Monday, August 18, 2008

College Football 2008 Conference Preview: Big Ten

The Big Ten looks to rebound after a few down seasons.

Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Ohio St.
The Buckeyes are eager to finally win a nation title. 18 starters return in all and they may be the most experienced top team in the nation. They return 9 starters from a defense that was one of the best. A boatload of talent returns on the offensive side with QB Todd Boeckman, RB Chris (Beanie) Wells, WRs Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, and a loaded offensive line. The defense should be stellar as LB James Laurinaitis and CB Malcolm Jenkins return. The defensive line should be quick and deep with 5 veterans back. Look for the secondary to be solid again with all 4 starters back there.

2. Wisconsin
Experience is plenty at most units for the Badgers. The offense should be solid with many weapons all over the field. They do need to break-in a new QB for the second consecutive season. Kansas St. transfer Allan Evridge looks to be the starter there. The ground game should be solid, PJ Hill should continue to be one of the best backs in the country as long as he stays healthy; He's rushed for 2,805 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first two seasons. The receiving corps is lead by TE Travis Beckum as he looks to be the top in the nation. Kyle Jefferson was a capable WR last season as a frosh. The offensive line should only make things better with 3 starters and plenty of size back there. The defense returns 8 starters lead by DE Matt Shaughnessy and LBs Luis Casillas and DeAndre Levy. The secondary will need to find some depth and athletes after losing CB Jack Ikegwuonu to the draft.Wisconsin

3. Illinois
Ron Zook continues to bring in some good recruiting classes. The Illini do lose quite a bit of starters. They still have plenty of talent and some experience back that got trounced in the Rose Bowl by USC. QB Juice Williams returns and he was a big reason as to why they made the Rose Bowl. Losing RB Rashard Mendenhall was a big blow, but they still have some depth there. The WRs will be young but Arrelious Benn is one of the best young wide outs in the nation. There's plenty of talent and depth on the D-line, starting with All-Big Ten End Will Davis. The LB corps will be young as well as they look to freshman to help with depth. Martez Wilson should lead the group with his experience. Vontae Davis should be a top DB.

4. Penn St.
A lot of people are writing off the Nittany Lions this season but some forget they have plenty of talent returning and 9 defensive starters back. They do lose QB Anthony Morrelli but senior Daryll Clark, who is compared to Michael Robinson, looks to take over. Evan Royster should be the starting RB after an impressive Alamo Bowl. The WRs should be some of the best in the nation with Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood. All 5 starters return on the O-Line, so that's a plus. The defense should be very improved. The defensive line is outstanding, esp. at end with Josh Gaines and Maurice Evans. The LB crew is short on experience. 4 starters are back in the secondary as hard-hitting A.J. Wallace returns.

5. Purdue
The Boilermakers have some bright spots, but also some dark spots as well. QB Curtis Painter is the best QB in the Big Ten. Jaycen Taylor and Kory Sheets are a nice RB combo. Greg Orton is the only starting WR back, so they have some question marks there. They need to adjust to some new starting O-Linemen. The D-Line will be very good with 4 solid tackles and some quick ends. Looks for the front to be one of the deepest and best in the nation. The LB unit is young with not many standouts there but look for the young defensive backfield to make some strides as the season goes on.

6. Michigan St.
QB Brian Hoyer is back after an honorable mention All-Big Ten conference season. The running game looks solid as Javon Ringer is back and is arguably the best RB in the nation. The Spartans have 2 capable pass catchers in Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham to go along with 3 starting linemen. The defensive line should be steady as Cincy transfer Trevor Anderson steps in. Greg Jones was moved to MLB this spring and should bring some speed to the middle. There's a lot of potential at the safety spot; the CBs will solid all-around with 5 capable starters battling for the two spots. Look for the MSU Defense to have some swagger this season.

7. Michigan
2008 should be a rebuilding year for the Wolverines as new head coach Rich Rodriguez looks to implement his spread offense. QB could be a problem as 4 year starter Chad Henne graduated and freshman Ryan Mallett transfered to Arkansas. Frosh Steve Threet looks to have the nod over soph. Nick Sheridan. There's still plenty of talent at RB even though Mike Hart is gone. Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are both capable backs. The WR department was hit hard as well with early departures but there's still some capable talent there. The O-Line loses 3 starters. Look for the defensive to be better than the offense. The D-Line has all 4 starters back but are switching to a 3 man front. The LB unit will miss Shawn Crable dearly and are looking for some young talent to step up. Look for the secondary to be average at best but they are experienced, Brandon Harrison looks to lead that unit.

8. Iowa
Iowa has been in a traumatic downfall the past few seasons. QB Jake Christianson is back but still hasn't lived up to any of the hype. RB is a major concern after losing two solid backs. They only have one primary back on scholarship right now in Nate Guillory. The WR unit is up in the air. The offensive line could be the lone bright spot on offense as they return plenty of experience and depth, lead by 3 year starter Seth Olsen. The D-Line has some up and coming talent and is headed by All Big-Ten DT Mitch King. There are some causes for concern at LB with no proven play makers there. The secondary has 3 part-time starters back and one full-time starter in Harold Dalton.

9. Northwestern
QB CJ Bacher needs to be more consistent if Northwestern wants to make it to a bowl game this season. RB Tyrell Sutton is a two-time 1,000 yard rusher and looks to be one of the best in the nation. 5 of the top 6 pass-catchers are back, which should only help with Bacher. The O-Line will need to be rebuilt with 3 starters and some key back-ups gone. 4 capable D-Linemen are back but underperformed last season. They have a nice stable of LBs to help compliment the experienced front. They have a big battle in the secondary as 3 players will be competing for the free safety job and 4 will be vying for one of the CB spots.

10. Indiana
Kellen Lewis returns at QB and is one of the best in the Big Ten. Marcus Thigpen has a lot of potential with his 4.3 speed at RB. WR should be steady with 3 capable players ready to fill in. 3 starters are back on the line, which could be a problem but the last two recruiting classes has helped generate some depth and could push a few of the starters. Greg Middleton lead the nation with 16 sacks last season and should only help an already talented line. 2 of 3 starters return at LB and both safeties return, but there are some major concerns at the corner spots.

11. Minnesota
Tim Brewster continues to show he is a great recruiter as he developed a top 25 recruiting class this season. But can he transition that talent into success on the field? Only time will tell... QB Adam Weber (did I ever tell you I played against him in baseball when I was 15, yes it is true.) Anyways, he set school records in passing yards, TD passes, completions, and total offense behind a suspect line. The RB position is extremely thin. Jay Thomas and Duane Bennett are the lone returning backs but Thomas is coming off his 2nd ACL surgery and Bennett struggled at times last season. The WR unit is all but stellar, Eric Decker is the only notable WR back. The D-Line struggled severely last season with no push or pressure. LB looks like a liability with some unknowns and Deon Hightower was injured in the spring. There could be 4 new starters in the secondary after some inconsistent play in 2007 and the loss of Dominique Barber.

Offensive Player of the Year:
Curtis Painter, QB- Purdue

Defensive Player of the Year:
James Laurinaitis, LB- Ohio St.

Freshman of the Year:
Terrelle Pryor, QB- Ohio St.

Coach of the Year:
Mark Dantonio- Michigan St.

Top 3 Games:
Ohio St. at Wisconsin- Oct. 4

Illinois at Wisconsin- Oct. 25

Ohio St. at Illinois- Nov. 15

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