Big Ten Preview 2006
Posted Aug 9, 2006

Preview 2006 Big 10 Preview

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The Big Ten might not be as good overall as it has been in past seasons, but it’s not going to be the walk in the park for Ohio State that many think it will. With several good veteran quarterbacks returning and plenty of parity, expect plenty of scoring and lots of unpredictability from the even league. Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue aren’t going to be in the Big Ten title chase, but each has the type of attack that could blow up and ruin someone’s dream season. Even the potential cellar-dwellers, Indiana, Illinois and Northwestern, will be dangerous. Expect weekly drama as high as any conference in the country with Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State and Michigan locked in a tremendous battle to see who can be in the BCS dance.

1. Welcome to a leaner, meaner, angrier Michigan. These aren’t the bruising Wolverines of the past. This is Lloyd Carr’s most athletic team yet.

2. For the third straight season, Wisconsin will start out red-hot and get flattened in November. 9-1 is possible before facing Penn State and a road trip to Iowa.

3. Ohio State won’t slip much in the defensive back seven despite all the huge losses. The secondary will be tremendous as the season goes on.

Sept. 30 Ohio State at Iowa
An Iowa win in Kinnick Stadium over the Buckeyes would likely mean it's a one game season (October 21st at Michigan) for the Big Ten title. Ohio State will be coming off a tough battle with Penn State and could be walking into a bear trap.

T1. Iowa
Predicted record: 11-1  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Player: QB Drew Tate, Sr.
Offense - The Iowa offense will be much like the 2005 version with balance, occasional explosion, and a few moments of baffling rough spots. There won't be many down moments if Drew Tate is a Big Ten Player of the Year caliber quarterback he's supposed to be, but he can't get banged up. Albert Young leads a talented backfield that should combine for close to 2,000 yards behind a talented line with a nice mix of steady veterans and great young prospects. The receiving corps is fast but inexperienced; while the tight ends will be the stars right away with three great options.
Defense - The strengths of last season are the concerns of this year, and vice versa. The Hawkeye D had to replace one of the nation's top lines, and now the front four should be among the best in the Big Ten. The 2005 linebacking corps was among the best in the country, and now big-time replacements are needed. The corners were strong last year and safety was the question mark, and now, you guessed it, the opposite is true. The run defense should be great even after losing all-star linebacker Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge thanks to a big, quick, and very active front four that should be special over the next two seasons. The pass defense needs some tightening, but that might not happen for a while until the new corners get settled.
This season will be a success if … the Hawkeyes win 11 games and comes up with at least a share of the Big Ten title. They’ll be favored in every conference game but two (at Michigan and home against Ohio State).

T1. Ohio State
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Player: QB Troy Smith, Sr.
Offense - Good-bye Tressel ball, and hello Tressel ball with a kick. QB Troy Smith should make the spread offense sing making big play after big play with his legs as well as his arm. The receivers are big, fast, and talented with Ted Ginn Jr. appearing to be ready to blossom into a superstar wideout. The backfield is full of talent with star freshman Chris Wells ready to push possible All-Big Ten runner Antonio Pittman. The line might be the best in the Jim Tressel's six years in Columbus with a world of talent, especially at tackle.
Defense Ohio State loses a slew of superstars and top NFL draft picks from the nation's number five defense, but it's unlikely to slip much with a tremendous array of athletes ready to step in. There's no reason whatsoever to worry about the back seven that has to replace all its starters. The secondary looked fantastic at times this spring with enough 4.4 speedsters to keep the NFL scouts drooling, but it has to come up with more than the six interceptions last year's crew helped pick off. The linebacking corps has seven good options to rotate with a good mix of hard-nosed run stoppers to speedy outside defenders. The line needs to come up with a steady pass rush, but that's nitpicking; All-America tackle Quinn Pitcock and the boys will be a rock against the run.
This season will be a success if … the Buckeyes play for the national title. The schedule is too favorable and the Texas games comes just early enough that anything less than a game on January 8th, 2007 in Glendale, Arizona will be a major disappointment.

T3. Michigan
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: RB Mike Hart, Jr.
Offense - The offense was a major disappointment last year finishing ninth in the league in total offense with inconsistency on the line and banged up running back Mike Hart the main reasons for the problems. New offensive coordinator Mike DeBord isn't going to change things up too much, but the call has gone out that everyone has to be in better shape. The line has trimmed down and should be more athletic, and the backs appear to be the most fit they've been. The passing game needs Steve Breaston to finally play like a number one receiver, while Mario Manningham should emerge as more of a star with quarterback Chad Henne getting better and better. If Henne goes down, watch out. There's no quarterback depth whatsoever.
Defense - New defensive coordinator Ron English will be the man under the microscope as he attempts to unwrap the athleticism and talent that have been hiding behind the just-safe-enough-to-get-beat D. There won't be wild blitz schemes or anything crazy, but there will be a bit more aggressiveness in an attempt to come up with more big plays. The potential is there to be great with a fast back seven with too many good safeties to get on the field at once. The line should be better with the likely emergence of Alan Branch as a star tackle and LaMarr Woodley about to blow up as a pass rushing terror on the outside.
This season will be a success if … Michigan wins 11 games and beats Ohio State. The schedule has too many problems to go unbeaten, but the team is good enough to be in the hunt for a huge year.

T3. Penn State
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: LB Paul Posluszny, Sr.
Offense - Anthony Morelli will be fine. The highly touted prospect should be a steady, productive quarterback with some fantastic receivers to throw to and two veteran running backs to hand off to. Tony Hunt is an unsung producer who should crank out another 1,000-yard season even with Austin Scott getting a little more work. Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood forms one of the nation's best young receiving corps. The offensive line will be an issue with only one returning starter, but that one, tackle Levi Brown, is among the best around. The attack won't crank out 422 yards and 34.4 points per game again, but it'll be effective.
Defense - It's not going to be anywhere near the killer D of the last few seasons with only four returning starters, but it's not going to fall off the map. It all begins and ends with one of the nation's best linebacking corps led by Butkus Award winner Paul Posluszny, who's expected to be fine after suffering a knee injury in the Orange Bowl. Tim Shaw and Dan Connor are tremendous producers who should get plenty of all-star honors. The secondary needs to be completely replaced, but the corners should be fine with Justin King getting the starting nod. Jay Alford is an all-star tackle who'll lead a decent line that should get better as the year goes on.
This season will be a success if … PSU finishes second in the Big Ten race. It’s not a good enough team to get through the conference season unscathed, but there won’t be much of a slip, if any.

5. Wisconsin
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 5-3
Best Player: OT Joe Thomas, Sr.
Offense - Only three starters return to the nation's 14th best scoring offense, but things aren't all that bad with a typically enormous Badger line led by All-America tackle Joe Thomas and underrated quarterback John Stocco back for his third season as the starter. After that, things are up in the air with a gigantic group of running backs looking to find a number one runner to replace Brian Calhoun and a lightning fast receiving corps with only three catches last year among the top three prospects.
Defense - The potential is there for a fantastic season if everyone stays healthy and all the young players live up to their talent. The defensive line went through major problems last year thanks to injuries and inexperience, but all the pains will pay off with a deep, experienced, and very, very good group returning with several potential all-star talents led by tackle Nick Hayden. The back seven has rock-solid experience in the middle with Mark Zalewski at linebacker and safeties Joe Stellmacher and Roderick Rogers at safety. There's a flashy young talent on the outside needing sophomore corners Jack Okegwuonu and Allen Langford to stay healthy and sophomore outside linebackers DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas to be major disruptive forces.
This season will be a success if … UW wins at least a share of the Big Ten title. There are way too many question marks to ask for an unbeaten season, but the talent is good enough and the schedule is relatively easy.

6. Michigan State
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Player: QB Drew Stanton, Sr.
Offense - The offense wasn't always consistent after hitting the wall at some strange times, but it should be among the most explosive in the nation after finishing fifth in total yards and 18th in scoring. Quarterback Drew Stanton leads the tremendous array of skill players with outstanding veteran receivers to work with to go along with a group of running backs that bring a nice combination of lightning speed and good power. The line isn't anything special, but it just has to be merely decent for all the stars to shine.
Defense - With one of the nation's best offenses to work with, all the defense has to do is not be awful. It's a D that would like to attack and be ultra-aggressive, but it didn't generate any sort of a pass rush last season and didn't come up with nearly enough takeaways for head coach John L. Smith's liking. The line should be a bit more athletic, but it'll be slightly undersized on the ends. All three starters return to a linebacking corps that has to be more disruptive. Safety Greg Cooper moves to corner, but that means Otis Wiley and JUCO transfer Nehemiah Warrick have to shine as the new starting safeties.
This season will be a success if … the Spartans win nine games and goes to a bowl. This is hardly a great team, but there's no excuse to not win at least eight with a win over a power like Ohio State or Notre Dame thrown in there.

7. Purdue
Predicted record: 7-6  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Player: WR Dorien Bryant, Jr.
Offense - The starters should be excellent with enough experience and talent returning to put up big numbers on everyone in the Big Ten. However, things could go in the tank in a big hurry if there's a massive rash of injuries with no experienced depth anywhere. The starting five on the offensive line, which allowed a mere nine sacks last year, should be among the best in the Big Ten, Kory Sheets is a great looking young back, and Dorien Bryant and Kyle Ingraham (assuming he's back after being suspended due to academic problems) will form one of the league's best 1-2 receiving punches. Curtis Painter is a great running quarterback who needs to fine-tune his mechanics. New offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher, formerly of Florida and Illinois, will do wonders with the quarterbacks.
Defense - The defense was one of the 2005 season's biggest disasters thanks to a porous secondary that never had a reliable starting foursome and finished last in the Big Ten. There are plenty of good defensive back prospects, but it's still a shaky situation going into the season needing several untested prospects to instantly become reliable playmakers. The front seven should be fine as long as everyone stays healthy early on with pass rushers needing to emerge to replace Rob Ninkovich and Ray Edwards. The linebacking corps won't have any all-stars, but it'll produce.
This season will be a success if … Purdue wins eight games. The 13-game schedule has plenty of rough patches, but there are only six games against bowl teams from last year.

T8. Illinois
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Player: RB Pierre Thomas, Sr.
Offense - Things didn't work out so hot in the first year under Ron Zook and offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher finishing last in the Big Ten in scoring averaging 17 points per game, but even though Zaunbrecher left for Purdue there's hope for a night-and-day improvement depending on the emergence of a line that did next to nothing last year. Now it's up to former Akron coordinator Jim Pry to make the attack more potent. The addition of Oklahoma transfer Akim Millington at tackle boosts an experienced line that should be able to open more holes for the solid 1-2 rushing punch of Pierre Thomas and E.B. Halsey. The quarterbacks should finally have time to breathe and push the ball downfield more to the speedy young receiving corps, but who will the number one passer be? Tim Brasic is the incumbent, but true freshmen Isiah Williams and Ben McGee will join three others to try to take over.
Defense - The Illini defense showed heart and never gave up, but it was horrible with several players not fitting what Ron Zook and defensive coordinator Vince Okruch want to do. Speed is at a premium, and it'll take some more growing pains for the fast, young defenders to get their feet wet. Being more physical is priority one after getting shoved all over the place last year finishing with the nation's worst run defense. The line will be the biggest problem until halfway through the season, but there are several linebacker options and good safeties.
This season will be a success if … Illinois wins five games. Getting to six and a bowl game might be a little too much to ask out of a team that still needs a few years to emerge.

T8. Minnesota
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Player: TE Matt Spaeth, Sr.
Offense - Offensive coordinator Mitch Browning has his work cut out for him and the Gopher system. After finishing seventh in the nation in total offense, tenth in scoring and third in rushing, Minnesota has to replace star tailback Laurence Maroney and, possibly, Gary Russell, who's doubtful thanks to academic issues. There's almost no depth anywhere, but the starters should be solid as long as they're healthy. Amir Pinnix is a small, quick back who'll carry the load early on, while the passing game should be serviceable with veteran quarterback Bryan Cupito back along with starting wideouts Ernie Wheelwright and Logan Payne. The whole is better than the sum of the parts on the line.
Defense - The Gopher D always tries hard and it has its moments, but it doesn't have the talent or athleticism to hang with the better offenses. The front four is undersized and the back seven is a bit slow, so it's a full defensive effort to keep the dam from breaking. Sometimes it works, sometimes it gets ugly. Sophomores Steve Davis and end and Dominic Jones at safety are good young players to build around, while there are enough veterans and enough experience to hope for a more consistent season.
This season will be a success if … Minnesota wins seven games and goes to another bowl. There are enough layups to have a nice base of four wins, and some upsets have to come.

T10. Indiana
Predicted record: 4-8  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: WR James Hardy, Soph.
Offense - Head coach Terry Hoeppner knows how to get offensive production, and there should be more in his second year with a veteran quarterback in Blake Powers and, arguably, the best receiving corps IU has ever had led by 6-7 James Hardy. There's speed at running back, but not a lot of proven production. The line has nice young players to build around, but no depth. Expect the wide-open, four-wide attack to be more consistent and occasionally explode.
Defense - The IU defense wasn't exactly a thing of beauty last year, but it wasn't all that bad in the first half of the season. And then the roof caved in allowing 41, 46, 42, 41 and 41 points over the final five games. All four starters return to a decent secondary, but there are wholesale changes being made on the front seven. Playing to the personnel, the linebacking corps is woefully undersized, but very, very fast. It'll be in charge of roaming around and being disruptive, while the big defensive line concentrates on stopping the run.
This season will be a success if … IU wins six games. It's a tall, tall, tall order for such a young team and with so many new starters.

T10. Northwestern
Predicted record: 4-8  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: RB Tyrell Sutton, Soph.
Offense - It's Garrick McGee's offense now taking over for Mike Dunbar, but don't expect many big changes from last year with the exception of more two-back sets to get Terrell Jordan in the backfield at the same time as franchise runner Tyrell Sutton. The offensive line will be one of the best in the Big Ten with an anonymous group of rock-solid starters and helped by the return of center Trevor Rees after missing last year with academic issues. The receiving corps gets top-target Shaun Herbert back to lead the young but big group that should allow the offense to push it downfield a bit more. The real concern is at quarterback where C.J. Bacher, Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka will try to replace four-year starter Brett Basanez.
Defense - The good: Northwestern forced 30 turnovers last year bailing itself out of several big jams, and it should do so again with nine returning starters. The bad: There might not be much improvement to a run defense didn't stop anyone last year and a total D that finished dead last in the nation allowing 480 yards and 34 points per game. The line is very big and very, very young. Consider it a work in progress outside of rising star Kevin Mims at one end. A pass rush has to be generated from somewhere, possibly from veteran outside linebackers Adam Kadela and Nick Roach, while the middle should be fine even after the loss of tackling machine Tim McGarigle. The secondary could surprise if speedy corner Marquice Cole grows into an All-Big Ten caliber playmaker and the safeties improve with the return of Bryan Heinz, but the second corner spot will be an Achilles heel all season long. 
This season will be a success if … the Wildcats win seven games and go back to a bowl, but with the tragic death of head coach Randy Walker, who knows what shape the program will be in.