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NCAA Football: Big 10 Preview

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BC Tailgate, your official home for college Blogcritics’ football news, rants, and riffs. Every conference is covered — we don't play favorites to the big boys.

ACC by Ben Miraski

Big East by Dan McGowan

Big Ten by Geeves

Big XII by Ben Miraski

Conference USA by Dan McGowan

MAC by Brian Szabelski

Pac 10 by Geeves

SEC by Josh Hathaway

WAC by Brian Szabelski



Welcome to the first BC Sports Tailgate College Football Preview, starting with the Big Ten. Wh the Big Ten? Well, first of all, because the tailgate is my baby, and the Big Ten is my conference. Ok, that's really the only reason, but what more do I need?

Ohio State

Coach: Jim Tressel

2007: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in Big Ten (1st).

Head of the Class – The deck is indeed stacked in the Buckeyes’ favor. They return last year’s starters at all but three positions (fullback, right tackle, weak side linebacker), and they have seven home games, including non-conference patsies Ohio, Troy, and Youngstown State, and rivals Penn State and Michigan. Anything less than a Big Ten title will be a failure.

Underachievers – What could go either way for Ohio State this year? A hot young talent named Terrelle Pryor. He’s an insane athlete, but fitting him in will require sharing time at quarterback and a gradual but visible shift in offensive scheme. Florida pulled it off with Tebow, but we won’t know until it happens with Pryor.

Academic Suspension – Not too much bad to say about this team. They have guys like Laurinaitis returning for one last hurrah, but that’s no guarantee that they’ll do anything but go to the national championship and get their butts kicked all over again. 


Coach: Ron Zook

2007: 9-4 overall, 6-2 in the Big Ten (T-2nd)

Head of the Class – The Illini’s defensive line is scary good. They play a four man front, and have a rotation of seven guys who could all play for any Division-I school they want. If you plan to pass, you better do it with purpose, or you may be scrubbing grass out of your ear holes.

Underachievers – Lots of transition on the team could mean lots of ups and downs. They have talent at their open spots – replacing both RB Rashard Mendenhall and their #1 and #2 tackling linebackers. The question is whether that talent develops quick enough, or even reaches its potential, enough for Illinois to not feel those losses on the field.

Academic Suspension- This is intended for an aspect that could be disastrous, and the best chance of that is none other than Juice Williams. A great receiving corps is a worthless tool if you have a quarterback who can’t get them the ball. Williams, up until now, has been not unlike Michael Vick; great athlete, great runner, passes like he’s allergic to completions. If he can fix that problem, the Illini can go very far. If not, especially considering their road games against Penn State, Wisconsin, and Missouri, they may backslide to a .500 team. 


Coach: Bret Bielema

2007: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in Big Ten (4th)

Head of the Class – This could be a huge year for PJ Hill. Another year in the system, with 4/5 of his line returning, plus an unsure passing game, could spell another year as one of the top rushers in all of Division One.

Underachievers – There’s that whole passing game thing. The team has no proven entity of any kind under center. With a talented player, that could be meaningless, but nobody has snatched the job outright yet, which isn’t a good sign. Relying on PJ Hill will get you some wins, but maybe not enough.

Academic Suspension – It’s generally going to be a rough year when you have to go from “one of the best ever at your school” to “some new kid” at any position, but given Wisconsin’s reliance on a ball-control offense, having that turnover be at both kicker and punter is probably not going to be fabulous. Including bowl games, Wisconsin went 9-0 in games decided by four points or less while Tyler Melhaff was the kicker. Expect that to change. 

Penn State

Coach: Joe Paterno

2007: 9-4 overall, 4-4 in Big Ten (T-5th)

Head of the Class – This will be the last hurrah for the dynamic receiver trio of Derrick Williams, Deion Butler, and Jordan Norwood. If all three can stay healthy all season, it could be a good farewell party for all. Add on to that a non-conference schedule where the best team is a weak Oregon State squad, plus Michigan and Illinois at home, and another 9-4 year looks like a wrap.

Underachievers – The Lions will have new starters at QB and RB. There’s no solid quarterback choice just yet, but both Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin had chances and showed potential last season. So did new RB Evan Royster, who should make a more than adequate starter if he can continue to play like he did at the end of last season.

Academic Suspension – Wow. This one is quite literal for the Lions. They are down one offensive weapon since TE Andrew Quarless is suspended indefinitely. They also will be without super LB Sean Lee, who injured his knee in the spring and will be out all year. If all this academic and behavioral nonsense doesn’t come back to bite them (which seems like a pretty large if), they should be fine, but that seems to be the thing JoePa has the least control over. 


Coach: Bill Lynch

2007: 7-6 overall, 3-5 in Big Ten (T-7th).

Head of the Class – This defense is going to be one of the better ones in the conference, and maybe, just maybe, in the country. The front seven is all back, and all extremely talented. The question will be if the new secondary can hold up its end of the bargain.

Underachievers – The offense, on the other hand, is the definition of “eh.” Kellen Lewis is a great athlete at quarterback and all, but he doesn’t have any standout weapons to share the ball with. That’ll be enough to be good, but maybe not enough for the top third if the conference.

Academic Suspension – Again, another literal reference. Kellen Lewis, the great athlete just mentioned, broke some team rules and wound up suspended. The difference between this team barely being better than Iowa or Michigan and being neck-and-neck with Penn State or Illinois will reside between his ears. 

Michigan State

Coach: Mark Dantonio

2007: 7-6 overall, 3-5 in the Big Ten (T-7th).

Head of the Class – Javon Ringer is the one tailback in the conference that is arguably better than Chris Wells at Ohio State, and he’s also the best of a deep bunch. When you’ve got a workhorse runner, especially in this physical conference, good things can happen for you.

Underachievers – The Spartans’ non-conference schedule features a game at Cal, plus Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame, and Howard Schnellenberger’s Florida Atlantic team. There are just enough questions about this Michigan State team that they could enter conference play 4-0, 1-3, or anything in between.

Academic Suspension – The tail end of the season is similarly shaky for State, with road games against Michigan and Penn State, and Ohio State and Wisconsin at home. Much like the non-conference schedule, the Spartans could realistically finish this year anywhere from 9-4 to 5-7. 


Coach: Joe Tiller

2007: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in Big Ten (T-7th).

Head of the Class – Curtis Painter gets a fifth year to push his name further up the Purdue record books – and maybe finally actually win a significant game, so he isn’t known as a system quarterback. He personally has the tools, but we’ll see if he has the leadership ability or the offensive resources.

Underachievers – The rest of the offense. Painter lost his two best receivers to the NFL, and who the heck knows what he’s going to get from his line and his running backs. That didn’t keep him from having a bad season last year, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a cohesive unit in front of you?

Academic Suspension – Well, the defense might not be a complete waste of 11 bodies this year, but the secondary is the same guys that got burned regularly last season. Better front line? Might mean less big plays, but it might not slow down the opposing offense enough to really matter. 


Coach: Rich Rodriguez

2007: 9-4 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten (T-2nd).

Head of the Class – The defense, which returns seven starters, will most certainly be the team’s strong point. The question is, can they handle what should be a noticeable spike in their playing time, compensating for the offense?

Underachievers – The team has loads of talented but unproven players, as new coach Rodriguez figures out if any of the guys he has beyond this year can fit into his system, and how much of his first recruiting class is remotely ready to be starters.

Academic Suspension- This has the potential to be an absolutely terrible year for Michigan. Their most talented quarterback option and one of their two returning lineman both transferred when Rodriguez arrived, so they have one returning starter on offense, and no quarterback that has any experience whatsoever, let alone experience with the option offense that will go into effect in Ann Arbor. I’ll be surprised if they post a winning season. 


Coach: Pat Fitzgerald

2007: 6-6 overall, 3-5 in Big Ten (T-7th) 

Head of the Class – Much like last season, this offense is going to absolutely light up all but the best defenses they play. With C.J. Bacher returning at quarterback and Tyrell Sutton back in the backfield, and a schedule where a mediocre Iowa squad is their toughest test in the first five weeks, this team could at least launch itself out of the conference bottom, if not contend for a bit.

Underachievers – Or, the offense could go nowhere if an offensive line that only returns two starters isn’t able to protect Bacher or open up lanes for Sutton. We won’t really know what this team is capable of until they head to Michigan State in their sixth game.

Academic Suspension – This team has developed a bit of a reputation as managing to just lose – either not making a complete comeback, or managing to squander a lead at the last minute. A new defensive coordinator (Wisconsin’s old one) could make all the difference, or none at all. 


Coach: Kirk Ferentz 

2007: 6-6 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten (T-5th)

Head of the Class – Probably the two best things you can say about Iowa this year are that everybody is a year older and they don’t have to play Michigan or Ohio State. However, a year older doesn’t guarantee that they’re a year better, and they do still have to face Penn State and Wisconsin, plus Illinois and Pitt on the road.

Underachievers – The defense is good, but not great. They have a couple of phenomenal defenders in Mitch King and A.J. Edds, but not enough of those types of players to really strike fear in anyone’s heart. How well this melting pot of talent cooks up will determine a lot.

Academic Suspension – The offense is just as bad as the defense is good. The Hawkeyes had the worst offense in the conference last year, and there’s no reason to feel any better, with a returning QB that was terrible last year, no proven tailback, and only one returning wide receiver who is “o.k.” at best. It could be another long year for Ferentz. 


Coach: Tim Brewster

2007: 1-11 overall, 0-8 in Big Ten (11th).

Head of the Class – Much like Iowa, about the best thing you can say about Minnesota is that it really can’t get any worse. They have several talented returning starters on offense, enough that it should probably be one of the better ones in the conference again.

Underachievers – Like the flip side of Iowa’s coin, Minnesota had an absolutely terrible defense last season. The team really can’t get any worse than they were, and they brought in former Duke coach Ted Roof to try and fix it up. Wise move, defensive play was one thing Roof did well at Duke.

Academic Suspension – This could be another very ugly year for Minnesota. There is absolutely no way to say how much this team improves, if they improve at all. It is very possible that they could manage anything between 6-6 and 0-12, so Gopher fans need to just keep trusting that Brewster’s recruiting will eventually pay dividends.

Bold Prediction: With so many things working for them, it wouldn't be the slightest surprise for Ohio State to repeat as conference champion – and also have a repeat national championship embarrassment.

 – Geeves

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