR LONG
Russel Wilson, Wisconsin: As you can see from the picture, he's already got a bit more on top than a lot of guys who play this sport. Why do I expect him to grow it out? First of all, he's played in the ACC for three years and now he's going to one of the colder states in the midwest to play football among a bunch of guys who fancy themselves tough enough to wear short sleeves in sub-zero weather. You think that cold wind in November will feel a bit frosty to a guy who grew up in Richmond VA? Me too.
The other reason you might see Wilson looking more like Little Richard come this fall is the example being set up North. As we all know, Denard Robinson has some impressive locks. The idea that Wilson might want to channel a bit of the mojo from last season's offensive player of the year does not seem far fetched to me, although the stats don't always translate into wins. Still, Wisky's defense should be much better than the one led by GERG last season and so if Wilson even approximates the production of "Shoelace", the Badgers should be in good shape. Speaking of Mr. Robinson...
MOST LIKELY TO GET INTO A FISTFIGHT WITH A COACH
Denard Robinson, Michigan: New UM offensive coordinator Al Borges is known as a guy who develops pro-style QB's like Cade McNown and Jason Campbell. Robinson does not fit into that mold, although he did run that kind of offense in high school. Before UM fans get their hopes up they should review the tapes from last season and tell me if they think Robinson is even close to McNown or Campbell as a passer. Maybe Borges will develop him beyond what we think he can do. Maybe not.
It is well known that Robinson came to Michigan because he was a great fit for RichRod's spread offense. He says he's ready to lead in a pro-style offense, but I'm betting he will take off and run far more than Borges wants him to. When the new man says he wants Shoelace to stand in there and check off his options, the guy who's in his 3rd year at UM will probably tell him that he knows when the right time to run is and he's got a 1700+ yard season to prove it. Anyone else see some friction on the horizon, especially if the transition goes slowly and leads to a few unexpected losses?
MOST USELESS PLAYER
Carson Wiggs, Purdue: I know what you're thinking: "But he's actually a good kicker". True enough. Now ask yourself this question: when does a team's kicker get into the game? Other than the opening kickoff of the game or the 2nd half, it's due to his team actually scoring points. And there's the rub if you're a Purdue fan: you have one of the better kickers in the league but you hardly ever use him because your team's offense is so inept.
Last season Purdue scored a league-low 27 touchdowns, barely more than two per game. The Boilermakers were also last in the league in total offense, gaining a full 50 yards less per game than 10th-place Minnesota. Their 19 field goal attempts were 3rd lowest in the league (Michigan attempted only 14 FG's because their kicker was so terrible). They were 10th in the league in time-of-possession. Is it possible that this team was coached by Joe "basketball on grass" Tiller only two years ago? Seems like an eternity from where they are now in terms of production.
UNDERACHIEVING COACH OF THE YEAR
Joe Paterno, Penn State: Normally this space would be reserved for Ron Zook, but the Zooker actually won his bowl game last season and made a respectable showing against Ohio State (never mind that 67-spot they gave up in a loss to UM, and never mind that ugly loss to Minnesota). No, this year I'm predicting the underachiever among coaches will be the man whose team blew a 24-17 3rd quarter lead against a mediocre Florida team when "Mr. Moxie" tossed 5 INT's (including the clincher in the 4th quarter that the Gators took 80 yards to the house).
The calls for JoePa to voluntarily step aside will grow louder this season than ever before as he guides then through another middling 7-5 or 8-4 regular season (anyone see them beating Alabama, Nebraska, Wisconsin, or Ohio State?) and then chokes away a bowl game against a younger, more prepared coach. Don't worry, PSU fans, help is on the way in the form of his son Jay who will undoubtedly take over the program when pops finally decides to give it up. I'm sure you are all consoling yourselves with that thought.
Now it is your turn, dear readers. Help me fill in the void by coming up with your own oddball category and then make a prediction for it. It's fun, doesn't cost anything, and it won't make you fat. Come up with something better than what I've suggested and I'll personally shake your hand when I see you at Eat Too Brutus 2011.