Last year was about as bad as it gets for a Big Ten program. Well, actually any football program. They were 1-11 with their lone victory against a FCS school in South Carolina State. Do I think the team is much improved? Do I think they magically found young men who can run, catch, pass, and tackle? Not really, but you can only go up from 1-11 and I HAVE to think they find a way to win a few games. They’ll have experience on their side at least; the Hoosiers return more starters than any other Big Ten team (19) and fourth most in the nation. Coach Kevin Wilson’s second year will be a better year in Bloomington, just don’t expect them to make a bowl game. Again. Continue reading
Last year Northwestern spent most of the season duct taping and trying to keep Dan Persa on the field, because when he was Northwestern was a decent football team. Injuries took their toll and Pat Fitzgerald saw his Wildcats fall to 6-7 after a 9 win season. Northwestern has lost nine bowl games in a row, but I don’t see them losing one this year. Because they won’t be going to one. Their out of conference schedule is one of the toughest in the Big Ten, with games against Vanderbilt, Boston College, and Syracuse. Yes, none of those are juggernauts, but most Big Ten teams are playing cupcakes in the non-con. (See Indiana). Continue reading
Joe Pasquali, our college football analyst, is down to the last few Big Ten teams to preview. The Purdue Boilermakers are a far cry from the days of Drew Brees leading the team. Is 2012 a bounce back year for the men of West Lafayette?
Whoever the Purdue athletic trainers are should have been run out of West Lafayette halfway through last season, if not before then. This team, more than any other, was decimated at key positions all season by the injury bug making it nearly impossible to judge the quality of this team. Like a typical Purdue team they won of a game they should not have (Ohio State) and lost a game they should not have (Rice). Expect the same this year out of the little choo choo’s, thought I doubt they’ll be winning in Columbus.
Everyone and their brother got to play offense last year for the Boilermakers, as they saw three different quarterbacks and nine different players rush for a touchdown. It wasn’t out of scheme for these players to get the ball, but out of necessity due to injuries. Your guess is as good as mine to who will be starting under center. Rob Henry, Robert Marve, and Caleb TerBush will all be competing for the starting job. Only problem is none of them are very good. My guess is Terbush will be the starter. He is a team captain, a senior, and a ginger. All of those things are important to people in West Lafayette. The two Akeem’s (Shavers and Hunt) will be handling the running back duties after ending the 2011 campaign in impressive fashion. Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross lead a talented group of wide receivers, who if they get the ball, can make things happen.
Purdue has never been a program built on defense, of any kind, and I don’t see 2012 being much different. New defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar is bringing a 3-4 scheme to West Lafayette and with it you would expect some growing pains. Purdue’s strength is up front on their D-Line with players Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston who had a combined 9.5 sacks and 24 TFL. Putting these explosive players into a 3-4 makes little to no sense, considering Purdue has a great void of talent at linebacker. Only Will Lucas and Dwayne Beckford have experience at the LB position, not an ideal situation for a new scheme. Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson lead a secondary that should be fairly strong. Both are ball hawks and can come up to stop the run.
Special Teams (C)
Thank the lord Carson Wiggs is graduated and on the Seattle Seahawks. If I had to hear another ESPN the Ocho announcer talk about how he can make a 70 yard field goal I was going to ram my head through a wall. Purdue will be relying on freshman Paul Griggs this year when it looks for three pointers. Cody Webster will be handling the punting duties; he averaged a respectable 42.9 YPK.
Most Purdue fans will be the first to tell you Danny Hope is the wrong man to be coaching in West Lafayette. Then again, most Purdue fans also have ridiculous expectations because Drew Brees ONCE helped a Boilermaker team win the Big Ten when every other power was in a down year. Purdue gets a D rating not because of Hope but because new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar last coached in the Canadian Football league. And Canadians can’t play football.
2012 Win/Loss Prediction: 7-5 (5th in Leaders)
Joe Pasquali, our college football analyst, is back to breakdown the upcoming season for the Michigan Wolverines. Denard Robinson started the season off with fireworks (again), but can he last entire season?
The swagger and optimism is back in Ann Arbor. Brady Hoke’s arrival last year paired with an 11 win season and a BCS bowl bid have made for exciting times for Michigan football. This team will be one of the more exciting to watch in the 2012 season, not only because their talent and style of play, but because their schedule boasts some of the biggest games of the season. Opening the year in Dallas against Alabama will be a huge game not only for Michigan but the Big Ten conference as a whole. Can the boys from the Midwest hang with one of the juggernauts from the SEC on a national stage? We won’t have to wait long to find out. In addition, Michigan has to play on the road at Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State. Though this Michigan team has top 10 talent, their schedule is one of the toughest in the nation.
Anyone who has turned on a TV to watch college football in the last two years knows who Denard Robinson is. The explosive, sometimes chaotic, Michigan quarterback is one of the most dangerous players in all of college football. Though his numbers went down slightly from 2010, (2173 passing yards, 1176 rushing) this was due to offensive coordinator Al Borge’s scheme to try and keep his quarterback healthy and share the rushing duties. Fitzgerald Toussaint won the role midseason as number one running back and finished the year with 1,041 yards, including over 100 yards rushing in his last three games. This offseason he was suspended for off field issues and it remains to be seen if he will miss any games in 2012. Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls are very capable backups if Toussaint is out. Taylor Lewan (6’8″ 308 lbs) will lead the offensive line and is a preseason All American at left tackle. Look for him to be a day one draft pick come next spring.
Michigan’s vast improvement on the defensive side of the ball was a huge reason for their success in 2011. Going from one of the worst defenses in the nation to a top team in many defensive categories was truly remarkable and coordinator Greg Mattison deserves most the credit. Michigan was 4th in red zone defense, 6th in scoring defense, and 17th in yards allowed. Though Michigan loses some key players up front in Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, Michigan’s defense as a whole stays intact. The secondary returns all of its key players as well as a linebacker core that has become very solid. Senior Jordan Kovacs at safety and Kenny Demens at linebacker have consistently led the team in tackles and have a wealth of experience. Look for sophomore corner Blake Countess to have a break out year and become a shutdown corner in the likes of Leon Hall and Marlin Jackson.
Special Teams (B)
Michigan goes into 2012 for the first time in a long time with a solid kicker on their roster in Brendan Gibbons. He was 13-17 on the season including three big kicks in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. As long as he keeps thinking about brunette girls (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkPiOJdYSkM), Michigan should keep getting production out of their special teams.
You really have to hand it to Brady Hoke and the Michigan coaching staff. First year under Hoke the team wins 11 games and a BCS bowl. First year under Mattison and the defense ranks as one of the top in the nation after being a joke for years under Rich Rodriguez. The offense under Al Borges numbers wise took some steps back with the transition to more of a pro-style offense, but look for Denard and company to put up more points in their second year in this scheme.
2012 Win/Loss Prediction: 10-2 (1st in Legends)
Joe Pasquali, our college football analyst, is back to breakdown and pontificate the upcoming season for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Jerry Kill has had one full year of recruiting and coaching, can he turn the program around in a hurry?
Year one wasn’t the greatest season for Jerry Kill’s Minnesota Golden Gophers, but heading into 2012 there is reason for optimism in Minneapolis. The Golden Gophers return five starters on each side of the ball, plus a much easier schedule than 2011. Traveling to USC is no way to start off any campaign, and in 2012 Minnesota should have better luck @ UNLV in week one. Purdue and Northwestern at home should be both good games, and Minnesota avoids Ohio State and Penn State this year. After reading below you’ll probably wonder, why do you have them better than Northwestern? I don’t necessarily think they are a better team per say, but so much went wrong for Minnesota last year I just think they’ll rebound. That and their schedule is kinder than the Wildcats.
Word is JUCO transfer James Gillum will get the majority of carries in 2012, which should be a good thing considering he has gained over 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons. Having a weapon in the backfield is going to be key to keep defenses from spying dual threat quarterback MarQueis Gray. When healthy, Gray is one of the more dangerous weapons in the conference. Last season Grey passed for 1,495 yards while running for 966. Though the offensive line lost three starters, six big men up front return with some experience and should remain strength of this offense. Another year under Kill and another year in this scheme should improve the dreadful 18 points per game of 2011.
Minnesota ranked 93rd in the nation last year in points against, giving up almost 32 points a contest, but only gave up 26 points a game in their last five. I believe the key to a bad season is trying to end on a good note and for Minnesota they did just that. Drubbing Illinois 27-7 at home should have left the team as a whole with positive feelings for the 2012 campaign. Replacing both defensive tackles plus 75% of their secondary won’t be an easy task, but the Gophers do have Keanon Cooper and Gary Tinsley returning at linebacker to clean up in the middle. In 2011 Minnesota only forced 9 turnovers, which was good enough for dead last in the nation…NINE! Teams thrive on opponents turning the ball over. Momentum swings, short fields for your offense, and potential big plays are all huge for a team’s success. Minnesota will force more than nine turnovers in 2012 and in turn they’ll win more than three games.
Special Teams (B+)
After taking over the kicking duties halfway through 2011, Jordan Wettstein returns to what is a very strong Minnesota special teams unit. Wettstein was a perfect 6-6 in field goals last year, including kicks from 48 and 51 yards. Dan Orseske returns to do the punting duties as well as top return man Marcus Jones.
It took three years for Jerry Kill to really find success at Saginaw Valley State, so no one is jumping the gun after one year in Minnesota. Both coordinators return for Minnesota as well and another year in both schemes should serve the Gophers well. Did you know this season Minnesota will have the only stadium in the conference that serves beer? That’s good for an upset at home.
2012 Win/Loss Prediction: 5-7 (5th in Legends)
Last season was a Jekyll and Hyde season for Illinois to say the least. After starting 6-0 and getting ranked as high as 15, the Illini lost their last 6 before beating a dismal UCLA team in the Fight Hunger Bowl. Yes, that was an actual bowl game… Anyways, after the firing of master recruiter/terrible strategist Ron Zook, and hiring Toledo’s Tim Beckman, Illinois is ready to rebound. Their conference schedule is brutal, with trips to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State, but my guess is Illinois will end up bowling. This team has too much talent on defense and some very winnable home games.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had a roller coaster year along with the rest of the team, starting out hot and garnering national attention to then only fade down the stretch. In his last five conference games Scheelhaase threw for one touchdown. For Illinois to improve in 2012 they will need more consistent play from their mobile quarterback. Up front the line should be more solid this year as Illinois returns two good starters in center Graham Pocic and guard Hugh Thornton. Behind them Donovonn Young will get most of the carries after splitting time line 2011. Outside Illinois will be without playmaker AJ Jenkins. Juniors Spencer Harris and Darius Millines are expected to try and pick up the slack. Also, you have to watch out for any offense with a player named Fritz Rock. That’s awesome.
The bright spot for Illinois in 2011 was on defense, where the unit put up crazy numbers and kept the Illini in most games. They were 15th nationally in points against (19.6 per game) but even more impressive was the pressure they put on opposing quarterbacks. Illinois racked up 3.15 sacks per game last year, more than any other Big Ten team. Though 16 of those came from All American and now Houston Texan Whitney Mercilus, Illinois returns enough defensive playmakers to be a force once again. Even though Illinois is switching to a 3-4 defense, Akeem Spence will be a force to reckon with up front. Linebackers Michael Buchanan and Jonathan Brown both are returning starters and had impressive seasons. The secondary is physical, fast, experienced, and only lost one starter from a year ago.
Special Teams (C)
A host of underclassmen are after the special teams’ positions at Illinois this year. Front runners for the kicking position are Taylor Zalewski and Brennen VanMieghem. Both have pretty cool names and both redshirt freshmen. Justin DuVernois returns at punter after a less than stellar freshman year only averaging 38.3 yards a punt.
This will be the first year for all three major coaches at Illinois. Head Coach Tim Beckman comes from Toledo where he enjoyed a MAC conference title in 2011. Billy Gonzales will be the offensive coordinator after working as an offensive assistant at LSU and Tim Banks takes over the defense after being co-defensive coordinator at Cincinnati. All have decent resumes, but only time will tell for this lot.
2012 Win/Loss Prediction: 7-5 (4th in Leaders)
Joe Pasquali, our resident college football analyst, is back with another Big Ten team preview. He has laid out some of the division leaders, but he has yet to name which team will win one of the divisions in the Big Ten conference. Will Iowa win the Legends division?
After a disappointing 2011 campaign (7-6, 4-4 in conf, 1-3 vs top 25) Iowa fans should have little reason to expect 2012 to be a lot better. The Hawkeyes have to replace both lines, both coordinators, and their both downfield threat in Marvin McNutt. Even though Iowa has one of the easiest schedules in the conference, their two biggest inner division games are on the road at Michigan and Michigan State. You won’t hear the words rebuilding come out of Kirk Ferentz mouth, but this year has the look of it.
The Hawkeye program for the last decade has consistently had one of the best offensive lines in the conference, if not the nation. Replacing three starters from a year ago is no easy task, but should be mitigated by the return of two year starter and coach’s son center James Ferentz. James Vandenberg returns at the helm after an impressive first year as starting QB (3022 yards, 25 TDs, 7 INT), but he will be without many weapons. Marcus Coker (RB) and Marvin McNutt (WR) were two all-conference studs that carried this Iowa team last year. Jordan Canzeri was supposed to be the starter this year at running back but tore his ACL this spring and is out for the year. With so many new faces, a depleted backfield, and a new scheme, I look for Iowa to struggle to put up points in 2012.
Iowa’s defense had a very human season in 2011, ranking 46th in scoring defense allowing 23.8 points a game and only recording 22 sacks (77th). Combine that with three new defensive lineman and you could have shakey year. Luckily for Iowa they return Christian Kirksey and James Morris at linebacker, both were starters last year and should be able to mop up an mistakes in front of them. There is decent experience in the secondary with corner Micah Hyde returning as well as safety Tanner Miller, but the defense will surely hang on the front four. Iowa’s new defensive coordinator Phil Parker has already said they plan to blitz a lot and go with press man coverage which should help with the lack of pass rush, but could leave the secondary exposed to big plays.
Special Teams (B+)
Mike Meyer returns at kicker after a solid 2011 season, making 14 of 20 field goals including a long of 50 yards. The only thing that worries me is that he is a psychology major. Honestly, I don’t want my kicker thinking about too much, especially in big games. Mr. Meyer’s overactive brain could cost the Hawkeyes once or twice this year.
When Kirk Ferentz took over coaching Iowa gas was 1.17 a gallon. Though Iowa hasn’t been touching double digit wins the last few years, his job is one of the safest in college football. Two new coordinators should make for a rocky season, but the schedule is kind and Iowa will be bowling come December.
2012 Win/Loss Prediction: 8-4 (4th in Legends)
Joe Pasquali, our resident college football analyst, is back with some more of Big Ten team previews. We are about halfway through the conference and the best is yet to come. Can Penn State move past the scandal and bring the attention back towards football?
By now we all know about the off season drama at Happy Valley. We know more gruesome, disturbing, and troubling details then we probably ever wanted to. With all of that said, football is played on the field. Eleven men still have to line up against eleven men and beat the hell out of each other. Coaches, athletic directors and lawyers don’t run, they don’t block, and they don’t tackle. This is still a football team with some very talented young men, a rabid fan base behind them, and a pretty kind 2012 schedule. The Nittany Lions get Ohio State and Wisconsin at home, their two biggest conference/divisional games of the year. They’ll win one of those in ugly, 10-7 Penn State fashion.
The Penn State offense in 2011 was boring, predictable, and ineffective in 2011. Their lack of a passing attack mixed with inability to get a big play from anywhere led to their 110th ranked 19 points per game. The departure of running back Silas Redd to USC isn’t going to help matters. Pair that with the fact that Penn State still has no quarterback and you are going to see low scoring games again this year. Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden are still the two quarterbacks to choose from, with neither being anything close to impressive last season. Matt Stankiewitch is the lone returning starter to the offensive line, a unit which lost four of six players with any experience. Justin Brown is the lone weapon on the outside with 35 career catches and will be relied on to be a downfield threat.
Penn State’s defense was the strength of the team last year and this season should be no different. Linebacker U will be stacked at just that in 2012, with seniors Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti as well as juniors Glenn Carson and Khairi Fortt leading the way. The loss of Devon Still to the defensive line will hurt, but Jordan Hill and Pete Massaro should lessen the growing pains of a relatively young front four. The weakness of the defense will be in the secondary where Penn State replaces all four starters from a year ago. First year defensive coordinator Ted Roof will have his work cut out for him shaping this back four into a working unit.
Special Teams (C-)
With last year’s kicker/punter Anthony Fera transferring to Texas, Penn State has a huge gap to fill on special teams. Senior Evan Lewis saw some time kicking last season and could win the role in 2012. The loss of Fera will definitely be felt and it’ll be interesting to see if anyone steps up into the open roles he leaves behind.
Bill O’Brien has an impressive resume including five years under Bill Belichick in New England at a variety of offensive coaching positions. His offensive mind should help a Penn State team in desperate need of putting points on the board. Some thought the hire of Ted Roof at defensive coordinator was a bit of a questionable one, but lucky for him he inherits a pretty talented bunch.
2012 Win/Loss Prediction: 7-5 (3rd in Leaders)