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2007 Illinois Fighting Illini

Collegefootballnews.com
Posted Dec 31, 2007


2007 Illinois Fighting Illini Season, Game Recaps, Scores and Reviews

2007 Illinois Fighting Illini

2007 Recap: When the Illini lost to Missouri, 40-34, on opening day, who would have guessed that both schools would play bowl games on New Year’s Day?  In Illinois’ case, it copped a spot in the Rose Bowl, its first since 1983, after winning nine games, finishing in a second place tie in the Big Ten, and authoring the nation’s biggest turnaround after going 2-10 in 2006.  More than anyone in Champaign, the storybook season was vindication for Ron Zook, a respected recruiter, who proved that he can coach a little as well.    

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Rashard Mendenhall

Defensive Player of the Year: LB J Leman

Biggest Surprise: The Illini knocked off three ranked teams during the season, none bigger than its upset of No. 1 and unbeaten Ohio State on Nov. 10.  Using a shrewd offensive gameplan to get QB Juice Williams into space, Illinois held off the eventual Big Ten champs, beating a top-ranked opponent for the first time since 1956. 

Biggest Disappointment: Although Illinois’ Cinderella season was safe no matter what happened in Pasadena, getting embarrassed by USC left many wondering if the Illini ever belonged in a BCS bowl game.  The Trojans toyed with the Illinois defense, scoring seven touchdowns and racking up a Rose Bowl-record 663 yards of total offense.   

Looking Ahead: Mendenhall’s early defection to the NFL hurts, but Illinois has been recruiting so well, and has so much returning talent that another nine-win season will catch no one off guard in 2008.  Williams needs to tighten up his consistency as a thrower, or else Eddie McGee will see his role increase next fall.     

- 2007 Illinois Preview 
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2006 Illinois Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
5-7
2007 Record: 9-4

Sept. 1 Missouri (St.L) L 40-34
Sept. 8 Western Illinois W 21-0
Sept. 15 at Syracuse W 41-20
Sept. 22
at Indiana W 27-14
Sept. 29 Penn State W 27-20
Oct. 6 Wisconsin W 31-26
Oct. 13 at Iowa L 10-6
Oct. 20 Michigan L 27-17
Oct. 27
Ball State W 28-17
Nov. 3 at Minnesota W 44-17
Nov. 10 at Ohio State W 29-21
Nov. 17
Northwestern W 41-22
Rose Bowl
Jan. 1 USC L 49-14

Jan. 1
2008 Rose Bowl
USC 49 ... Illinois 17

USC got up 21-0 in the first half on two Chauncey Washington scores and a 34-yard touchdown catch by Desmond Reed off a gadget play from Garrett Green, but Illinois made it interesting for a few moments. On the first drive of the third quarter, Rashard Mendenhall tore off a 79-yard touchdown run to pull the Illini within ten. And then came the game's drama as Mendenhall took a pass 55 yards into scoring range, but soon after Jacob Willis lost a fumble in the end zone, and after a mad battle, USC LB Brian Cushing recovered and things were never the same. On USC's ensuing drive, John David Booty threw a lateral to Joe McKnight, who took it off the turn and ran 65 yards leading to a Fred David two-yard touchdown catch to open up the floodgates. The Trojans scored 28 straight points on two Booty scoring passes, a six-yard McKnight run, and a three-yard Hershel Dennis scoring run. Illinois had one last interesting moment with a 56-yard touchdown catch from Arrelious Benn, but it was far too little, far too late.
Offensive Player of the Game: USC RB Joe McKnight ran ten times for 125 yards and a touchdown, caught six passes for 45 yards, and returned three punts for 36 yards.
Defensive Player of the Game: USC LB Rey Maualuga made four tackles, three sacks, forced a fumble and came up with an interception
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Isiah Williams, 21-35, 245 yds, 2 INT
Rushing: Rashard Mendenhall, 17-155, 1 TD. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 5-80, 1 TD
USC - Passing: John David Booty, 25-37, 255 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Joe McKnight, 10-127, 1 TD. Receiving:
Fred Davis, 7-87, 1 TD
Thoughts & Notes ...
5 Thoughts on the Rose Bowl ... The two teams combined for 1,078 yards of total offense with Illinois getting 190 of it 445 on three plays. ... Illinois had no downfield passing whatsoever early on and the USC defensive front seven teed off. The linebackers ate up everything Juice Williams wanted to do. Outside of one big run and the big screen pass to get in scoring range, Rashard Mendenhall almost never got the ball in a place to do anything. ... This was Mendenhall's showcase game. For all the talent on USC, Mendenhall might turn out to be the best pro prospect. He showed speed and hands to go along with his power and cutting ability. ... USC came up with 14 tackles for loss and forced six fumbles, recovering two. The defense was all over the Illinois running game. ... USC ran for 344 yards to 144. Illinois needed that number to be reversed.

Nov. 17
Illinois 41 ... Northwestern 22
Illinois ran for 321 yards and coasted after taking an early 21-0 lead on two one-yard touchdown runs from Juice Williams and a three-yard Rashard Mendenhall dash. Northwestern scored late in the first half on a one-yard Tyrell Sutton run, but the Illini ended any excitement in the third quarter with a 42-yard Jeff Cumberland catch and an eight-yard Mendenhall run for a 35-7 lead. C.J. Bacher threw two late touchdown passes and finished with 310 passing yards for the Wildcats.
Player of the game: Illinois QB Juice Williams completed 15 of 23 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and ran 23 times for 136 yards and two scores.
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Isiah Williams, 15-23, 220 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Isiah Williams, 23-136, 2 TD. Receiving: Jeff Cumberland, 4-131, 1 TD
Northwestern - Passing: C.J. Bacher, 29-49, 310 yds, 2 TD< 2 INT
Rushing:
Tyrell Sutton, 13-71, 1 TD. Receiving:
Eric Peterman, 10-120
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Illinois kept on rolling with an easy win over Northwestern thanks to the running game and a strong performance from the defense against the Wildcat running game early on. With Michigan losing to Ohio State, the Illini will likely go to the Outback Bowl, but with nine wins, it's a near-lock for the New Year's Day game to finish off a huge bounceback season. Rashard Mendenhall finished off with a team-record 17 touchdown runs and Juice Williams was unstoppable, but it was the play of the defensive line over the last month that ended the season with a bang.

Nov. 10
Illinois 28 ... Ohio State 21
Illinois tore off 260 rushing yards, but it was the passing game that killed Ohio State early on with Juice Williams throwing four touchdown passes to four different receivers. A 31-yard strike to Marques Wilkins late in the third quarter gave the Illini a 28-14 lead, but the Buckeyes marched right back going 76 yards in eight plays with Chris Wells finishing it off with his second touchdown run of the game. And Illinois decided to not let Ohio State have the ball again. The Buckeyes ran two plays in the fourth quarter with the second an interception by Marcus Thomas with 8:09 to play. And then Illinois played keep-away, going 42 yards on 16 plays taking off the rest of the time, highlighted by a two-yard quarterback sneak on fourth and inches on the Illinois 33 to keep the drive alive. Marcus Freeman and James Laurinaitis combined to make 30 tackles for the Buckeyes, while J Leman made 12 stops for Illinois.
Player of the game: Illinois QB Juice Williams completed 12 of 22 passes for 140 yards and four touchdowns, and ran 16 times for 70 yards
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Isiah Williams, 12-22, 140 yds, 4 TD
Rushing: Daniel Dufrene, 8-106. Receiving: Brian Gamble, 3-27, 1 TD
Ohio State - Passing: Todd Boeckman, 13-23, 156 yds, 3 INT
Rushing:
Chris Wells, 20-76, 2 TD. Receiving: Brian Hartline, 4-86

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Illinois just beat up the number one team in America. From the word go, Illinois was more physical, smarter, and far more efficient as it marched the ball on the seemingly impenetrable brick wall of a Buckeye run defense. Now a New Year's Day bowl game is all but assured after the stunning win over the Buckeyes, but first the team has to take care of business against Northwestern to be in the hunt for a ten-win season. Certainly this game was the official announcement that Illinois is going to be one of the biggest players of 2008, and next year's "it" team.

Nov. 3
Illinois 44 ... Minnesota 17
Illinois ran for 448 yards with Rashard Mendenhall getting 201 of them with scoring dashes fro 64 and 33 yards out. The game was broken open with three Jason Reda field goals and a seven-yard Isiah Williams touchdown run as part of a 23-point outburst. Minnesota was never it it after Williams threw first quarter scoring passes to Jacob Willis from 47 yards out and Jeff Cumberland from 22 yards away. Adam Weber threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Ernie Wheelwright and ran for a 29-yard score.
Player of the game: Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall ran 17 times for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and QB Juice Williams completed 14 of 21 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, and ran 18 times for 133 yards and a score..
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Isiah Williams, 14-21, 207 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Rashard Mendenhall, 17-201, 2 TD. Receiving: Jeff Cumberland, 4-53, 1 TD
Minnesota - Passing: Adam Weber, 18-31, 208 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Duane Bennett, 12-35. Receiving: Ernie Wheelwright, 9-123, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Beating up Minnesota isn't any big deal, but this was an important win for Illinois. Isiah Williams found a passing groove and was accurate and effective, while the running game exploded with yet another brilliant day from Rashard Mendenhall. If the Illini can throw like it did in the Dome, it'll be an impossible offense to stop down the stretch. If the safeties have to play off even a little bit, Mendenhall dominates. Can Williams keep up the production against Ohio State? It'll be an interesting showdown.

Oct. 27
Illinois 28 ... Ball State 17
Illinois ran for 324 yards with Rashard Mendenhall scoring from two and 30 yards out, and Juice Williams adding scoring dashes from ten and three yards away, but it was a fight. Ball State took a 10-7 lead on a 36-yard Mike Dorulla interception return for a touchdown, and pulled within four in the third quarter on a 24-yard Darius Hill catch, but the Illinois running game proved to be too much to overcome. The Illini held on to the ball for close to 17 minutes in the second half, and 10:19 in the fourth.
Player of the game: Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall ran 28 times for 189 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Ball State - Passing: Nate Davis, 16-33, 167 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Nate Davis, 12-64. Receiving: Darius Hill, 4-56, 1 TD
Illinois - Passing: Isiah Williams, 7-15, 145 yds, 2 INT
Rushing:
Rashard Mendenhall, 28-189, 2 TD. Receiving:
Arrelious Benn, 4-97
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
The Illinois secondary came up with a nice day against Ball State, and the running game did what the running game was supposed to do. It might not have been the prettiest win, but when Juice Williams and Rashard Mendenhall can get the spread-option working as well as it did, the offense is hard to stop. Now that a bowl bid is all but certain, its time for a better position. Winning at Minnesota next week has to be a must, and then the big prize is up next: at Ohio State.

Oct. 20
Michigan 27 ... Illinois 17
Mike Hart was out, Chad Henne got hurt, and Illinois was rolling with a 14-3 first half lead on a 26-yard Jacob Willis touchdown catch and an eight-yard run from Daniel Dufrene, but then the Michigan offense got the receivers involved as Mario Manningham caught an eight-yard touchdown pass, later caught an 11-yard pass from WR Adrian Arrington to break a 17-17 tie midway through the fourth quarter. Arrington also caught a 14-yard touchdown pass as part of the 24-3 run. K.C. Lopata nailed a 39-yard field goal to put the Wolverines up ten late.
Player of the game: Michigan QB Chad Henne completed 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 8-14, 70 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Rashard Mendenhall, 18-85. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 5-35
Michigan - Passing: Chad Henne, 18-26, 201 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Carlos Brown, 25-113. Receiving: Mario Manningham, 9-109, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
The Michigan loss made Illinois look like it's not ready for primetime. From the ten penalties, many of them silly, to the lack of of consistency to the passing game, to the inability to control the Wolverine offense without Mike Hart. Juice Williams wasn't awful throwing the ball, but he didn't connect on enough top pass plays to throw any sort of a scare in the Wolverine secondary. With Ball State and Minnesota ahead, the Illini can get back on track in a big hurry before going to Ohio State.

Oct. 13
Iowa 10 ... Illinois 6
Iowa safety Brett Greenwood picked off Eddie McGee in the end zone with just over a minute to play to close out a brilliant defensive performance. The Illini gained just 287 yards of total offense and was outgained 141 yards to 137 on the ground, getting points on Jason Reda field goals from 46 and 23 yards out. Iowa tied it at three just before halftime on a 28-yard Daniel Murray kick, and took the lead for good at the end of the third quarter on a 29-yard Brandon Myers touchdown catch. The Illinois offense almost got its home run to change things around on an 83-yard pass play to Joe Morgan, but it was called back by an ineligible receiver penalty.
Player of the game: Iowa LB Mike Humphal made 18 tackles, sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and recovered a fumble
Stat Leaders: Iowa - Passing: Jake Christensen, 17-25, 182 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Albert Young, 25-99. Receiving: Albert Young, 4-25
Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 9-15, 98 yds
Rushing:
Rashard Mendenhall, 15-67  Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 4-87
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Every once in a while, the Illini running game is going to get stuffed, and someone will have to throw it. Just when it looked like Eddie McGee would be the better answer at quarterback of Juice Williams, he throws a lousy pass at the end to let Iowa seal the win. That shouldn't take away from him getting more and more playing time. Juice threw well against the Hawkeyes, but McGee also showed off what he could do, yet again, with his arm and his legs. The offense can't be afraid to start taking more shots down the field.

Oct. 6
Illinois 31 ... Wisconsin 26
Illinois ran for 310 yards, with Rashard Mendenhall getting 160 of them, with scoring runs from 32 and five yards out, but it was a nine-play, 71-yard drive late in the fourth quarter, finishing up with a five-yard Eddie McGee score, that put the game out of reach. The Badgers, battling with a banged up P.J. Hill, fought back through the air, getting a nine-yard touchdown catch from Garrett Graham with 1:31 to play, but they couldn't get the ball back, failing to get the onside kick, and failing to come up with a stop on fourth and short. Mendenhall also caught a five-yard touchdown pass, while Wisconsin got 392 passing yards from Tyler Donovan and two touchdowns.
Player of the game: Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall ran 19 times for 160 yards and two touchdowns, and caught four passes for 33 yards and a score.
Stat Leaders: Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 12-19, 121 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Rashard Mendenhall, 19-160, 2 TD. Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 5-51
Wisconsin - Passing: Tyler Donovan, 27-49, 392 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
P.J. Hill, 21-83, 1 TD. Receiving:
Travis Beckum, 11-160
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Illinois almost pitched a perfect game against Wisconsin, except for the inability to generate a consistent pass rush or stop the midrange passes. The lines were more physical, the running game worked to perfection, and Juice Williams was shockingly accurate. Most importantly in a game that was all about momentum, Illinois didn't turn the ball over. Now the spotlight will be on, and now the pressure will be there for the Illini to produce like they have over the past few weeks. If they play like they did this week, being unbeaten until the late game at Ohio State is possible.

Sept. 29
Illinois 27 ... Penn State 20
Illinois answered a 26-yard Kevin Kelly field goal with a 90-yard kickoff return for a score from
Arrelious Benn, got a two-yard Rashard Mendenhall touchdown run, and never trailed the rest of the way. Benn also scored on a 29-yard catch early in the second, but the Illini offense couldn't get back into the end zone, settling for two Jason Reda field goals in the second half. Penn State got in the end zone on a 24-yard Derrick Williams catch and a seven-yard Austin Scott run, and had one final shot, but a last-gasp Anthony Morelli pass turned into his third thrown interception of the game.
Player of the game ... Illinois WR Arrelious Benn caught six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown and returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score
Stat Leaders: Penn State - Passing: Anthony Morelli, 21-38, 298 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Rodney Kinlaw, 16-66  Receiving: Derrick Williams, 5-79, 1 TD
Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 11-24, 120 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
Rashad Mendenhall, 18-76, 1 TD  Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 6-84, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Now is it time to call Illinois legit? It might be, and it couldn't come into next week's Wisconsin showdown on a higher note. Beating the Penn State signals the first big win for Ron Zook, and it also showcased the young talent with Arrelious Benn coming up with the huge plays everyone was hoping for when he came in as one of the nation's top recruits. Now, Juice Williams has to do something, anything, to be more accurate, and he has to avoid interceptions

Sept. 22
Illinois 27 ... Indiana 14
Illinois got out to a 13-0 fist half lead on two Jason Reda field goals and two-yard Michael Hoomanawanui touchdown catch, but Indiana was able to come back with a ten-play march culminating in a seven-yard James Hardy scoring grab. Illinois QB Juice Williams came up with his most efficient drive of the day, going 68 yards in 1:14 with a pass to Rashad Mendenhall closing out the first half. Mendenhall put the Illini comfortably ahead with a five-yard scoring run. James Bailey caught a 30-yard touchdown pass for the Hoosiers in the fourth quarter.
Player of the game ... Illinois RB Rashad Mendenhall ran 27 times for 214 yards and a touchdown, and caught three passes for 18 yards and a score
Stat Leaders: Indiana - Passing: Kellen Lewis, 26-51, 263 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Bryan Payton, 5-40  Receiving: Andrew Means, 7-83
Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 13-28, 98 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
Rashad Mendenhall, 27-214, 1 TD  Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 5-50
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
The Illini didn't come up with the prettiest of performances to beat Indiana, but it was effective. Rashad Mendenhall has now firmly established himself as one of the Big Ten's premier offensive weapons, and he'll need to be with the inconsistency of QB Juice Williams. Williams continues to struggle mightily with his accuracy, and he's not doing anything to threaten defenses with his arm. The offense worked against Indiana, but unless Williams is on, the Penn State and Wisconsin games over the next two weeks will be struggles.

Sept. 15
Illinois 45 ... Syracuse 20
Illinois jumped all over Syracuse with a 20-3 lead on a 22-yard touchdown catch from Jeff Cumberland and a two-yard Rashan Mendenhall scoring run. The Orange appeared to get back into the game halfway through the third quarter on a two-yard Jeremy Sellers run, but the Illini put it away on a ten-yard Juice Williams run and two scores from Mendenhall on runs from 50 yards and one yard. The Illini outgained SU 508 to 286.
Player of the game ... Illinois RB Rashad Mendenhall ran 16 times for 150 yards and three touchdowns and caught three passes for 20 yards
Stat Leaders: Syracuse - Passing: Andrew Robinson, 17-26, 208 yds
Rushing: Curtis Brinkley, 18-54  Receiving: Curtis Brinkley, 4-89
Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 13-18, 97 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
Rashad Mendenhall, 16-150, 3 TD  Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 4-26
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... As long as Juice Williams doesn't have to throw the ball, he's dangerous. Against Syracuse, all he had to do was run once in a while, make a few key short throws, and not make big mistakes. Now that the Illini have a road win, and a win over a non-FCS team, the confidence needs to be there going into the Indiana game. The offensive line has to play as well as it has over the last two weeks, and Rashad Mendenhall has to keep producing as the focal point of the attack.

Sept. 8
Illinois 21 ... Western Illinois 0
The Illinois defense shut down and shut out Western Illinois, allowing just 152 yards of total offense and four first downs. The offense wasn't sharp, but it got a touchdown in each of the last three quarters starting off with a 32-yard Daniel Dufrene run. Juice Williams ran for a nine-yard score and Rashad Mendenhall ran for a 16-yard score. J Leman led the Illini with 11 tackles.
Player of the game ... Illinois RB Rashad Mendenhall ran 23 times for 139 yards and a touchdown and caught a pass for 16 yards
Stat Leaders: Western Illinois - Passing: Matt Barr, 11-21, 71 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Herb Donaldson, 27-59  Receiving: Carl Sims, 5-53
Illinois - Passing: Juice Williams, 12-24, 123 yds
Rushing:
Rashad Mendenhall, 23-139 1 TD  Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 4-52
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Illinois didn't need to air it out to beat Western Illinois, but it should've Juice Williams was back from injury and struggled yet again with his accuracy. The running game was fine, as expected, but this needed to be a time for Williams to find his passing tough and get Arrelious Benn going. Benn had a decent day and Rashad Mendenhall ran well, and now the passing game has to be better against Syracuse before the Illini dives into Big Ten play.

Sept. 1
Missouri 40 ... Illinois 34
Missouri was on its way to an easy win after getting up 37-13 late in the third quarter helped by a 100-yard fumble return for a score from Cornelius Brown, two Jeremy Maclin touchdowns, including a 66-yard punt return for a score to apparently put the game way. And then Illinois end on a run with Eddie McGee running for a 16-yard score and connecting with Kyle Hudson for a 41-yard touchdown, and Rashad Mendenhall scoring on a four-yard dash to pull within three. Mizzou got a little breathing room on a 32-yard Jeff Wolfert field goal, and then held on as Cornelius Brown picked off a pass at the goal line in the final minute.
Player of the game ... Missouri QB Chase Daniel connected on 37-of-54 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns.
Stat Leaders: Missouri- Passing: Chase Daniel, 37-54, 359 yds, 3 TDs
Rushing: Tony Temple, 17-33  Receiving: Martin Rucker, 10-86
Illinois - Passing: Eddie McGee, 17-31, 257 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Rushing:
Daniel Dufrene, 6-58  Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 5-74
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Illinois was down big to Missouri and should've theoretically gone into the tank after losing QB Juice Williams in the second quarter to a head injury, but Eddie McGee came in and did a great job moving the offense. LB J Leman came up with 20 tackles in a typical J Leman game, but while he all but stuffed the Tiger running game, he didn't get much help from the secondary. The Illini might be happy with the heart it showed in the comeback, but it was still yet another loss in the Ron Zook era.

Sept. 1 - Missouri
Offense: If all the parts are working as expected, this should be one of the nation's five most productive offenses with an embarrassment of riches to work with. Junior QB Chase Daniel is growing into a star leader with more than enough weapons to choose from. The tight end combination of Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman is the best in the nation, Will Franklin can fly on the outside, and Tony Temple leads a small, quick backfield that'll rip through the holes created by a talented, experienced line. The problems? Consistency and proven play in crunch time. The numbers are going to be there, but they have to come against the top teams in the big games.
Defense: The whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. A pass rush will emerge eventually from the outside linebackers as well as end Stryker Sulak, while Brock Christopher has the makings of an All-Big 12 performer at middle linebacker. The secondary will be fine thanks to the return of starting corners Darnell Terrell and Hardy Ricks, but replacing safeties David Overstreet and Brandon Massey won't be easy. There's tremendous speed and athleticism in the back seven, several good young players to get excited about among the backups, and an excellent tackle pair in Evander Hood and Lorenzo Williams to anchor things up front. Now the D has to prove it can come through on a consistent basis against the top teams.


Sept. 8 – Western Illinois

Sept. 15 – at Syracuse
Offense: The pieces are there among the skill players for a night-and-day improvement from last year’s putrid attack that cranked out a mere 264 yards and 17.4 points per game. The receiving cops, helped by the return of Taj Smith from injury, should be one of the best in the Big East, while Curtis Brinkley is a good back to work around. Sophomore QB Andrew Robinson is a star in the making, but he’ll have a hard time with his consistency behind an offensive line that needs work even with three starters returning in the interior.
Defense: It might take a little while, but the D will improve as the season goes on, it struggled in every area but getting into the backfield, and with a strong defensive line returning, led be end Jameel McClain, generating pressure won’t be much of a problem. The linebacking corps will be a work in progress with three news starters, but the excellent safety tandem of Dowayne Davis and Joe Fields should clean up plenty of messes.


Sept. 22 – at Indiana
Offense: The IU spread offense has the pieces in place with rising star quarterback Kellen Lewis about to come into his own as a leader, and a good receiving corps to put up big numbers, led by James Hardy. There's speed at running back, but Marcus Thigpen and Demetrius McCray have to be more productive. The X factor is the line, which the late Terry Hoeppner did a great job of putting together in the 2006 recruiting class. Rodger Saffold and Pete Saxon are just two who should upgrade the front.
Defense: The IU defense has struggled over the last few years to slow anyone down, but now the youth movement should produce results. The goal is to bend but not break, and now there has to be less breaking. It's still a young overall group, but there's experience and potential, especially at corner where Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors should be among the Big Ten's best. There's little proven pass rush up front, while the linebacking corps is small and quick by design.

Sept. 29 - Penn State
Offense: Known for being button-down conservative, now it's time for Penn State to open the offense up. At least, that's what it has to do to play to the team's strengths. The receiving corps has the potential to be the best in the league with three great targets in Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood, and an all-star-to-be in tight end Andrew Quarless. If senior quarterback Anthony Morelli is consistent and gets the ball to his speedy receivers deep, the passing game will be fantastic. The line, despite the loss of Levi Brown, will be excellent with the expected emergence of tackles Dennis Landolt and Gerald Cadogan, but the real question mark will be running back Austin Scott. The one time star recruit Austin Scott has to finally show he can be the workhorse for the running game. If not. it'll be throw, throw and throw some more.
Defense: As always, the defense will revolve around the linebackers. Paul Posluszny might be gone, but Dan Connor, who'll take over in the middle, could turn into a better all-around playmaker, and Sean Lee will be an All-Big Ten performer. The line doesn't have much experience with only one starter returning, but there's plenty of promise on the inside in beefy tackles Phil Taylor and Abe Koroma. The secondary will be stellar if Anthony Scirrotto gets past his off-the-field legal troubles. If not, corner Justin King and safety Tony Davis, who moves over from corner, will keep the pass defense from sliding after a good 2006.

Oct. 6 - Wisconsin
Offense: The offense wasn't always pretty, but it produced. Now it welcomes back nine starters, led by power runner P.J. Hill working behind a deep and talented offensive line. The receiving corps is loaded with deep threats with Paul Hubbard, Luke Swan, and top pass-catching tight end Travis Beckum returning. It's all there to have a huge season as long as the quarterback situation is settled. Tyler Donovan and Allan Evridge are each good enough to start, but one has to break free and take the job by the horns. While this is one of the deepest Badger offenses in a long time, most of the top reserves are untested. That isn't going to be an issue for the line or the backfield, but it could be a problem if injuries hit the receiving corps.
Defense: Seven starters return to the Big Ten's best defense that finished fifth in the country. The corners will be terrific with Jack Ikegwuonu and Allen Langford back on the nation's second best pass defense (and first in pass efficiency defense), but the safeties have to be replaced. Shane Carter is a future star at free safety, but strong safety is a question mark. The front seven might not have any sure-thing stars, but it'll be terrific as long as Elijah Hodge plays up to his potential in the middle. The overall depth is talented, even though it's young and relatively untested.


Oct. 13 – at Iowa
Offense: The Jake Christensen era starts after four years of the Drew Tate regime, but backup quarterback Arvell Nelson is a terrific prospect who could push hard this fall. With the 1-2 rushing punch of Albert Young and Damian Sims, the ground game will be strong if the questionable offensive line pulls out a better season than last year (when injuries were a major problem). Dominique Douglas and Andy Brodell are emerging targets, and they'll shine with a passer like Christensen winging it. As good as Christensen might be, the offense will try to run first.
Defense: You basically know what you're getting with the Iowa defense. It's not going to do anything fancy, it's not going to bring any funky blitzes, and most teams should be able to get yards through the air without a problem. However, everyone can hit and there are few mistakes made. Eight starters return, led by end Ken Iwebema and one of the Big Ten's best lines, while the replacements for the departed starters are good. Forcing more turnovers, making more plays behind the line, and generating more pressure are all vital to coming up with a better year.

Oct. 20 - Michigan
Offense: Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord didn't change things up much in his first year, and there aren't going to be a lot of bells and whistles for an attack with all the stars returning. Chad Henne, Mike Hart, and Mario Manningham form the best skill trio in America, while tackle Jake Long and quarter Adam Kraus form one of the nation's best left sides. The only issue is depth, which is stunning undeveloped or a program like Michigan. Of course there are talented prospects waiting in the wings, but there will be major problems if injuries strike early on.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Ron English did a fantastic job in his first season sending the dogs loose to attack more than previous Michigan teams. Now the hope will be for overall speed and athleticism to make up for the lack of experience and a few gaping holes. This won't be the nation's number one run defense again, and it won't be fourth in sacks, but it will create plenty of turnovers and force a ton of mistakes. It'll also give up too many big pass plays. The safeties are fine, the linebacking corps won't be an issue, even without David Harris to anchor things anymore, and the line, in time, will grow into a strength. The biggest issue will be at corner, where Morgan Trent isn't a number one lockdown defender, and there are several untested prospects waiting to get their chance to shine.

Oct. 27 - Ball State
Offense: The offense grew into something special as Nate Davis emerged as one of the MAC's star passers. He should be even better after surviving his true freshman season, and with four starters returning on the line, he should have more time to operate. The receiving corps should be fantastic led by tight end Darius Hill and receiver Dante Love, who's growing into a good number one target. Don't expect too much from the running game even with the expected emergence of quick sophomore MiQuale Lewis.
Defense: Awful for the last two seasons, the defense started to get a little better as last year went on and should make even bigger strides with plenty of experience returning. Six starters are back, and most of the new starters have seen enough time to be ready to hit the ground running. The 3-4 is good at getting into the backfield, but there haven’t been enough sacks and not nearly enough consistent production against power running teams. The pass defense has been non-existent for the last two seasons. Corners Trey Lewis and Trey Buice have been around, and can hit, but if they don't cover better, the Cardinals won't be able to take the next step.

Nov. 3 – at Minnesota
Offense: New offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar and his spread offense might seem like a radical departure for the Gophers, but the pieces are there, for the most part, for the thing to work right away with small, athletic linemen, quick running backs, and big receivers. The one thing missing is a steady quarterback who can hit the open receiver on a regular basis, meaning the Tony Mortensen vs. Adam Weber battle will go on until fall. Basically, the offense will undergo a change to achieve the same rushing results with a less effective passing game.
Defense: What the Gophers lack in talent they'll try to make up for in intensity and experience. For good and bad, ten starters return along with loads of experienced reserves to give hope for a big jump in overall production after finishing 113th in the nation in defense. However, there was a method to the old coaching staff's madness as the D allowed yards, but went for the big play forcing 32 turnovers. The new regime will be far more aggressive and take far more chances; they can do that with a veteran group like this. The linebacking corps will be the strength, while Willie VanDeSteeg and the line should get into the backfield more often. Can the Gophers shut down a power running attack or a high-octane passing game? No and no, but it'll be better in all phases.


Nov. 10 – at Ohio State
Offense: You don't get better after losing Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez, Antonio Pittman, and, oh yeah, some quarterback who won a Heisman and owned Michigan. While many will predict doom and gloom, the offense might crank out close to as many yards as last year when it was 26th in the nation as long as Chris Wells holds up and becomes the running back everyone's expecting him to be, and new starting quarterback Todd Boeckman is merely above average. The receiving corps is talented, but untested, while there's plenty of reason to be excited about a line that'll field one of the best starting fives in the nation. Tackles Alex Boone and Kirk Barton and guard Steve Rehring will be first day draft picks. Welcome back to Tressel ball with more running and fewer shots taken down the field.
Defense: A question mark last year thanks to a ton of turnover, the defense reloaded and should be fantastic as long as the tackles and safeties shine and a second corner emerges on the other side of Malcolm Jenkins. There are stars to build around, with Jenkins, LB James Laurinaitis and end Vernon Gholston among the best in the country, while there are emerging stars, as always around OSU, in like linebackers Larry Grant and Ross Homan and end Lawrence Wilson. Don't expect too many bells and whistles; this D will beat teams by simply being far more athletic.

Nov. 17 – Northwestern
Offense: After a year of trying to get the quarterback situation straight, mostly due to an injury to C.J. Bacher early on, the offense should start to shine as long as there aren't major injury problems up front. The line, with four good starters returning led by center Trevor Rees and tackle Dylan Thiry, will be one of the most effective in the Big Ten, but the developed depth isn't quite there yet. Tyrell Sutton will once again be one of the nation's best all-around backs and should be a lock for 1,000 yards for the third straight season. The big improvement should be in the passing game, as long as Bacher is healthy, with an interesting and promising group of receivers ready to emerge.
Defense: Even though there wasn't much in the way of a pass rush, there weren't any plays in the backfield, and the run defense struggled, the defense made major strides after a disastrous 2005. Now this should be one of the better Wildcat defenses in years with a big, talented front four that should start generating some sort of consistent pressure. Adam Kadela leads a decent linebacking corps, while the safety tandem of Brendan Smith and Reggie McPherson should be rock-solid. This isn't a fast defense and it's thin in key areas like free safety and tackle, but there's enough all-around talent to keep the mediocre offenses under wraps.


 

 
 

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