Almost every fan has a primary team, of course. But we also all end up playing favorites when we flip through the channels, or end up watching a lot of another squad when our own team is on a down year. (I, for example, always find myself rooting for LSU and Stanford even though I have no connection to either school. Or remember a few years ago when everyone in the country united to pull for the Mavericks against the Heat?) Below, evaluation of each B1G team’s potential for spontaneous, secondary fandom.
1. The Michigan Wolverines
- Great uniforms and giant, cool stadium.
- Hugely dedicated and geeky fans make good rooting brethren.
- Slowly getting back to the point of always having a looming, destructive monster defense.
- Having an endearingly schlubby coach (Brady Hoke) and relatively anonymous roster still coming back from the down years of the Rich Rodriguez era somehow makes the winningest school ever seem like an underdog at the moment.
- No more Denard Robinson.
- Probably not actually the best team in the B1G this year but I’m a Michigan fan and can’t bear to put Ohio State first.
2. The Ohio State Buckeyes
- Win a lot.
- Urban Meyer’s offense is really fun to watch, with playmakers slashing all over the field, and Braxton Miller is the perfect super-quick, big-armed guy to run it.
- Ohio Stadium is an iconic, intimidating home and their fans are totally insane.
- Chris Spielman seems like a nice guy.
- Fans idolize two former coaches: one who was fired for punching an opposing player, one who was fired for lying about his knowledge of players trading memorabilia for tattoos.
- One former star was found to have pulled his GPA up into the barely-passing range by taking classes on golf and AIDS awareness.
- Everyone in entire program seems to generally take pride in acting like a jackass.
3. The Wisconsin Badgers
- Recruit anonymous players. Turn them into beasts who crush bigger-name teams en route to Rose Bowl. Repeat.
- “Jump Around” tradition is killer.
- You feel for their fans after their meatheaded but successful coach, Bret Bielema, straight-up jumped ship and went to Arkansas.
- Big on tradition and continuinty, but had the brains and flexibility to pick up Russell Wilson for his last year of eligibility.
- The Onion started in Madison.
- Likely headed back to period of also-ran status beneath Michigan and OSU.
- Not really any other cons now that Meatbrain Bielema is gone. Good tradition, team that perennially maximizes talent and plays grade-A football that’s sound but exciting — this is a good program for any uncommitted fan to get behind.
4. The Nebraska Cornhuskers
- Earth-shakingly loud stadium.
- Gonna have an octane-tastic offense this year, with a quarterback (Taylor Martinez), running back (Ameer Abdullah), and feature receiver (Kenny Bell) who are all ready and willing to slash and gash defenses that get wrong-footed by Nebraska’s shifty option spread.
- Coached by a character from O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
- Check out the crazy quadruple option thing at 5:18 here. Cool play.
- Defense’s nickname is “Blackshirts,” which sounds like a Central American paramilitary group that murders dissident nuns in the middle of the night.
- Team’s nickname as a whole is something you do to give your mom a hand while she’s cooking dinner. “Thanks, bud.”
- Perennial almost-but-not-quite status is starting to feel a little…tepid. Time for them to win some big ones.
5. The Northwestern Wildcats
- Venric Mark is the kind of delightful, juking game-breakin’ playmaker that you enjoy watching in spite of yourself as he’s going for 350 all-purpose yards against your team.
- Coach Pat Fitzgerald played for the program and has stuck in Evanston to try and build a legacy rather than shipping out for a higher-profile job. If you’re a loyalty-type person, it’s a good team for you.
- Watching opponents try to stop the Northwestern spread offense is like watching someone try to bail out a leaky canoe with a colander.
- Played in what really might be the most absolutely ridiculous college football game since “the band is on the field!”
- Despite Pat Fitzgerald’s past as a star linebacker, Northwestern’s defense is itself a colander with extra-large holes.
- Years of mediocrity have left the team without much in the way of gameday tradition or atmosphere. That said, Fitzgerald and Co. are looking to change that. This is another bandwagon worth getting on. At least you know their games will have a lot of scoring.
6. The Michigan State Spartans
- “Sparty” is a good nickname.
- Persistent threat of on-campus rioting lends an edge of excitement to their hard-edged bone-crusher defense.
- They play in one of those big, old concrete stadiums where it always feels like it’s about 40 degrees and raining a little. That’s football. Don’t come in here with your Big 12 shit where it’s 75 degrees and the grass is getting brown from being in the sun so much.
- They play offense with the imagination and enthusiasm of a trip to the DMV.
- Mark Dantonio tries too hard to act tough.
7. The Penn State Nittany Lions
- Every college football fan should have the experience of driving through the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania and coming around a bend to see the massiveness of Beaver Stadium in the distance rising like a spaceship out of the heartland. Chills.
- Scrappy squad that scrapped out some quality scrapwork last year in wins over Northwestern and, especially, Wisconsin.
- Grand juries.
8. The Minnesota Golden Gophers
- Golden Gophers!
- Cool new outdoor stadium.
- General consensus that coach Jerry Kill has the program headed in the right direction, or as they say in Minnesota, “headed in the right direction.” There’s really no quirky Minnesotan phrase that applies here.
- Surprisingly diesel past history of success.
- Playing in the Metrodome, a venue so closely associated with the Vikings, seems to this outside observer like it kind of sapped the identity and vitality out of their image.
- Not entirely clear yet what kind of personality Kill’s program will have. What does a new-era Minnesota team do to win?
9. The Indiana Hoosiers
- Unlike some programs lower on this list, Indiana at least seems to have a plan. Their new-ish coach is Kevin Wilson, who ran Oklahoma’s face-melting offense in its aughts heyday. He’s trying to make Indiana into, let’s say, something like a poor man’s Oregon, a relatively minor team in a big conference that comes out of nowhere scoring a lot of points. This is a good team to start talking up if you want to look smart in a few years.
- Nice uniforms.
- Seems like their loyal and large basketball fan base would come out in big numbers if the team was worth watching.
- The offense is pretty good already, but Indiana doesn’t quite yet have the kind of big playmaker that will push them up to actually threaten the top half of the conference.
- The defense lives in a toilet.
10. The Purdue Boilermakers
- Some pretty fine players have come through West Lafayette recently. Drew Brees, Ryan Kerrigan, Cliff Avril, Bernard Pollard. There’s talent at Purdue.
- Another program that’s trying to figure out what it stands for. What do you get when you tune in to a Purdue football game?
- Like Illinois below, they just hired a coach whose biggest achievement was putting together a pretty good team in the MAC. It just seems like short-term, desperate thinking.
11. The Illinois Fighting Illini
- Gahhhhhh, this is a tough one.
- How about: alma mater of a surprising number of solid NFL players.
- Had a fun underdog run to the Rose Bowl in 2007.
- High point of their new coach’s resumé is leading Toledo to the co-championship of a division in the MAC.
- Not trying to be mean here. Just not an easy program to get behind right now.
12. The Iowa Hawkeyes
- Former coach Hayden Fry epitomized the no-nonsense heartland football coach.
- Frequently pull off Wisconsin’s trick of turning no-name recruits into stout no-nonsense defenders and smash-faced offensive linemen.
- Their leading blog is called Black Heart, Gold Pants, which is outstanding.
- Had a receiver named “Marvin McNutt.”
- Play a verrrrry conservative and strategically simple brand of ball that reflects coach Kirk Ferentz’s haircut.
- Are in kind of a rut right now. Not a ton to get excited about with the roster or the program’s direction generally.
- Marvin McNutt never did start an Earth, Wind, and Fire cover band.
13. The Dakota University Hammerjacks
- Innovative “Run ‘N’ Musket” offense.
- Uniforms are made of leather and old shotgun shells.
- Stadium smells like tobacco, coffee, and sawdust.
- Frequently shoot opponents during games.
- Aren’t a real team.