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2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
by T.O. Whenham
The Big Ten's biggest challenge this year is to prove to the world that the mounds of humiliation heaped upon them in the BCS last year were just a fluke. Ohio State was horrific in the National Championship Game that everyone in the world outside of Gainesville was certain they would win, and Michigan stunk it up so badly against USC that, as a Michigan fan, I still have a bitter taste in my mouth. Only Wisconsin looked like they belonged in their game, beating Arkansas easier than the 17-14 score would indicate.
Those three teams should be the class of the conference again. In fact, none of the other teams in the conference should be able to give any of the big three even a slight scare at the end of the season unless something goes very wrong. It will be a season of transition for the big programs, though. Ohio State has to replace not only Heisman winner Troy Smith, but also the ridiculous number of other high draft picks that headed to the NFL last season. It will take a while to see how they will cope without talents like Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. They basically have to start from scratch with the skill positions. Wisconsin has to find a replacement for their own QB, the grossly underrated John Stocco. The choice isn't clear, but whether it is Allan Everidge or Tyler Donovan they will have the benefit of nine returning starters on offense to make the transition smooth. Michigan's holes are on defense. Losing Alan Branch, Leon Hall and David Harris at once is a lot to overcome.
Teams on the rise:
Wisconsin. It's not that I think the Badgers will be much better. Really, they were pretty darned good last year. The difference, I think, is that they will hopefully finally be recognized nationally for what they are. They have to face Ohio State, which they avoided last year, but they get to play Michigan at home, so the schedule could be worse. They don't face either team until the 10th game of the season, so they have lots of time to work out the kinks and be at their best. The Badgers could be the ones to shake up this conference a bit.
Iowa. The Hawkeyes have no reason not to be better than their 6-7 record of last year. They have 15 returning starters, a promising new QB in Jake Christensen and they somehow managed to avoid both Michigan and Ohio State on the schedule. I don't think they will be contenders, but they will almost surely improve.
Teams on the decline:
Michigan State. I don't think Michigan State will be any worse than the 4-8 they put up last year, but the difference is that they were a better team than that last season, and I don't think that they are this time. The defense returns a lot of players, but that's not a good thing when the unit was terrible last year. The offense is facing a total overhaul. QB Brian Hoyer could be very good, but it's uncertain how he will do with an inexperienced line and new skill players.
Ohio State. It's very possible that Ohio State will stay at the top of the conference, but I put them on the decline because the gap has definitely closed between them and their opponents. They have lost a pile of talent, and won't be as powerful as they were last year. It will be interesting to see how the public compensates for that at the betting window.
Treading water (hasn't done much to improve):
Purdue. The Boilermakers, for the most part, are usually not good enough to be among the elite, but not bad enough to cause outrage with their fans. I expect the same again. They have nine returning starters on each side of the ball, but last year's team was just good, and far from great. They'll get eight or nine wins again, but they haven't done enough to take a step forward.
Money player (player to bet on):
Chad Henne, QB, Michigan. Henne has no excuses not to shine this year. He has as much experience as any player in the country, he has a loaded offense and he has a fairly easy schedule for the first 10 weeks to feast on.
Bankroll buster (player to avoid betting on):
Juice Williams, QB, Illinois. Williams is a deceptively attractive quarterback. He's young and flashy - a magnet for bettor's money. Through no fault of his own, though, he plays for a crappy coach in Ron Zook and he is surrounded by questions. He doesn't have the tools around him to capitalize on his ability. Maybe one day, but not now.
Important betting trends:
The public didn't jump all over the conference last year as you might think. All three of the top teams were profitable on flat bets over the season, and Wisconsin, at 9-2-1 ATS, were stars at the betting window.
Potential Conference champion:
Michigan. This conference is wide open, and I am admittedly biased, but the Wolverines are my choice. They have 10 very winnable games to start the season (unless Notre Dame has improved dramatically), which gives the new defense lots of time to get comfortable, and they get Ohio State at home. If they come out embarrassed by the end of last season, and they can channel that frustration, then they could be dangerous. That being said, I wouldn't be that surprised if no team makes it through unbeaten.
Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 17. It goes without saying that this is a huge game. It always is.
Wisconsin at Penn State, Oct. 13. The Nittany Lions will be solid again, so this could be a potential hiccup for Wisconsin. It is their first major test, and Happy Valley is a scary place to play.
Predicted order of finish:
Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern.
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
2007 Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Preview
Who says its too early to talk College Football. This is the first of my eleven Big Ten team previews. I hope you enjoy.
Head Coach: Tim Brewster
Home Field Advantage: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome 10 out of 11 in Big Ten
Season Opener: September 1st versus Bowling Green
Big Ten Forecast: 10 out of 11
Offense: In 2007, the Gophers will feature a new offense and a new quarterback. Offensive Coordinator Mike Dunbar plans to incooperate the spread offense into the Gophers offense. Dunbar plans to emphasize the running game. He will have two solid running backs to use in Senior Amir Pinnix and Sophomore Jay Thomas. Last year, Pinnix rushed for 1,272 yards and scored ten touchdowns. However, questions surround the offenseive line and receiving core, where depth and inconsistent play are major issues. The biggest questions surround the quarterback position. Three year starter and the school’s all-time leading passer, Bryan Cupito, has graduated and is in much need of a replacement. Junior Tony Mortensen and Freshman Adam Weber appear to be leading candidates to replace Cupito.
Defense: The Defensive Line appears to be the strength of the defense this year. Willie VanDeSteeg (10 sacks in 2006) leads the attack and appears to be a star in the making. Despite an improving front seven, the secondary remains the biggest concern. Last season, Minnesota ranked 117th nationally in pass defense. They still lack speed and depth that would allow them to compete with Big Ten powerhouses such as Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan. They do have a solid cornerback in Dominic Jones. At 5’8” and 190 pounds, Jones is a little bit undersized, but is known to be a big-hitter. The Gophers must improve their pass defense if they have any chance to move up the Big Ten ladder
Special Teams:The Gophers need more consistent play from their kickers, Jason Giannini and Justin Kucek, in order to improve upon last year’s mark. The return game is solid with Jones, who was one of the Big Ten’s top return men last season. The coaching staff is also enthused with the arrival of freshman Harold Howell, who returned seven touchdowns as a senior in high school.
X-Factor: Mortensen/Weber. Whoever starts at quarterback for the Gophers will hold the keys to the season. The Gophers feature an excellent running back duo in Pinnix and Thomas. However, they can not be fully utilized if the passing game is off and the defense loads eight or nine guys in the box.
Overall: The arrival of Tim Brewster has created enthusiasm and excitement surrounding the program. The former Denver Broncos tight end coach has displayed his PR skills by his promise to recruit more Minnesota-based players. Depth remains the biggest problem for the Gophers. They are extremely thin at receiver and in the secondary. These issues aren’t going to be resolved within the season. The quarterback, whether Mortensen or Weber, is inexperienced. There are just too many question marks remaining for the Gophers to become a contender in the Big Ten.
They do have a chance to become bowl eligible. They have three easy non-conference games against Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio), Florida Atlantic, and North Dakota State. Three of the four are at home and the Florida Atlantic game is at a neutral site. They also get to play Northwestern, Indiana, and Illinois. Seven wins is a strong possibility, but so are four.
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
Scouting the Big Ten at its media days
August 1, 2007
CHICAGO -- I would follow Tim Brewster off a cliff. Run through a brick wall for him. If he told me to jump off a bridge . . . sorry, Ma, I'd just have to do it.
As Tom Dienhart wrote back in April, Brewster is an intense, engaging guy. I got to meet him today, nearly eight months after he was hired to replace Glen Mason at Minnesota, and holy freaking cow -- the man must have special powers or something.
Fifteen minutes with Brewster, and I suddenly believe the Gophers will play in a halfway decent bowl game this season. And make a run at a Big Ten championship soon after moving to an on-campus football stadium in 2009.
"The University of Minnesota is always about winning," Brewster says. "Always has been, always will be."
If you say so, sir.
Three questions with Minnesota coach Tim Brewster
SN: I've been to Minnesota games in the Metrodome. I don't think it's possible for your players to get as charged up to play there as they will in an on-campus stadium. Do you agree?
Brewster: "I'll say this: There's not many teams that go off campus and have a great identity. We don't have a 'game-day environment' right now. Creating a game-day environment is going to be huge. It's going to give us a sense of confidence. The band marching down University Avenue, passing the fraternities and the sororities -- that's going to be awesome."
SN: Bret Bielema says the state of Wisconsin has produced a majority of the Badgers' best players since that program was turned around in the 1990s. Minnesota is a similar recruiting state. Can you lock it down as your predecessor could not?
Brewster: "I believe that we can and will win with the core fiber of our football team being Minnesotans. If all those kids had stayed at home, it wouldn't have been 40 years since a championship was won at Minnesota.
But you don't just give someone your trust. What I've asked the people of Minnesota to do is watch how we do things, watch how we handle ourselves, and I think at that point we'll gain their trust. And at the end of the day, when all Minnesotans jump in the boat with us, it's going to be really exciting."
SN: Did you really tell Lloyd Carr you're going to take back the Little Brown Jug this season?
Brewster: "The only trophy we have right now is the pig (Floyd of Rosedale, the symbol of the Minnesota-Iowa rivalry). Make no mistake -- we're going to get the Jug. Lloyd knows that. And we're going to get the (Paul Bunyan's) Axe."
Consider yourselves warned, Badgers.
Five little big things
1. Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli says senior wideout Terrell Golden is the Nittany Lion who will shock the country this season. Golden had an ankle injury in 2006. "He's a big-play guy," Morelli promises.
2. The late Terry Hoeppner hoped to model his Indiana program after Bill Snyder's Kansas State program. Hoeppner bought his coaches -- including his successor, Bill Lynch -- copies of Snyder's book, They Said It Couldn't Be Done. "I really believe in what Hep saw from Bill Snyder," Lynch says. "It comes down to getting just a little bit better every day."
3. Ron Zook on Illinois' talent, on a 1-10 scale, 10 being the level at which the Illini could win a Big Ten title: "Right now, I think we're probably a 7, maybe an 8. But we're young. Players like (starting quarterback) Juice Williams are going to be better as juniors and seniors than they are as freshmen and sophomores."
4. New Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has three rules for his
players: "What I expect from them is 1. tremendous effort and 2. toughness, and then 3. knowing what to do so we can play fast. If we can do those three things, we'll be in every game."
5. Jim Tressel won't say anything interesting about Ohio State's massive beating at the hands of Florida in the BCS title game. The rest of the league's coaches kind of tiptoe around the subject. I have my doubts that the Buckeyes are anywhere near ready mentally for a new season. Are they vulnerable in that Sept. 15 game at Washington? I'm going on record right now with a heartfelt yes.
Predicted order of finish
Big Ten media poll
3. Ohio State
Note: The league releases only the top three vote-getters. Wouldn't want to hurt anybody's feely-weelings. Lame!
3. Penn State
6. Ohio State
11. Michigan State
The Badgers won 12 games last season and have the most wins in the conference (31) over the past three years. They have more starters back than anybody but Purdue. They get Michigan at home. So I don't get why everybody -- including the Sporting News -- continues to look the other way toward Michigan or Ohio State, every single year.
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
DIRECT FROM VEGAS
BIG TEN SEEN BY SHARPS AS A FOUR-TEAM RACE
A few days back I talked about some of the early numbers that have been posted for marquee college football games at the Hilton in Las Vegas. We looked that day at Notre Dame's brutal schedule. Since then some media members have"gone out on a limb" saying that the Irish would lose a lot of early games. Give me a break! Oddsmakers have them going 3-5 in the first eight games as it is, with some tight games amongst the possible wins. That's not a courageous call, that's an obvious call!
Anyway, today I want to look at the Big Ten. Ohio State and Michigan played in a rare late season #1 versus #2 game last season, though neither looked like they belonged that high in the rankings in their bowl games. Michigan lost handily to USC in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State got absolutely obliterated by Florida in the BCS championship game. Those results, and personnel developments in the offseason have suggested a probable four team race in the conference this year:
WISCONSIN is a popular pick to win the league because they have a ton of starters back from a team that posted a great record last year. The media is more excited about Wisconsin than the sharps are however.
MICHIGAN has more people back from last year's"Big Two" war with Ohio State, and is generally seen as the frontrunner by those in the know.
OHIO STATE lost a lot of key starters from last year's team. And, the horrible bowl performances suggested the team may not have been as great as believed in the first place.
PENN STATE has experience back, and a strong-armed young quarterback who might be getting the hang of things. And, the Nittany Lions could very well have beaten Ohio State in Columbus if not for bad weather.
What's interesting this year is that the schedule is set up in such a way that the lesser team in the sharps eyes will often have home field advantage against the superior teams. For example, Penn State isn't seen as being the equal of Ohio State...but the game is at Penn State. Let me run through the early Hilton lines so you can see what I mean.
Here's a listing of the six games scheduled amongst the "big four" this year. Luckily, they'll all play each other. Wisconsin lucked out in missing Ohio State last year (or vice versa depending on how you look at it). This year, the contenders will have a true battle royale.
(Early Hilton line in parenthesis)
9/22: Penn State at Michigan (-7)
10/11: Wisconsin at Penn State (-1)
10/27: Ohio State at Penn State (-1.5)
11/3: Wisconsin at Ohio State (-3.5)
11/10: Michigan at Wisconsin (-1)
11/17: Ohio State at Michigan (-7)
That's a total of six games. Half have a pointspread less than two points! All six have early pointspreads of a TD or less. Anything can happen in games that tight, so this could be a real free-for-all if the teams rate as expected.
You can"reverse engineer" the power ratings by subtracting out home field advantage in those numbers. That accounts for three points in every line. Let's do that for each team.
MICHIGAN is seen as:
4 points better than Penn State
4 points better than Ohio State
2 points better than Wisconsin
Clearly the Wolverines are the top rated team in the Big Ten in that context. I should note that these weren't the opening lines. The oddsmakers had Wisconsin as the best team, and the sharps bet the numbers toward Michigan. Because Michigan plays Wisconsin on the road, they're actually a small underdog in that game. Michigan rates as better than all three opponents, but would go 2-1 if the spreads turned out to match the actual final scores.
WISCONSIN is seen as:
2 points worse than Michigan
0.5 points worse than Ohio State
2 points better than Penn State
How did that happen? Penn State and Ohio State are seen as equals in the comparison with Michigan. But, here, it doesn't line up the same way. The oddsmakers and sharps don't see a universal home field advantage of three points in this conference. Ohio State is favored by more than a field goal over Wisconsin because the site in Columbus gets so much respect. As a result, media favorite Wisconsin is currently projected by the pointspreads to lose to the two teams they might be superior to, but beat the team they might not be as good as! That's how tight these teams are, and how much home field advantage could play in determining the eventual winner.
OHIO STATE is seen as:
0.5 points better than Wisconsin
1.5 points better than Penn State
4 points worse than Michigan
Because the Penn State game is played on the road, the current lines project a 1-2 record for the Buckeyes in the battle royale.
PENN STATE is seen as:
4 points worse than Michigan
2 points worse than Wisconsin
1.5 points worse than Ohio State
Home field advantage turns two of those deficits into victories! It's amazing how complicated this gets because of how the schedule sits up.
For fun, let's assume the pointspreads do tell the story here. That would yield these final records:
Penn State: 2-1
Ohio State: 1-2
Michigan would get the tie breaker because the Penn State/Michigan game is in Ann Arbor. This is why Penn State is being taken seriously as a contender in the conference this season. They could very well knock out both Wisconsin and Ohio State because they host those games.
What's amazing though is how this changes if Penn State an Ohio State turn out NOT to be as good as projected. This is entirely possible because Penn State's quarterback is erratic, and Ohio State is in a rebuilding year. Let's knock five points off the ratings for those teams.
Penn State: 1-2
Ohio State: 0-3
Even though we didn't do anything to change Wisconsin or Michigan, we get an entirely different winner in the conference! The fact that Wisconsin gets to host Michigan now looms very large. If Ohio State and Penn State aren't up to snuff, Wisconsin will win those road games then have a home field edge against Michigan in a virtual championship game in early November. Wisconsin could win the conference even if they're not quite as good as Michigan because that key game is in Madison.
What a mess!
I'll be watching the Big Ten very closely this season. There are going to be several entertaining games. And, any of the big four could get surprised from underneath if they don't take some of the other opponents seriously enough. Purdue, Michigan State, Illinois, and even maybe Indiana will be capable of upsetting a flat team if somebody in the big four isn't focused when they need to be.
I can tell you that the sharps think Michigan is the team to beat...and that the sharps currently think that the Wolverines will be able to win in Madison. They hit that game hard when it first went up...and it wasn't because they wanted a point or two in a field goal game. They thought the wrong team was favored. Who knows what will happen with injuries and other developments between now and November.
The sharps have it Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin (very close with OSU), and Penn State from one to four in their ratings. Ohio State gets a lot of respect at home, which is why the line with Wisconsin is more than a field goal. How do you have them rated?
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
2007 BIG 10 FOOTBALL PREVIEW
The Big 10 is one of our favorite conferences to handicap once the season gets underway. The history and style of play of the conference lends itself to being more predictable at times, than other more wide open conferences. The more wide open styles of the WAC for example, means more room for unpredictable outcomes. But pound the ball, establish a run, high percentage pass plays, football the way it was meant to be played, that's the Big 10 and that's why we like it. So let's take a look at this years crop of Big 10 teams.
Michigan - Great year for Michigan last year, however the disappointment came at the end of the year as they dropped their final 2 games.......the shootout at Ohio State and the Rose Bowl to USC. They should be ok on offense this year, returning QB Chad Henne and Running Back Mike Hart to lead the way. However the defense lost a bunch. In our article about returning starters, we mentioned how losing starters, in this case 7, can be devastating for some schools, yet not such a big deal for others. Michigan, of course, is a school where it may not mean that much. After all, it's MICHIGAN. Michigan is always one of the better recruiting teams. Hey, who wouldn't want to play at Michigan. So the talent will ways be there. What stands out about the Michigan schedule is that 7 of their first 9 games are at home! All of their tough games are at home, including the rematch with Ohio St to end the year on November 17th. Their only tough road game will be at Wisconsin. We just can't see Michigan losing more than two games this year. A major Bowl game in January looks to be a lock as the Wolverines figure to be mentioned more than a few times as potential National Champions.
Wisconsin - The Badgers are in off a fantastic 12 win season capped by a win over Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl. The good news is that they return 9 on offense and 7 on defense. That bad news is, they'll have to replace offensive leader, QB John Stocco and his potential replacements are very inexperienced. Not to take anything away from Wiskys great year, but a look at last years schedule shows us that it really wasn't all that tough. Their biggest test came against Michigan, and that's the one game they lost. This years schedule is a little tougher. They get another crack at Michigan, but they also play Ohio State. We see a 7 to 9 win season for the Badgers.
Penn State - Penn State in off a solid 9-4 year last season, capped off by a win over Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. But what stands out about JoePa's team last year is that they lost every tough game they had. Their 9 wins were padded with names like Youngstown St, Akron and Temple while they lost all the true tests against teams like Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Those are obviously the games they'll have to win this year if they are going to make any noise in the Big 10. We shall see. They get a chance to avenge last years 41-17 loss at Notre Dame, Sept 8 at home, followed by a trip to Michigan two weeks later. We should know before we get out of September is Penn State has any smoke this year.
Ohio State - Much was made about the weak Big 10 schedule Ohio State played last year as they headed into the National Title game against Florida.. Turned out to be right on the money as Florida embarrassed the Buckeyes 41-14. The good news is that Ohio State once again gets the benefit of a Big 10 schedule that doesn't look all that tough. The bad news is, they lost tons of star quality players at key positions on both sides of the ball, returning only 10 starters total. But, like Michigan, Ohio State recruits well. If there's talent that's going to go to the Big 10, Ohio State and Michigan are more than likely going to get them. It looks like an 8 win season is in store for the Buckeyes, with a chance for bettors to make some hay by going against Ohio State when they play some of last years victims.
Purdue - You can count on one thing at Purdue this season. They'll be able to put the ball in the end zone.......often. The offense returns 9 starters from a unit that was 13th in the Nation in total offense last season. This unit hung some big numbers on the board against lesser competition, and was stopped only when they stepped up in class. They will have plenty of chances against lesser competition once again this year, with at least 6 games against teams they should beat by simply having the better offense. However, it's the defense that has the question marks. The defense also returns 9 starters, but again, it's a defense that literally couldn't stop anyone last year. Purdue has a 4 game stretch starting Sept 29th that should define their season. They play Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa all in a row. But only the Michigan game is on the road. With an upset or two in those 4 games, Purdue could be looking at a 8+ win season and a decent Bowl game. But if they once again falter when they step up in class, you're looking at a 6 win season and no Bowl game. So they key lies in that 4 game stretch. The feeling here is that the offense should be potent enough to pull at least one big upset at home.
Iowa - Iowa returns a solid group of starters on both sides of the ball, however they will miss QB Drew Tate. If new starter Jake Christensen can fill those shoes, than Iowa can make some noise this year. Last years team wasn't bad. They started out strong but faltered down the stretch. But they lost some close games last year that they'll get a chance to avenge this year. They catch a huge break in the schedule as the biggest threats in the Big 10 are absent from their list of opponents. Their toughest test looks to be September 22 at Wisconsin. Every other game on the schedule is a winnable game. So no excuse for not winning at least 8 or 9 games and going to a major Bowl.
Michigan State - Michigan State won 4 games last year, none of which were against noteworthy opponents. This year they return 6 on offense, losing several key positions, and 7 on defense. Looking at the schedule, it looks like the Spartans have a chance to grab 2 or 3 wins to start the year and gain a little momentum, but the schedule gets brutal after that. They'll have to content with Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Purdue and Penn State. From the looks of it, a .500 season would be a success for this bunch.
Northwestern - You have to write off last year when trying to handicap Northwestern. Coach Randy Walkers death no doubt left a black cloud over this team in 2006, a year in which they won just 4 games and weren't competitive on most of their losses. We don't expect big things from this team, but in looking at the schedule, it looks like if they can spring at least one upset along the way, they could win 6 games and possible get a bowl game. Can't see them winning more than 6 though, as even 6 could be a stretch.
Indiana - Indiana football is always going to be Indiana football. They simply are never going to get the best talent. They may have a year every now and then where they win some games, but they will always be known as a basketball school. One thing we do know about the Hoosiers going into this year is that the offense will put some points on the board. But the defense was just about last in the nation last year and really, how much can you improve in one year? Winning 6 games would be a success for this squad and with an upset along the way, it's a possibility.
Minnesota - A new coach, a new QB, and a new offense could spell trouble for the Golden Gophers this year. Changes like that take time to materialize. The defense was just plain horrible last year and like teams with similar circumstances, you can't expect all that drastic of an improvement on the defense in just one year. We'll just have to sit back and wait and see if the team takes to new coach Tim Brewster and the new offense. Looks like maybe a 6 or 7 win season for the Golden Gophers.
Illinois - What could you possibly expect from a team that has not won more than 3 games for 4 straight years? Ok, we'll go out on a limb here. Illinois will win more than 3 games this year. After all, they played some decent ball during the 2nd half of last season, losing to Ohio State and Wisconsin by just a touchdown each. Those types of losses build confidence for the future. Don't expect any miracles, but certainly this team can shoot for 6 wins and a possible Bowl birth.
To Sum Up - The Big 10 rarely holds any surprises. If you look at a list of past champs, you see Michigan and Ohio State, with some Wisconsin's and Iowa's sprinkled in, and then every now and then a Purdue, Northwestern or Illinois has one good year. Oh, and Penn State, which has only been a member of the Big 10 since 1994, has a couple of titles as well. This year looks to be more of the same. Michigan looks like the team to beat. Wisky should have a good team and it will be interesting to see what Ohio State does. Purdue should provide some excitement with that offense and if there's one dark horse that looks like it might have something to say, it would be Iowa. The schedule favors them and they had some close games last year that could go their way this year.
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
Big Ten Preview: Michigan, Mike Hart Set the Pace
Written by David Williams
With tailgate season just around the corner, Bleacher Report's David Williams is taking a tour around Division I-A.
1. Michigan Wolverines
Projected Record: 11-1 (7-1)
Loss: Ohio State (11/17)
Key Players: QB Chad Henne, RB Mike Hart, WR Mario Manningham, WR Adrian Arrington, TE Mike Massey, OL Jake Long, OL Adam Krause, DT Terrance Taylor, LB Shawn Crable, CB Morgan Trent, S Jamar Adams, P Zoltan Mesko
Newcomer: T Steve Schilling
The prolific Michigan offense will be better than ever in 2007.
The Wolverines return only six starters on O—but those six include four or five potential All-Americans, most notably Heisman candidates RB Mike Hart and QB Chad Henne.
Although a season-ending injury to backup RB Kevin Grady has limited the depth in the backfield, the Wolverines' pro-style system should carry them to a successful season.
On defense, the front line was tops in the nation with only 43.4 rushing yards allowed per game last year, and should continue to produce despite the departure of anchor Alan Branch.
The major Achilles heel for the Wolverines is the secondary—but the most accomplished quarterbacks Michigan faces in 2007 are Curtis Painter of Purdue and Anthony Morelli of Penn State, so they should be fine.
Final verdict: Michigan is certainly talented, but head coach Lloyd Carr’s big-game ineptitude argues against a perfect season. Look for a better-coached Ohio State team to be the spoiler.
2. Wisconsin Badgers
Projected Record: 11-1 (7-1)
Loss: Michigan (11/10)
Key Players: QB Tyler Donovan, RB P.J. Hill Jr., WR Paul Hubbard, TE Travis Beckum, C Marcus Coleman, G Kraig Urbik, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DT Nick Hayden, LB Jonathan Casillas, CB Jack Ikeguonu, K Taylor Melhaff, P Ken DeBauche
Newcomer: QB Allan Evridge
With experience (16 returning starters), a strong offensive line, and a stud at running back, Wisconsin has all the makings of a national title contender.
Converted fullback P.J. Hill was Freshman of the Year in several publications, and will look to build upon his rookie success in 2007. The only issue on offense is at quarterback, where Kansas State transfer Allan Evridge has an edge on fifth-year senior Tyler Donovan to replace three-year starter John Stocco.
While neither Everidge nor Donovan has the experience of Stocco, each is mobile enough to effectively run the option.
On defense, Wisconsin returns both cornerbacks from the number-two pass defense in the country (138.3 passing yards allowed per game). If you don’t know who CB Jack Ikegwuonu is now, you will soon.
The X-factor may be the punting and kicking games for Wisconsin, which are certainly the best in the Big Ten. K Taylor Melhaff and P Ken DeBauche could both get drafted, and look out for PR Marcus Randle El—the brother of NFL receiver Antwan.
Final verdict: Wisconsin certainly will make its push for a Big Ten title. The Badgers could go undefeated, especially if they establish a consistent passing attack.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions
Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Losses: at Michigan (9/22), Wisconsin (10/13), at Michigan State (11/17)
Key Players: QB Anthony Morelli, RB Austin Scott, WR/PR Derrick Williams, WR Deon Butler, WR Jordan Norwood, C A.Q. Shipley, T John Shaw, LB Dan Connor, LB Sean Lee, CB Justin King, S Tony Davis
Newcomer: DT Abe Koroma
QB Anthony Morelli has plenty of weapons this year, and you can expect Joe Paterno to employ a more dynamic game plan.
Derrick Williams should bounce back from injury to recover his freshman form. The running game will have a drop-off after the departure of Tony Hunt, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Williams might see time at tailback.
On defense, Penn State should be solid again. Even with the loss of Paul Posluszny, “Linebacker U” has two of the best 'backers in the country in Dan Connor and Sean Lee. Those two will have to anchor the D as several new faces settle in. Former High School All-American CB Justin King should earn some time in the national spotlight.
Final verdict: Joe Pa's sitting on a winner in Happy Valley. If the Nittany Lions can open up their offense, they'll be a major force in the conference.
T-4. Ohio State Buckeyes
Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Losses: at Purdue (10/6), at Penn State (10/27), Wisconsin (11/3)
Key Players: RB Chris Wells, WR Brian Robiskie, WR/KR Ray Small, TE Rory Nicol, T Alex Boone, T Kirk Barton, DE Vernon Gholston, LB James Laurinaitis, LB Marcus Freeman, LB Larry Grant, CB Malcolm Jenkins, P A.J. Trapasso
Newcomer: DB Eugene Clifford
After a loss in the BCS National Championship Game, Ohio State has a few large voids to fill.
Heisman winner Troy Smith made one spectacular play after the next, but the dynamic quarterback is gone. Smith’s replacement, junior QB Todd Boeckman, lacks his predecessor's mobility and arm strength.
Still, so long as Boeckman minimizes his mistakes and acts as a caretaker to the offense, he should be fine.
The Buckeyes boast an experienced O-line and a few young receivers who look primed for breakout seasons. Chris “Beanie” Wells is the feature back, and will be pushed for playing time by Maurice Wells and incoming freshman Brandon Saine.
The OSU defense lost tackles Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson to graduation, but returns a solid secondary and an outstanding linebacker corps. Nagurski Award winner James Laurinaitis should prove that last year’s stellar season wasn’t an aberration.
Final verdict: Ohio State is young and inexperienced on O. The Buckeye defense is good enough to keep them in games...unless they have to play Florida in the near future. Expect some noise from Jim Tressel’s team at the end of the season.
T-4. Iowa Hawkeyes
Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Losses: at Wisconsin (9/22), at Penn State (10/6), at Purdue (10/20)
Key Players: QB Jake Christensen, RB Albert Young, WR/PR Andy Brodell, WR Dominique Douglas, TE Tony Moeaki, T Dace Richardson, DE Kenny Iwebema, DE Bryan Mattison, LB Mike Klinkenborg, CB Adam Shada
Newcomers: S Brett Greenwood, QB Arvell Nelson
Iowa is the dark horse of the Big Ten.
Last year, the Hawkeyes were loaded with talent on both sides of the ball—including Heisman candidate Drew Tate at quarterback—but only managed a 6-7 record. Several players from that team return in 2007 with a chip on their shoulders.
Iowa has the most proven running back tandem in the conference in seniors Albert Young and Damian Sims. Wide receivers Andy Brodell, Dominique Douglas, and Trey Stross will help ease the transition to a new QB.
The defensive line is the biggest question mark on the other side of the ball, but LB Mike Klinkenborg is a rock in the middle.
Final verdict: Worst case, Iowa could have a season similar to last year's. Best case, Iowa could finish second or third in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes' fate depends on both their chemistry and their ability to close out games.
6. Purdue Boilermakers
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-3)
Losses: at Minnesota (9/22), Notre Dame (9/29), at Michigan (10/13), at Penn State (11/3)
Key Players: QB Curtis Painter, WR/KR Dorien Bryant, WR Greg Orton, TE Dustin Keller, T Sean Sester, G Jordan Grimes, C Robbie Powell, DE Cliff Avril, DT Alex Magee, CB Royce Adams, P Jared Armstrong
Newcomer: LB Brian Ellis
Aside from Michigan, Purdue has the best offense in the conference.
The Boilermakers return nine starters (including all receivers and tight ends) from the fifth-best passing attack in the country. Curtis Painter follows Drew Brees and Kyle Orton in the line of NFL-caliber Purdue QBs. Jaycen Taylor and Kory Sheets are competing for the starting tailback spot.
The defense, on the other hand, was simply bad last year, finishing 114th against the run (191.2 yards per game) and 104th against the pass (241.2). That said, the Boilermakers return their entire secondary and a few key lineman, so an improvement in production seems likely.
Final verdict: Purdue could very well beat Ohio State, Iowa, and Notre Dame. However, the Achilles heel for the Boilermakers is a large one: They haven't proven that they can stop anyone on defense. Expect a few 44-41 shootouts.
7. Illinois Fighting Illini
Projected Record: 6-6 (3-5)
Wins: Western Illinois (9/8), at Syracuse (9/15), at Indiana (9/22), Ball State (10/27), at Minnesota (11/3), Northwestern (11/17)
Key Players: QB Juice Williams, T Akim Millington, RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Arrelious Benn, DE Derek Walker, DT Chris Norwell, LB J Leman, LB Martrez Wilson, CB Vontae Davis, K Jason Reda
Newcomer: WR Arrelious Benn
Head Coach Ron Zook recruited one of the best freshman classes in the country, and several of the newbies—including WR Arrelious Benn, LB Martez Wilson, RB Daries Hodge, and DE D’Angelo McCray—can contribute immediately.
With a year of experience under his belt, QB Juice Williams should be a much more poised decision-maker than he was in 2006. Junior RB Rashard Mendenhall, meanwhile, is a well-kept secret in Champaign. Expect him to be a playmaker for the offense.
On defense, Illinois returns nine starters. Linebacker J Leman is one of the most prolific tacklers in the nation.
Final verdict: With nine returning starters on defense, an older Juice Williams, and an influx of new freshmen contributors, the Illini might be expected to go far. But remember, the nine starters on D aren’t very good (with the exception Leman), Juice has a lot of growing up to do, and it’s hard to count on inexperienced players—no matter how talented they are.
8. Michigan State Spartans
Projected Record: 5-7 (3-5)
Wins: UAB (9/1), Bowling Green (9/8), Northwestern (10/6), Indiana (10/13), Penn State (11/17)
Key Players: RB Javon Ringer, RB Jehuu Caulcrick, QB Brian Hoyer, TE Kellen Davis, G Roland Martin, LB Kaleb Thornhill, LB SirDarean Adams, S Otis Wiley, K Brett Swenson
Newcomer: LB Jon Misch
One of Michigan State’s biggest concerns will be replacing Drew Stanton at quarterback. Brian Hoyer performed well while Stanton was injured last year, but an entire season is different than one game.
The Spartans have an underrated running back duo in the quick, shifty Javon Ringer and the bruising Jehuu Caulcrick. Despite losing several receivers to graduation, Hoyer should have targets to throw to in TE Kellen Davis and WR T.J. Williams.
The Michigan State defense has a few solid players, including S Otis Wiley and LB SirDarean Adams, but the unit as a whole is nothing to write home about. At least new head coach Mark Dantonio has the opportunity to implement his own scheme.
Final verdict: In addition to away games at Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Purdue, MSU has to play Pitt, Michigan, and Penn State at home. Needless to say, the Spartan schedule is a difficult one—but they may come up with an upset or two. With several underclassmen and a rookie head coach, look for this team to move up the ranks in a year or two.
9. Northwestern Wildcats
Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6)
Wins: Northeastern (9/1), Nevada (9/8), Duke (9/15), Minnesota (10/13), Eastern Michigan (10/20), Indiana (11/10)
Key Players: QB C.J. Bacher, RB Tyrell Sutton, WR Ross Lane, C Trevor Rees, T Dylan Thiry, DE Corey Wootton, DT Adam Hahn, LB Adam Kadela, S Brendan Smith
Newcomer: CB Jordan Mabin
Tyrell Sutton looks to pick up where he left off as freshman, when he rushed for over 1,500 yards. The combination of Sutton and QB C.J. Bacher is reminiscent of the days when Zak Kustok and Damien Anderson roamed the backfield for the Wildcats.
The defense isn’t very good, but at least it's experienced. John Gill and Adam Hahn form a formidable interior line.
Final verdict: Don’t expect Northwestern to win the Big Ten anytime soon, but don't be surprised if they pick off a conference foe here or there. Look for bigger things in 2008, when several of these key players will still have eligibility.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6)
Wins: Bowling Green (9/1), Miami University (9/8), FAU (9/15), Purdue (9/22), at Indiana (10/6), North Dakota State (10/20)
Key Players: RB Amir Pinnix, WR Ernie Wheelwright, TE Jack Simmons, TE Troy Reilly, C Tony Brinkhaus, DE Will VanDeSteeg, LB Mike Sherels, S Dominique Barber
Newcomer: T Dominic Alford
First-year coach Tim Brewster inherited a team lacking depth in several positions.
On offense, Brewster will rely heavily on RB Amir Pinnix. Pinnix is the latest in a line of talented Minnesota running backs that has included Marion Barber III, Laurence Maroney, and Gary Russell.
Replacing QB Bryan Cupito is Tony Mortensen, who will have deep threat Ernie Wheelwright as well as TE Jack Simmons to throw to.
On defense, Will VanDeSteeg anchors the front four. Outstanding kick and punt return specialist Dominic Jones may not play this year, as he is currently suspended from the team.
Final verdict: Glen Mason led the Golden Gophers to an underachieving 6-7 record last year, and Minnesota could face some growing pains with a new coach at the helm. Still, the Gophers’ cupcake schedule will allow them to break even.
11. Indiana Hoosiers
Projected Record: 3-9 (0-8)
Wins: Indiana State (9/1), at Western Michigan (9/8), Ball State (11/3)
Key Players: QB Kellen Lewis, RB/KR Marcus Thigpen, WR James Hardy, T Roger Sadfold, DE Greg Brown, CB Tracy Porter
The focal point of the Hoosiers’ season will be the tragic death of inspirational coach Terry Hoeppner. While the current squad doesn't have much talent or depth, it could surprise some of the better teams in the conference (à la Illinois last year).
WR James Hardy is big and physical—and if the QB can get him the ball, look out.
Final verdict: Indiana isn’t very good, and the unfortunate transition between coaches will be rough. Luckily, the Hoosiers out-of-conference schedule is an easy one.
All-Big Ten Predictions
QB – Chad Henne, Sr., Michigan
RB – Michael Hart, Sr., Michigan
RB – P.J. Hill Jr., So., Wisconsin
WR – Mario Manningham, Jr., Michigan
WR – James Hardy, Jr., Indiana
TE – Kellen Davis, Sr., Michigan State
OL – Kirk Barton, Sr., Ohio State
OL – Jake Long, Sr., Michigan
OL – Adam Kraus, Sr., Michigan
OL – Alex Boone, Jr., Ohio State
OL – Jordan Grimes, Sr., Purdue
DE – Vernon Gholston, Jr. Ohio State
DT – Terrance Taylor, Jr., Michigan
DE – Matt Shaughnessy, Jr., Wisconsin
DE – Will VanDeSteeg, Jr., Minnesota
LB – James Laurinaitis, Jr., Ohio State
LB – Dan Connor, Sr., Penn State
LB – J Leman, Sr., Illinois
CB – Jack Ikeguonu, Jr., Wisconsin
CB – Justin King, Jr., Penn State
CB – Malcolm Jenkins, Jr., Ohio State
K – Taylor Melhaff, Sr., Wisconsin
P – Ken DeBauche, Sr., Wisconsin
KR – Dorien Bryant, Sr., Purdue
PR – Derrick Williams, Jr., Penn State
Big Ten Offensive MVP: RB Michael Hart, Sr., Michigan
Big Ten Defensive MVP: LB James Laurinaitis, Jr., Ohio State
Big Ten Newcomer of the Year: WR Arrelious Benn, Fr., Illinois
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
2007 Sleeper Candidates (Big Ten)
As we continue our look into sleepers for the 2007 season, we’ll go to the Big Ten (or should it be eleven?). The Big Ten has done quite well in recent years, placing Ohio State in the BCS title game twice, while Michigan reached the 2005 and 2007 Rose Bowls as well. The Buckeyes may be in rebuilding mode, but the Wolverines and Wisconsin are heading for a showdown later this season and their battle will decide who wins the conference this year. Although the top teams in the conference will be interesting to watch, there will be a lot of people cheering for Indiana and Northwestern with all of the tough times those two schools have fallen on in the last two years.
-- Quarterbacks --
Brian Hoyer, Michigan State
Switching from the spread to a power run team isn’t easy and is actually a step down in the fantasy world for quarterbacks. The Spartans don’t have Drew Stanton under center and the quarterbacks will probably miss John L. Smith’s pass-friendly offense, but Hoyer may be a surprise. The junior quarterback hasn’t played bad in limited action and he should be a good fit for what Coach Mark Dantonio wants to do. Don’t expect monster numbers, but Hoyer’s got a good arm and could post a few fantasy worthy performances in 2007.
The Golden Gophers don’t have a starter, but we think their production is worth watching. Adam Weber and Tony Mortensen are locked into the battle under center and the new spread offense in Minneapolis should help their fantasy value. Offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar is known for his background in the spread and while neither quarterback is a Pat White or Tim Tebow type player, they should get consideration for their running yardage. Weber is the better runner between the two and will probably end up with the starting job and I would watch his value – especially if he gets an opportunity to run a couple of times each week.
-- Running Backs --
Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois
Despite having two veteran backs contending for carries on the Fighting Illini roster last year, Mendenhall did quite well in the rushing department. On 78 carries, the junior back totaled 640 yards and five touchdowns, while catching 12 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown. For some fantasy owners, you may have already noticed Mendenhall’s production in a limited role last year, however there are a good chunk who probably don’t know about him just yet. I wouldn’t expect him to continue averaging 8.2 yards per carry, but I would definitely expect 1000 yards.
Maurice Wells, Ohio State
The “other” Wells won’t garner number one back carries, but keep an eye on how the Buckeyes divide up carries this year. Last year, Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells cut into each other’s playing time and Wells has enough talent to see playing time each week. I’m not expecting a monster year, but I think he’s worth watching the amount of carries he receives each week. You can’t rule out five to seven carries early on and third down touches through the air. Additionally, if something would happen to Chris Wells, keep your eye on Brandon Saine and Maurice Wells.
Marcus Thigpen, Indiana
It’s hard to know what to expect out of the Hoosiers in 2007. Losing a head coach like Terry Hoeppner isn’t going to be easy and things may be a little tough in the early going. Thigpen has been more of an all-around threat in his career so far – 50 receptions for 612 yards and four touchdowns, compared to 105 rushes for 422 yards and two touchdowns and a 30.1 yards per kickoff return average last season. If the Hoosier offense picks up where they left off last year, Thigpen has the potential to rush for 600 yards and catch 45 passes. At 5’8, 182 pounds, the junior isn’t very big, but he’s quick and elusive out of the backfield. I think he’ll make improvements on the ground, but he’s someone who could help you out in a bye week.
-- Wide Receivers --
Toney Clemons/Greg Mathews, Michigan
There are a lot of factors to consider when looking at Clemons or Mathews this season and they just happen to all be positive. For starters, Lloyd Carr, what’s the status of Adrian Arrington? Arrington hasn’t been officially allowed back to the team and its unknown if he will be. Most seem to think he will return, but it’s something to be cautious about. Additionally, the graduation of Steve Breaston has opened the door for another receiver to step up. Mathews caught seven passes for 68 yards last year and just for fun, he happens to be the cousin of Ted Ginn, Jr. Clemons is an incoming freshman and the Wolverine coaches are excited about what he can do on the field. If Arrington returns, either one of these receivers could become a fantasy option with Chad Henne back for another year and the Wolverine offense looking solid. If Arrington doesn’t return, Clemons and Mathews will see their value shoot through the roof.
Eric Peterman, Northwestern
With C.J. Bacher’s insertion into the starting lineup for the Wildcats at the end of the 2006 season, the passing game became more potent and hopes are high for the unit to return to its 2004 and 2005 form. The Wildcats think Bacher will do just fine throwing the ball and all we have to do is look back at previous Wildcat receiving totals to realize the fantasy potential of this position. Peterman caught 23 passes for 349 yards and one touchdown last year and if Bacher can average over 200 yards per game, Peterman should more than double his totals from last year.
-- Tight Ends --
Tony Moeaki, Iowa
The Hawkeyes lose Scott Chandler and Ryan Majerus, but they always seem to roll another player out of Kinnick Stadium to keep their offense going. Moeaki caught 11 passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns last season – as the second receiving tight end on the roster. If he doubles that, then he’s more than in contention for a top 25 fantasy tight end spot. Moeaki was the last player cut from our initial top 35 fantasy tight ends and was the one who made the biggest jump in our second wave of rankings. I think Moeaki should be in the top 35 of fantasy tight ends and he’s well worth the look on your roster.
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
Iowa suspends pair of players
August 20th, 2007
Iowa City, IA (Sports Network) - The University of Iowa suspended sophomore wide receivers Dominique Douglas and Anthony Bowman for an indefinite period of time Monday.
Both players were arrested Sunday by University of Iowa police and charged with unauthorized use of a credit card.
The players were later released on their own recognizance.
"I am aware of the accusations that have been made against two members of the football program," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in a statement released by the school. "Both student-athletes have been suspended indefinitely from participation in all team activities.
"The accusations are serious and, if proven to be true, are extremely disappointing for everyone associated with the University of Iowa and our football program. As always, we will work with the appropriate individuals and entities on and off campus as this matter works its way through the legal system.
"As is often the case in matters of this nature, I am aware of inconsistencies in what may or may not have taken place. We need to let the legal process run its course."
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
Michigan TE Carson Butler reinstated after being cleared of assault charges
August 21, 2007
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -Michigan tight end Carson Butler has been reinstated to the team after being cleared of charges of attacking a student on St. Patrick's Day.
Butler was released from the team in March after being accused of assaulting the student but was acquitted in July.
Coach Lloyd Carr said Tuesday he decided to allow Butler to return after the judicial process had played out.
``Because of that, I just felt it would be extremely unfair not to give him another opportunity,'' Carr said during a news conference. ``What he's trying to do is do some things he's been asked to do and so we'll see how that works out.''
Butler started the final six games of last season, finishing fourth on the team with 19 receptions.
He was charged along reserve defensive back Christian Richards, who was convicted of assault and sentenced to six months' probation. He was released from the team in March.
Michigan begins its season Sept. 1 at home against Appalachian State.
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
Big Ten Preview
Wisconsin, Michigan figure to battle it out for conference crown
Ohio State took it on the chin in last year's national championship game when Florida ran roughshod over the Buckeyes, and eight months later, the Big Ten is still feeling the effects.
Critics have panned the conference for its lack of speed and even more so for its poor record in bowl games last season (2-5).
Sure, the conference has seen better days, but it's still one of the top leagues in the sport, one that features as many as three top 10 teams, depending on which poll you subscribe to, entering the season (Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State) and another in the top 20 (Penn State).
And then there are the individuals - Heisman Trophy - caliber players - like Chad Henne, Mike Hart and P.J. Hill - and some of the most ferocious linebackers in the nation - like J. Leman, Dan Connor and James Laurinaitis.
The Big Ten hasn't lost a step. Not by a long shot. Sure, the Gators looked to be running on a different motor that January night in Glendale, Ariz., but that was an aberration. The Big Ten can run, and certainly play, with anyone. Just ask a former Florida coach.
"In my mind there isn't any difference," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "We have every bit the speed that they do. In my mind there is no question that this league can compete against anyone in the country."
Wisconsin - 2006: 12-1 Overall, 7-1 Big Ten
Priority No. 1 in Madison, where hopes are riding very high heading into Year No. 2 of the Bret Bielema era, is to find John Stocco's replacement at quarterback. But that's no easy task, considering the former Badgers signal caller was 29-7 as a starter.
The race heading into camp was technically between Tyler Donovan and Allan Evridge, a transfer from Kansas State. But with experience on his side, including starting the final two games for the Badgers last season, Donovan surprised no one by getting the nod.
"It's very hard for me as a head coach to envision him not being the guy," Bielema said. "He has a lot of advantages over Allan Evridge."
Donovan saw action in seven games last season, racked up some nice stats and knows the Wisconsin offense, so there's already an inherent trust in the senior.
Fortunately for Donovan and the Badgers, he's got a great supporting cast, starting with running back P.J. Hill, an underrated receiving corps and yet another deep, big and physical offensive line that Wisconsin is known to produce.
Aside from Stocco, all-world tackle Joe Thomas is the glaring departure on offense, but the rest of the line is full of big bodies ready to clear a path for Hill, who ran for 1,569 yards last season, and give Donovan time to throw to his senior-laden receiving corps. And don't forget about Travis Beckum, one of the best tight ends in the game.
There are a few more losses defensively for the Badgers than on offense, and they can't be expected to top what they did last year, finishing as the No. 2 scoring defense, the No. 2 passing defense and No. 5 overall defense in the country. But they certainly won't be without talent and should still be one of the better units in the Big Ten.
Seven starters are back, including a pair of highly regarded linebackers in Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy and both tackles, meaning the Badgers should be stout up the middle. Matt Shaughnessy will rush from the outside and look to improve on his four-sack performance last year.
Wisconsin's two cornerbacks return with a year under their belt, but the two safety positions will feature new faces. The biggest loss could be strong safety Joe Stellmacher. One of last year's top tacklers, and an unquestioned leader on defense, he will be replaced by Aubrey Pleasant.
This is a team loaded with players, many of whom are just juniors that are coming off of great sophomore seasons, like Beckum and Shaughnessy.
The big knock on Wisconsin from last year was that it benefited from not having to play Ohio State and lost to the only formidable foe on the schedule, Michigan. The Badgers get the full slate of the Big Ten's best, including the Wolverines and Iowa at home, so if they can rip off another 11-1 regular season, no one will be knocking them.
And as for all that sudden success for a first-time coach? It could be a blessing or a curse. Buoyed by the outstanding play of the defense and Hill running the ball, Bielema was an easy choice for Big Ten Coach of the Year last fall. Now, anything less than a conference championship will be viewed as a disappointment.
"We did too good our first year, so you set yourself up for high expectations. I do know this, just like our season and like P.J., it's better to have high expectations than low expectations," Bielema said.
Regular Season Prediction: 11-1 Overall, 7-1 Big Ten
Michigan - 2006: 11-2 Overall, 7-1 Big Ten
Without a doubt, the Wolverines will feature one of the best offensive units in the Big Ten, if not the country. Led by seniors Chad Henne, Mike Hart and Jake Long, Michigan is poised to put up a lot of points this season.
Henne returns for his fourth year under center, where he'll have Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington at his disposal to throw to all day long. But the offense really starts in the backfield with Hart. Last year's second-best rushing attack in the conference is predicated on Hart's ability to carry the load for the Wolverines. He's added some size and speed in the off-season and coach Lloyd Carr can't wait to see what he has in store this fall.
"What should help Mike Hart is the fact that we have a lot of weapons surrounding him," Carr said. "He has concentrated on building his strength. He's a great football player and has been a real dream to coach."
Long's decision to come back to campus is the reason why Hart and Henne also came back, and the fact that he's considered one of the best tackles in the country is a big reason why so much will be expected from this offense.
Unlike the offense, the defense has major holes to fill.
Gone are the likes of Alan Branch, LaMarr Woodley and Leon Hall and in will have to step Shawn Crable to anchor what will be a unit light on returning starters - only four are back.
It's going to be very hard to produce the same numbers as last season - 16 points per game, 43 yards rushing per game - but defensive coordinator Ron English has proven himself to be the right man for the job after he was promoted before last season.
The biggest question seems to be whether the Wolverines will feature the same aggressive defense English implemented in 2006. The linebacking unit is void of known commodities and the secondary, which struggled against the pass, must improve. The defense was especially bad in the final two games of the season. The Wolverines will be fine against the likes of Appalachian State and Eastern Michigan, but how will they fair against Oregon, Penn State or Wisconsin?
Bottom line, Michigan has talent. It just remains to see how quickly it matures and steps up to fill the considerable voids.
The pressure is on all around. It's on Carr to win in what could very well be his final season. It's on Henne, Hart and Long, who have high expectations as an offense, and have yet to beat Ohio State in three tries, or win a bowl game for that matter.
The Wolverines will welcome Oregon, Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State to The Big House - they only play four road games - so it's laid out quite nicely for Michigan to win big this season. But if the Wolverines fall short of the Rose Bowl, let alone the national title game, then Carr doesn't figure to stick around for a 14th season.
Regular Season Prediction: 10-2, 6-2
Ohio State - 2006: 12-1 Overall, 8-0 Big Ten
Gone are two stud wide receivers, a 1,000-yard rusher and the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner. Suffice to say Jim Tressel has a few holes to fill on offense this fall.
"I think you'll probably see a different looking team," Tressel said. "You'll see a team that's trying to evolve with the talent that we have. I don't know that it will look just the same as it has, but there will be an evolution."
It would be impossible for the offense to look the same as it did last year when it lit up scoreboards to the tune of 34 points per game. But with only a handful of starters back, the Buckeyes figure to hark back to the days of Woody Hayes and pound out the majority of their yards on the ground.
Fortunately, Tressel has two very capable and talented running backs that his quarterback - which figures to be Todd Boeckman when the season rolls around - can hand the ball off to early and often. The differing styles of Maurice Wells and Chris Wells - no relation - should compliment each other nicely.
There are losses on the offensive line that need to be addressed, with only three starters returning. But there is experience coming back on the line, and of course, they'll be in charge of protecting Boeckman, the logical choice to be the opening-day starter, since he's been with the Buckeyes longer than the other two candidates - Rob Schoenhoft and Antonio Henton. Boeckman isn't the ideal choice - each candidate brings something different to the table - but he's the one Tressel probably has the best feel for right now, although don't be surprised to see the quarterback situation remain fluid throughout the fall. No one has really distinguished himself as of yet.
Brian Robiskie will be the go-to wide out after emerging as the Buckeyes' No. 3 receiver last year behind Anthony Gonzalez and Ted Ginn.
Just as many starters are back on defense for the Buckeye as there are on offense, which happens to be a paltry five.
There are losses up front, including two NFL Draft picks, and Vernon Gholston will take his spot as the premier pass rusher for the Buckeyes. The defense will again be anchored by James Laurinaitis, last year's winner of the Nagurski Award, annually given to the nation's top defensive player. He'll be flanked by Marcus Freeman, who can fly to the ball.
With an experienced and gifted secondary, namely cornerbacks Malcolm Jenkins and Donald Washington, there seems to be a consensus that Ohio State could feature much more physical play at the line of scrimmage and fall into more zone coverage.
After a phenomenal 2006 regular season, the Buckeyes bombed in the national title game, looking overwhelmed by Florida on their way to a blowout loss. The offensive line was man-handled and everyone looked a step slow. So needless to say, they're using the defeat as motivation.
"I think all our people, coaches, players - everyone that was a part of preparing for and then coming up short in a big opportunity - we'll use that often," Tressel said. "It's a great reminder when you don't do as well as you can."
Fortunately for Buckeyes fans, their team shouldn't take much of a step backward this fall, despite the many losses. The defense should be strong, the non-conference schedule is very favorable and there are players who can step up. Another run at the Big Ten title is a distinct possibility, but the questions at quarterback means the Buckeyes will have to wait another season to be players on the national scene.
Regular Season Prediction: 10-2, 6-2 Big Ten
Iowa - 2006: 6-7 Overall, 2-6 Big Ten
After four seasons, Drew Tate is no longer under center for the Hawkeyes, leaving a big void for coach Kirk Ferentz to fill. In should step Jake Christensen, a sophomore who has only about three dozen passes in his career. His relative inexperience fits very well with the overall theme of the Hawkeyes this season as just about every position will feature youth.
The only position where youth isn't present is at running back where seniors Albert Young and Damian Sims are carrying the load. Young was banged up all of 2006, but should return to the 1,000-yard plateau and renew his status as one of the better pass-catching backs in the country. Iowa will look to rely on Young and Sims early on while Christensen establishes himself at quarterback.
The only problem with that is that three starters are gone from the offensive line. A young line and a young quarterback don't usually equate to lot of success, but if there's any school that can get the most from its offensive line, it's Iowa, as Ferentz has proven year after year. He just hopes they can stay healthy after injuries practically decimated the line last fall.
Up front for the Hawkeyes, Ferentz doesn't have to worry about the four returning starters, but he would like to see them get to the quarterback more often.
Tackling machine Mike Klinkenborg is back to anchor the linebacking unit, which should be strong, meaning Ferentz has only one position to really worry about on defense.
"Obviously our area of concern would be our safety position, graduating two seniors there," Ferentz said.
Miguel Merrick and Marcus Paschal are gone and in must step junior Harold Dalton at strong safety and redshirt freshman Brett Greenwood at free safety. Both corners are back from a unit that wasn't spectacular against the pass.
But Iowa, in the mold of bend, but don't break, should similarly be a solid unit this fall.
The Hawkeyes have the easiest schedule in the Big Ten and that makes them a threat to unexpectedly come away with the conference if things really break right. They avoid Michigan and Ohio State and their toughest game comes against Wisconsin Sept. 22 in Madison. There's another trip to Penn State two weeks later, but after that it could be pretty smooth sailing for Iowa, especially if they're 1-1 in those games against the Badgers and Nittany Lions.
Ferentz can't have a repeat performance of last year where his team started out 4-0, then nosedived to a 2-7 finish and the program's first losing season in six years. Losing to Indiana and Northwestern, like the Hawkeyes did last year, won't be tolerated this year. Since they played so poorly down the stretch last year, many seem to think Iowa is coming in under the radar after not being picked to finish in the top three of the Big Ten for the first time since 2003.
"We've done better traditionally flying low and I think that's where we're at this year," Ferentz said.
Regular Season Prediction: 9-3 Overall, 5-3 Big Ten
Penn State - 2006: 9-4 Overall, 5-3 Big Ten
Anthony Morelli enters his senior season with lot of expectations on his shoulders. For one, it will be expected that he improves on some of the record- breaking numbers he produced last year, his first under center for Penn State, along with his consistency and decision making.
And two, he'll be expected to push the Nittany Lions over the nine-win mark by the rabid fan base that might need to scale back its expectations of the offense, and the team for that matter, especially considering there are some big holes to fill on the offensive line.
Levi Brown's departure to the NFL leaves the left tackle position a question mark and left guard will also feature a new starter. Fortunately for Morelli, he'll be throwing to two experienced wide outs in Derrick Williams and Deon Butler, the latter one of the Big Ten's better receivers.
Making matters worse is the loss of Tony Hunt, probably the most unheralded back in the Big Ten last season. Hunt actually finished as the No. 2 rusher in Penn State history and the Nittany Lions will be hard pressed to replace the kind of production he provided on a weekly basis. The job will mostly fall to senior Austin Scott along with fellow senior Rodney Kinlaw, Hunt's backup last season.
"We've got a great corps of running backs who have great talent," Morelli said. "I think it's going to work because of the talent we have."
Up the front, Penn State must insert three new starters on a defensive line that was very good last year. Along with help from their ultra-talented linebacking corps, the Nittany Lions allowed just 87.5 yards rushing per game, but will have a tough time putting up similar numbers this season. There's just so much youth up front.
Fortunately, Linebacker U. continues to live up to its name as Dan Connor takes over the reins with Paul Posluszny gone. Connor moves into the middle, and should be on his way to surpassing his former teammate's all-time record for tackles at Penn State - he needs just 98 and has averaged 91 during his three years. Connor will be flanked by Sean Lee, another standout hitter.
"It's a big hole to fill and it's something I have to think about doing, being a vocal guy and a leader on the field, doesn't come naturally," Connor said. "I've been trying to work on it during the spring and I think I'll be able to help the guys come fall."
With three returning starters back, on paper, the secondary should be settled. But it's still a question mark since safety Anthony Scirrotto's standing on the team is unknown considering he has a trial date that should begin in October stemming from that off-campus brawl he and six other teammates were involved with in April. He's practicing with the first-team for the time being and hoping his legal situation can be resolved.
Sure, 15 starters are back, but the Nittany Lions are lacking in some very key areas, most notably on the offensive and defensive lines. With Joe Paterno, set for his 42nd-straight season as Penn State's head coach, calling this his youngest team ever, there are sure to be more than a few growing pains.
The Nittany Lions get plenty of the big boys at home with Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Ohio State all traveling to Happy Valley, but challenging for the Big Ten title seems a little unlikely this season. However, it's not without question.
Regular Season Prediction: 9-3 Overall, 5-3 Big Ten
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
Purdue - 2006: 8-6 Overall, 5-3 Big Ten
The pass-first, spread attack employed by head coach Joe Tiller won't be shying away from throwing it again. Not with Curtis Painter back under center.
Painter threw for nearly 4,000 yards last season and 22 TDs, but the big knock on him was his inability to protect the ball, throwing 19 interceptions. Tiller and his team expect the junior to take off and potentially develop into one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. It certainly helps that he can throw to Dorien Bryant, one of the top wide outs in the Big Ten, and the two should make up one of the better tandems in the country.
"I truly think Bryant is the most talented of all of the receivers we have had in my 10 years at Purdue and Curtis is starting to come into his own," Tiller said. "As he continues to grow and mature, he will approach an efficiency level where these guys can make some hay."
The Boilermakers, despite their penchant for the pass, should have a fairly balanced attack with backs Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor. They're not big guys by any stretch of the imagination, but they're fast and productive. Jordan Grimes anchors the offensive line that returns the entire right side.
Nine starters are back on the unit, but Anthony Spencer is not one of them, and this wasn't a defense that was particularly good, allowing 26.7 points and more than 432 yards per game last season.
Purdue hopes its middle linebacker position will be settled by moving Dan Bick to the spot, and the secondary is stacked with all four starters back. But not having Spencer and his 10.5 sacks back will mean significantly less pressure on opposing offensive lines and most likely somewhat similar results this season.
Tiller should be concerned about kicker Chris Summers, who was just 8-of-20 last year on field goals, and his status as the starter could be liquid.
So add some special teams worries onto the concerns over the defense and it doesn't equate to a lot of success for the Boilermakers. But Purdue, like just about every other Big Ten school, doesn't have a particularly tough non-conference schedule. Notre Dame is on the docket, but that game comes at home along with league contests against Ohio State and Iowa. Trips must be taken to Michigan and Penn State, but the Boilermakers do avoid Wisconsin.
"We have a challenging schedule ahead of us, but I think our team is up to it," Tiller said. "I think one thing that's changed at Purdue is that our players have rededicated themselves to improving their strength and their size. I also think there is a sense of urgency amongst our players so I'm anxious for us to get underway."
Will that translate into a Big Ten title? Absolutely not. Bowl game? Surely.
Regular Season Prediction: 7-5 Overall, 4-4 Big Ten
Illinois - 2006: 2-10 Overall, 1-7 Big Ten
The talent level is improving considerably at Illinois, thanks to the recruiting prowess of the renowned Ron Zook. But priority No. 1 for the Illini, if they want to improve on those two wins from last season, is Juice Williams becoming a more consistent and reliable quarterback. Just a freshman last season, Williams completed an anemic 39 percent of his passes and threw as many touchdowns (nine) as interceptions.
But Zook is committed to Williams and hopes the likes of wideout Arrelious Benn, the prized recruit Zook landed for his offense last February, can really help Williams emerge as a better passer.
"A strength of Juice was his continued improvement," Zook said. "We expect that same improvement. We need to get our passing game to the level of our rushing attack."
Zook and company are expecting bigger things from running back Rashard Mendenhall, who rushed for 640 yards last season, and helped the Illini rush for 188 yards per game, good for 10th in the nation. The offensive line should welcome back four starters, who need to do a better job of protecting Williams.
Zook wants the ball to be in his most talented players' hands as often as possible and that's why Mendehall and Benn figure to get the pigskin as much as anyone.
Playing considerably better toward the end of last season compared to the beginning, Illinois brings back nine starters on defense, the most notable being linebacker J. Leman, who led the Big Ten in tackles last season.
Leman is a tackling machine and with two other returnees flanking him, the linebacker corps should be the strongest unit of the defense. The big freshman signing was Martez Wilson, who should make an impact immediately at linebacker. He's another one of Zook's highly touted recruits.
The secondary features a nice corps of talent, lead by Vontae Davis. Two seniors are back at safety and be on the lookout for Bo Flowers, a former baseball farmhand with the Cubs and Tigers, who is joining the Illini as a 23-year old freshman. The Illini were pretty good against the pass last year and figure to be just the same this season.
Up front, the defensive line should be solid and Derek Walker is a name to keep in mind. His coaches and teammates think very highly of the junior who can get into the backfield in a hurry.
Things haven't looked this good for Illinois since 2001, the last time Illinois won the Big Ten and appeared in a bowl game.
Now that's not to say the Illini are going to completely turn things around flip their 2-10 record into a 10-2 mark. They're not nearly that good. But they've shown improvement, have the best talent they've had in years and there were a few games last season that could have just as easily gone the other way if turnovers hadn't been such an albatross.
"We could have very easily won three more games just by taking care of the football," Zook said.
Illinois could easily win three more games than last year, and if things really fall into place they have an outside - stress outside - shot of making a bowl game. Turnovers killed Illinois last year (they had a -15 TO margin) so if they truly take care of the football, they'll almost assuredly win more games than 2006.
Regular Season Prediction: 5-7 Overall, 2-6 Big Ten
Minnesota - 2006: 6-7 Overall, 3-5 Big Ten
In comes new coach Tim Brewster, but don't expect to see his son, Clint, playing quarterback Sept. 1.
While many would just assume the younger Brewster would get the early nod, two others will battle it out for the right to take the snaps. Tony Mortensen and Adam Weber are considered the front-runners to eventually land the job, with Mortensen having the only game experience of the three candidates. The Gophers want to spread the ball around and Mortensen seems to be the best of the bunch right now who can do it. Plus, he's capable of running with the ball if need be.
Amir Pinnix is back for his senior season and poised to run for another 1,000-plus yards with an experienced group of three returning starters on the offensive line.
There are two key losses the Gophers must address and that's at wide out and tight end. Logan Payne and Matt Spaeth are gone and in must step Ernie Wheelwright to fill Payne's shoes and Jack Simmons to fill Spaeth's spot, no easy task considering Spaeth was one of the best tight ends in the country last season.
One of the biggest reasons Minnesota has a new coach is the defense. After taking a 38-7 lead in the Insight Bowl last December, all the Gophers could do was morbidly watch Texas Tech pull off one of the great comebacks in college football history for the 44-41 win. So Glen Mason was canned and Brewster was brought in, but he still has to take care of the defense that finished 10th in the Big Ten in total defense and last against the pass.
Getting some more pressure from the defensive line would be nice, and new defensive coordinator Everett Withers is hoping Willie VanDeSteeg can top his total of 10 sacks last season.
The good news for the secondary is that three starters return. But the bad news is that the Gophers have a depth issue at cornerback that could inhibit their ability to seriously improve on the 268 yards per game they allowed through the air, third worst in the nation.
A relatively unspectacular and unheralded linebacking corps will be led by Mike Sherels.
Brewster has brought a new fire to a program that hasn't exactly fallen on hard times. They've been to five straight bowl games and could very easily make it six. The other thing Brewster has brought with him is a highly regarded recruiting class, one that's going to considerably raise expectations in the coming years, but Brewster already has his sights set high.
"At Minnesota, the bar has been set and it's about championships," Brewster said. "That is our goal. That is our ambition: to win a Big Ten Championship."
It's not going to happen this season, or possibly in any of the next few, but Brewster is planning on making a run for it when TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers' new on-campus home, opens Sept. 12, 2009. That might be ambitious, but he's thinking big.
There's been a lot of turnover on staff, but an easy non-conference schedule will help them to creep right onto the edge of bowl eligibility.
Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 3-5 Big Ten
Michigan State - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 1-7 Big Ten
Change is on the menu at Michigan State where new coach Mark Dantonio will bring new philosophies to an offense that will look to run the ball a whole lot more and set up the pass via play-action. The spread looks to have been replaced along with old coach John L. Smith.
All of that will be predicated on Drew Stanton's successor, Brian Hoyer, who served as the backup and should be more than capable of taking on the increasing load.
He'll be handing the ball off to Javon Ringer, who Michigan State hopes can make it through the season in good shape, considering his past knee problems. But he has 1,000-yard potential written all over him. It'll be a matter of whether the offensive line, with three starters back, can make the adjustments to the new schemes and whether highly regarded Mike Gyetvai is healthy enough at left tackle.
It's widely assumed that the Spartans' passing attack will feature far more downfield plays than in years past. Hoyer has the arm to throw it deep, but unfortunately no Matt Trannon, Michigan State's all-time leader in receptions. Hoyer will have a lot of young players to work with, but he has a couple of guys with size in T.J. Williams and Devin Thomas.
There will also be big changes on defense, especially considering how poor the Spartan defense has been in recent years and how Dantonio is a defense-minded coach, having spent previous stints as Ohio State's defensive coordinator during their 2002 national championship and building Cincinnati into a respectable defense.
"We won't accept a soft defense," Dantonio said. "Where I've been and where I've come from, we played well on defense and I expect that to continue."
Dantonio's philosophies are pretty simple in that he wants his defense to "be predicated on pressure, on attacking in space and attention to detail."
That might be a bit of a problem considering the defensive line will be without its top tackles from last season. The majority of the burden will fall to Ervin Baldwin who, as an end, had four sacks last season.
The safety position should be a strength, with Otis Wiley the most notable returnee. Two new starters will have to be inserted at cornerback.
But since Dantonio brought Pat Narduzzi with him from Cincinnati, the consensus seems to be that the Spartans will only improve on the 28-plus points per game they gave up last year.
There's plenty of change around the Spartans and that can only be viewed as a good thing. State lost eight of their last nine games to end 2006, the only win coming over Northwestern in what turned out to be the greatest come-from-behind win in Division I-A history. And Smith, despite how great of a guy he is, had worn out his welcome with the mounting losses and erratic post-game behavior.
"What I have tried to say since I've come to Michigan State is that change affects everybody," Dantonio said. "Change is tough. It has a way to make you go through some trials and tribulations and it's the same way at Michigan State."
There will be some tribulations for sure this season, but Dantonio has proven he can put a winning product onto the field. It's not going to come this season, as Michigan State has one of the tougher non-conference schedules in the league, having to face Notre Dame and Pitt on top of road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin. But the wins figure to come down the road.
Regular Season Prediction: 4-8 Overall, 2-6 Big Ten
Indiana - 2006: 5-7 Overall, 3-5 Big Ten
Indiana has some talent on offense.
Kellen Lewis is back for his second season at the helm after a productive freshman campaign. The quarterback threw for over 2,000 yards and a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, despite some up-and-down performances.
Lewis will have James Hardy to throw to yet again, even though Hardy just broke his finger in practice last week. The 6-foot-7 wideout should be just fine by the time the real competition rolls around for the Hoosiers - he could miss the opener against Indiana State.
There was a large emphasis on the running game during the spring so that figures to continue as the Hoosiers head into the season. There are three starters back on the offensive line - they're young, but do have some experience - while Marcus Thigpen returns to his spot as the Hoosiers' premiere running back.
"We felt we needed to get the running game going the same way we do with our passing," new Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch said. "We will utilize all of them and now we feel we are in a position where we can be pretty balanced."
Barring injuries, bet on Indiana scoring more than 23 points per game as they did last season.
Things kind of blew up for the Hoosiers at the end of last season when they allowed 68, 34 and 28 points, not surprisingly losing all of those contests. Eight starters are back from that unit, along with nearly the entirety of the defensive front.
That means there should be some improvement defending the pass and most especially the run, where the Hoosiers allowed 174 yards per game last season. Adam McClurg and Geno Johnson are two quality linebackers who should help stem the tide of yards and points put up against the Hoosiers while two starting corners return as well.
The theme for the Hoosiers this year will be how they overcome the death of head coach Terry Hoeppner, who passed away in June after a long battle with cancer.
More than they'd like, the Hoosiers have been asked about Hoeppner and how the loss is going to affect them this fall. Lynch has essentially been the head coach since the spring when Hoeppner took a leave of absence and Lynch was tapped to step in. He's had to juggle a bit to get things in place and then has been forced to deal with the fallout of Hoeppner's passing.
"As a football team, they have been through a lot of adversity and I know this summer has been tough on them," Lynch said. "There is not one single thing that you can do. I think in this profession, a lot of it is building that trust between player and coach and over the last few years, we think we've been able to do that."
Indiana should be a respectable squad this year. It certainly helps that Michigan and Ohio State aren't found on the schedule. They haven't been to a bowl since 1993, and it probably won't happen. But if the ball bounces the right way for the Hoosiers, buoyed by the motivation of playing for Hoeppner, and you never know.
Regular Season Prediction: 5-7 Overall, 2-6 Big Ten
Northwestern - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 2-6 Big Ten
You'll see a number of different looks from the Wildcats, but you'll mostly see Tyrell Sutton running the ball for big yards. The junior has averaged over 5 yards per carry for his career, and that mark doesn't figure to change very much. As long as he stays healthy - a problem for him last year when he only managed 1,000 yards (down from 1,474 as a freshman) - he should be one of the top runners in the Big Ten.
Depth is certainly not an issue for the Wildcats at wideout, and that's a very good thing, considering they like to spread things out from time to time.
Quarterbacking duties should fall on the shoulders of C.J. Bachér after he established himself as the Wildcats' best option behind center. He showed marked improvement as the season wore on and distanced himself from Mike Kafka.
Trevor Rees is considered one of the better centers in the nation, but after an off-season run-in with the law, his status with the team is yet to be determined. He's been reinstated after a suspension, but still awaiting punishment. The rest of the line should be solid, and as long as Rees doesn't miss significant time, pretty good.
The strength of the defense is going to be the line. End Corey Wootton is the one to watch up front. He does a little bit of everything - sacking, tackling and intercepting.
The Wildcats are still going to feature a 4-3 look for the majority of the time, but Fitzgerald wants to eventually institute the 3-4, and you should see the Wildcats line up in the formation multiple times a game. But overall depth at linebacker is going to limit their ability to play it for long stretches.
Three starters are back in the secondary that was respectable against the pass and should be the same this year, especially if Wootton can create more havoc in the backfield.
Just as the Hoosiers are dealing with the death of a coach, Northwestern is only a year removed from losing Randy Walker right before the start of fall camp in 2006.
Fitzgerald was quickly named Walker's successor and believes that after a full year under his belt, he's better organized and better prepared to lead the Wildcats.
"From an organizational standpoint, you are much more prepared than a year ago," Fitzgerald said. "We're ready to go. Last year, I was figuring out what keys were to my office. Our players are more prepared for my style."
Fitzgerald hopes that style can lead to a few more wins. Reaching four again might be a push
Regular Season Prediction: 4-8 Overall, 2-6 Big Ten
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
2007 Big Ten Conference Predictions
The following is how I see the Big Ten Conference playing out for the 2007 season. Below you will find some tidbits of how I have analyzed each team, along with their strengths and weakness.
Big Ten Conference Predictions: Order Of Finish
1) Michigan 7-1 (11-1)
2) Penn State 6-2 (10-2)
3) Iowa 5-3 (9-3)
4) Ohio State 5-3 (9-3)
5) Purdue 5-3 (9-3)
6) Wisconsin 5-3 (9-3)
7) Illinois 4-4 (7-5)
8) Michigan State 2-6 (5-7)
9) Minnesota 2-6 (5-7)
10) Northwestern 2-6 (6-6)
11) Indiana 1-7 (4-8)
Michigan Wolverines 7-1 (11-1)
Could this finally be the year be the year that Lloyd Carr meets the hefty expectations put on this program? The pressure is certainly mounting, as this team has not won a bowl game since 2002 and has not beaten Ohio State since 2003. Nobody on this veteran ball club has done either, but the schedule favors them this season as they play Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State at home.
The offense should be loaded and should be able to roll up the points against any team with a suspect defense. The defense only returns four starters. However, defensive coordinator Ron English has plenty of talent to work with. Ohio State returned only four starters in 2004, yet became one of the top defenses in the country. Look for this Michigan team to make a similar statement. I feel this team could run the table but must defeat non-conference opponents handily, something that happened regularly during the Bo Schembechler years. This behavior will give them confidence during the latter portion of the season.
Strengths: An offense that is as talented as anyone in the country. A massive offense line led by All-American Jake Long (6'7", 313 lbs). A veteran QB in senior Chad Henne and the best RB in the conference in Mike Hart to go along with a top notch-receiving corps that should allow them to light up the scoreboard. There's no question the talent is there and lady luck is also on their side with a favorable schedule.
Weakness: Not too many as some opponents would be hoping for, but youth of defense will certainly be a concern. Will this young team be able to find chemistry like some of the Michigan teams from the past? That being said, the biggest weakness might be in the special teams department with kicker Garrett Rivas graduating as the all-time leader in field goals made.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Sept. 15 vs. Notre Dame. Michigan is 19-1 when playing non-conference game at the Big House, with their only loss coming in 2005 to Notre Dame. This will be the third straight home game to open the season for Michigan and they will be facing an Irish team that lost most of their playmakers to graduation. Notre Dame has two tough games before that, facing Georgia Tech at home and then traveling to Penn State. I don't think I am out of line saying this Irish team could be 0-2 heading into Ann Arbor.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Nov. 10 at Wisconsin. Michigan should come into this game undefeated facing a Badgers team that already has suffered a couple losses. This will be the last home game for Wisconsin and the crowd will be alive and determined to spoil the Wolverines season. This is definitely worth circling on your calendar.
Final Comment: If this team stays healthy, the defense responds, and the conservative Coach Carr opens up the offense, this squad has a chance to be playing for the National Championship.
Penn State Nittany Lions 6-2 (10-2)
This could be the real sleeper team in the Big Ten and in the country, for that matter. One major publication ranks them as high as No. 10 in the country, while others leave them outside the Top 25 altogether. A tough schedule does concern me, as they have to face Michigan on the road and then travel to Champaign to face a much-improved Illini team. That being said, they do have Notre Dame, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin at Happy Valley.
Strengths: The offense should be in good hands with senior QB Anthony Morelli and the best receiving corps in the Big Ten. Paterno has always been known for fielding a strong defense and this year will be no exception. This team returns all of their receivers and one can expect a dominating spread offense similar to the success they had under Michael Robinson.
Weakness: As I look over this squad the running game is definitely a concern with fifth year senior Austin Scott being their best option. He only made the scout team last year and will need to step up, as Paterno likes to control the clock. Another major concern may be the defensive line, as it was hit hard through graduation. This year's group may be bigger but won't be as athletic.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Sept. 8 vs. Notre Dame. This will be a big revenge game for Penn State as they were crushed last year 41-17. However, as a roadster they were outgained by only 14 yards. The Irish took advantage of a young secondary by completing 25-of-36 attempts for 287 yards. Brady Quinn has moved east to play for the Cleveland Browns and the Irish lived and died on his arm the last couple of years. This will be the second of three tough games to open the season for the Irish as they open against Georgia Tech then travel to Michigan after this affair.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Sept. 29 at Illinois. The Lions will be on the road for the second straight week, traveling west after playing Michigan in the previous week. The Illini have a solid QB in Juice Williams and they outgained the Lions last year 358-184, despite suffering a 26-12 setback. They will be installed as a favorite here, and I would not be surprised if they lost straight up. You heard it hear first!
Final Comment: The team will go as far as its running game will take them and the offensive line must improve. The defense will be outstanding, especially if the d-line rises to the challenge. If they can beat Michigan on Sept. 22, they could be on their way to Pasadena.
Iowa Hawkeyes 5-3 (9-3)
The Hawks started the 2006 season with a bang, going 4-0 before facing No. 1 Ohio State at home. But things quickly went downhill after the Buckeyes crushed them. QB Drew Tate seemed to throw in the towel after that game. He was often injured and tried to win games by himself, something he was able to do regularly in 2004 and 2005. Tate graduated and should be replaced by Jake Christensen. The sophomore has little playing experience but has a good bloodline as his father played in the NFL. The offense should be much improved and will finally feature a running attack, something they have lacked through the Drew Tate era. Their defense is also rock solid as they return eight starters from last season. Lady Luck is also on their side, as the two conference teams they do not have to play are Michigan and Ohio State. How is that possible?
Strengths: There's no question this defense should give opposing teams headaches, as the front four all return. Linebackers are also solid as senior Mike Klinkerborg, a second-team performer in 2006, leads the unit. This squad should win all four of their non-conference games with three of them taking place at the start of the season. Then they must travel to Wisconsin, which will be a big test for both teams and may tell the story of just how good this squad actually is.
Weakness: The core of their departed starters come in the defensive backfield with the graduation of Merrick and Paschal. The offensive line will have to grow up fast as they lost three of five starters from the 2006 squad. The first half of the Big Ten season is brutal as they face Wisconsin and Penn State in two of the first three conference games with both coming on the road.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Sept. 15 at Iowa State. Would have to believe this will be a low number because of the recent success the Cyclones have had in this game. However, the talent gap has widened and I see nothing but a rout by the Hawkeyes.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Sept. 22 at Wisconsin. Coming off a big in-state rival, one has to wonder how this young team will be able to get up two weeks in a row. After a weak non-conference schedule Wisconsin will be able to focus on this first real test. Iowa has won four of the last five, but the only Badgers win came with Bielema on the sidelines. Taking the under here may be the real call.
Final Comment: The Hawks quit last season and one would figure Coach Ferentz is determined to get this team back to its winning ways. If QB Christensen and the offensive line can produce, this team has a chance to win the Big Ten, especially with a favorable schedule. Unfortunately, their two toughest games come in the first three weeks of conference play and by that point we may find the Hawkeyes at the bottom looking up in the Big Ten standings.
Ohio State Buckeyes 5-3 (9-3)
Nobody ever seems to panic in Columbus when the Buckeyes lose heavy due to graduation, as everyone just assumes they will reload. This is the one year that I question that train of thought. Gone is Heisman winner Troy Smith and WR Ted Ginn. If that alone is enough to cause doubt also leaving early for the draft were RB Pittman and WR Gonzalez. The schedule was kind to them to open this season with their toughest tests coming at Purdue and at Washington for the first eight games. Both of these games are winnable, but the last four games are brutal featuring Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan. The defense should play a major part in how far this team will go, as they were a major surprise in the success of the 2006 season.
Strengths: Offensive line should be one of the Buckeyes strengths for 2007. Both left tackle (Alex Boone, 6'8", 325) and right tackle (Kirk Barton, 6'6", 310) return and should be able to clear paths for RB Chris Wells. As we all know, running backs in Columbus start with 1,000 yards per season.
Weakness: Very talented but very young along the defensive line. The Buckeyes lost all three starters up front from 2006. They must also replace the Heisman Trophy winner and that is never easy to do unless you are USC. As of this writing Todd Boeckman appears to be the front-runner.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Nov. 3 vs. Wisconsin. These two teams have not met since 2004 and the young Buckeyes should have ironed out some of their kinks by then. Wisconsin has won the last three games at the Horseshoe and this is something Coach Tressel will make his team aware of. Wisconsin should be coming off two straight home victories and thus the line will be kept low.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Oct. 27 at Penn State. The Nittany Lions will be out for revenge after last year's 28-6 defeat. The game was close early but two late pick-six plays allowed this game to get out of hand. Look for the Penn State defense to put pressure on the youngsters and a field goal line will not be enough for the Buckeyes to keep this one close.
Final Comment: Experts around the country feel this team will once again be vying for a National Title, but this writer cannot see that coming to fruition. They have an easy schedule to open but I think they will trip up at either Minnesota (Sept. 29) or Purdue (Oct. 6). This is a rebuilding year for Buckeyes, as they lost too much talent.
Purdue Boilermakers 5-3 (9-3)
I must admit this team has burned me more than any team in the Big Ten the past few years. Each year it looks like the team will play to their potential, only to see it come apart midway through the season. Trapped again? We will see, as Purdue return one of the top nucleuses along with their complete coaching staff. Five new coaches had to be replaced in 2006 and thus the team struggled with consistency.
The offense has one of the top two quarterbacks in the league with Curtis Painter under center for the second straight year. He goes along nicely with exceptional receivers and two big running backs in Sheets and Taylor. The offensive line is intact and the defense returns nine starters.
Strengths: No question it's the offense under QB Painter that will be able to spread teams out and score at will. The defense should be much better in 2006 and open with three soft opponents allowing them to gain confidence.
Weakness: The kicking game was a big negative in 2006, as freshman Chris Summers missed 12-of-20 field goals. That being said their biggest deficiency may be the schedule itself. After four winnable games to open the season, the next four are Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa. This could spell trouble, but three of those four are at Ross-Aide Stadium. If they can survive that, they will surely not survive a road trip to State College.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Sept. 29 vs. Notre Dame. Big revenge game with the Boilers after getting beat 35-21 last year in a game that was not as close as the score would indicate. Notre Dame is coming off four difficult games to open the season against Georgia Tech, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. This may be too much for them to handle, especially since Tiller is 24-2 in September home games.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Oct. 13 at Michigan. These two teams have not met since 2004 and it is hard to imagine Purdue can get up for three straight games after playing Notre Dame and Ohio State. Expect Michigan to keep rolling up on opponents.
Final Comment: This team will go as far as QB Painter can take them, but like most Purdue teams, the real key lies in the defense. Another mediocre defense means a mediocre season.
Wisconsin Badgers 5-3 (9-3)
The big question in Badger land is whether Coach Bret Bielema can get past the sophomore jinx. The offensive line could be very good to create holes for proven RB P.J. Hill and Paul Chryst continues to show that he is an offensive innovator. The defensive line was hit hard by graduation, but solid linebackers should be able to cover up that deficiency. Can this team repeat its 12-1 season? If nothing else Nov. 3 and Nov. 10 tell me no as they must face Ohio State and Michigan in consecutive weeks.
Strengths: O.C. Paul Chryst may be the real strength of this team. A mastermind at picking apart defenses, this team will run the table during another weak non-conference schedule and this should allow the team to gain confidence. The defense could be better then last year, creating a real problem for opponents.
Weakness: The biggest problem may be at the quarterback position, with veteran Tyler Donovan taking over for John Stocco. His protection will not be as good either, with LT Joe Thomas moving onto the Cleveland Browns. The Big Ten schedule gets a lot tougher as well as they play Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State and they do not play Northwestern or Purdue.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Nov. 10 vs. Michigan. The Badgers have always played the Wolverines tough at Camp Randall. They will be catching Michigan at the right time as they are coming off their in-state rival Michigan State. Michigan should be undefeated and the Badgers will be pumped for their last home game of the season.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Oct. 6 at Illinois. There's a real good chance Wisconsin will be 5-0 going into this road game in Champaign. The Badgers will be the favorite, but the Juice picked them apart last season and should be ready to give them all they can handle yet again.
Final Comment: If the QB play is outstanding and RB Hill stays healthy this team could have another outstanding year. The Big Ten road schedule is brutal, I would be surprised if they do not lose two of their four conference road games. A good season, but certainly not 12-1!
Illinois Fighting Illini 4-4 (7-5)
I said this last year, but I look for this team to be one of the most improved teams in the Big Ten. For Coach Ron Zook it's a must, as he has gone 4-19 the last two years, but his recruits are now starting to come of age. Much of the season will ride on the health of Juice Williams, a standout quarterback who dazzled last year as only a freshman. The RB battle will be between a pair of brothers in Rashard and Walther Mendenhall, with Rashard running for 653 yards last season. But the defense will once again tell the story, as they must improve upon their points allowed. In 2005 they allowed 39.5 points per game and 469 yards per game, but they did trim that to only 26.6 and 310 yards per game in 2006. With nine starters returning, they should be able to get that down to the low twenties. They open the season with a neutral site game in St. Louis against Missouri and this could be a good indication of how their season will go.
Strengths: No question with a year under his belt, the Juice is loose and should give defenses fits with his arm and his legs. With experience back on defense, the front seven should be able to contain teams and avoid giving up the big plays.
Weakness: The receiving corps is the big question with this offense. As we know, successful college teams must be able to beat you with the pass to spread out defenses, but the Illini will need strong play from incoming freshman Arrelious Benn. But after him, the talent is poor and former starters McPherson and Ellis have been kicked off the tams for burglary.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Sept. 15 at Syracuse. A must road win for the Illini, as they will have revenge on their mind after suffering a 10-point setback in Champaign last year. Illini is 9-2 all-time and the Orange have not been the same since letting longtime Coach Paul Pasqualoni go. Syracuse will be coming off a tough road game in Iowa City and the Illini will be coming off Western Illinois.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Nov. 3 at Minnesota. The Gophers have owned this series of late inside the dome, as Illinois has not won in the Twin Cities since 1994. Expect a low scoring game, as they have only reached double digits just once in the last six meetings.
Final Comment: This team will live and die based on the play of QB Williams and it is really important that they win the opener in order to set the tone for a successful season. I look for this team to be bowling.
Re: 2007 Big Ten Conference Preview
Michigan State Spartans 2-6 (3-7)
Gone is John L. Smith and a new era is born with Mark Dantonio, the former Cincinnati head coach who has also worked at Ohio State. While with the Buckeyes, he coached outstanding teams including the 2002 National Champions. That being said, he has some mental blocks to overcome, as past Spartan teams have folded after encouraging starts to the season. A perfect example of this was their game against Notre Dame last season in which they blew a 20-point lead and lost by a field goal. Even the announcers knew this was going to happen, as this program needs discipline, something it has lacked under past regimes. The schedule is brutal with all five road games coming against Top 20 talent, but this team has talent and a hot start could make this a hot ticket to bet all season via the pointspread.
Strengths: The program needed a change and Dantonio is the answer. Their secondary may be as good as anyone in the country and the kicking game is solid with Swenson.
Weakness: This team is talented, but unproven with a thin defensive line. Several players will be back from injury but the quarterback position is shaky with Hoyer taking over the reigns from lifer Drew Stanton.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Sept. 1 vs. UAB. Never like to lay big numbers in openers. However, the Spartans need to set the tone under new leadership. The Blazers also have a new coach and lost heavy to graduation the past few years. Homer gets the call here in a rout back to respectability.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Nov. 10 at Purdue. The Spartans will have likely succumb to a brutal schedule by this point and their three preceding games are Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan, likely all losses. Purdue has won seven of the last eight games played in West Lafayette between these programs.
Final Comment: Dantonio will need a couple of years to get this program back. Look for them to pull a few upsets, but the schedule is too tough for them to go bowling.
Northwestern Wildcats 2-6 (6-6)
The Wildcats won only four games in 2006, yet under the circumstances it might have been a successful season. Coach Randy Walker unexpectedly passed away and former standout player Pat Fitzgerald took over the reigns. This team has big question marks, as they could not stop anybody last season and QB Bachler threw just six touchdown passes last year. The offensive line should be better in 2007 and thus so should Backler's stats.
Strengths: Nothing really stands out, but RB Sutton is the only playmaker this offense has. He went for over 1,000 yards in 2006 and should repeat that in 2007. Their non-conference schedule is easy, as all four games are winnable and they do not play Penn State or Wisconsin.
Weakness: QB is a big concern and there is no guarantee CJ Bacher will be able to hold onto his job. The linebackers will be young and the loss of Roach and Eaton should allow good teams to light it up on them.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Sept. 29 vs. Michigan. A great chance to catch the Wolverines sleeping after they played Notre Dame and Penn State the two previous weeks. This will be the first road game for the Wolverines and as a big favorite the Cats will earn the cover.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Oct. 6 at Michigan State. The Cats will be coming off two Big Ten losses and will be playing a Spartan team desperate for a win.
Final Comment: With a weak non-conference schedule and a couple of winnable conference home games, this team has a good shot at a bowl bid. Home games against Minnesota and Indiana should determine their fate.
Minnesota Golden Gophers 2-6 (5-7)
Yet another team with a coaching change after Glen Mason was abruptly fired after blowing a huge lead in the Insight Bowl last season against Texas Tech. In comes Tim Brewster, who has no head coaching experience prior to taking over the Gophers. In fact, he has not had any coordinator experience as well, but did serve under Mack Brown and Mike Shanahan, so the pedigree is there to be successful. The QB position is up in the air after Bryan Cupito graduated and in fact the coaches' son Clint Brewster may be in the mix. Reports are that Brewster has been well accepted by the Twin Cities and actually has fans excited about attending games at the Metrodome.
Strengths: The Gophers have always been known for a strong running game and with three lineman returning, gifted RB Amir Pinnix should find plenty of holes and improve upon his 1,300 yards last season. The defense returns nine starters and should be able to slow down high-powered offenses.
Weakness: No question it's the quarterback position and whoever gets the call must have a good season in order to take pressure off of Pinnix. The receiving corps was also hit hard by graduation with Payne and Spaeth gone and Decker and Wheelwright must fill their shoes.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Nov 3 vs. Illinois. This is the homecoming game and Illinois is the alma mater of HC Brewster and much of his coaching staff. He will want to make a statement and Minnesota has won six of the last seven meetings between the programs.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Oct. 6 at Illinois. The Hoosiers remember the pounding they took last year against the Gophers, losing 63-26. Minny will be coming off a big game against Ohio State and poised for a letdown.
Final Comment: I see this Gopher team winning just two conference games, but if the quarterback play steps up and Coach Brewster gives this team an attitude that number could improve. Pick your spots against the spread because they will have moments of success.
Indiana Hoosiers 1-7 (4-8)
A sad story for Indiana, as they find themselves in a similar situation as Northwestern did last season. With the passing of Coach Terry Hoeppner, OC Bill Lynch has taken over the program as head coach. Hoeppner was well respected around the country and actually liked being in Indiana and I believe he would have moved this team up the ladder. That being said, Lynch has coaching experience at Ball State and they return Kellen Lewis, who led the team in rushing and passing last season.
Strengths: The offensive line returns four starters and this should give time for Lewis to throw and also create holes for RB Marcus Thigpen. The D-line returns three of their front four. However, they were ranked 102nd in the country against the run and 109th overall, so they need to show some veteran improvement.
Weakness: Defense, Defense, Defense. This unit was terrible last season and could not stop big plays from occurring. The secondary lacks Big Ten talent and will continue to be a problem for the 2007 squad.
Favorable Game Against the Line: Oct. 6 vs. Minnesota. Big revenge game as they were pounded 63-26 in the Twin Cities in 2006. Gophers will be coming off a big game with the Buckeyes and will suffer a straight-up loss in this spot.
Non-Favorable Game Against the Line: Sept. 8 at Western Michigan. Revenge for Western Michigan and a rare road game for a Big Ten teams against a MAC squad. The Broncos lost by 19 points last season but did go bowling and should knockout the heavyweight conference team at Waldo Stadium.
Final Comment: With 16 starters back one would think things would have to improve but that will not be the case. The defense lacks talent and the offense lacks any depth. It's possible they could win all four non-conference games, but it will be hard to muster anything during conference play. They do not play Michigan or Ohio State though, so they do have that going for them.