It seems the Midwest is relatively quiet in early August. If you were to drive through the small farming town I grew up in in Mid-Michigan, even the most intense observer wouldn't see or hear a whole lot. That observer wouldn't have to stop either; I believe the town's one stoplight is a blinking yellow now.
But if you did take a quick drive up to the intersection of Meridian and Colony, you may hear the crunching of football pads and the yelling of high school football coaches. All over the flattened (thanks glaciers) Midwest, the sound of football glory rings in the ears of young combatants, coaches, and fans.
That same sound is ringing in the ears of The Rivalry. Our attempts to correctly predict the 2008 season will surely fail, so in true vainglorious fashion, here are 11 things that The Rivalry wants to see this year in the Big 10.
#1 - I want to see someone punch OSU right in the mouth.
Figuratively of course. Ohio State rules the Big 10 roost right now, just like they did last year...and the year before that. But the Buck's need a challenger to that throne or the Big 10 risks losing respect and legitimacy. Last year, the upstart Zookians successfully ran the shotgun spread right at the heart of the undefeated Buckeye's and their #1 ranked defense. Fans of the Scarlet and Gray watched in horror as Juice Williams and Rashard Mendenhall hammered the interior of the OSU defense with an 8 minute, game ending drive that shook up the BCS rankings. The Illini used this upset to springboard onto the national consciousness.
Punching the Bucks in the face will be a formidable test this year, with that #1 defense improved (check out Jon's article on Blue Ribbon's odd thoughts about the Buckeye's defense) and raring to prove they aren't too slow to beat top SEC teams. But the Rivalry doesn't want to watch a one horse race in the Big 10. The games @Madison on October 4 and @Champaign on November 15 will be the best chances for The Rivalry's #1 wish to come true.
#2 -I want Michigan State to live up to expectations.
I have talked about this before; the ingredients are mostly there for a successful Spartan season. Veteran QB, stud halfback, solid coach blah blah blah...the truth is, a strong base for success in East Lansing has been in place before, only to be shoved aside by drug problems, shocking losses, and bad coaching. The Rivalry fervently hopes that the Spartans can return some of the glory of 1965-66 to East Lansing. Michigan State's three game stretch versus OSU, UM, and Wisconsin will show whether a consistent effort can be displayed against the Big 10's powers.
But why would I, a Wolverine fan, root for the Spartans to be have a solid season? Simple: the Big 10 needs a middle of the pack team to step up. The SEC has Arkansas, the Big 12 has Kansas, the Big East has UConn and Cincinnati...These perennial 6-7 win teams have catapulted themselves over the hump of mediocrity into the national spotlight. MSU has the tradition, coaching, and veteran experience to do the same.
#3- I want Terrelle Pryor to break out in a "Sportscenter Top 10" way.
There are certain recruits that take on national appeal because of their seemingly otherworldly talents. Chris Webber, Adrian Peterson, Jesus Shuttlesworth...Pryor's high school star shone brighter than those three, plus he couldn't skip to the NFL so there was an added onus on him having to pick a college. Now he plays at the Horseshoe, backing up Todd Boeckman, and this leaves me deeply unsatisfied. He is a singular talent with Vince Youngesqe poise and speed and I want to see what he can do against Linebacker U and Brandon Graham.
#4 - I want people to stop talking about Joe Paterno retiring.
I don't care if hes 80 years old. I don't care if Greg Schiano is practicing his "JoePa was a legend, but it's a new day in Happy Valley" speech. Longevity of a head coach/coaching staff is one of the most important things a college football can have and Paterno has cornered the market on longevity (Bobby Bowden, calm down). Penn State has been a relevant and thriving football program for 40 years; in fact, JoePa should be toasting a 40th anniversary glass of champagne to his undefeated 1968 team, a team that went undefeated and was denied the national title. Paterno is the highly respected face of a program that pushes players into the NFL consistently and reinvents itself consistently (look at the offense becoming more varied and adaptable in the last 5 years, look at the 3rd ranked 2005 Nittany Lions with running QB Michael Robinson).
Blame for the undisciplined and felonious behavior of Penn State's players shouldn't lie in Paterno's lap either. No Nittany Lion player has ever thought, "Hey, my coach is so old that he has forgot to instill discipline, F*** it, lets go break down a door and assault someone." Paterno's age just isn't relevant, only his results are.
Stay tuned for Part 2...