Thoughts, predictions and more lists as we get ready to kick off the college football season:
First, the NCAA should move to eliminate the rash of Division I-AA opponents on the schedules of its biggest-name programs by discounting those victories towards postseason qualification. Like in basketball, where the selection committee excludes wins over non-Division I teams, major programs would be less likely to schedule the worst kind of "buy" game for fear of BCS repercussions. An 11-1 team with a win over Appalachian State (Michigan?) would be considered 10-1 at the end of the year for bowl-slotting purposes. Likewise, A 6-6 team that beats Montana State (Texas A&M?) would be considered 5-6 and not bowl eligible. Along with Michigan and Texas A&M, four other top-25 teams open the season with I-AA opponents, including Ohio State-Youngstown State.
Second, I've got three more lists to complete the Big 10 before the season starts. Splitting time between the Lions and MSU the past few weeks hasn't always been conducive to blogging, so here goes the belated;
Linebackers - 1. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State, 2. Dan Connor, Penn State, 3. J Leman, Illinois, 4. Mike Klinkenborg, 5. Marcus Freeman, Ohio State
Defensive backs - 1. Justin King, Penn State, 2. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State, 3. Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin, 4. Otis Wiley, Michigan State, 5. Anthony Scirrotto, Penn State
Teams - 1. Michigan, 2. Ohio State, 3. Wisconsin, 4. Penn State, 5. Iowa
That leaves me with a few fearless predictions to get on record before kick. As you can see (and if you read our college football section you already know) I like Michigan to win the conference this year with an 11-1 record and a loss at Wisconsin. I think Lloyd Carr and Co. finally get over the Tressel curse, and the Wolverines' strength of schedule will be enough to get them in the BCS title game against USC, where they'll be summarily pounded.
Ohio State will be the next best team in the Big Ten by the end of the season. The Buckeyes have eight games to iron out their kinks and get ready for a final four-game stretch that starts at Penn State and includes home tilts with Wisconsin and Illinois before closing at Michigan. They'll lose the two road games, but beat my No. 3 team, Wisconsin. The Badgers would get more respect if they played someone with a pulse out of conference, but that doesn't diminish their fine running back (P.J. Hill) and better defense.
As for Michigan State, I've got the Spartans going 6-6 in Mark Dantonio's first year. They should win their first three games before their brutal schedule begins to take its toll. Two winnable conference games early (against Northwestern and Indiana) are musts if there's a bowl in MSU's future, and I see an upset against Penn State in Week 12. Dantonio has preached the importance of overcoming adversity since he took over last November, and that will manifest itself in the form of a surprise victory somewhere on the schedule. As young as the defense is and with its most important skill players back, MSU be looking at an 8-4 2008.