College Football: Big Ten Preview: Part One
Despite the wishes of the casual college football fan, it looks as if a constant in the recent history of the BCS National Title Game could very well be back on that grand stage: Ohio State. The Buckeyes, led by running back Chris “Beanie” Wells and a stout defense, are more than capable of ending up in Miami on January 8th. With one of the nation’s best recruiting classes as well, featuring quarterback Terrelle Pryor and a group of offensive linemen known already as “Block O”, the only thing standing in their way could be a trip to USC in mid-September. Or so we’ve been told.
Yes, the Bucks are the clear favorites to win the Big Ten, which would be the fourth straight conference crown for Jim Tressel’s program, but don’t expect it to be an easy road. Illinois, who won in the Horseshoe on their way to nine wins and a Rose Bowl berth, get the Buckeyes at home this time around. But the Illini have to get through road games against Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin in order for that November 15th meeting to mean anything in regards to a Big Ten title. The Badgers will have to break in a new quarterback, most likely Allan Evridge, but P.J. Hill and Zach Brown are both back at tailback. Lance Smith, who was restricted to home games last year due to his off-field issues, is no longer with the team due to violating the terms of his probation.
After these three is where the fun begins. Penn State also has a new signal-caller, and getting back on the field will be a welcome diversion from the off-field problems most recently documented in an episode of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines”. Either Daryll Clark or Pat Devlin will get to throw to one of the league’s best wide receiver trios: Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler and Derrick Williams. And don’t forget about tight end Andrew Quarless. Michigan welcomes another former West Virginia head coach to the family, this one being new head coach Rich Rodriguez. How much will the Maize and Blue suffer from losing out on Terrelle Pryor? And is there enough talent back on offense to prevent a serious drop?
Michigan State may be the closest thing to a sleeper in the Big Ten this season, with Mark Dantonio welcoming back sixteen starters, including QB Brian Hoyer and RB Javon Ringer. Purdue could also make a move up in the standings this year, with head coach Joe Tiller heading into retirement at season’s end. QB Curtis Painter is one of thirteen starters due back for the Boilers, who will also have Jaycen Taylor and Kory Sheets in the backfield and Greg Orton at wide receiver. Is the heat on Kirk Ferentz at Iowa? Who really knows, but it may be a good idea for the Hawkeyes to get over that six-win plateau, something they’ve been unable to do the past two years.
Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern should be competitive this season, with the Wildcats of Pat Fitzgerald being the best equipped of the three to be bowl eligible. QB C.J. Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton are two of the better offensive players in the conference, but NU’s lack of success has led to them being overlooked by some. Tim Brewster and his staff are getting things done in recruiting for the Golden Gophers, but they may still be a year or two away from making a serious move up the standings. And the Hoosiers will hope to duplicate their seven wins last year without wide receiver James Hardy, who left for the NFL. And quarterback Kellen Lewis missed spring drills due to a violation of team rules, but he will be back this fall. The Hoosiers also have three defensive linemen and two linebackers (most notably end Jammie Kirlew) back in the starting lineup.
The Big Ten should be one of the more entertaining conferences to watch this season, with surprises due to happen nearly every week. But there is one certainty: barring disaster Ohio State will once again earn the league’s automatic BCS berth. Now here are some predictions for league honors.