Even with the bowl season in full swing, the 11 Big Ten teams can be judged for their 2007 performances.
The biggest winner is Ohio State, which in what was thought to be a rebuilding year, had its defense step up to new heights while its offense was solid enough to make the BCS championship.
The biggest disappointment has to be Michigan. The Wolverines had a clear shot at the Big Ten title, but choked at the beginning and at the end of the season to give it away.
It wasn't pretty, but the Buckeyes slogged through the season to clinch a berth in the BCS title game. Ohio State kept on chugging despite losing the heart of its offense in the offseason, including its starting quarterback, running back and two wide receivers.
In their absence, running back Chris "Beanie" Wells plowed the way. Quarterback Todd Boeckman's play was good enough to allow the defense, led by linebacker James Laurinaitis, to hold down opposing offenses.
Coach Jim Tressel proved once again why he is the elite coach in the Big Ten. His power-run, smash-mouth play knocked off everyone except Illinois.
The Illini's 28-21 upset of Ohio State could be a changing of the guard for the Big Ten. With the conference being the last territory not conquered by the spread offense, coach Ron Zook has been able to get a leg up on the opposition. With running quarterback Juice Williams calling the option, the Illini toppled traditional powers like the Buckeyes and Penn State.
After going 4-19 in the past two years, Zook turned the tables as Illinois went 9-3 and landed a Rose Bowl berth. The coach could possibly be the best recruiter in the game. At Illinois of all places he has landed top-tier talent and been the envy of college football. The long-term future is promising.
Despite coach Terry Hoeppner's untimely death due to a brain tumor before the season, the Hoosiers battled and were able to secure a bowl berth for the first time in 14 years. Coach Bill Lynch vastly improved the pass rush and has made an effort to keep top-ranked talent from leaving the state.
Lloyd Carr's farewell script was ready to be written with a fairy-tale ending. His team had key starters returning, like quarterback Chad Henne and running back Mike Hart. Ohio State was on the mend. It was the Wolverines' time to shine.
But then Michigan was shocked by Appalachian State and Oregon, its defense having no answer to a running quarterback. The Wolverines still had a chance at the Rose Bowl if they could beat Ohio State, but the Buckeyes' talent was too much, giving Carr a 1-6 record against Tressel.
The only positive thing to come out of the season is that Michigan hired West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, who was one game away from a BCS title berth. His spread offense and ability to recruit is going to give Illinois a run for the best attack offense in the Big Ten.
Like Michigan, the Badgers expected bigger and better things this season than an appearance in the Outback Bowl. Badgers coach Bret Bielema, with his team stocked full of talent, couldn't get his team on the right foot. Barely beating lesser-ranked opponents like UNLV to begin the season, eventually Wisconsin couldn't keep it together. The defense fell apart and the Badgers were almost upset by the Gophers.
It's a surprising disappointment after Bielema guided Wisconsin to 12-1 in his first season as head coach last year. Like many assistant coaches inheriting a strong team, the scrutiny will begin if the Badgers slide further in 2008.
Coach Tim Brewster came in with high expectations and talk of the Rose Bowl. Instead the Gophers almost ran the table in reverse, their only win coming in triple overtime against Miami of Ohio. Redshirt freshman quarterback Adam Weber made strides, opening up the offense. But the defense was an unmitigated disaster, one of the worst in the nation. It likely won't be until 2009 or even 2010 until the results of Brewster's hyped recruiting start to become evident.
It wasn't too long ago that coach Kirk Ferentz had the Hawkeyes poised for a national title run while being rumored for the Pittsburgh Steelers head coaching job. Now Iowa has seen its win totals slide over the past six years, from 11, 10 and 10 to 7, 6, and 6.
Ferentz's current roster hasn't lived up to expectations of his previous players of Drew Tate, Chad Greenway and Robert Gallery. The offense was terrible while the defense will lose five senior starters. With an overhaul needed on the offensive line, the Hawkeyes may spend 2008 mired in another season of mediocrity.
Penn State, Purdue, Michigan State and Northwestern all basically ran in place this season. Their seasons weren't accomplishments or disappointments. Of this group, the Spartans may have the best hope for the future. All of their losses were by seven points or less. Penn State's Joe Paterno has a little magic left in him and having another run like he did in 2005 is not out of the question before his eventual retirement.
The Gophers' season of course was highly disappointing. I didn't get the feel that Brewster will be the answer.
The good news is that with the new stadium on the way, I think it will infuse energy back into the program.
For college football to succeed in Minnesota, fans will have to do their part and care about the Gophers as much as they care about the Vikings, win or lose.
TREVOR WILLIAMS, sports copy editor, may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5866.
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