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Darryl Clark and Penn State have the inside track to the Big Ten title.

Darryl Clark and Penn State have the inside track to the Big Ten title.

With media day in the books, it’s about time to take a stab at ranking the Big Ten teams. Here is my best guess at how the standings will look at the end of the season:

  1. PENN STATE — It seems like every contender has some big holes to fill, and the Nittany Lions are no exception. They lost their top three wideouts and defensive ends from last season, three starting offensive linemen, and their entire starting secondary. However, I still think they’ll come out on top for a few reasons: First, quarterback Darryl Clark and tailback Evan Royster return, giving Penn State the best offensive backfield in the conference. Second, they have the best linebacking corps in the Big Ten, anchored by Navarro Bowman and Sean Lee, which should help cover for the rest of the defense’s inexperience in the early going. Third, they get Iowa and Ohio State in Happy Valley, arguably the toughest road environment in the Big Ten. I think a PSU victory over the Buckeyes on Nov. 7 ultimately decides the conference title.
  2. OHIO STATE — The Buckeyes have a lot to replace as well, losing Beanie Wells, best known for running through my nightmares, as well as stud linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, unanimous All-Big Ten first teamer Malcolm Jenkins, and mammoth tackle Alex Boone. They also have Terrelle Pryor, which should work out well for them. However, I think Pryor will still experience some growing pains as he is forced to pass more, and having an entirely new receiving corps doesn’t help matters with the departures of Brian Robiske and Brian Hartline. Like Penn State, OSU has a favorable conference schedule, getting Illinois and Iowa at home and missing Michigan State and Northwestern completely, but that game at Beaver Stadium looms large.
  3. ILLINOIS — At this point, all the choices start getting very flawed, and when teams are flawed, I start looking for players who can win games on their own. Wideout Arrelious Benn is the best player in the conference, and Michigan fans are certainly aware of what quarterback Juice Williams can accomplish with both his feet and his arm. If Williams cuts down on the interceptions (16 in 2008, though he did throw for 3,173 yards and 22 touchdowns) the Illini could be a very dangerous team in 2009.
  4. IOWA — The Hawkeyes seem to be the trendy pick for Big Ten sleeper by just about everybody, but I just don’t see it. Ricky Stanzi will have to be a lot better for me to start fearing their passing game, and they lose tailback Shonn Greene, who was basically Iowa’s 2008 offense. Yes, they have  a tough defense, and that upset of Penn State on the road was a tremendous victory, but I don’t see this team putting together the 6 or 7 conference victories it will take to crack the top of the standings.
  5. MICHIGAN — There. I said it. It’s out there. Call me a homer, but I think with a much-improved offensive line, a viable option at quarterback, and a year of experience in Rich Rodriguez’s system, Michigan pushes into back into the top half of the Big Ten standings. Remember, the Wolverines return every starter on offense except Steven Threet, who probably would’ve ceded the quarterback job to Tate Forcier at some point in 2009 anyway. The defense is a huge question mark, but Greg Robinson has a very strong track record as a defensive coordinator, and they can’t be worse than they were last year, can they?
  6. MICHIGAN STATE — The Spartans are another team where the hype doesn’t seem to fit when you take a closer look. Javon Ringer put the offense on his back at times last year, and he’s gone. The lack of a proven running back hurts twofold when you’re also replacing a quarterback, which Michigan State will this season with the graduation of Brian Hoyer, who wasn’t tremendous but could manage a game. Add in the fact that we’re talking about Michigan State, and they always seem to disappoint when they raise expectations, and I’m not willing to put them in the top five.
  7. MINNESOTA — Don’t laugh … the Gophers look poised to be a true sleeper in the Big Ten this year. They return 10 starters on offense and eight on defense from a team that went 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten). This is a squad that one year earlier went 1-11 (0-8), including losses to Florida Atlantic and I-AA North Dakota State. Tim Brewster is doing an incredible job of turning this program around, and he has a solid quarterback-receiver tandem in Adam Weber and Eric Decker. The main reason I don’t have them above Michigan State is their schedule: road games against Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa will be uphill battles, to say the least. However, if any of those teams take the Gophers lightly, we could see a season-changing upset on par with Iowa-Penn State 2008.
  8. WISCONSIN — The Badgers might be able to sneak up on some teams a year after falling from the top ten to a 7-6, unranked finish. Missing Penn State and Illinois on the schedule will certainly help their chances of rebounding from a disastrous 2008, but they’ll need a huge season from highly-touted running back John Clay to do much better in the standings. I’m waiting for Bret Bielema to prove that he deserved to replace Barry Alvarez as Wisconsin’s head coach; so far, it’s been all downhill since a 12-1 debut season in 2006.
  9. NORTHWESTERN — No Michigan or Ohio State on the schedule is a huge break for Northwestern, but they still have to replace quarterback C.J. Bacher, do-everything tailback Tyrell Sutton, and their entire receiving corps. Mike Kafka should be a decent dual-threat quarterback, and he did get some experience last season, but who is going to contribute around him? Better hope that defense, led by a secondary that returns all four starters, holds strong while the offense finds its footing.
  10. INDIANA — Indiana’s hopes of being a Big Ten sleeper left with quarterback/receiver Kellen Lewis, who was booted from the team this spring for violating team rules. They do return nine starters on defense, but that defense gave up points in droves last season (34 or more in 8 of 12 games, including 62 against Purdue). They would be the clear, choice to finish last, except for…
  11. PURDUE — Michigan fans complaining about Lloyd Carr leaving the cupboard bare may want to look at the scraps Joe Tiller left new head coach Danny Hope in West Lafayette. Four offensive players, all linemen, return for a team that went 4-8 (2-6 Big Ten) in 2008. I don’t even have to look at the defense to know that this is a hopeless cause for this season. Feel bad for Danny Hope.

Rich Rodriguez wants more noise out of the Michigan faithful. Does this mean we can do away with the keys? Please?

Rich Rodriguez wants more noise out of the Michigan faithful. Does this mean we can do away with the keys? Please?

Football:

  • Rich Rodriguez craves a better atmosphere at Michigan Stadium — AnnArbor.com — Key quote: “But in the works are things like making “the band and the students and some music” more a part of the gameday experience.” The “some music” part is (understandably) causing some consternation among Michigan faithful worried Rodriguez will push for piped-in music during games. I say just mic up the band (I’m pretty sure Penn State does this, having been to Happy Valley and wondered how the hell the band was so loud) and put more focus on doing away with the “key play” crap and having students actually yell on third and fourth down. It’s at least nice to see RichRod pushing for a louder, tougher Michigan Stadium crowd … I’m sick of going to road games and having my mind blown by just how quiet our home fans are.
  • Terry Talbott high on U-M after visit — The Wolverine — Michigan climbs into the top three for the three-star DT prospect after a solid visit. At this point, I’ll applaud the commitment of any living being weighing over 260 pounds who plays defense — Talbott more than qualifies, making this very good news.
  • Ask Jamie: What’s left for the Wolverines? — Rivals.com — Rivals.com analyst Jamie Newberg devotes most of his mailbag to Michigan’s recruiting class. More praise for Devin Gardner, some interesting insight into Seantrel Henderson’s recruitment (Newberg thinks Minnesota is the team to beat, which would shock me), and more calls for patience from Wolverine fans still freaking out about all the three stars. Seriously, chill.
  • ’09 Michigan Season Tickets Arrive — MVictors — Greg has his tickets, and puts up photos for those who are interested. Unfortunately, one depicts the student section waving those @#&$ keys, which is argh and whatnot. Also of note: Maize-Outs this year are for the Notre Dame and Penn State games.
  • Marcus Rush to pull the trigger for Michigan? — Bleacher Report — Speculation abound that three-star DE Marcus Rush will commit to Michigan after this quote from his high school coach was published in a local newspaper:

    “The one thing he’s got is every day in practice, he’s going against a kid who’s going to sign with Michigan, and the other (defensive tackle) is only a junior who already has been offered by N.C. State,” Rodenberg said. The senior is Marcus Rush, the junior is Jesse Hayes. “Marcus hasn’t committed to Michigan,” Rodenberg said. “He’s either going to commit to Michigan, Virginia or Michigan State.”

    This certainly bodes well for Michigan, although it sounds like Rodenberg was merely saying his player was going against a Michigan-caliber player, and Rush is still deciding. Just my interpretation.

  • Lloyd Carr expecting a ‘very successful season’ for the University of Michigan football team — AnnArbor.com — Again, these headlines don’t need to contain the entire story, guys.
  • Justin Boren says he’s not focusing on Michigan game — Detroit News — He’s far too busy focusing on this enormous plate of hot wings. Now can everyone please stop asking him questions so he can eat in peace?

Basketball:

The tremendous boredom of the summer months has reached its apex, and I am left to come up with content when there is little to nothing going on in the Michigan sports scene. Luckily, U-M has an amazing database of historical content. The Bentley Historical Library is an incredible resource on Wolverine history, and also a bona-fide time-waster. I love looking through the old team photos … it’s basically like checking out your parents’ high school yearbooks, except with more famous people and without the stigma of looking through your parents’ high school yearbooks. Anyways, I’ve decided to click to a random year and find the most awesome/silly/ridiculous-looking player for that year, and then dig up what I can find on said player’s career at Michigan.

Today, we move away from the players for a minute, and check out the earliest possible photograph of Michigan’s big-name coaches. First up, the Bo Schembechler line, featuring Bo himself, Gary Moeller, and Lloyd Carr:

The picture of Lloyd is from 1980, his first year as an assistant at Michigan, while both Bo and Mo are from 1969, the first season of the Bo Regime at Michigan.

Now time for some old school. Check out Mr. Winged Helmet himself, Fritz Crisler:

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Fritz looks sharp, and he knows it.

We really need to bring back the days when coaches wore suits. Maybe Charlie Weis would complain, but he’s going to be fired in a year or two anyway. Need some more proof that suits are the way to go? Check out the greatest coach in school history, Fielding Yost, in the team photo from his first year at the helm of the Wolverines, 1901:

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Hot damn.

Now that, my friends, is a leader of men. No wonder that 1901 team outscored their opponents 550-0 en route to Michigan’s first national title; the other teams were clearly too distracted by the shiny pin on Yost’s suit. The numbers back it up: When Michigan coaches wear suits — 10 national titles. Without — Just one. I know, I just blew your mind. If we can get RichRod into an adidas-approved double-breasted pinstripe, I’m sure Michigan will have no problem plowing their way through the competition and silencing all the doubters. Somebody get on this immediately.

Illinois and Wisconsin are currently the only two Big Ten teams to play after Thanksgiving, but more could join them.

Illinois and Wisconsin are currently the only two Big Ten teams to play after Thanksgiving, but more could join them.

  • December games in style this year in Big Ten — Quad-City Times — Illinois (Nov. 27 & Dec. 5) and Wisconsin (Dec. 5) will both end their regular seasons in December, breaking the normal Big Ten tradition of finishing up the season by Thanksgiving. Many, including Rich Rodriguez, think it is advantageous to finish the season in December, as it cuts down the number of days off before a bowl game. The rest of the Big Ten will look carefully at how the Illini and the Badgers fare in the postseason (provided they make a bowl).
  • ‘Badgering’ Bill Carollo: Up close with the Big Ten’s new head of officials — Bucky’s 5th Quarter — Adam Hoge at B5Q comes through with more great content from the Big Ten Media Days, scoring an interview with Bill Carollo, a former NFL official who is now the Big Ten’s Coordinator of Football Officials. He goes over this year’s points of emphasis, which include unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness, and roughing the kicker (no longer applicable for a rugby-style punt, which affects Michigan). Lot’s of good stuff here, especially for knowing what to look for from the officials in the fall. Also, B5Q has interviews with Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema and tight end Garrett Graham.
  • Please don’t ever retire, Joe Paterno — Hail to the Orange — Just a great story from the Big Ten Media Days. JoePa scribbles out a play on a tablecloth demonstrating how the spread was run as early as the 1940’s. Toki Wartooth at HttO snapped a picture of the diagram and relayed the story leading up to the drawing. Great stuff.
  • Greg Jones: International Superstar — The Only Colors — In wake of Jones being chosen as the preseason defensive player of the year, The Only Colors salutes his rise from obscurity to stardom (Jones was Rivals’ No. 34 outside linebacker in the Class of 2007). I still think Brandon Graham got robbed.
  • What’s the worst that can happen?* — We Will Always Have Tempe — Sam takes a look at Ohio State’s season with whatever are the opposite of rose-colored glasses, going game-by-game and taking the worst possible outcome (possible, in this case, being reasonably possible, otherwise this would be a very short article ending in 0-12). Michigan is categorized as a “Probable win, but close to a toss-up,” which sounds pretty reasonable to me. Of course, Sam still picks Ohio State to win despite the whole worst case scenario thing, which is somewhat confusing. Whatever, this is an Ohio State blog we’re talking about here … somewhat reasonable is hard to come by.
  • Big Ten isn’t doomed to eternal inferiority — it just needs to adjust — SI.com — Stewart Mandel’s mailbag addresses the question of conference power and whether it is cyclical (yes), and says he expects the Big Ten to rise back soon. I still think the whole “Big Ten sucks” thing is really overblown, but as long as people, including recruits, still think that it’s true then the Big Ten teams will have to do something about it. That means winning BCS games, which may mean having to root for Ohio State in January, which may mean my brain will explode.
Zoltan Mesko was nearly a Buckeye, which would have robbed Michigan of a great punter and equally-great T-shirts.

Zoltan Mesko was nearly a Buckeye, which would have robbed Michigan of a great punter and equally-great T-shirts.

Football:

  • How Ohio State missed out on Zoltan Mesko — AnnArbor.com — If you’re going to be late to the party, Ohio State, you might as well not show up at all. Also, great quote from Zoltan: “They had about 300 kickers at their camp and Michigan had a smaller camp, so when Michigan noticed me, they offered me and I was like, ‘How can I refuse?’ Greatest combination of national exposure as a football program and academically. That’s what did it for me.”
  • Rich Rodriguez: Denard Robinson will get plenty of reps, compete for starting job — AnnArbor.com — With all the Forcier hype (and I admit, I’ve gotten a bit caught up in that myself) people forget about the other four-star dual threat quarterback who will take the field in the fall. Rodriguez states that Robinson will only see snaps at quarterback, and not at any other position.
  • Don’t call him Red Foxx — MVictors — Is Jamie Foxx Michigan’s next celebrity fan? Rich Rodriguez spoke with him for over an hour while in Chicago for Media Day.
  • Big Ten Media Days, The Take Away on Michigan Football: Part I (Mark Ortmann), Part II (Stevie Brown) — Maize n Brew — Maize n Brew was in attendance at the Big Ten Media Days, and sat down with Ortmann, Brown, Mesko, and Rodriguez. The first two parts of Maize n Brew Dave’s summary are up, and are well worth checking out.
  • Gardner shines over fellow Michigan QBs at Elite 11 event — USA Today — Rivals.com’s Greg Ladky with some more effusive praise for 2010 commit Devin Gardner. Money quote from Rivals.com’s Barry Every:  “His combination of size, athleticism [and] arm strength stood out,” Every said. “More importantly, he really took to the coaching. You can tell he is striving to be the best. He is getting the type of coaching at that event that he will get at the college level, and he responded really well.
    “The comparisons to Vince Young and Terrelle Pyror [sic] are legit. He throws the ball better than them at the same stage. Camp instructor Matt James told me the three dual-threat quarterbacks at the event, Garnder, Bolden and Barry Brunetti, are the best three they have ever had at the Elite 11.”
  • Matt Millen believes in Rich Rod, will broadcast at U-M — Detroit Free Press — This is the most compelling argument for firing RichRod that I’ve ever seen. Also, as a Lions fan, seeing Millen’s face on TV makes me want to break something. Stick to cursing one team I love, please. Michigan never did anything to you.
  • Pair of Michigan commits are ‘100%’ with their pledges — Detroit Free Press — The Wolverine’s Josh Helmholdt reports that RB/Slot Tony Drake and LB Antonio Kinard are both firm in their commitments to Michigan, which is nice to hear after last year’s decommit-fest.
  • Blame it on Per-per-per-per-per-personnel — Every Day Should Be Saturday — Pure comedic brilliance on the part of Orson Swindle/Spencer Hall and LSUFreek. Worth a click just for the animated gif, and the song is hilarious, even if it’s a little painful for a Michigan fan: “Blame it on Navarre/Blame it on the Henne/Blame it on the qb who run a six-fiddy”. Genius.
  • Disproving Economic Armageddon Via Stubhub — The Sporting Blog — I had to see the picture evidence to believe it: $9,000 for a 47th-row corner seat in Michigan Stadium … for the Delaware State game. I consider myself a diehard, and I wouldn’t even venture into triple digits for a 10th-row 50-yard-line ticket to that game.

Basketball:

  • Bringing the Shooter’s Touch … Freshman Matt Vogrich — MGoBlue — The official website profiles incoming freshman Matt Vogrich, and says he is already getting tips from Stu Douglass and Zack Novak. It’s great to read that two sophomores who will be competing with Vogrich for playing time are still willing to help him out.
Jeremy Gallon will wear #29 for the Maize and Blue.

Jeremy Gallon will wear #29 for the Maize and Blue.

I’m pretty sure Michigan Sports Center spotted this first: MGoBlue updated the roster from just a spring roster to a full roster for the fall, and all the freshmen are now included. Here’s the full list of freshmen, courtesy of MSC:

2 – J.T. Turner
2 – Vincent Smith
4 – Je’Ron Stokes (I imagine this will be changed, as it would prevent Stokes and Brandon Minor from being on the field at the same time.  Also, Brandon Smith is listed as being #4 as well, and I doubt 3 people would have the same number.) [ed. The roster is now fixed, with Stokes listed as wearing #6]
5 – Tate Forcier
5 – Vladimir Emilien
7 – Brandin Hawthorne
13 – Adrian Witty
14 – Teric Jones
15 – Thomas Gordon
16 – Denard Robinson
26 – Isaiah Bell
27 – Mike Jones
28 – Fitzgerald Toussaint
29 – Jeremy Gallon
34 – Brendan Gibbons
73 – William Campbell
75 – Michael Schofield
76 – Quinton Washington
77 – Taylor Lewan
84 – Cameron Gordon
88 – Craig Roh
90 – Anthony LaLota

Other noteworthy numbers:

4 – Brandon Smith (as alluded to above, he switched from #28)
19 – Kelvin Grady

Now your NCAA 10 gaming experience can be even more realistic, if you ignore the fact half these guys aren’t even in the game (someday, somebody will explain to me why EA Sports insists on a 70-man roster limit with a reason beyond laziness). Interesting to see Taylor Lewan go with Jake Long’s old number and J.T. Turner take Charles Woodson’s. These guys certainly aren’t shying away from the comparisons. As for Denard Robinson taking John Navarre’s 16, well, I’ve got nothing.

Mark Dantonio maintains that Kirk Cousins (8) and Keith Nichol (9) are still battling for the starting quarterback position.

Mark Dantonio maintains that Kirk Cousins (8) and Keith Nichol (9) are still battling for the starting quarterback position.

Lots of good stuff from media day yesterday, especially with Hail to the Orange, Eleven Warriors, and Bucky’s 5th Quarter all attending. Here are some highlights from around the internets:

  • Zook Smash! the press conference! — Hail to the Orange — HTTO runs through the highlights of Illini coach Ron Zook’s press conference, including Zook revealing his way of punishing players for minor infractions: the stair master. Mike Barwis sees your stair master, and raises you 10 minutes in the wolf pit.
  • Blog: Big Ten Kickoff in Chicago — GopherSports.com — Minnesota’s official site has been providing solid live-blog updates for those curious about the Golden Gophers.
  • Mark Dantonio has lofty goals for Michigan State: Big Ten title, BCS bowl — Chicago Tribune — Dantonio talk about playing up for big games, and clearly is familiar with Michigan State’s history: “I think it’s very, very important to recognize that we’ve been in that situation before at times, the Spartans raised up a bit, and we fell a little bit flat,” Dantonio said. “We’ve won very, very few games just going away. We’ve been involved in a lot of close games.”
  • Big Ten Media Days: Dantonio in Bulletpoints — The Only Colors — More Dantonio, this time focusing on the quarterback competition, throwing a few new wrinkles into the offense, and recruiting.
  • Pat Fitzgerald says returning linemen hold key for Northwestern football — Chicago Tribune — Something I hadn’t noticed until now: Northwestern doesn’t play Ohio State or Michigan this season. Could they possibly be a dark horse for the Big Ten title after winning nine games last year? Crazy.
  • Saturation — Eleven Warriors — Jason of 11W, who attended the media day festivities, gives a wrap-up of the day as a whole, and also summarizes Jim Tressel’s remarks, both during the official conference and in the hall afterward.
  • Penn State considered benching Anthony Morelli for Darryl Clark? Now they tell us … — Dr. Saturday — “I thought it would discourage the kid that we were using,” Paterno said of Morelli. … “I thought the kid we were using had the potential to be a good quarterback. I blew that one.” No kidding, JoePa. Also, that picture never gets old.
  • Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez, Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema fall flat at the podium — The Patriot-News — This is “um, what?” material to say the least. Some Penn State homer takes a couple innocuous quotes from RichRod and Bielema and uses them as an excuse to make two horrible jokes himself. How’s that chip on your shoulder, David? Still there? Bummer.
  • Big Ten Media Days: Day 1 — Bucky’s 5th Quarter — Wisconsin blog provides a live-blog of yesterday’s events, and also gives a team-by-team rundown afterwards.