I had some free time, so I decided to put together my Big Ten Spring Preview. There are many questions heading into this Big Ten season. Can OSU win a Title? Can Wisconsin finally put together a run to make a BCS Game? Can Penn St overcome all the offseason problems? Can Illinois repeat the magic of last year? How will Rich Rod do at Michigan? And most importantly will the Big Ten be able to overcome a dissapointing seeason? The Answer: They can with 5 teams that have a shot to be top 25 teams, and that doesn't include Michigan who will rebuild this year.
1. Ohio St-Ohio St will not only contend for a Big Ten Title, but they should contend for a National Title. They return 20 starters from a team that made the Title Game last year. They have an experienced defense, a good quarterback, good receivers, and a Heisman Favorite running back in Chris "Beanie" Wells. The biggest loss is defensive end Vernon Gholstein, but he should be replaced by Lawrence Wilson, who many though would be the one to explode last year. When your biggest concern is replacing a fullback, you should be a good team, and OSU will be a good team, but unlike last year they'll have a tough schedule. They play at USC, at Wisconsin, at Illinois, and get Penn St at home. They also have their yearly meeting from the men from up north the Michigan Wolverines, expect the Michigan game to be a blowout and expect many OSU games to be blowouts. They could though fall victim to one of those Big Ten teams, especially Wisconsin and Illinois.
2. Wisconsin-Last year, was somewhat of a disappointment for Wisconsin as they finished the yea at 9-4. Years ago, they would've held a parade for a season like that, but not anymore. That's how far Barry Alvarez has taken Wisconsin. The Badgers on offense will be lead by their All American tight end Travis Beckum and their great set of running backs. The best of the bunch is PJ Hill who was bit by injuries last year, but was still able to rush for over 1200 yards, including a 132 yard performance against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl on only 16 carries. The offensive line should be good as always, but watch out for 5 star freshman Josh Oglesby to get some playing time. The key for Wisconsin will be to find a good quarterback, and so far Allan Evridge has looked like a guy that could step in and produce right away. The key for Wisconsin too make a Big Ten Title run is for the defense to return to their 2006 form. Last year the defense was hurt by injuries, but had a bad habit of giving up big plays. Despite the defense finished 22 in the country in total defense, they still gave up over 20 points a game. The key games for Wisconsin are at Fresno State in non conference, and three home games against Ohio St, Penn St and Illinois. This could be a special season in Madison.
3. Penn St-What a bad offseason for JoePa and PSU in Happy Valley. Many of their players got into trouble and they had to kick off a fair amount of them, well at least they can get down to football. Penn St should be led by a very good defense led by All American candidate Maurice Evans and safety Anthony Scirrotto. The big loss was the loss of Sean Lee to injury this fall, but the good news for PSU was that Lee was a linebacker and Penn St has great depth at linebacker. The offense will have to play well if PSU wants to keep up with Wisconsin and Ohio State. The quarterback Darryl Clark was impressive and made impact plays from the quarterback position that Penn St has been lacking since Michael Robinson was at quarterback. The running game will see to be good once again with a good offensive line and a solid running back in Evan Royster returning and the emergence of big play threat Stephen Green. The receivers will be a strong point for PSU with the return of Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood. The schedule this year is not as favorable as last year's with a home game against Oregon State, and road trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin. They also play Illinois at home.
4. Illinois-What a great year for the Ilini! They were able to beat #1 Ohio State in Columbus, go to the Rose Bowl and win 6 games in the Big Ten. This year though expect Illinois to take a step back with their best players on both sides of the ball last year leaving in Rashard Mendenhall and J Lemen. They return Juice Williams on offense, and if Illinois wants to stay competitive Juice will need to be able to have a very good year. He get's some help from the outside in the form of sophmore Arrelious "Rejus" Benn. The key is to find a good replacement for Mendenhall in the backfield and that'll be very difficult. They'll be turning to Daniel Dufrene to be their new running back. Expect the defense to take a step back as well, with the loss of J Lemen, who was their leader, captain and best player. The defense still has some good players led by Vontae Davis, but don't expect the same Illini defense. The schedule will be harder with trips to Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan. They also have a home game against OSU who will be wanting revenge.
5. Michigan St-The Spartans should be the best team in the state of Michigan this year. They return one of the best running backs in the Big Ten and have a solid quarterback along with a solid defense returning. Javon Ringer is the headliner on the offense after rushing for 1400+ yards last year. They also return Brett Hoyer who last year threw for 20 touchdowns. The big loss is the loss of Devin Thomas considered the top reciever prospect in the upcoming draft. Expect Mark Dell to become their new go to guy after having a solid freshman year. The defense last year was one of the best in the country in getting sacks, expect a similar attacking defense with Mark Dantonio still as coach, though losing the "Sack Master" in Jonal St.-Dic will hurt. This could be the breakout year for Michigan St. with returning a solid offense and a solid defense, Michigan State could win 9 or 10 games this year. The schedule is tough early with a road trip to Cal, and they do have Wisconsin and Ohio St coming to East Lansing, but they do have to play PSU on the road.
6. Michigan-What! Michigan not picked in the top 2, there not even in the top 5. How dumb could I be? Well, this is going to be a rough year for Michigan. They lose nearly everybody from a very good offense, and it appears that a Walk On, yes you read right a Walk On that didn't get any offers from any D1 schools will be the starting quarterback . The Wolverines have a nice amount of running backs led by Carlos Brown. They pretty much lose everybody from their recieving corps and their offensive line so it could be tough protecting the quarterback. Defensively, Michigan shouldn't be as good because of the lose of their Defensive Coordinator Ron English and they weren't very good to begin with. So this will be a tough year for Michigan, they should still make a bowl game, but they could lose in Week 1 to a pretty good Utah team. Though I think they'll make a bowl, don't be shocked if their sitting at home in December.
7. Purdue-The last year for Joe Tiller, it would be great if he could ride off into the sunset with a Big Ten Title. but don't expect it with a good returning quarterback and not much else. They return a very good quarterback in Curtis Painter and they do return a solid running back in Korey Sheets, but they lose their top two recievers in Dorien Bryant and Dustin Keller. So Joe Tiller will have to find two good recievers and judging by his recent success, I'm guessing he will. On to the defense. The defense shouldn't be great, but it should be above average, but in reality I think Purdue will be needing to put 30 points a game if the want to win a lot of games. In non-conference the Boilermakers play Oregon and in conference they have a tough trip to Ohio St, along with a game at MSU. They also have two tough home games against Penn State and Michigan, along with their annual game vs Notre Dame. I expect Purdue to go bowling seeing as how it's Tiller's last year.
8. Indiana-Last year the Hoosiers won for Coach Hep, and their goal was to play 13 games. They were able to do that, sadly they weren't able to beat Oklahoma St. The Hoosiers offense will rest squarely on the shoulders of Kellen Lewis with the loss of James Hardy to the NFL. The question for Lewis is will he play, considering he was suspended this Spring. If not expect Andrew Means to be the starting quarterback. The Hoosiers do return one of the fastest players in the Big Ten in Marcus Thigpen, and he'll be expected to take a much larger load with the loss of Hardy and the possible loss of Lewis. On defense they aren't expected to lead the league in defense after allowing 26 points a game last year. Can Indiana go to a bowl again? Of course. The key is will Lewis be back and if he is, Indiana could be looking at 7 wins again and be going to a 2nd straight bowl game in a long time. The key is to win the games they are supposed to.
9. Iowa-Oh, how far the mighty have fallen. A few years ago Iowa was a contendor in the Big Ten, now there one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. Is Kirk Ferentz job in jeopardy? No, but there could be some unrest in Iowa City if he doesn't produce this year. The key for Iowa is to score, their defense was good last year and it should be good this year, but if the Hawkeyes can't score they won't be able to win this year. The key if to find an effective quarterback. Jake Christensen had a solid first year as a starter, but he was erractic completing only 53% of his passes. He's being pushed this spring Ricky Stanzi and Marvin McNutt. Next key is to find a good running back after losing Albert Young who was the only real threat last year on offense. They also lose his backup in Damien Sims, behind those two Iowa has 22 carries returning. At reciever Iowa returns Darrell Johnson-Koulianos who last year led them in receiving as a freshman, their 2nd leading receiver last year was also a freshman in James Cleveland, so the Hawkeyes also have an inexperienced group of receivers. The Hawkeyes don't have a challanging non-conference schedule, and they have some winnable games in the Big Ten, we'll see if Kirk Ferentz rebuild Iowa back into what it was a few years ago.
10. Northwestern-Last year Pat Fitzgerald had a very good 2nd season leading the Wildcats to a 6 win season. The offense will be lead by quarterback C.J. Bacher who looked great at times, but looked awful as well. The running game should be good as well if Tyrell Sutton can stay healthy, we all saw how good he was when he was a Freshman when he is able to get carries. The Wildcats return their top reciever in Eric Peterman, but offense isn't Northwestern's problems it's defense. Last year the defense gave up over 30 points a game, and it'll be interesting if they can improve at all. If they can Northwestern could possibly win 6 games again. They got some bad luck with many of the top teams traveling to Evanston and the Wildcats having to play the lower teams on the road, so it'll be harder then last year for sure.
11. Minnesota-The one good thing about being last, is that there's nowhere to go, but up. The Gophers return a quarterback in Adam Weber who has special player written all over him and we saw at times how good he can be. The problem is the Gophers won't really have much of a running game and they will have to throw the ball a lot. The guy making the catches will be Eric Decker who had a solid Junior year. The defense was terrible last year, a joke to be realistic. The good news is that they bring in a lot of good highly thought of JUCO recruits, that will contribute right away. Minnesota will be better then next year, they return a solid group of players and they have some games they can win. How much better we really don't know.