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Big Ten Outlook
Big Ten Outlook
Big Ten Outlook
By Judd Hall
Ever since the Buckeyes got whipped by the Gators two years ago, experts have decried the Big Ten as a lower tier league in college football.
Last year’s results didn’t do much for fans of the conference. Michigan lost to the FCS champs, Appalachian State, to open the year. Minnesota was outgunned by Florida Atlantic. And somewhere in all of that was Ohio State making another trip to the BCS Title Game in spite of a late season home loss to the Fighting Illini.
That tarnish was still ever present amongst the Big Ten in the postseason with a 3-8 mark in Bowl Games, including the second straight butt kicking at the hands of an SEC club for the national championship.
So with a new season enters new hope for a better finish. Let’s break down the league from top to bottom.
The Top Four…
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Ohio State remains the class of the Big Ten. The Bucks could have been decimated by players leaving early for the NFL. Instead, they return 21 starters for another run at a title in 2008. The offense is spearheaded by the successes of Todd Boeckman under center and Chris “Beanie” Wells right behind him in the backfield. This duo was able to rack up 40 touchdowns between themselves alone when their offense was averaging 32.7 PPG.
The Buckeyes’ defense will once again be a force to be reckoned with as James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins roam the field. As good as they have been at stopping the run (82.8 YPG rushing); they haven’t fared well against teams with a lot of speed on offense. Giving up a combined 412 yards on the ground to the Illini and LSU in their two losses is not going to get it done.
It’s not often you see a team lose its starting quarterback and still expect to better than the year before. Yet that is exactly what Penn State has designs on this year. Daryll Clark will be calling the plays on the field this season in place of the recently departed (and woefully overrated) Anthony Morelli. Clark is a dual threat just like Michael Robinson back in 2005. He’ll even have a veteran crew of receivers to target to extend the offense with Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood.
The Nittany Lions won’t be slouches on the defensive side of the ball either. They return nine players to defend the end zone this year. And while Joe Paterno will miss Sean Lee to anchor the linebacking corp, he still has Tyrell Sales to lead the group.
Wisconsin continues to be a trendy pick in the some circles by returning 18 starters from a 9-4 team that came close to losing against programs like The Citadel and UNLV. There could be some validity to the opinions as nine players come back to Madison from an offense that averaged 29.5 PPG last year. The Badgers will benefit from adding a new dimension to the offense with Allan Evridge bringing his speed to run a proper option attack from a short stint with Kansas State. And a healthy PJ Hill at running back can only help matters.
The Badgers can also assume they’ll be better on defense in 2008. Although, you can’ t help but improve when your surrendering over 356 total YPG. The linebacking corp and three of four d-linemen are back from another round this season. Of all the spots of concern, the secondary must do the most to get better after giving up 222.5 YPG through the air.
You rarely see a program so rich in tradition make what essentially is a paradigm shift in how they run their team. Yet that is exactly what Michigan did with the hiring of Rich Rodriguez from the Mountaineers. To be fair, the growing pains are going to come right out of the gates with just three starters coming back on offense to run his spread attack.
Defensively, the Wolverines will be able to keep competitive with seven returning starters…particularly on the d-line where Tim Jamison, Terrance Taylor, Will Johnson and Brandon Graham will surely improve on the 156.8 YPG they allowed on the ground in 2007.
Middle of the Pack…
Mark Dantonio raised a few eyebrows in his opening season as the Michigan State head coach. The Spartans had the highest scoring offense in the Big Ten, getting 34.1 PPG. Those numbers were thanks to a solid performance out of quarterback Brian Hoyer (59.3 complete, 20 TD, 11 INT). MSU will be better this season on defense, especially against the pass. They allowed 230.9 YPG through the air in 2006, which shrunk to 217.3 in ’07. More importantly they were able to go from 32 TDs and eight picks two years ago to 19 TDs to 12 INTs.
Times are tough in Iowa these days. Gone are the top shelf talents of Drew Tate and Robert Gallery that let Kirk Ferentz become a hot NFL commodity. They’ve been replaced by Jake Christiansen and Seth Olsen. Christiansen has shown promise, but the players around him aren’t quite up to the same level. The tale of the Hawkeyes’ season will be how the linebackers mesh into the rest of the defense. I’m betting they won’t blend in well.
Juice Williams is back for Ron Zook, but this Illinois side will be in for a bit of rebuilding this season. Gone is Rashard Mendenhall and his 1,600+ yards. And you’ve got to expect a drop off of talent in the linebacking corp with J Lehman and Antonio Steele. A bowl game is in the cards, but not another run at the league title.
Good things could be on the horizon in Evanston for the Wildcats this season. Pat Fitzgerald fields a defense that returns eight starters that wasn’t as bad as the situation in 2007. And he has a defensive coordinator in Mike Hankiwitz that knows how to mold a unit successfully. Combine that with the a fifth-year senior coming back to play under center (C.J. Bacher) and all three of his receivers, and you have a Northwestern squad that could win at least seven games.
Maybe Next Year…
The Boilermakers were going to run the ball more to offset the spread attack they use. Yet you’d be hard pressed to see if it worked (132.1 YPG, 23 TD in 2006: 136.1 YPG, 22 TD in 2007). And Purdue only has six starters back on offense and defense. It’d be nice to see Joe Tiller go out on a winning note, but that just isn’t in the cards.
I thought Minnesota would be good last year…boy was I wrong. The defense was awful and the offense was worse. It won’t be nearly as bad as the 1-11 mark of a year ago, but bowl eligibility is a long shot in Tim Brewster’s sophomore effort.
Indiana was undoubtedly the feel good story of the 2007 season by making it to a bowl game for the first time since 1993. Unfortunately for Bill Lynch, he’ll be without all-world wide receiver James Hardy and two new cornerbacks mean a fall to the bottom of the Big Ten seems imminent for now.
Re: Big Ten Outlook
I gotta disagree with this one, he should went with the top 3 instead of the top 4. I love Michigan but with the new offense, all the players they have lost and some of the off-field problems that are ongoing I don't think Michigan will even pull a winning record this season.
Good thing tailgating is usually more fun than the game anyway.
Re: Big Ten Outlook
Sean Higgs Big 10 Conference Preview
By: Sean Higgs Date: Jul 26, 2008
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Big 10 Preview
1 Ohio State -----The Buckeyes were a young team last year and now have lost 2 straight National Championships. This year, with 19 starters back from last year squad, Ohio State should get over that last hurdle. Beanie Wells is my #1 rated RB in the nation and is running behind a great offensive line. Senior leadership in QB Todd Boeckman will lead this offensive unit. The defense led by senior ILB James Laurinaitis and CB Malcolm Jenkins will be nothing short of stingy. A tough September road trip to USC on Sept. 13 will look to see who has the early inside track to the National Championship Game in Miami.
2 Wisconsin --- HC Bret Bielema get both OSU and PSU at home and they will be their biggest challenge. Badgers have won 3 of the last 5 vs Buckeyes, but it will be asking a lot of Wiscy this year to knock out a tough conference foe at home. Badgers led by RB PJ Hill who if healthy will team with soph Zach Brown to pound the ball the Wiscy way. Nine returning starters on defense make it a strong unit.
3 Penn State --- Nittany Lions will look to open it up with a spread set, but with road games at both OSU and Wiscy, this team will now where it stands mid-October. Penn State is still loaded and should get to the 10 win mark.
4 Iowa ---- Hawkeyes miss Ohio State so that saves them a loss. Strong defense led by Mitch King and Matt Kroul will lead this team to a winning record.
5 Michigan ---- New HC Rich Rodriguez brings new schemes to both sides of the ball, while losing to the NFL, his starting QB.RB,WR, and OT to name a few. Won't take too long to get the Wolverines back on track. The defensive brings back 7 starters so they should be able to stay in games.
6 Illinois --- I am a big Ron Zook fan. A good D led by Will Davis, the Illini will be a tough foe. The offense will continue to grow with Juice Williams leading the attack. The big loss is at RB and with road games at Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin, will they have enough toughness to pound the ball and use the clock in games they won last year?
7 Michigan State --- Year 2 with HC Mark D'Antonio begins and the offensive led by QB Brian Hoyer and RB Javon Ringer will put up numbers. They lost some talent in the receiving department, but the defense will be the key. Spartans may be a surprise upstart team this season. I look for them to get to their second straight bowl.
8 Purdue --- Boilermakers bring the offense with QB Curtis Painter. Painter will shatter all Purdue passing records. RBs Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor will provide some balance. The defense will still be a problem and must improve. It is HC Joe Tiller's last season, so expect high emotion with every game.
9 Northwestern ---- Northwestern brings back QB CJ Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton to lead their attack. Look for lots of crooked numbers by the Wildcats. Defense will be very leaky and their will be a few shootouts but I think they may climb into a bowl. 10 Indiana --- Hoosiers have a serious QB problem with Kellen Lewis suspended. I do not see them getting to .500 this season.
11 Minnesota --- Golden Gophers went 1-11 last year. They can only get better. Year 2 can only be better for HC Tim Brewster. They should be pumped and bitter against everyone they play this year.
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