Big Ten Preview 2006 - Top 5s
Posted Aug 9, 2006 2006 Big 10 Preview Top 5s

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 1) The five games that will shape the Big Ten race (in order)

Sept. 23,
Penn State at Ohio State
It'll be hard to match one of the roughest, most brutal-hitting Big Ten games of last year, but it'll still be the first really big battle of the Big Ten season.
Sept. 30,
Ohio State at Iowa
The Buckeyes could be the nation's top team going into the trip to Iowa City. A Hawkeye victory would shake up the Big Ten race.
Oct. 14,
Michigan at Penn State
Hopefully this year's clash of titans will be half as good as last year's thriller when the Wolverines won in the final moments.
Oct. 21,
Iowa at Michigan
If the Hawkeyes can pull off the home upset against Ohio State, this might be the last true obstacle between them and the Big Ten title.
Nov. 18,
Michigan at Ohio State
It's Michigan vs. Ohio State. It's always important.

2) Five non-conference games that Big Ten teams had better take very, very seriously
1. Purdue at Hawaii, Nov. 25
There could be major problems for the Boilermakers if they need a win in Honolulu to go to a bowl.
2. Northern Illinois at Ohio State, Sept. 2
Yeah, the brand new Ohio State defensive back seven should be fine, but dealing with NIU star RB Garrett Wolfe and the strong Huskie line will provide a nasty test right off the bat.
3. Iowa at Syracuse, Sept. 9
The Syracuse defense should be fine while the offense can't be any worse. If Iowa is looking ahead to Iowa State, an upset wouldn't be a shock.
4. Minnesota at Kent State, Sept. 2
Who starts out a season at Kent State? The Gophers should be able to run over the Golden Flashes, but Michael Machen and the KSU passing game will provide a puncher's chance for an upset.
5. Indiana at Ball State, Sept. 9
Ball State should be much better than it was last year. If IU plays like it did early last season when it struggled to get past Central Michigan and Nicholls State, it'll get tagged.

3) Five best Big Ten pro prospects
 Wisconsin OT Joe Thomas, Sr.
The former defensive end and tight end has grown into a top pro prospect. Used as a part-time defensive lineman in the Capital One Bowl win over Auburn, he tore up his ACL killing and possibility of leaving school a year early. The 6-8, 306-pound senior is expected to be back later this summer and should be an All-American.
Michigan State QB Drew Stanton, Sr. - 236-354, 3,077 yds, 67%, 22 TD, 12 INT, 121 carries, 338 yds, 2.8 ypc 4 TD
The only possible knock is that he tries too hard. Other than that, he should grow into a big-time pro prospect if he has a huge senior season. Arguably the best quarterback in college football over the first four games of last year after starting out throwing 13 touchdown passes, he cooled off big time having problems with interceptions when he tried to carry the inconsistent offense. When he's on, there are few better and with his combination of 6-3, 230-pound size, accuracy, running skills, and experience, he's the total package. If he can stay healthy, this should be the year he puts it all together and becomes an All-American.

Ohio State DT Quinn Pitcock, Sr. - 28 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL
One of only two returning starters, Pitcock should be one of the Big Ten's best defenders and an All-American candidate. He has the speed to be a dangerous end, but at 6-3, 295 pounds he's a true tackle. While he's not flashy and he isn't going to get his name called a lot, he'll require two blockers on every down.

Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley, Sr. - 48 tackles, 7 sacks, 14 TFL
Part linebacker, part defensive end, the 268-pound All-Big Ten star has 11 tackles and 30 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. While he's active against the run making 70 stops in 2004, he's better used on the line when he gets to fly into the backfield. While he didn't see too much time this spring, he appears on the verge of making a jump to All-America status.

Michigan CB Leon Hall, Sr. - 61 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 4 interceptions, 9 broken up passes
Hall always had the potential to be a star, but he didn't put it all together until last year when he was one of the Big Ten's best all-around defensive backs. While he's not huge at 5-11 and 193 pounds, he has decent size to go along with his 4.42 speed. He led the team in interceptions and turned into a safety-like tackler finishing fourth on the team. He'll be the team's number one cover corner and in the hunt for the Thorpe Award if he has another season like last year.

4) Five biggest Big Ten shoes to fill 
1. Penn State QB Anthony Morelli for Michael Robinson
O.K. hotshot; time to shine. The star recruit of a few years ago wasn't anything special early in his career, but he appears ready to become the steady passer now that he has been in the system for a few years. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, he has the size, the athleticism, and now, the poise to be a great leader for the offense. With the weapons he ahs to work with, he should put up fantastic passing numbers. While not Robinson running the ball, he can move.
2. Ohio State LB Marcus Freeman for A.J. Hawk

The superstar recruit of a few years ago appeared ready to make a huge impact even with all the stars in last year's linebacking corps, but he suffered a knee injury and missed the season. He's 230 pounds and fast, fast, fast on the weakside. This might sound like blasphemy, but if he's 100% healthy, he might be almost, almost, as good as Hawk. He has that kind of talent.

3. Minnesota RB Amir Pinnix for Laurence Maroney

While not the typical Gopher running back, the extremely quick Pinnix will be a featured back in a rotation if he's not the outright number one. He saw mop-up work early on and carried the load against Michigan State rushing 32 times for 206 yards and a touchdown in the team's final win of the year. He hasn't caught any passes, but that will change.
4. Iowa LB
Mike Humpal for Chad Greenway
The 232-pound junior has to replace Greenway on the weakside and has the talent to put up big numbers. While he's nowhere near the athlete Greenway is, he's very fast and should be great in pass coverage. Staying healthy has been his problem so far. If he can stay on the field, he'll be one of the team's top tacklers. 

5. Wisconsin RBs P.J. Hill, Jamil Walker, and others for Brian Calhoun
There's not a speed back like Calhoun who can turn the corner on a dime, but P.J. Hill, Jamil Walker and Dywon Rowan will move the pile. The real excitement comes this fall when star freshman Lance Smith comes in; don't be shocked if he takes over the starting job.

5) Five Big Ten breakout players
Ohio State OT Alex Boone, Soph.
Considered by some to be the best Buckeye lineman prospect in over a decade, the 6-8, 315-pound sophomore has first round draft pick written all over him. He had a nice first season in the program, and now the spotlight is on to see if he can up his game and be the type of devastating all-around blocker the offense can revolve around.

2. Ohio State
LB Larry Grant, Jr.
Originally a running back coming out of his school, the 225-pound JUCO All-American has 4.4 speed and should make a big impact on the outside. He was unstoppable for City College of San Francisco and should add an instant dash of attitude and athleticism to the corps.

3. Iowa LB
Mike Klinkenborg, Jr. - 11 tackles
While he's not going to be Abdul Hodge in the middle, the 240-pound junior is tough and athletic enough to be one of the team's leading tacklers. He's an academic All-American who'll have few problems with his familiarity of the defense. He's a natural enough pass rusher to be disruptive in the backfield.

4. Wisconsin RB
P.J. Hill, RFr.
Hill was the star of spring ball taking over the number one spot after being buried deep on the depth chart. While he doesn't have anywhere near the speed of recent Badger backs like Brian Calhoun and Anthony Davis, he brings more power at 235 pounds and is quick enough to be effective behind the big line. Even though he won't catch 53 passes like Calhoun did last year, he'll be a solid receiver. The key is his health. He suffered a broken leg last season and had a dinged up neck this spring.

5. Wisconsin CB
Jack Ikegwuonu, Soph. - 26 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 broken up passes
Coming off a strong freshman season when he tied for the team lead in interceptions, the 6-1, 199-pound sophomore should be the team's top corner with a great combination of size and quickness. While not a burner, he has the all-around skills against the run as well as against number one receivers to be in for a strong year if he doesn't have problems with a hamstring injury.