Big Ten preseason report:Illinois not likely to repeat

August 06, 2002 6:29 AM
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MICHIGAN STATE:

Head coach: Bobby Williams, third year

Player to watch: QB Jeff Smoker

2001-02 ATS record: 6-6

Victory margin: +5

Comments: Seven of first eight games are at East Lansing. Williams guided Spartans to a win over David Carr and Fresno State in last year’s Silicon Valley Bowl. Smoker to Rogers passing combo could be the league’s best. 1-3 ATS in last four season openers. 11-4 ATS as an underdog since 1999. Could have league’s best talent from top to bottom.

 

MICHIGAN:

Head coach: Lloyd Carr, eighth year

Player to watch: QB John Navarre

2001-02 ATS record: 5-7

Victory margin: +7

Comments: 1-3 ATS in the last four openers. Arguably the toughest schedule in the Big Ten with non-conference tests against Washington and Notre Dame. Face Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State on the road. 0-3 ATS last year away from Ann Arbor as a 3-to-7 point favorite. 8-2 ATS in last 10 grass contests as a favorite of 10 points or more. Navarre threw for over 2,000 yards last year.

 

IOWA:

Head coach: Kirk Ferentz, fourth year

Player to watch: DB Bob Sanders

2001-02 ATS record: 8-4

Victory margin: +11

Comments: Hawkeyes (3-1 ATS) have either been favorites or underdogs of at least 20 points in past four openers. Ferentz had his contract extended five years through 2009 after leading Iowa to an Alamo Bowl win over Texas Tech. Sanders had 111 tackles, including six for losses. 11-5 ATS as an underdog the past two years.

 

OHIO STATE:

Head coach: Jim Tressel, 2nd year

Player to watch: S Mike Doss

2001-02 ATS record: 5-7

Victory margin: +6

Comments: 2-3 ATS in last five season openers, including last year’s disappointing 28-14 win over Akron as a 25½-point home favorite. First OSU victory at Michigan since 1987 took heat off rough 7-5 season. Recruiting class rated among top three in nation. Defensive line has great depth, with eight players who can start. Strong safety Doss rated best in the country, according to Gold Sheet.

 

PURDUE:

Head coach: Joe Tiller, sixth year

Player to watch: QB Kyle Orton

2001-02 ATS record: 4-8

Victory margin: —2

Comments: Plays seven home games for first time in school history. 2-4 ATS in season openers since 1996. Tiller plans to use a 2-back set and re-emphasize the run. The plan should help an offensive line that allowed 42 sacks. Can likely start 5-0 SU if victorious Sept. 7 at Notre Dame. 0-5 SU as a road underdog since 1999. Tiller is 39-22 SU at Purdue with five straight bowl appearances.

WISCONSIN:

Head coach: Barry Alvarez, 13th year

Player to watch: WR Lee Evans

2001-02 ATS record: 5-6

Victory margin: —5

Comments: 1-5 ATS in last six "line" openers since 1995. Key to Big Ten and national title hopes is the condition of Evans, a Biletnikoff finalist who tore knee ligaments in the offseason. Badgers are 8-2 ATS as an underdog since 1999. Alvarez is 84-55-4 at Madison and had a streak of five straight bowl appearances snapped last year.

 

PENN STATE:

Head coach: Joe Paterno, 37th year

Player to watch: DT Jimmy Kennedy

2001-02 ATS record: 7-4

Victory margin: —3

Comments: All-time winning coach with 327, four more than Florida State’s Bobby Bowden. Returns 14 starters and should reverse school’s stunning trend of back-to-back losing seasons. 3-0 ATS last year as a road underdog of 7-to-10 points. Kennedy is a second-team preseason All-America. Paterno’s win percentage is 77.1, fourth all-time.

 

ILLINOIS:

Head coach: Ron Turner, sixth year

Player to watch: CB Eugene Wilson

2001-02 ATS record: 7-5

Victory margin: +9

Comments: Went from 0-11 SU to 10-2 in one season to capture Big Ten title. 3-1 ATS in openers since 1998. Must replace passing whiz Kurt Kittner. Wilson led the nation with 30 defended passes. Teammate Christian Morton (26) was second in that category. WR Brandon Lloyd (10 TDs) returns with LB Jerry Schumacher, a Nagurski candidate.

 

MINNESOTA:

Head coach: Glen Mason, sixth year

Player to watch: TE Ben Utecht

2001-02 ATS record: 4-6

Victory margin: —5

Comments: Mason rated the nation’s most underrated coach by the Arizona Republic’s FanBoy Internet Football Service. Favorable early schedule with four winnable games, including three at home. Faces early acid test vs Toledo, which embarrassed the Gophers 38-7 last year. Must replace school’s most prolific player in WR Ron Johnson. 1-12 SU as an away underdog over the past two years.

 

NORTHWESTERN:

Head coach: Randy Walker, fourth year

Player to watch: QB Tony Stauss

2001-02 ATS record: 4-7

Victory margin: —5

Comments: 4-1 ATS in last five season openers. With one year left on his five-year deal, Walker is on the hot seat to produce. Defense allowed a whopping 44.6 ppg the last six games of 2001. The Wildcats were second in the Big Ten in total offense, but lose both all-time leading rusher Damien Anderson and QB Zak Kustok.

 

INDIANA:

Head coach: Gerry DiNardo, first year

Player to watch: RB Jeremi Johnson

2001-02 ATS record: 5-6

Victory margin: +1

Comments: Opened 1-5 ATS after six games the past two seasons. Will be hard-pressed to replace four-year standout QB Antwaan Randle El. Defense was ahead of offense during spring practice. 4-31 SU as an underdog since 1997. Hoosiers can’t be worse than during the Cam Cameron era that ended last year. DiNardo coached previously at Louisiana State.