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BIG TEN PREVIEW by Doc www.docsports.com
The run for the Big Ten Conference Championship is wide open. Looking
into my crystal ball, I see as many as six teams having a legitimate
chance at the title.
My Big Ten predictions appear below.
As one first looks at this ball club, it may seem like a rebuilding
year. Not the case! The Wolves have a big time 'back' in Chris Perry
and a very experienced QB in Navarre. The offensive line returns five
starters and the defense will be going with eight Senior starters. The
Wolves catch Ohio State at home and don't play Wisconsin or Penn State.
Strengths - With all that talent on offense they should gain ball
control, which Head Coach Lloyd Carr dearly loves. They have a very
favorable schedule with Minnesota being the only tough road encounter.
Weakness - Once again, like Purdue, this team badly needs to improve
its kicking game. They used three punt kickers last year and the
problem has not been solved.
Favorable Line Winner - October 4 - Michigan over Iowa. Revenge from
last year certainly will be a factor. Probable low line will make this
choice very attractive.
Favorable Line Loser - October 11 - Minnesota over Michigan. Gophers
could be the dog here catching the Wolves in their second-straight road
encounter. The 'Dome' is a tough place to play. Gophers will be
Head coach Joe Tiller finally has the talent on both sides of the ball
to enable this club to win the Big Ten Championship. The Boilers were
7-6 last season. However, all six losses were by a TD or less. The
defense was fifth overall in the conference and, with all eleven starters
back, should definitely improve. An interesting fact about this defense:
nine starters will be Seniors.
Strengths - The Purdue defense could be one of the best in the league, especially
at LBs. Once again the offense will be potent with an awesome passing
attack. QB and WR positions are deep and loaded.
Weakness - No question the special teams and punter areas were a major
problem last year. Look for that trend to continue unless some surprises
surface. Must play Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State, all on the road.
Favorable Line Winner - September 27 - Purdue over Notre Dame. Have
lost three years in a row to the Irish in close contests. Revenge here,
with Notre Dame coming off three tough opponents
Favorable Line Loser - October 25 - Michigan over Purdue. Boilers
second consecutive tough road game. Should see a small line here as
Purdue should have a good record at this point.
Like so many other teams in the Big Ten, this squad returns a lot of
talent. The big question mark will be how well Senior QB Jim Sorgi can
replace QB Brooks Bollinger. Another question will be how good the
offensive line will be after losing key personnel. Michigan and Indiana
are off the schedule, which will be a plus for the Badgers.
Strengths - Outstanding Corps of receivers and running backs. Certainly
could match anyone in the league. The defense has the potential to be
the Badger's best in years. Linebackers will be outstanding.
Weakness - Punting continues to be a concern. Senior QB Sorgi still
hasn't proven himself and with back up quarterbacks having no
experience, it becomes a problem.
Favorable Line Winners - October 11 - Wisconsin over Ohio State. First
road game for the Buckeyes and Alvarez always gets his team up for this
type of game. Home crowd a big factor.
Favorable Line Loser - November 8 - Wisconsin at Minnesota - It has
always been a tough place to play for the Badgers. No exception here as
revenge plays a big part.
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
This team could be the surprise team of the Big Ten. There's a lot of talent there, but a lot of questions have to be answered, especially at
running back. The schedule is as favorable as anyone could ask for, as
five of their first six games are at home. They have a bye against
Michigan, our choice to win the Big Ten.
Strengths - Besides the favorable schedule, this team is deep at QB and
has a very talented receiving corps. Offensive line has a chance to be
Weakness - A lot of question marks on the defensive side of the ball.
Linebackers are not as solid as Paterno is noted for. Has a veteran
secondary but they had their problems last season.
Favorable Line Winner - September 27 - Penn State over Minnesota.
Great time to catch the Gophers as it will be their first road game and they
certainly could be 4-0 at that time.
Favorable Line Loser - October 4 - Wisconsin over Penn State. Will have
the Badgers at home, but 'Wisky' has always done well at Happy Valley
and as a dog, will get revenge from last year.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
The surprise team of 2002, and the National Champs are once again
loaded. In fact the offense returns eleven starters which include RB
Maurice Clarett (1237 yds. 18 TD's) and QB Craig Krenzel. Six starters
return on defense, a group that allowed just 13 points per game last
year. Dealing with high expectations may be the Bucks biggest
Strengths - An offense that can and will score points against anyone.
Nine Seniors start on this unit and last year's 29 points-per-game
output should be surpassed. They have an outstanding field goal kicker
in Nugent who nailed 24 of 26 last season.
Weakness - It's hard to find any in this ball club. The biggest concern
might be the schedule, as they play Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan
on the road.
Favorable Line Winner - September 27 - Ohio State over Northwestern.
Number could be large, however the Bucks will roll it up in their
conference opener. The "Cats" will be on the road for the second-
Favorable Line Loser - November 1 - Ohio State at Penn State. It's
possible for the Bucks to be undefeated at this point. They got lucky
to beat Penn State last year, 13-7. Not this time around.
Seems to be everyone's choice to be the team to move up in the
standings in the Big Ten. Certainly has the credentials to be the best
team since Mason moved from Kansas in 1997. The positions of QB, RB and
WR are talented and experienced. Offense, though young, could be very
Strengths - Tremendous amount of talent and experience at all the
skill positions. Very favorable schedule, as the non-conference is
easy and the tough opponents in the Big Ten are at home.
Weakness - Big question mark for the Gophers is their kicking game. The
punter and Dan Nystrom, who kicked 20-21 Field Goals last year, are both
Favorable Line Winners - October 11 - Minnesota over Michigan. Could be
one of the biggest games in the Big Ten for both teams. The Gophers
will be as 'up' as any team could possibly be. Line should be five or less.
Favorable Line Losers - October 25 - Illinois over Minnesota. Will be a
very soft spot for the Gophers after having two big games with Michigan
and Michigan State.
The Illini had a very potent offense last year. In fact, they were ninth
in the nation. Once again this side of the ball should score points at
will. QB position will be strong with Senior QBs Jon Beutjer and
Dustin Ward. This ball club has a chance to catch the attention of
many. I think the Illini will have a great year against the line.
Unfortunately their overall record may not be as good because of their
Strengths - No question at the QB position. The defensive line should
be very good and the offensive line also is solid.
Weakness - Big question at running backs as experience is really
lacking. Defense has to be more consistent as last year they held Ohio
State to 16 points yet yielded 30 points to San Jose.
Favorable Line Winners - October 25 - Illinois over Minnesota. Even
though the Illini will be coming off a Michigan encounter, they should
catch Minnesota 'flat' as a small road favorite.
Favorable Line Loser - October 4 - Purdue over Illinois. Revenge for
the Boilers as they lost last year in overtime, 38-31. Illini's
secondary gets tested!
Iowa certainly pleased its fans last year with an 11-2 season. Most of
that success can be attributed to QB Brad Banks, who is now playing in
the NFL. That loss will hurt the chances of the Hawks having another
great year. The offensive line was also hit hard by graduation.
Schedule is not as favorable as last year, however do not count this
team out of the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes could pull some upsets.
Strengths - Once again the offensive line should be good. The running
backs are more than adequate, especially Fred Russell. An outstanding
kicking game, maybe the best in the Big Ten.
Weakness - No question the QB position. His success will determine how
far this ball club goes this season. Can't see the Hawks playing as
well on the road as they did last year.
Favorable Line Winner - September 27 - Iowa over Michigan State.
Conference opener for the Hawks and a big chance to start our right.
Will catch the Spartans down, coming off a Notre Dame match.
Favorable Line Loser - October 4 - Michigan at Iowa - The Hawkeyes beat
Michigan last year and will pay for it this time around. Wolves get
revenge and get it big!
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
This team went through as much adversity as any team in the country
last year. The defense was the worst ever. The QB had drug problems,
receivers left for the NFL and one could go on and on. Will things
change? New Head Coach John L. Smith certainly hopes so. I really
don't see much improvement and the schedule is punishing. On the bright
side, the Spartans could win their first three non-conference games
which could give them some momentum.
Strength - New coaching staff, new attitude, and an all-out new
Weakness - Last season's disaster left a lot of unanswered questions.
Players on both sides of the ball lost confidence and the team has no really skilled
personnel. Smith may get the job done eventually However, this year will be
Favorable Line Winner - August 30 - Michigan State over Western
Michigan. Spartans need to get the season off on the right foot. Home
Favorable Line Loser - November 8 - Ohio State over Michigan State.
Spartans will be coming off a big game the previous week with
state-rival Michigan. Line could be sizable, however it looks to be a
Here's a team that has a small chance to break out of the basement.
However, the Hoosiers continue to have the problem of not recruiting
top-notch talent. Lost both QB's from last year's team. However, Head
Coach DiNardo recruited Matt Lovecchio, who started for Notre Dame in
2000. This should be a big plus for a team that needs this kind of
leader. Hoosiers played 20 true or RS Freshmen last year, so this squad
will have some experience.
Strength - I like the attitude of the complete program. Not loaded with
talent, however the team might rally around what they have. Look for
DiNardo to continue to take this program forward.
Weakness - I hate to sound like a broken record but it is a lack of big-
time talent. Need to get the running game going. If it succeeds, this
club could win more than four games.
Favorable Line Winner - September 20 - Indiana over Kentucky. Over the
years Kentucky has had a tough time against the Wildcats. Second-
straight home encounter. Team rallies!
Favorable Line Loser - September 6 - Washington over Indiana. Huskies
better than people think. Traveler will have its hands full.
This team was very young last year and once again youth will play a big
part this season. Injuries hampered Spring practice, so a lot of
questions are unanswered as we enter the Fall. The defense was about as
bad as it could get. Improved? I question how much. If this team wins
two conference games, I would be shocked.
Strength - Not a pleasant thought when your biggest strength is in your
punter. That's the case with this Wildcat team in punter Brian
Huffman. Gaining the service of middle linebacker Pat Durr certainly
will give the defense a morale boost it badly needs.
Weakness - Plenty! Defense has to improve dramatically. Just look at
last year's effort. Skilled position on offense lacks big-time
players. Ryan Field doesn't play much as a home-field advantage.
Favorable Line Winner - November 22 - Northwestern over Illinois. If
the Cats are not completely injured and morale is still left, they
should give the Illini a battle, as they always do. Certainly should get
a ton of points!
Favorable Line Loser - September 27 - Ohio State over Northwestern.
Cats will find themselves in deep trouble. Close last year but not this
time. A rout!
Over the years this has been the conference in which we've had a lot of
success. Once again this year we will keep a sharp eye on how these
teams materialize. I think we'll get some great opportunities to step
in and take some underdogs that will win straight-up. As I look at the
overall schedule, I already see two or three games that we'll be zeroing
in on. It looks to be an exciting year and we certainly hope you will
be with us.
One E-mail A Week Is All You Need! Our weekly newsletter is loaded with exclusive free picks,insight and advice from our expert handicappers