Power shift in Big 10

Aug 12, 2003 5:49 AM

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.

MICHIGAN

10-2 (7-1 conference)

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 Coach Lloyd Carr dearly loves. Minnesota is 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 still is not solved.

Favorable Line Winner: October 4 ”” Michigan over Iowa. Revenge from last year will get a notice. Probable low line will make this choice very attractive.

Favorable Line Loser: Âí­October 11 ”” Minnesota over Michigan. Gophers could be catching the Wolves in their second straight road encounter. The ’Dome is a tough place to play. Gophers will be sky-high.

PURDUE

10-2 (6-2 conference)

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 11 starters back should definitely improve. Interesting fact about this defense ”” nine starters will be Seniors.

Strengths: 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 it 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 affairs. Revenge here, with Notre Dame coming off three tough opponents.

Favorable Line Loser: Âí­October 25 ”” Michigan over Purdue. Boilers second consecutive tough road game. Should see a small line as Purdue should have a good record at this point.

WISCONSIN

9-3 (6-2 conference)

Like so many other teams in the Big Ten, this squad returns a lot of talent. The big question 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. 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 proved 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.

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

9-3 (6-2 conference)

This team could be the surprise team of the Big Ten. A lot of talent is 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 very good.

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 certainly could be 4-0 at that time.

Favorable Line Loser: Âí­October 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

9-3 (5-3 conference)

The surprise team of 2002, and the National Champs are once again loaded. In fact the offense returns 11 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 distraction.

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 straight week.

Favorable Line Loser: Âí­November 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.

MINNESOTA

9-3 (5-3 conference)

Seems to be everyone’s choice to be the team to move up in the standings in the Big Ten. Certainly have 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 good.

Strengths: Tremendous amount of talent and experience at all the skilled 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 gone.

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 possible. 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.

ILLINOIS

7-5 (4-4 conference)

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 QB’s 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 road schedule.

Strengths: No question at the QB position. The defensive line should be very good and the Âí­offensive 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: Âí­October 4 ”” Purdue over Illinois. Revenge for the Boilers as they lost last year in overtime, 38-31. Illini’s secondary gets tested!

IOWA 7-5
(3-5 conference)

Iowa certainly pleased its fans last year with a 11-2 season. Most of that success can be contributed 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 Hawkeyes 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: Âí­October 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

4-8 (1-7 conference)

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 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 beginning.

Weakness: Last season’s disaster left a lot of unanswered questions. Both sides of the ball lost confidence and have no really skilled personnel. Smith may get the job done, however this year will be painful.

Favorable Line Winner: August 30 ”” Michigan State over Western Michigan. Spartans need to get the season off on the right foot. Home opener critical!

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 rout!

INDIANA

4-8 (1-7 conference)

Here’s a team that has a small chance to break out of the basement. However, this team continues to have the problem of not recruiting top-notch talent. Lost both QB’s from last year’s team, however 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.

NORTHWESTERN

1-11 (0-8 conference)

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