I work with a middle-aged lady who hails from Nashville, and declares herself to be a Tennessee Volunteers fan. While we were in the lunch room last week, the subject of football came up. This being Cincinnati, she was more excited about the Bengals than college football, but mentioned in passing that she was excited to go to Neyland Stadium this fall and catch a game; that she was overjoyed when they selected Butch Jones (from UC) as their coach; that she couldn't name a single player on the team (naturally); and that while they may not have had the football success she was proud that in the past couple of years they had recruited "classy, well-spoken gentlemen, not lawbreakers." (Shot at Ohio State? Veiled racism? Who knows?) Also, she might have forgotten about this story.
Then, this lady looked me right dead in the eye and asked, "So, how do you think my Vols will do this year?"
I do not know this lady very well, so I was hemming and hawing, trying to come up with a way to tell her the Vols weren't going to be good without being the Grinch who stole football season or having HR called on me. I puzzled and puzzled until my puzzler was sore. After a minute I came up with:
"They could have as few as 3 wins-"
Scandal. Outrage. She's already calling to have me sent to the dungeon downstairs in her head.
"-but could also have as many as 7."
Ah, that's better. She actually smiled. Evidently, expectations in Volunteer Nation aren't all that high.
Then, I had a wonderful, awful idea.
Why not, I thought, do the same thing for every team in our league? This makes describing a team's season a whole lot easier. So, let's get going without any further ado. We'll start in the Legends division and end with our Buckeyes.
While the worst case scenario for Iowa has already been covered elsewhere, we'll try to avoid any talk of the undead in hopes that we'll stave off the inevitable zombie hordes. For the most part, this team has been decimated by injuries over the past few seasons. We know of AIRBHG, but the real curse this year is going to be the curse of "Iowa doesn't have a quarterback or a secondary." Iowa won't be able to pass or stop the pass this year against competent teams, and therefore they will probably struggle mightily, even with a relatively cake-ish out of conference schedule. They make the B1G championship in almost every simulation of NCAA 14, though, so there's that.
Devin Gardner will be a full-time starter at quarterback, so there will be no more Denard-ceptions. However, let's not get it twisted. Michigan will miss his ability to create big plays. Derrick Green is a giant human being, and Taylor Lewan is a beast at tackle. The questions remain on the defensive side, especially at the safety spot and linebacker. Do they have the athletes at those two positions to compete with the big boys of the league, namely, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State? Only time will tell. If those positions are resolved and someone steps up, next year's excellent recruiting class is going to walk in to something special. This team is definitely good enough to hang in the B1G, even with a game against Notre Dame on their OOC schedule
Ceiling: 11-1, Rose Bowl
SPARTYFENSE is often talked about as the premier defense in the league, and they certainly are physical up front, sometimes to a fault. The defense has a reputation and despite the loss of a few very talented players, I expect them to be as strong as ever. The offense, though...woof. This offense was putrid last year, AND they lost Le'Veon Bell. Past performance is not an indicator of future success, but MSU has to be praying that someone can wrest the starting job from Andrew Maxwell. Ugh. Their out-of-conference schedule also includes Notre Dame and three relative cream puffs, and they avoid the Buckeyes. However, some of their more winnable games (Iowa, Illinois) are on the road, and they also have to go to Evanston and Lincoln. This might be a tough year for Sparty if no one steps up at QB or RB. Whither Nick Hill?
Uh-oh - is Goldy making a comeback to the best of times under Glen Mason? They have a solid quarterback in Philip Nelson (their best pocket passer since Bryan Cupito), a defense led by a monster at defensive tackle in Ra'Shede Hagemann, a secondary that's pesky, and solid special teams. However, Jerry Kill's squad lacks playmakers at the skill positions. Donnell Kirkwood is an average, decent B1G back, but the team really will depend on true frosh Eric Carter to bring some much-needed speed to the receiving corps. Minnesota has some decent pieces, and this could be their best squad in several years. I don't expect any losses to FCS teams this year, but I do expect them to finish around .500 or lower.
Taylor Martinez returns. So does the defense, and they're minus some good players up front, especially at the offensive skill positions, like Kenny Bell, who may be the best wide receiver in the conference. That's all you really need to know about them. As commenter BroccoliD said of the Huskers in another SB Nation piece: "Someone's going to score 60. I hope it's us."
Ceiling: 10-2, Rose Bowl
I really have no idea what to make of this team. On one hand, the offense, led by Kain Colter, Venric Mark, Kyle Prater (a 5* recruit and USC transfer) and underrated TE Dan Vitale, could be nigh unstoppable. On the other hand, the defensive line, offensive line and lack of depth along both would frighten me as a Wildcat fan. If Will Hampton or Tyler Scott go down with injury...uh-oh. The back seven is solid, with Nick VanHoose and Ibraheim Campbell locking down an underrated secondary. The problem, though, is the front line. Can it hold up to the more physical teams in the B1G? I have no idea what to do with this team, but I think the offense is way too talented to keep them below .500.
Ceiling: 10-2, Rose Bowl
Now, onto the Leaders. Thank the heavens this is the last year of those stupid division names.
Eww. Poor Nathan Scheelhaase, again, has guys that make you go "meh" around him in terms of skill players and, as a bonus throw-in, has a pupu platter along the line. This could get ugly offensively. Defensively, Mason Monheim is a stud in the making, and Jonathan Brown should be ready to go. However, the rest of the position groups other than linebacker are so-so at best. This team hasn't recruited like Ron Zook did in five years. With a pretty tough OOC schedule that includes a game at Soldier Field against Washington and home games vs. UC and Miami (OH), this team is destined for sadness.
There hasn't been this much collective excitement about the Hoosiers football team in years. New candy-stripe helmets and a group of QBs who are all competent at worst, combined with a flashy group of decent skill-players, will make the offense fun to watch. The defense will be, largely, burnt toast. They do play Missouri and Navy out of conference in appointment television if you are a Spencer Hall-type CFB viewer and get joy out of WHEEEE POINTS, and all their winnable games are at home. They have to go to Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Madison and Columbus, though. If you were hoping that they'd pull an upset over one of those four teams, it's probably not going to happen.
Well, well: what have we here? A true freshman (albeit highly recruited and consensus 5*) quarterback? A depleted defense due to graduation, the NFL Draft, and scholarship reductions? What could go wrong? Glenn Carson is the captain of the defense at linebacker, and Mike Hull isn't bad at LB, either. Christian Hackenberg, the QB noted above, is inexperienced, but has a veteran offensive line to help him out, including noted genius John Urschel. He also has some talented targets, including WR Allen Robinson and talented TE/noted outlaw Jesse James. Lest we forget, the B1G has a monopoly on pretty good white running backs, and in the time honored tradition of Rex Burkhead and Hopalong Cassidy, Zach Zwinak will carry a majority of the load. The real issue is depth and the secondary. The Nittany Lions have good first-teamers, but even tireless DE Deion Barnes will get tired eventually. That's when teams with good offenses will strike. PSU will stop the run, but can they stop the pass and win some games against good teams on the road? Also, lest we forget, they won't go to the B1G championship game.
Nonexistence becomes them, really. Kawann Short is now plying his trade with the NFL's Carolina Panthers, and they have to play against the aforementioned Bearcats, Fighting Irish and the Northern Illinois Fightin' Jordan Lynches out of league. They do host the Buckeyes and are probably hoping for a second Purdue Harbor, but don't return a whole lot of talent from last year's team. Rob Henry, who I think backed up Drew Brees, will finally start. Bruce Gaston is no Kawann Short, but he plays the same position and is also pretty good. The linebackers are "ugh" and the offensive line is "welp". Their offensive philosophy should be "get the ball to Akeem Hunt every play." The dependable, speedy running back took a kickoff back for a TD against the Buckeyes and had an 81-yard TD scamper against Wisconsin. Dude is legit. Too bad the rest of the team isn't.
The best team in the Leaders division not named Ohio State, Wisconsin has a decent chance to get themselves in the running for yet another Rose Bowl appearance. While their defensive depth is not quite up to par with the past few years and they have to replace almost an entire offensive line, the general consensus is that Wisconsin grows offensive linemen on trees, and James White and Melvin Gordon are really good running backs. It remains to be seen whether Curt Phillips or statue Joel Stave will start, but I expect the more mobile Phillips to get the majority of the work. Defensively, they have some excellent starters, such as the nasty linebacker Chris Borland and stud safety Dezmen Southward. However, someone else is going to have to claim that other safety spot, and the corners are so-so. Pat Muldoon, Tyler Dippel and Brendan Kelly are pretty much carbon copies of each other on the D-line - high effort, high motor and high production. They're big, fast, strong and athletic. The defensive tackles, however, can be blocked one on one. Aside from a few trouble spots, and as long as they get decent QB play (which may not happen), the Badgers should be pretty darn good.
Ceiling: 10-2, Rose Bowl
We've gone over this ad nauseum, but the Buckeyes' schedule is easy peasy. They shouldn't have any trouble with the majority of it and have the talent to run roughshod over any team they face - if the defense can remain consistent and if Braxton Miller remains healthy all year. Don't get me wrong, Kenny Guiton is awesome, but he's not the playmaker XBrax360 is. Aside from trouble spots at Cal, home to Wisconsin, at Northwestern and The Game in Ann Arbor, the schedule is pretty easy. The Buckeyes could conceivably lose all those games, but I believe their absolute floor is 9 wins. This is the best team in the B1G.
Ceiling: 12-0, National Championship, GO BUCKEYES /sings Carmen Ohio