Category Archives: big ten preview

Big Ten Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions

Yes, we are predicting that Penn State will win the Big Ten this year. Yes, I will probably be beat up in the alley by my house in Columbus, OH. Yes, Joe Pasquali wrote this piece. Yes, Joe Paterno is still the coach. I agree with Joe, Penn State are going to be good and the conference will be close, but the game against Ohio State will decide the Big Ten Championship. Enjoy the finale of the Big Ten Preview.

Finishing #1 in the Big Ten
Penn State Nittany Lions (Predicted Finish 11-1)

Summary– The Lions from Happy Valley will be repeating as Big Ten Champions this year. Too many things are looking in Penn State’s favor to think otherwise. Nine offensive and nine defensive starters return, a schedule that is very kind, and off years for other Big Ten Powers. The stars have all aligned for Penn State to repeat and be playing in Pasadena once more.

Offense (A-)– Evan Royster and Daryll Clark return to lead an offense that lead the Big Ten in scoring last season. It was a unit that was not only balanced but very explosive for the Nittany Lions. For a mobile quarterback such as Clark and running back with the potential as Royster, a key component is the offensive line. Penn State only returns two of their big uglies up front; if there is any question mark on the offense the line would be it. The only thing I foresee hurting them from putting the ball in the end zone is conservative play calling. (See Ohio State game 2008)

Defense (B)– It will be a cold day in you know what when Linebacker U has an off year on the defensive side of the ball. No other school has reloaded like Penn State at the linebacker position over the last ten years, and this year poses to be no different. Sean Lee is returning from an injury that kept him sidelined last year and will prove to be a difference maker. Look for fellow LB Navarro Bowman to have a big year as well. The one weakness of the Penn State defense will be against the pass. Maybin and Gaines were great pass rushing defensive ends that harassed opposing quarterbacks often. Lydell Sergeant and Tony Davis were two solid CB’s with big play potential. These losses will hurt PSU more than anything else in 2009.

Special Teams (B)– A lot of kickers competing for the starting job including three freshmen. Junior Collin Wagner will most likely get the nod as the man knocking it through the uprights, at least to start. Jeremy Boone is one of the better punters in the Big Ten (42 yard net average) and should be once again this year.

Coaching (A)– Who really knows if Joe Pa is still calling the plays for Penn State, but who cares? This team keeps popping out winning seasons. Yeah, USC smoked ‘em last year in the Rose Bowl, but when did a Big Ten team NOT get smoked by USC.

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Big Ten Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

I have lived in Columbus, OH for the past 3 years and the fanbase here is rabid. I’m sure there are children here with the first name “Tressel.” With Terrelle Pryor behind the center, they expect big things this season. They are used to winning, but with their anchors on defense graduating and losing Beanie Wells and their entire receiving corps to graduation or draft, can their expectations be high? Joe Pasquali is here with the preview of the Ohio State Buckeyes, who we have finishing #2 in the Big Ten this year.

Finishing #2 in the Big Ten
The Ohio State Buckeyes (Predicted Finish 10-2)

Summary– Ohio State has a great team this season. Really, they do. Anyone who thinks this will be a complete rebuilding season for the boys from Columbus has apparently never watched a Jim Tressel team. This is a team that has depth, great coaching, and explosiveness in all of the right areas. The Achilles heel for this team is scheduling. A game against USC, playing at Penn State and at rebounding Michigan. Not good news for OSU.

Offense (B+)– Hot and Cold was the Buckeyes offense last season and the 2009 season should bring more of the same. Terrelle Pryor is some kind of athlete at the QB position, but questionable decisions in big games was his downfall. He will have three returning starters on the offensive line in front of him which should help his first full year at the helm go fairly smooth. A lot of young talent occupy the RB and WR positions, it will be interesting to see who steps up as a major threat. The Buckeyes had the 104th ranked pass offense last year, and that was WITH Robiskie and Hartline. To be a National Championship contender, OSU has to be more two dimensional.

Defense (A)– I fear for any quarterbacks that have to play against Ohio State this season. The Buckeyes return all 4 starters from a defensive line that was fairly athletic last year, sacking opposing quarterbacks 28 times. Thorpe winner Malcolm Jenkins will be missed, but the other three members of the Buckeye secondary will be back. Also, it’s not like any team in the Big Ten has a huge threat at the WR position. New faces at two of the three LB positions will be the only question mark for this defense, but I expect them to do just fine.

Special Teams (C)– Since Tressel has been in town OSU has always played pretty top notch special teams, but a new kicker and punter always leave folks wondering who is this kid booting the ball around. Also, should be some new faces when it comes to returning kicks and punts as well.

Coaching (A)– Jim Tressel is one of the best coaches in the country and the best coach in the Big Ten. Conservative play calling against Penn State angered the Buckeye faithful, but anyone who really wants to blame losses on Tressel has to have a reality check. Do you remember a guy named Cooper? Yeah, thought so. Shut up.
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Big Ten Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes

Kirk Ferentz is lucky to always have a nice pre-season ranking, but he rarely finishes where they predict. He will miss Shomm Greene this season, but will another running back step up? Iowa brings back a nice defense from last year and should do well against the run this year. Joe Pasquali is here once again to talk about his #3 pick in the Big Ten, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Finishing #3 in the Big Ten
Iowa Hawkeyes (Predicted Finish 9-3)

Summary– Iowa is expected to have a big season. Last time this was the case pre-season (2007) the Hawkeyes disappointed everyone and went a mediocre 6-6. Out of the starting 22 positions Iowa has 15 returning starters. However, and this is a BIG however, the Hawkeyes have to travel to Columbus, Happy Valley, and Camp Randall. Iowa will lose two of those, if not all three. I do feel someone has to step up and get to nine wins outside of PSU/OSU and I think Iowa has the best shot.

Offense (B+)– Shonn Greene was a STUD at RB last year for the Hawkeyes and losing him hurts, but don’t expect a big drop off statistically for Iowa. They will have the best offensive line in the conference anchored by All-Conference Tackles Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway. Ricky Stanzi managed the offense very well last season and made few mistakes; he will need to have another solid season for the Hawkeyes to live up to the hype.

Defense (A-)– Eight returning starters for a defense that slapped around Spurrier’s men in the Outback Bowl last winter, things are looking good in Iowa. Pat Angerer (MLB) and Amari Spievey (CB) are both all conference and two of the best players in the country at their respective positions. This defense ranked 2nd in the Big Ten last year only behind Penn State and should finish towards the top once more. The only question mark is two new starters at DT (Karl Klug and Mark Daniels) and at 258 lbs/267 lbs respectively, may be a bit undersized up the middle.

Special Teams (B)– Daniel Murray is an average kicker who only saw game action half of the season last year, making six of nine kicks. Ryan Donahue was all conference last season at the punting position and matched with a great defense should give opposing teams fits.

Coaching (B)– Kirk Ferentz may be on the hot seat this season. Iowa has pretty big expectations and will be looking for a top there finish. If Iowa slips to a 6-6 or 7-5 season, look for a change to be in order. If they finish 3rd as predicted, he’ll probably get a huge contract. Thus is the world of college football.
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Big Ten Preview: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State has been very streaky the last few seasons and that did not change last year. They started great, but then hit a wall. Mark Dantonio has a tough task ahead, have they found pieces to replace Javon Ringer and Brian Hoyer on offense? Joe Pasquali is here to breakdown Michigan State in this part of the Big Ten Preview.

Finishing T-#4 in the Big Ten
Michigan State Spartans (Predicted finish 8-4)

Summary– It’s a somewhat put up or shut up year for the Spartans, and I think they will put up. I know that sounds weird since I am predicting them for 8 wins, but they will have to earn ALL nine of them. Games at Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Illinois, along with welcoming Iowa and Penn State to East Lansing should make a tough year for MSU. It is nice they have so many returning starters, but anytime you got a new QB at the helm a projected 8-4 year can easily become a 6-6 one.

Offense (B-)– Brian Hoyer was no Drew Stanton, but it was nice he knew the offense and managed games fairly well. Handing the ball off to Javon Ringer was mainly his job last season, and he did that pretty well. Ringer will be THE most missed offensive player in the Big Ten this season. He carried MSU on his back last year, rushing for 1637 yards and 22 touchdowns. Should be more of a running back by committee year for the Spartans, which is not always a bad thing.

Defense (A-)– This will be the best Michigan State defense the country has seen in a LONG time. Not usually known for a dominating D, MSU should surprise plenty of fans but few coaches this year. Greg Jones will be a finalist for Big Ten defensive player of the year and should strike fear into opposing offenses. Along with him, Michigan State 8 starters from a defense that ranked in the top half of the nation last year.

Special Teams (A)– Brett Swenson and Aaron Bates are the best kicker/punter tandem in the conference. Swenson was 22-28 on field goals last year, including 6-7 between 40-49 yards.

Coaching (B)– Mark Dantonio is one of the up and coming coaches in the conference and seems to have the Spartans heading in the right direction. I would have given him a higher grade, but 2009 should be tough. We’ll see how he handles it.
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Big Ten Preview: Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern had a better than expected season in 2008, can they build on that success or was that just a senior-laden team playing in a weak Big Ten last year? Pat Fitzgerald is a coach on the rise and he will be tested this season with little returning on offense. Joe Pasquali has our Northwestern analysis in our 2009 Big Ten Preview.

Finishing T-#4 in the Big Ten
Northwestern Wildcats (Predicted Finish 8-4)

Summary– Northwestern had the quietest nine win season the country last year and turned plenty of heads in the Big Ten. Wins at Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan proved that this Wildcat team was for real. Bad for the Wildcats however is their inexperience on offense, which will only return 4 starters, none of which are at skill positions. Their schedule is fairly easy, with Ohio State and Michigan State at home.

Offense(C+)– As stated above, NW only returns four players on offense, three offensive linemen and their Tight End Josh Brooks. Senior Mike Kafka will be at the helm for the Wildcats at QB and RB Stephen Simmons should split carries with redshirt Freshman Alex Daniel. Games against Towson, Eastern Michigan, and Syracuse will be good for the inexperienced offense to get clicking before conference play.

Defense (B+)– Northwestern will have the most underrated defense in the conference and also one of the best. Defensive End Corey Whooten missed last season with an injury but is healthy and ready to make an impact. The consensus pre-season All American will most likely be picked in the first round of next spring’s NFL Draft, but this fall he will be causing havoc in Big Ten back fields. All together Northwestern has nine returning starters on defense.

Special Teams (B)– Stefan Demos returns as the kicker AND punter for the Wildcats this season. After having a solid 2008 campaign punting the ball Northwestern has given him all of their special team’s kicking duties.

Coaching (B-)– Pat Fitzgerald is still very green when it comes to coaches in the Big Ten but showed last year that he had all the tools to make an impact. This will be a big season for Northwestern, especially with Ohio State and Michigan off the schedule.
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Big Ten Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin fans have always had a pretty decent-to-good product on the field over the last decade. Joe Pasquali tackles the Wisconsin Badgers in our Big Ten Preview. Who will take over for P.J. Hill this season? With their QB and all their WRS back, will they change their offense and rely on the pass? This season their team looks a little thin, but will a season of 7-5 be a success?

Finishing T-#6 in the Big Ten
Wisconsin Badgers (Predicted Finish 7-5)

Summary– This is a team that could surprise a lot of people this season. Penn State is off the schedule and they have a pretty favorable set up other than going to Columbus. I still can’t figure out why they are ending the season with a December 5th game in Hawaii. Maybe it will prove to keep the team bowl ready and prevent the huge layoff most Big Ten teams face. I wouldn’t be surprised if this team won 8 or 9 games, but they have too few returning men on the offensive and defensive line. B.B. ball relies heavily on both of those units functioning.

Offense (B-)– PJ Hill was the focal point of this offense last year and he will be missed. However, the new RB John Clay appears to be of the same build (6’2” 247 lbs.) and should be another big back that fits into the Wisconsin game plan. Wisconsin ranked 1st in the Big Ten in Rushing last season but 7th in passing. With Senior Dustin Sherer returning at QB and all of his WR’s, look for that to change. I expect Wisconsin to air it out a bit more this year, especially with only two starters returning to the O-Line.

Defense (B-)– Wisconsin ranked 4th last season in the Big Ten when it came to total defense but are only returning two out of their front seven. In a conference where a lot of teams like to run the football, this could prove bad for the Badgers. The secondary remains mostly intact and junior strong safety Jay Valai is a difference maker.

Special Teams (B)– Philip Welch and Brad Nortman return to do the kicking and punting duties respectively. Welch was 20-24 last year and was very solid, especially for a freshman.

Coaching (B+)– Bret Bielima has done very well in the post Barry Alvarez era and has quietly become one of the best coaches in the conference. With a favorable schedule it’ll be interesting to see what the Badgers do this year.
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Big Ten Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

Ron Zook has had a few great recruiting years at Illinois, but when is the talent going to produce another Rose Bowl appearance? Illinois could go either way this year, if they stay healthy. Joe Pasquali is here to preview Illinois’ chances in the 2009 Big Ten season.

By the way, I wish I was named Juice.

Finishing T-#6 in the Big Ten
Illinois Fighting Illini (Predicted Finish 7-5)

Summary– 2008 was a disappointing season for the Fighting Illini and all signs point to them having a bit of a rebound in 2009. Juice Williams returns to lead a team that lost three straight games to end the season and kept Illinois home for bowl season. We’ll find out early on how good this team is, with Missouri, Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State all within their first five games. Not the way I’d want to start a season….

Offense (B+)– Juice Williams is one of the most exciting players to watch in the conference, showcasing his ability to run and pass every Saturday. Lining up with him will be another player equally as exciting in Arrelious Benn, a WR that every team has to plan for. Look for these two to hook up early and often in 2009.

Defense (C+)– Only two players of the front seven return to a defense that gave up way too many rushing yards last season (152 yards per game, 9th in Big Ten). The entire secondary returns, which is good news surprisingly for the rush defense as well. Ron Zook likes his safeties and nickelbacks to creep up to stop the run, experience back there should help the new defensive line and linebackers get acclimated.

Special Teams (B)– If Arrelious Benn returns kicks for Illinois, I’ll change my ranking to an A. He is that explosive. Matt Eller and Anthony Santella return to do the kicking and punting respectively. Both are fairly average.

Coaching (B+)– Ron Zook is an A+ recruiter but a pretty average big game coach. This will have to change for Illinois to get over the hump in the Big Ten. Don’t see it happening in 2009.
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Big Ten Preview: Michigan Wolverines

Joe Pasquali, our resident Michigan football fanatic, is back for another Big Ten Preview post. He is going to breakdown his favorite team and one thing jumps out and surprises us, he shows no bias in this post. This is a guy who stuck by Ryan Mallett and Lloyd Carr! The Wolverines really have nowhere to go but up, so where does Joe have them finishing this year in the Big Ten? Check it out.

Finishing #8 in the Big Ten
Michigan Wolverines (Predicted finish 6-6)

Summary– Only place to go is up for the Michigan Wolverines. Having their worst season EVER in 2008 has to make the Maize and Blue pessimistic for 2009, but fear not, it will be a better season. Last year was the first year of Rich Rodriguez’s new system, a system players do not learn overnight. Also, having their easiest schedule in ten years can’t do anything but help.

Offense (C+)– Michigan’s offense was dreadful last season, peaking with six lost fumbles at Notre Dame. Steven Threet was the starting QB most of last season but transferred away this past off-season along with RB Sam McGuffie. Freshmen Tate Forcier with share time with a couple other QB’s that will lead an offense that returns nine starters. At the RB and WR positions Michigan may have the most speed and depth in the Big Ten. It will just be a matter of the freshman QB can get the ball to them.

Defense (B+)– Five starters’ return to a defense that really wasn’t as bad as their numbers showed last season. The thing that hurt the Wolverines more than anything was being on the field most the game due to a impotent offense that turned the ball over a lot. Brandon Graham is a freak at DE/OLB and Donovan Warren is one of the better corners in the Big Ten. Look for the group as a whole to be better as long as the offense stays on the field.

Special Teams (A-)– Zoltan Mesko not only has one of the best names in the nation, but one of the best legs as well. The All American returns to boot the ball around the Big House for the Maize and Blue. If UM’s offense starts out slow, he could be one of the most important players on the team.

Coaching (B)– Rich Rodriguez will be judged heavily on what he does this year for UM. A program as big as Michigan should never have a rebuilding season that only produces 3 wins. If Michigan does not get to six wins this year, he will be on the hot seat.
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