Eight months after the Big Ten regained a little national respect with a 4-3 bowl record, including victories in two BCS games, it’s time to put that reputation back on the line.
The conference has four teams ranked in the top-20 in the Associated Press preseason poll . Ohio State is No. 2, Iowa No. 9, Wisconsin No. 12 and Penn State No. 19.
How will they finish? Here’s the crystal ball …
The obvious pick is Ohio State to win its sixth straight conference title.
Call it being contrarian if you want, but the streak is going to end. The race will be decided by the home field on Oct. 16 when the Buckeyes go to Madison, Wis.
Many people have referred to Wisconsin as a “fraud” over the years because the Badgers often have cleaned up on inferior opponents only to collapse when they get a shot at the top teams.
Wisconsin hasn’t won a Big Ten championship since 1999 and is 1-7 against ranked conference opponents in coach Bret Bielema’s four years.
This team is different. This is the Badgers’ year.
They have the Big Ten’s best and most physical offensive line. That unit will be the difference.
The Badgers have a standout player to run (John Clay), to pass (Scott Tolzien), to catch (tight end Lance Kendricks), to block (tackle Gabe Carimi) and to rush the passer (defensive end J.J. Watt).
And they get Ohio State at home.
Every team in the nation has an area of concern. For the Badgers, it’s replacing three defensive linemen.
What’s special about this team is its gigantic O-line will control the ball with long drives to keep the defense off the field.
The Big Ten’s best offense last year returns 10 starters. They will run, run, run and then Tolzien will play-action for a big gainer to Kendricks or receiver Nick Toon.
It is demoralizing when you can’t stop the run and this experienced offensive line — tackles Carimi (6-foot-7, 327 pounds) and Josh Oglesby (6-7, 335), guards John Moffitt (6-5, 323) and Kevin Zeitler (6-4, 315) or Bill Nagy (6-3, 318), and center Peter Konz