`Big 11' Breakdown

Wisconsin the team to beat in the Big Ten

June 26, 2007

By Brian Jones

Special to CSTV.com



Brian Jones is a football analyst for CSTV and CSTV.com.
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Hello, sports fans, and welcome to this week's edition of CSTV's college football preview. I know I said last week that I would be taking a look at the Pac-10. Well, I changed my mind. And you know what, that's my prerogative. So, lets checkout the Big Ten instead, which is really the Big 11. For crying out loud, why don't they just call it the Big 11!


Michigan: I think "dammit" - or possibly something a little stronger - was the last thing Lloyd Carr said after watching his secondary look "slower than molasses in the winter time". Not the whole season of course, but definitely the last two ballgames. Former Texas Longhorn Vance Bedford is back as the Wolverines' secondary coach. He spent the last two years as Oklahoma State's defensive coordinator. You can only take that stench in Stillwater for so long. Defensively, as a whole, the Wolverines lost a lot of good football players, and must fill holes at linebacker and up front. Still, it should be difficult to match the play of this unit the first 11 games of last season.




Offensively, Chad Henne returns, as the second leading active quarterback in career yards. He should spend the majority of his time handing off to workhorse Mike Hart and going deep to Mario Manningham.  The O-line has three starters back and should be solid...Rumor has it that this may be it for Carr. Maybe he can't take dealing with those pesky sideline reporters anymore?


Wisconsin: This is my pick to win the Big 11! Bret Bielema posted the best single season win total in school history, and can he do it again. On offense, he must break in a new quarterback. Tyler Donovan and Kansas State transfer Allan Everidge are currently duking it out. As usual in Madison, there are no questions at running back. P.J. Hill burst on the scene last season and proceeded to lead the conference in rushing as a freshman. Watch out for another freshman in the backfield by the name of John Clay. At tight end, everyone is extremely high on converted linebacker Travis Beckum, plus there's blazing speed at receiver as well.


The unit that rose to the occasion last season was the defense after a porous 2005 campaign. Matthew Shaughnessy and Jason Chapman lead the charge on the front four and there is great speed at the linebacker position; weakside linebacker Jonathan Casillas is the second fastest player on the team. There are holes to fill at safety, but corner Jack Ikegwuonu may be one of the best in the nation. I should probably start my practice of pronouncing his name now.


Penn State: Joe Pa, I hope that leg you broke last year is feeling better. I know the fans in Happy Valley are feeling better. QB Anthony Morelli is showing signs of improvement in offensive coordinator Galen Hall's all-over-the-place offense. Someone needs to step up at running back with the departure of Tony Hunt. The wide receiver corps is led by Deon Butler and big `ol tight end Andrew Quarless. All eyes will be on wide out Chris Bell as well.


On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has moved All-American linebacker Dan Connor inside and there is great depth at the other linebacker spots. In the secondary Justin King is king when it comes to coverage, but there is still uncertainty about the status of safety Anthony Scirrotto. On a personal note, last week I sat in on my former sports radio show in Austin on AM1300 The Zone, and we had the pleasure of interviewing Penn State Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti. He has high hopes for his Nittany Lions this season. I think the offense has to really click for them to even sniff a conference title, lest alone a Rose Bowl.


Ohio State: Ouch! Over that tail-kicking you took in BCS Championship game, Buckeyes? Get over Heisman winner Troy Smith; he's gone. Enter Todd Boeckman and Rob Schoenhoft. Now, the experts (which I do not prescribe to be one of) give the edge to Boeckman, not because he's a coach's son, but as a result of his cannon arm and agility. Chris and Maurice Wells hope to pick up where Antonio Pittman left off at running back. Someone desperately needs to emerge at wide out with the departures of Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. The big boys up front are experienced and talented. Vernon Gholston led the Buckeyes in sacks last year and is primed to do it again this season. My main man Lil' Animal, James Laurinatis leads a very talented linebacking group. Think he can match his interception total from last season (five)? Look for cornerback Malcolm Jenkins to snag his fair share of picks as well. Who takes over the kick return duties for the aforementioned Ginn Jr.?


Iowa: Kirk Ferentz and Hawkeye fans have three words to describe their hopes for the upcoming season: "Stay healthy, please!" This football team was a MASH unit a season ago. At one point, the Hawkeyes were down to their fourth string center. Okay, there's no crying in football, so what does this year look like? Well, say goodbye to Drew Tate, and apparently that's easy to do. Allegedly, Mr. Tate wasn't very well liked by his teammates or his head coach. Enter the guy that subbed for an injured Tate last year, Jake Christensen. Christensen is also a coach's son and has a confidence about him that could endear him to the fans. He will need help in accomplishing this, and Albert Young can provide assistance if he can stay on the field. Wide outs Dominique Douglas and Andy Brodell are big targets and should be busy. As I alluded to previously, the offensive line was decimated last year, and must find some chemistry if Iowa is to compete for the Big 11 title. On defense, the Hawkeyes are undersized up front and unremarkable at linebacker and in the secondary. 


Purdue: Joe Tiller's mantra this spring was, "Get meaner and tougher." And for quarterback Curtis Painter, it was, "Stop giving the damn ball to the enemy". Painter led the conference in passing, as well as interceptions (19, to be exact). Painter will often fix his sights on leading receiver Dorien Bryant. Defensively, much like the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Boilermakers are undersized up front and routinely get pushed around by the big boys in the conference. The secondary hopes its dismal play last year will bear some fruit this season.


Minnesota: Tim Brewster is the new head coach at Minnesota, and he is a good one, folks. Coach Brew is tough and honest. I think he can take this program to a bowl on a consistent basis. It all starts with the new spread offense that coordinator Mike Dunbar devised at Northwestern. The quarterback situation is currently unsettled; Adam Weber may have the upper hand because of his athleticism. It seems as though the Gophers always have a dependable running back, and at the moment, that man is Amir Pinnix. What a name, sounds like royalty. Receiver and o-line are struggling to attain consistency and learn a new system. Everett Withers is the new defensive coordinator and will try to limit the big plays Minnesota's defense is prone to giving up. Not many, if any stars on this side of the ball other than end Willie VanDeSteeg. Minnesota, you got a good coach. Now, all you have to do is be patient.


Illinois: Ron Zook may be fighting to keep his job if there isn't marked improvement in his ball club in '07. The Illini are thirsty for quarterback Juice Williams to become a better down-the-field passer (Come on, you know I couldn't pass that up). By far, the best name on the team is freshman Arrelious Benn, who may eventually be the best receiver as well. Arrelious "where u" Benn just may be the downfield spark this offense has been craving. The O-line has four starters back, but it's yet to be determined if that's bad or good. The defense now has talent and depth, and Zook should be able to provide more pressure on signal callers and eliminate the big plays. Look for DE Derek Walker to have a breakout year. J Leman is solid at middle and Vontae Davis leads the secondary.


Michigan State: Mark Dantonio brings much-needed toughness back to East Lansing. It starts with a physical running game led by Javon Ringer, Jehuu Caulcrick and a speedster named A.J. Jimmerson. The quarterback position is all Brian Hoyer's. The young man can make all the throws, but can he lead and manage an offense? The O-line is still being constructed, but you can best believe they will be more aggressive. The defense has struggled to sustain any kind of pass rush over the years. The linebackers are led by Kaleb Thornhill and more royalty, weakside linebacker Sir Darean Adams. How do these parents come up with these names? Dantonio likes what he has in the secondary, especially Otis Wiley...The Spartans have to have one of, if not the toughest schedules in the nation. Look it up for yourself. I'm not going to do everything for you!


Indiana: First and foremost, my condolences to the Hoeppner family and to the Hoosier nation...offensive coordinator Bill Lynch will take over as he did last season and is ecstatic over the guy running his spread offense. Kellen Lewis has everyone reminiscing about Antwan Randle El. Lewis has a big play receiver in 6-foot-7 220-pound James Hardy. The O-line has been pathetic, thus the dubious honor of being last in rushing in the Big 11 the past two seasons. Linebackers Will Patterson and Geno Johnson spearhead the linebacking unit and Tracy Porter is a formidable presence in the secondary.


Northwestern:  Last year, the Wildcats were experiencing what Indiana is currently going through with the passing of their head coach, Randy Walker. In Pat Fitzgerald's second season at the helm he hopes his quarterback, C.J Bachér, picks up where he left off in the last five games of the 2006 season. He was much more consistent and a better decision maker. Tyrell Sutton is one of the more athletic backs in the conference and the receiving corps has plenty of depth. The big uglies on the line are a veteran group. Defensively, the D-line is stout with end Corey Wootton and tackles John Gill and Adam Hahn. Deante Battle is the Wildcats' best cover guy and usually matches up with the opponent's most potent receiver.


That's it for this week's college football preview. Next week I'll lay my sights on the SEC...or maybe I won't.