Offense: For the last couple years when you have talked about Ohio State you have thought defense and ball control offense well this year things are about to change. The three headed attack of Smith (2,284 passing yards and 16 TD's) and Ginn (51 rec 803 rec yards) and Pittman (1,331 rushing yards 7 TD's) should give the Buckeyes one of the most powerful and exciting offenses Big Ten if not the country. They also return three offensive lineman two senior's and a junior which should give them the experience it takes to consistently run the ball when it is cold towards the end of the year when the conference title could be on the line.
Defense: In years past Ohio State has been very strong on defense and very stingy when it comes to giving up points.(Last year only 15.3 points per game) This years unit only returns two starters and is looking to rebuild on the Ohio State tradition. The losses of three starters to the NFL A.J Hawk , Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel are big shoes for any team to replace but with a strong pair of defensive tackles coming back (David Patterson and Quinn Pitcock) and a strong recruiting class should give the Buckeyes just enough to get there there powerful offense on the field and fight for the Big Ten title.
Who to keep your eye on – The two Heisman Trophy Candidates QB Troy Smith and WR/KR Ted Ginn Jr these two are explosive and can take over games by themselves.
Offense: Michigan didn't have trouble scoring points last year averaging 28.8 points per game and scoring 20 or more 11 of there 12 games. As long as QB Chad Henne (2,526 yards and 23 TD's) and RB Mike Hart (662 rushing yards and 4TD's) stay healthy (they have had some trouble with this in the past), Michigan's offense should be dynamic. Michigan has always been a run first team and for Michigan to get back to elite level of the Big Ten they will need to improve on there running game (45th in the nation). With six returning offensive players and some big playmakers Michigan has all the offensive tools to bounce back into the Big Ten title.
Defense: Michigan's defense had troubles last year getting off the field at times which is very un-Michigan-like. They gave up 20.3 points per game and in there big games they gave up a bundle (IE – Nebraska 32 pts, Iowa 23 pts, Michigan St 31 pts and Ohio St 25 pts) for Michigan to improve this year on a disappointing season this will have to improve, the good thing is that they have six returning players lead by senior DE LaMarr Woodley who lead the squad with 16 tackles for loss. I look for Michigan's defense to be greatly improved there is just to much talent on this side of the ball for this to continue.
Who to keep you eye on – Although he had a disappointing JR season WR Steve Breaston has all the talent in the world to be Michigan next great WR. I look for him to have a breakout season and improve last years performance.
Offense: The Iowa Hawkeye's have the best coach in the Big Ten in Kirk Ferentz which means they always have a chance. There is always a couple things you know with Kirk Ferentz team they always play hard and they always be well coached. Having said that neither Kirk Ferentz or senior QB Drew Tate lead the Hawkeyes to a 2005 Big Ten title as many expected. This wasn't because of lack of offense the Hawkeye's averaged 30pts per game and 432 total offense per game. With seven returning starters on the offensive side of the ball and All – American QB Drew Tate (2,828 yards and 28 TD's) and RB Albert Young (rushing 1,334 yards and 8 TD 's) things look very promising Hawkeye's this year.
Defense: The Hawkeye's pride themselves on defense and this year will be NO different. Last years group was ranked 22nd overall in scoring defense and only gave up on average 20.0 pts per game. This group held Wisconsin to only 19 yards rushing in one game (One of the nations best rushing offenses). The loss of Abdul Hodge and Mike Greenway will leave a considerable void but the tank is hardly empty and with seven returning starters I expect for them to be one of the Big Ten's best units. This group will keep the Hawkeye's in nearly every game this year and could take them to another Big Ten title.
Who to keep you eye on – Big # 87 Senior TE Scott Chandler he has been Drew Tate favorite target the past couple years. He had 47 rec 552 yards last year and he looks to have a even bigger year as the NFL scouts will be watching as one of the nations best TE's.
Offense: First things first… Bret Bielema has some big shoes to fill taking over Barry Alverez, three Rose Bowl's wins numerous bowl appearances those are not small shoes he will be stepping into. The good things is the tank is not empty with QB John Stocco (2,920 yards and 21 TD's) and BIG # 72 (that LT Joe Thomas) leading the way the offense . Wisconsin always has a good group of lineman and a group of running backs although this year they will be young I expect there should be some talent there as there always has been in the past. (Wisconsin recruits it's self in these two areas) The problem area for Wisconsin could be at the WR position as they have lost there top two WR's and TE from last year and this year group is young and unproven. I look for Wisconsin to open it up a little more this year but don't be mistaken they will still be 3 yards and a cloud of dust offense.
Defense: With everyone healthy, this unit could be the best in the Big Ten. Before you say hold up remember this unit in last year's bowl game limited Auburn to 236 total yards and 10 points which were both well below there season totals.With seven returning starters and very strong defensive line that like to put pressure on the quarterback the sky is the limit for this defense. This side of the ball will decide how far the Badgers go this season. With a more then friendly schedule which includes non-conference opponents like Bowling Green, Western Illinois, and San Diego State this sets up nice for the Badgers to make another run at the Big Ten title.
Who to keep you eye on – The BIG BOY # 72 LT Joe Thomas this could be the first pick in next April's NFL draft. This guy is man among boys when it come to offensive lineman. Get you pancake counter ready this year because there is going to be a lot of them.
Offense: With All – American candidate QB Drew Stanton and quality skill position people around him the Spartan offense could be dangerous again. This offense goes as Drew Stanton goes, he played well last year at the beginning of the season winning there first four games (knocking off arch rival Notre Dame 44-41) and making himself a heisman trophy candidate only to drop the next three in which he looked terrible. The biggest question this year is which QB are we going to see. He has the set of veteran and proven WR (Matt Trannon and Jerramy Scott) around him a veteran offensive line to work with. There should be NO excuses for this offense not to score points this season. They are skilled as anyone in the conference, confidence seems to be there biggest enemy.
Defense: The defensive line won't be the weakness it was last year, but it's not yet a strength. The linebackers (David Herron, Kaleb Thornhill and SirDarean Adams) will be the strong suit for the Spartans this year. The question is can the defensive line step up and make plays or will they pushed around like they were last year with only one returning starter on defensive line this could be a trouble spot.. With six returning starters on defense the Spartans hope to improve on last years defense that ranked 77th in scoring and 87th in total defense.
Who to keep you eye on – LB David Herron this guy is a monster in the middle he lead the Spartans defense last year with 65 tackles and 38 being solo. Look for him to anchor a good set of Spartan linebackers. He could be the difference the Spartans are looking for on the defensive side of the ball.
THE BEST OF THE REST
PURDUE – The Boilermakers return seven starters on offense and four starters on defense and look to improve on there 5-6 record from 2005. The big question Boilermakers have is weather QB Curtis Painter can step his play up and become the next Drew Brees, Kyle Horton type QB that fits into Joe Tiller system, if so the offense could be very dangerous with likes of WR Dorient Bryant (80 rec and 960 Yards and 4TD's). Calling the Boilermakers defense last season a nightmare is not a stretch, as the veteran group went right in the tank allowing 28.1 pts per game and over 430 yards of total offense (Rank 100th in total defense). There "D" or lack there of needs to improve for the Boilermakers to compete with the elite teams in the Big Ten.
PENN STATE – Coming off one of there best years quite some time (11-1 record and Orange Bowl victory over Florida State 26-23) The Nittany Lions try to retool a team that only returns 4 starters on both sides of the ball. Things will change on offense a little this year with a new starting QB, (Anthony Morelli) (gone is the versatile Michael Robinson) but he will have some weapons at his disposal (RB Tony Hunt 1,047 yards and 6 TD's) and (WR Deon Butler 37 rec and 691 yards and 9 TD's) the big question will be how fast can Anthony progress in his first year as starting QB. On defense they don't call this school Linebacker U for nothing, they are loaded with a veteran group linebackers (Paul Posluszny, Tim Shaw and Dan Connor) that lead this talented defense. The Nittany Lions ranked 12th in total defense and 10th in scoring defense last year, they will be hard pressed to match these totals this year but still look to be very strong in this area again this year.
NORTHWESTERN – The one thing that you know about the Wildcats is that they are going to score points and that there going to throw the ball around the field. They had nations 4th ranked offense last year averaging 500. 3 yards per game and averaged 32.3 points per game. They return six starters on offense led by (RB Tyrell Sutton 1,474 yards and 16 TD's and WR Shaun Herbert 79 rec 862 yards and 6 TD's). The only question on this side of the ball can So. QB C.J Bacher step in for the Big Ten Co-offensive player of the year (Brett Basanez) and take over were he left off. I imagine there will be a fall off but I still expect this offense to be very productive as it has always been. As many points as the offense scored last year the Wildcat defense gave up more (33.9 pts per game ranked 106th in scoring "D" and 117th in total "D") They hope to turn this around five returning starters and a switch to 3-4 scheme to help to take the pressure off a young line. Lets face it though if the Wildcats are going to do anything this season they are going to have out score people.
INDIANA – The Hoosiers were nearly outscored by ten points per games last year (ranking 81st in scoring offense and 75th in total offense) They hope to improve on this with the throw and catch tandem of (JR QB Blake Powers 2,305 and 22 TD's and So WR James Hardy 61 rec 893 yards and 10 TD's) The big question mark for the Hoosiers is whether a young , inexperienced offensive line will be able to give Powers enough time to find his receivers down the field, if so the Hoosiers could be a tough foe for Big Ten teams. The word defense didn't apply to the Hoosiers last year giving up 32.8 pts per game (104th overall) and 417.7 yards a game which was (93rd overall) The Hoosiers gave up 38 or more points seven out of the last eight games. This has been the biggest reason the Hoosiers haven't played in a bowl game since 1993. For this to improve they will have rely on a young defense that only returns four starters and a group that nearly gave up 220 yards rushing per game. The one bright spot on defense is the secondary that ranked 35th in passing yards and returns all four starters. It looks like more of the same for the Hoosiers this season, 4 or 5 wins would be a good year.
MINNESOTA – Simply put, the Gopher offense is filled with questions. This is what happens when you lose three All-American's and your top RB Gary Russell (1,130 yards and 18TD's) is surrounded by academic questions. Having said all that this side of the ball still returns six starters which averaged 35.8 pts per game (10th in the nation) Bryan Cupito 2,530 yards and 19 TD's) which should give the Gopher offense the experience and firepower it needs to compete in the Big Ten. Bottom line the Gophers offense will largely hinge on how QB Bryan Cupito a fifth-year senior performs. The Gropher defense wasn't good last year giving up 34pts per game to Big Ten opponents and ranked 90th nationally in total defense and it is hard to imagine that this defensive unit is going to be significantly improved. There defensive line is small and there linebackers are some weaker ones in the Big Ten with the exception of John Shevlin. The offense will have to outscore people this year in order for the Gophers to make a move to the top of the Big Ten.
ILLINOIS – When you are ranked 107th in scoring offense and 115th in total defense you can only imagine that you didn't have a very good season. The good news is that they return nine starters on both sides of the ball and non-conference schedule includes the likes of Ohio, Eastern Illinois and Rutgers which are all winnable games. For this team to improve on offense the offensive line has to improve after being shuffled around all of last year and never had a chance to grow together. In order for Sr. QB Tim Brasic (1,979 yards and 11TD's) to be the player he can be the young pair WR (Kyle Hudson and Derrick McPhearson) will have to step up and live up to there potential. The Fighting Illini will look to improve on the 17pts per game average and two win season. After the Fighting Illini finished last in the nation in rushing defense (117th) and second to last in scoring defense (115th) giving up nearly forty points per game (39.6 pts per game) out went defensive coordinator Mike Mallory and in came former Colorado assistant Vince Okruch. Okruch will have the luxury of having nine returning starters which should help improve on the nations worst defense. Also look for the off-season gains in the weight room to really help this side ball out.
BIG TEN OUTLOOK
Can Ohio State overcome the loss of nine defensive starters, six of whom were selected in the first four rounds of the NFL draft? This is a big question but with QB Troy Smith and a loaded offense this should be make it easier to overcome. I expect the Buckeyes to be right around the top of the Big Ten come November. A few other teams could give the Buckeyes some trouble this year and fight for the Big Ten title. Michigan lost five games for the first time in two decades, but in four of those losses the Wolverines forgot to close the back door. With a strong offense and a improved defense Michigan could be right there again fighting for a league championship. Iowa loses a couple of great linebackers but there is one you know about the Hawkeye's they will not be out-coached and they have a very favorable schedule. Michigan State QB Drew Stanton is one of the league's best players and has the offensive talent to propel his team to the top but they will need to address their penchant for late season swoons. Wisconsin always has a knack for hanging around the top of the conference with good defense and ball control offense. When it is all said and done I think Ohio State will be walking off with the Big Ten title but the conference should be one of the best in the country from top to bottom and should make for a very interesting year.
1. OHIO STATE
4. MICHIGAN STATE
9. PENN STATE
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