2007 Big Ten
- 2009 Big
Ten Early Lookaheads
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.
In the feel-good story of 2007, Indiana fulfilled the vision
of late head coach Terry Hoeppner, earning a 13th game,
an Insight Bowl invitation, for the first time in 14 years. The
Hoosiers got whacked by Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve, but it
couldn’t overshadow all that the young program accomplished,
including a last-second win over Purdue for the first time since
2001. QB Kellen Lewis solidified his spot as the face of the IU
program, throwing for 3,043 yards and 28 touchdowns, while rushing
for nine more scores and a team-high 736 yards.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Kellen Lewis
Defensive Player of the Year: DE Greg Middleton
Biggest Surprise: Middleton. Modestly recruited coming out
of high school, Middleton went from a quiet rookie season to one of
the nation’s top pass rushers. Using a great first step off the
edge, he led the country with 16 sacks, earning a spot as a finalist
for the Hendricks Award.
Biggest Disappointment: With a rare national spotlight to
show off how far it’s come, Indiana flopped in the Insight Bowl,
playing one of its worst games of the season. While the offense was
slow to take advantage of a weak Oklahoma State pass defense, the
defense was hapless, yielding 35 points in the first half and 526
total yards on the night.
Looking Ahead: After serving brilliantly under impossible
circumstances in 2007, Bill Lynch had the interim tag stripped from
his title at the end of the season. The stability should help a
program that’ll be looking to capitalize on last year’s success with
a return to the postseason in 2008.
After three straight ten-win seasons, the Hawkeyes have lost at least five games
in three consecutive years, including 2007’s disappointing, bowl-less 6-6
campaign. As stout as the defense was all season, it wasn’t enough to
compensate for an anemic offense that was breaking in new starting QB Jake
Christensen, and had a severe shortage of capable receivers. Iowa was forced to
remove the redshirts on 11 true freshmen, easily a record in the Kirk Ferentz
era, and an indicator of how stretched the program was for depth in 2007.
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Albert Young
Defensive Player of the Year: DT Mitch King
Biggest Surprise: Knocking off No. 18 Illinois on Oct. 13. While hardly
a thing of beauty, the 10-6 upset did end a nasty eight-game losing streak in
Big Ten play, stalling the momentum of an Illini team that had beaten Penn State
and Wisconsin in the previous two weeks. Hawkeye S Brett Greenwood sealed the
win on an interception at the goal line with 1:12 left in the game.
Biggest Disappointment: Losing badly on Senior Night to 3-7 Western
Michigan with a bowl berth hanging in the balance. The Hawkeyes got shoved
around, and never led, squandering a chance to cap an otherwise dismal season
with a feel-good bonus game and 15 more practices in December.
Looking Ahead: Is Iowa in a full-blown rebuilding mode for the first time
since the beginning of the decade? Maybe not. The 2008 schedule is manageable,
and the healthy returns of WR Andy Brodell and TE Andy Moeaki should help
Christensen’s development in his second season as the starter.
Arguably one of the most peculiar seasons in school history,
Michigan began the year with an epic loss to Appalachian State,
ended it by upsetting defending champ Florida, and in between,
fought like hell to pick up the pieces from an 0-2 start. It
certainly wasn’t the season most expected in Ann Arbor, but the
Wolverines showed a lot guts by battling through injuries for eight
straight wins before losing to Wisconsin and Ohio State in the final
two regular season games. In many ways, the season marked an end of
an era at Michigan, as Lloyd Carr retired after 13 years on the
sidelines, and QB Chad Henne, RB Mike Hart, and LT Jake Long
concluded stellar careers as four-year starters.
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Mike Hart
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Shawn Crable
Biggest Surprise: Crable. An enigma and an underachiever for
most of his first three seasons, Crable exploded in his senior year
for a team-high 90 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks.
Finally tapping into all of his freakish athletic ability, Crable
was the catalyst of a defense that regrouped nicely after a rough
Biggest Disappointment: Losing in the first two weeks to
Appalachian State and Oregon, ending any hope of fulfilling
preseason forecasts. The Wolverines were widely viewed as the Big
Ten favorite and a strong contender for New Orleans, but after
yielding 73 points over the first two Saturdays, the team goals were
Looking Ahead: With Carr out and former West Virginia head
man Rich Rodriguez in, things may never again be the same in Ann
Arbor. Considering the offensive upheaval that’ll be taking place
on the two-deep and in the playbook, Rodriguez’s value to the
Wolverines may not be fully felt until the 2009 season.
The Spartans took a modest step forward in Mark Dantonio’s first
season in East Lansing, winning seven games and earning a bowl berth
for the first time since 2003. Unlike recent Michigan State teams,
this year’s edition showed some heart in November, outscoring Purdue
and Penn State in the final two weeks to earn that bid opposite
Boston College in the Champs Sports Bowl. Led by complimentary
backs Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick, the Spartans wasted no time
adopting Dantonio’s offensive philosophy, grinding out almost 200
yards a game on the ground behind a veteran offensive line.
Offensive Player of the Year: WR Devin Thomas
Defensive Player of the Year: DE Jonal Saint-Dic
Biggest Surprise: John L. Smith’s Spartan teams would have
caved in after losing five of six Big Ten games in the middle of the
season. This year’s squad, however, battled through the adversity
to land season-saving upsets of Purdue and Penn State in November.
In both cases, Michigan State was sparked by a balanced offense and
the big-play ability of Thomas.
Biggest Disappointment: To really feel the love, Dantonio
recognizes that he’s got to start beating Michigan once in a while,
something that hasn’t happened since 2001. The Spartans almost
pulled it off on Nov. 3, but let a 10-point lead in the middle of the
fourth quarter slip through their fingertips.
Looking Ahead: With a year in the rear view mirror,
Dantonio’s no-nonsense approach will resonate even louder in 2008.
After losing all six games in 2007 by a touchdown or less, the
Spartans are determined to finish stronger next fall.
An unexpected choice to replace Glen Mason a year ago, rookie head
coach Tim Brewster did nothing in year one to make his hiring look
like a shrewd one. The Gophers plummeted to their most losses in
school history, failing to win a Big Ten game for the first time
since 1983. While the new one-back, spread offense showed hints of
potential under freshman QB Adam Weber, the defense was a
wire-to-wire calamity, setting a school record for yards allowed in
a season and finishing last in the conference in just about every
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Adam Weber
Defensive Player of the Year: S Dominique Barber
Biggest Surprise: WR Eric Decker. The sophomore instantly
became one of the biggest beneficiaries of Mike Dunbar’s aerial
attack, hauling in a Gopher-record 67 passes for 909 yards and nine
touchdowns. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he’s a physical receiver that’s
only going to get better with more reps in the system.
Biggest Disappointment: Losing to Florida Atlantic, 42-39, on
Sept. 15. In retrospect, losing to the Owls was no upset, but at
the time, the Gophers were coming off an exciting overtime win
against Miami University, and Florida Atlantic was a long way from
becoming Sun Belt champs. Allowing 463 yards and five touchdown
passes to Rusty Smith wound up being a harbinger of things to come
for Minnesota in 2007.
Looking Ahead: Although there’s plenty of potential on
offense, if eternal optimist Brewster is going to make a quantum
leap in 2008, the defense will have to get light years better. The
good news is that things can’t possibly get worse, and a ton of
underclassmen earned letters last fall.
The Wildcats made progress in Pat Fitzgerald’s second year at his
alma mater, but not quite enough to earn an invitation to a bowl
game. The C.J. Bacher-led passing attack kept Northwestern in most
games, often having to overcome the shortcomings of a defense that
was No. 10 in the Big Ten in almost every statistical benchmark.
The unit’s performance cost sixth-year defensive coordinator Greg
Colby his job, creating the first big hire Fitzgerald must make as
he tries to get the Cats back on the other side of .500.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB C.J. Bacher
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Adam Kadela
Biggest Surprise: Beating Michigan State Oct. 6 in a 48-41,
overtime thriller. Bacher threw for a school-record 520 yards and
five touchdown passes, avenging a brutal loss to the Spartans in
2006, and starting a three-game winning streak in October.
Biggest Disappointment: Losing to Duke on Sept. 15, becoming
the first team to do so in two years. The 20-14 home loss to a
program riding a 22-game skid would haunt Northwestern, which fell
one win shy of dramatically improving its postseason resume.
Look Ahead: If the defense makes strides, a likelihood,
there’s enough skill position talent for the Wildcats to be back in
the bowl hunt next November. Although Bacher can be brilliant at
times, he’s also thrown 27 picks in the last 18 games, something
that must be addressed in the offseason.
Those ripping into the Buckeyes for losing another national
championship game to an SEC team forget that this was supposed to be
a down year for the school. As power programs are prone to do, Ohio
State rebuilt on the fly in 2007, climbing to No. 1 in the country
and winning another Big Ten title with an improbable 10-0 start. RB
Chris Wells was better than advertised, and QB Todd Boeckman did a
nice job of succeeding Troy Smith, but it was the Buckeye D that
paved the way, topping the national charts in both total defense and
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Chris Wells
Defensive Player of the Year: LB James Laurinaitis
Biggest Surprise: Boeckman. Yeah, he threw a few too many
picks down the stretch, but Boeckman ended all the hand-wringing
over, and played much better than expected in his first season
replacing a Heisman winner. Built like a SAM linebacker with a huge
arm, he’s liable to make his own push for individual honors and an
NFL contract in 2008 after throwing 25 touchdown passes in his
Biggest Disappointment: Even more than the upset loss at home
to Illinois, getting exposed by LSU in New Orleans won’t go away
anytime soon. Carrying the tattered Big Ten banner, and on a
mission to erase the memory of last year’s collapse to Florida, Ohio
State just couldn’t keep pace with the Tigers after opening up an
early 10-0 lead.
Looking Ahead: Take 3, anyone? The Buckeyes will again be
loaded with enough talent on both sides of the ball to be playing
for a national championship next January. The first huge test for
the program comes in September, when Ohio State travels to the
Coliseum to face USC.
The Nittany Lions closed out the 2007 season with an Alamo Bowl win
over Texas A&M, an indication that this year’s goals were not met.
With a senior quarterback and a loaded defense, Penn State was
thinking Pasadena before losing to Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio
State, the Big Ten’s top three programs, and finishing in a fifth
place tie with Iowa. While the defense carried its weight most
Saturdays, the offense was unreliable, getting a mediocre season
from QB Anthony Morelli in his last hurrah in State College.
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Rodney Kinlaw
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Dan Conner
Biggest Surprise: Kinlaw. A career backup that had never
rushed for more than 199 yards in a season, Kinlaw stepped up and
bailed out the Penn State running game after Austin Scott was
suspended from the team. The fifth-year senior delivered 1,329
yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, including the first six
100-yard days of his career.
Biggest Disappointment: The passing game. With Morelli back
for a final year, and Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler,
and Andrew Quarless running patterns, the Lions had the ingredients
for their best vertical game in years. Instead, the offense got a
little too conservative, and Morelli managed just seven touchdown
passes and seven picks in eight league games.
Looking Ahead: The Lions are touting their new Spread HD
offense, but will it really be revolutionary, or just another stale
offense with a fancy nickname? Beginning in the spring, senior
Daryll Clark and sophomore Pat Devlin will battle for a chance to
run the offense in 2008. Even without LB Dan Connor, the
formidable defense has a potential All-American at each level, DE
Maurice Evans, LB Sean Lee, and CB Justin King.
The Boilermakers were a product of their competition in 2007, winning the games
they were supposed to, and losing to the better opponents on the schedule. As
has been the case for the past few seasons, Purdue went only as far as its
quarterback, Curtis Painter, would take them, often struggling when the defense
allowed too many long drives and too much real estate on the ground. The
Boilers’ only two wins against bowl qualifiers were versus Central Michigan,
once in West Lafayette and once in a Motor City Bowl shootout.
Offensive Player of the Year: WR Dorien Bryant
Defensive Player of the Year: DE Cliff Avril
Biggest Surprise: Purdue was supposed to beat Iowa on Oct. 20, but not by
25 points. The Boilermaker defense delivered its best game of the season,
limiting the Hawkeyes to 254 yards and a pair of Daniel Murray field goals, the
fewest points scored by Iowa in this series since 1976.
Biggest Disappointment: The Boilermakers went 0-for-November, losing to
Penn State, Michigan State, and Indiana in successive weeks to settle for the
Big Ten’s least desirable bowl slot. Losing the Old Oaken Bucket to the
Hoosiers on a last-minute field goal was easily Purdue’s most painful loss of
the 2007 campaign.
Looking Ahead: Pulling a Wisconsin, Purdue has already decided on Joe
Tiller’s successor in 2009, former Eastern Kentucky head coach Danny Hope.
It’ll give the players and coaches a full year to get acclimated to the new
sheriff in town. With Painter back for one more season, the Boilermakers will
once again be an offensive-driven team that needs more support from Brock
The next-best-thing to Michigan in the Big Ten before the season began,
Wisconsin never quite fulfilled expectations in 2007. The Badgers finished in
fourth place in the league, going a perfect 7-0 at Camp Randall, but managing
just two wins in six tries outside Madison, including a 21-17 loss to Tennessee
in the Outback Bowl. Although injuries to receivers Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard
hurt the offense’s development, an overrated defense had no excuses for allowing
more than 30 points six times, and creating a mere 19 turnovers in 13 games.
Offensive Player of the Year: TE Travis Beckum
Defensive Player of the Year: DE Matt Shaughnessy
Biggest Surprise: RB Zach Brown. Thrust into action as a true freshman
after P.J. Hill suffered an injury, Brown gave the Badgers an instant jolt of
depth in the backfield. Rather than redshirting, as hoped, he rushed for 568
yards and five touchdowns, playing an integral part in the team’s wins over
Michigan and Minnesota.
Biggest Disappointment: The defense. Loaded with returning starters, the
Badgers were a shell of the team that was so dominant on defense in 2006.
Wisconsin allowed twice as many points as a year ago, had problems getting to
the quarterback, and didn’t create enough takeaways. On Sept. 15, Wisconsin
gave up 31 points and 377 yards to The Citadel, an early warning sign for the
Looking Ahead: Although forecasters will surely be a little more cautious
with the Badgers this season, there are enough regulars returning for them to
make a serious push for a Big Ten championship. First, however, Bret Bielema
must decide if senior Allan Evridge is his starting quarterback, or if one of
the more untested signal-callers is prepared to win the job.