2008 CFN Big Ten Team Capsules
Illinois QB Juice Williams
Illinois QB Juice Williams
Posted Jul 31, 2008

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Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota
Northwestern | Ohio State |
Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin

- 2008 CFN Big Ten Preview
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By Pete Fiutak

1. Ohio State
Predicted record: 12-0  Conf. record: 8-0
Best Offensive Player:
RB Chris Wells, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB James Laurinaitis, Sr.
Offense: The Buckeyes are loaded with ten returning starters and the one new face to the mix, sophomore right tackle Bryant Browning, is on the verge of being a star. A shockingly balanced attack last year, averaging 197 yards per game both rushing and receiving, might lean even more heavily on the running game with Chris "Beanie" Wells a Heisman candidate working behind a durable, tough front five. The passing game gets back the dangerous receiving tandem of Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, while QB Todd Boeckman will once again be a steady, efficient triggerman. The key will be to get more offensive scoring pop and to figure out how to mix in all the talented young backups. How will super-recruit Terrelle Pryor fit into the quarterback rotation, if at all? Can speedy tailback Brandon Saine get more carries? There's an embarrassment of riches to get excited about.
Defense: Sackmaster Vernon Gholston and productive all-around LB Larry Grant are gone. That's about the only negative on what was the nation's best total and scoring defense. The stunning decisions by LB James Laurinaitis and CB Malcolm Jenkins to return for their senior seasons, when they would've been first round draft picks this year, makes the already good-looking defense something special. All four starters return to the secondary that helped lead the way for the nation's best pass defense. Laurinaitis and running-mate Marcus Freeman will make up for the potential issue at the third linebacking spot, while Lawrence Wilson, Cameron Heyward, and Thaddeus Gibson are great-looking ends who should be camped out in opposing backfield. The key will be the tackles. Mediocre last season, at least by Buckeye standards, Todd Denlinger, Doug Worthington, Dexter Larimore and Nader Abdallah are expected to be far better.

2. Wisconsin
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Offensive Player:
TE Travis Beckum, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Jonathan Casillas, Sr.
Offense: The offense wasn't nearly as efficient as it should've been with nine starters returning in 2006, but injuries to the line, the receiving corps, and to P.J. Hill had something to do with that. Now the attack welcomes back eight starters led by Hill and a phenomenal corps of running backs with four good options to carry the load. The tight end combination of Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham might be the best in the nation, and the line returns four starters with the one hole, center, all patched up. The question mark is at quarterback where neither Allan Evridge nor Dustin Sherer stood out in spring ball, while the receiving corps doesn't have any sure-thing weapons. There's a whole slew of young, athletic talent, but it would've been nice to have had more veterans to help out the new passer. That, along with the problems the Badger line has had in pass protection over the last few years, will mean it'll be all about running the ball, running the ball, and running it some more early on.
Defense: Banged up all year, the defense didn't do anything particularly well, but it didn't struggle in any one area, either. The big question will be health with several players suffering big injuries over the last 12 months. The D line is a mess with all four starters coming off an injury with the biggest hits taken by DE Matt Shaughnessy (broken leg) and DT Jason Chapman (torn ACL). The secondary could be terrific, but projected starting corners Allen Langford and Aaron Henry are coming off torn ACLs suffered late last year. The linebacking corps will clean up plenty of messes with the three starters, led by Jonathan Casillas, returning. On the plus side, all the injury problems have led to developed depth across the board. The second teamers, at most spots, are ready.    

3. Michigan
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 5-3
Best Offensive Player:
RB Brandon Minor, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
DT Terrance Taylor, Sr.
Offense: If nothing else, this will be interesting. The pieces aren't there for Rich Rodriguez to run things the way he did at West Virginia, so offensive coordinator Calvin McGee will have to scramble a bit. It's not like there isn't Michigan-level talent, but there's a ton of inexperience and few sure things. Starting with the positives, the running backs, despite losing Mike Hart, should be fantastic with Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady to be the focal point of the attack. Greg Mathews leads a tall, fast receiving corps that looks the part. And then there are the issues. The quarterback situation is shaky with Steven Threet taking the early lead in the race. While he’s a nice talent, he’s a tall passer; he’s not Pat White. The line could be the biggest concern with little returning experience and no veteran depth whatsoever.
Defense: While there's plenty of uncertainty on offense, Scott Shafer's defense should be solid after bouncing back from a disastrous start. The line has the potential to be among the best in the nation, but now all the talent needs to turn into more production with tackles Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson and ends Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham needing to dominate. The secondary was terrific last year, and it will be again even with new safeties to go with strong corners Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren. The question is the linebacking corps that should be decent, but nothing special outside of Obi Ezeh in the middle.

T4. Iowa
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Offensive Player:
DT Mitch King, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
WR Andy Brodell, Sr.
Offense: Can a team be more snake-bit by injuries? The Hawkeye attack went into the tank when the top three targets, Andy Brodell, Trey Stross, and TE Tony Moeaki, all got hurt early. Making matters worse were the maladies on the line that killed the rushing production and almost got QB Jake Christensen killed. On the plus side, just about everyone is back and healthy with the exception of running back, where it'll take JUCO transfers Nate Guillory and Shonn Greene to add some life into the attack. If everyone's healthy, the Big Ten's worst offense will come up with a night-and-day turnaround.
Defense: Considering there was no help whatsoever from the offense, the defense came up with a fantastic season allowing 351 yards and 19 points per game. There will be major changes to be made, especially on the outside, but the middle of the line will be among the best in the Big Ten with the return of tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. The safeties should be solid, but Bradley Fletcher and Drew Gardner need to shine at corner considering the pass rush might not be steady right away. The biggest issue is at linebacker where A.J. Edds leads a very green, but very athletic group of young prospects.              

T4. Michigan State 
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Offensive Player:
RB Javon Ringer, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Greg Jones, Soph.
Offense: There isn't going to be a whole lot of fancy going in in this offense. The huge front five will line up and smack D lines in the mouth as it tries to open up holes for the speedy backs to tear through. Javon Ringer is a special back who could be a threat for 2,000 yards if he stays healthy, and he'll get plenty of help with a few good backups, mainly Andre Anderson. The receiving corps is a question mark needing Mark Dell to be the new Devin Thomas, but veteran QB Brian Hoyer is a good one who'll make the youngsters better. He'll need time, which he might not have behind a mediocre pass blocking line. Depth is an issue up front, while the backups all along the offense are a bit green.
Defense: In the past, under former head coach John L. Smith, the defense tried to be aggressive and go all out, and it didn't work. In Mark Dantonio's first season, the defense wasn't going to sell out and was going to play a little more conservatively, and it worked, but not in the exact way that everyone expected. The pass rush turned into one of the best in the country, and the overall production was solid, even if the defense gave up too many points. Even with some big losses, like ends Jonal Saint-Dic and Ervin Baldwin, the defense should be on the verge of becoming special. Unlike last year, everyone knows what they're doing with all the young speed and athleticism about to wreak havoc. Cincinnati transfer Trevor Anderson might be an even better end than Saint-Dic, Otis Wiley appears to be back to being the all-star NFL prospect he was supposed to be going into last year, and Greg Jones leads a linebacking corps that can fly. There will be some rough patches, but overall, this will be a better and better D as the season goes on.

T4. Penn State
Predicted record: 8-4   Conf. record: 4-4
Best Offensive Player:
OG Stefen Wisniewski, Soph.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Maurice Evans, Jr.
Offense: Everything is in place to be really, really good. The line could be the best in a conference full of terrific front fives, the receiving trio of Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood and Deon Butler might not be the be-all-end-all, but it's among the nation's most experienced corps and will be solid, and the running back tandem of Evan Royster and speed-demon Stephfon Green will likely be an upgrade. It all comes down to the quarterback play. Anthony Morelli tried hard, but he wasn't efficient and he didn't do enough to make the offense special, so his loss isn't all that big a deal. Daryll Clark is a mobile veteran with plenty of upside, while Pat Devlin is the one-time superstar recruit who's the quarterback of the future, and possibly the present. The coaching staff will work a bit more with a spread attack to get the ball in the hands of the receivers on shorter, quicker patterns, but the quarterback have the ability to air it out when needed.
Defense: This will be a good defense overall, but it's not going to be as good as last season. The linebacking corps carried the defense for the last few years, but this season, it's all about pass rushing terror Maurice Evans and the line. The loss of tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor, who were suspended this spring and booted off the team, will hurt, but the Nittany Lion defensive line could still be among the best in America. It'll have to be with Dan Connor and Sean Lee gone from the linebacking corps (Lee will be back next year after injuring his knee). The back seven will be fine as long as the line plays like last year, when it led the way to the nation's seventh best run defense and was second in the country in sacks, but if there's a drop-off in production up front, the secondary could be in big trouble.

T4. Purdue
Predicted record:
6-6  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Offensive Player:
QB Curtis Painter, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Anthony Heygood, Sr.
Offense: Offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher has some holes to fill at wide receiver and the line, and while the receivers should turn out to be fine with good speed and size likely make up for the lack of experience, the line could be an issue if the myriad of health issues suffered this off-season carry over into the fall. The running game will be better with the return of Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor, a talented, but underutilized, 1-2 punch. Running the show is Curtis Painter, considered by some to be the best quarterback prospect for the 2009 NFL Draft. He'll have to make his green receiving corps shine and he'll have to show he can light up the better secondaries and not just the ones on the average teams.
Defense: After two years of abysmal defense, defensive coordinator Brock Spack finally got some production out of his side of the ball. It wasn't a brick wall of a defense by any stretch, but it was far better overall than it was. Things should be even better with six starters returning, and most of the new starters full of experience. It's not going to be a star-studded group, and there isn't any major strength, but there isn't a glaring problem, either. The pass rush should be decent from all four spots on the line, while the emergence of Jason Werner, now paired with Anthony Heygood, will give the Boilermakers a great set of outside linebackers to work around. The secondary will be fine if David Pender can grow into a No. 1 corner and if Torri Williams is in the mix at strong safety after being suspended this off-season.

8. Illinois
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Offensive Player:
QB Juice Williams, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
CB Vontae Davis, Jr.
Offense: The offense came through like it was supposed to last season as it led the Big Ten, and finished fifth in the nation, in rushing averaging 257 yards per game. The scoring was sporadic and the passing game inefficient, but there's little arguing with a Rose Bowl berth. The line, one of the most productive in the nation last year, gets three starters back and won't have a problem filling the other two holes. The receiving corps, led by Arrelious Benn, is big, fast, and talented, and now it'll get used more as Juice Williams, one of the nation's most dynamic running quarterbacks, appears ready to be a more efficient passer after a strong spring. The big concern is at running back where it'll take a committee of average backs to try to replace Rashard Mendenhall and his 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Defense: The defense never got any credit for a not-that-bad 2006 season, and it got glossed over by all the attention given to the offense in 2007. It wasn't a killer, but it was strong against the run and it didn't get pasted outside of the beginning (Missouri) and the end (USC). This year's group doesn't have the same experience, but it should be more athletic with the star recruits of the last few years about to shine. The strength is a line that gets all the key parts back. The other top recruit from two years ago, Martez Wilson, adds an NFL-caliber body at outside linebacker, while Brit Miller is about to blossom into a star moving from the outside to J Leman's spot in the middle. The secondary isn't anything special, but Vontae Davis is one of the best corners in the country.

T9. Minnesota
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Offensive Player:
QB Adam Weber, Soph.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Willie VanDeSteeg, Sr.  
Offense: Considering it was a year of transition, the offense didn't do too poorly. It didn't get any help from the defense, and there were too many turnovers, but the spread worked. Adam Weber all but shut down any quarterback controversy with a strong spring, but he'll need help. The line will be decent, as it always is at Minnesota, but it'll need time to jell. Eric Decker is an All-Big Ten caliber receiver, and Jack Simmons, if he can stay healthy, has tremendous potential at tight end, but the No. 2 receiver is a huge question mark with a few true freshmen needing to produce. RBs Duane Bennett and Jay Thomas are extremely quick, but Thomas is coming off a torn ACL.
Defense: New defensive coordinator Ted Roof, the former Duke head coach, is trying to get the woebegone Gopher defense back to the basics. Tackle, get into the backfield, and tackle ... and tackle. Problem one was getting into the backfield, with end Willie VanDeSteeg struggling early and then breaking his wrist, but Roof will try to get his front seven to generate more pressure to help out a secondary that struggled for the last few years. The linebacking corps needs to be more physical and has to do a far better job of tackling. Steve Davis and Deon Hightower are decent veterans, but they have to be far better. A slew of top JUCO transfers are about to take over the secondary with safety Tramaine Brock the star of the show. Corner Traye Simmons and safety Simoni Lawrence could start from day one.

T9. Northwestern
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Offensive Player:
RB Tyrell Sutton, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
DT John Gill, Sr.
Offense: New offensive coordinator Mick McCall has one main goal going into the season: hurry everything up. The offense will go to a no-huddle, fast-paced attack to get everyone into more of a rhythm, and while a slight change in style and philosophy might seem like an issue, it shouldn't be for the veteran skill players. QB C.J. Bacher's job is to get the ball to his playmakers as quickly as possible, and that shouldn't be a problem with almost all of the top targets returning. RB Tyrell Sutton is a star to revolve around as both a runner and a receiver, but unlike last year, he has to stay healthy. The line is an X factor with three new starters coming in, but last year's group was full of talented veterans and it was mediocre. The new front five is more athletic and a better fit for the new style.
Defense: New defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz wants to attack, attack, attack. He might not have the athletes to go nuts with the blitzing, but the experience is there to be far more consistent. The key will be the line that gets all four starters back after a disappointing season against the run and with little pass rush from the ends. The back seven is more athletic in the past with promising linebackers that should be good after they get their feet wet. Brendan Smith is back at safety after missing most of last year hurt. His return should help a good secondary that should be far more productive if there's a steady pass rush. Veteran depth is a problem across the board, but the talent level has been upgraded over the past few years.

11. Indiana
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Offensive Player:
QB Kellen Lewis, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Greg Middleton, Jr.
Offense: The IU spread offense made a few changes as it went to more of an up-tempo, no-huddle attack this spring. However, it did it with star QB Kellen Lewis suspended (he's back now), without key receiver James Bailey (he transferred), with top running backs Marcus Thigpen running track, and with seemingly most of the line injured. The offense will rely on shorter, quicker passes, which isn't really Lewis's game, and will work more with the running backs to get more of a ground game going. Who'll step up and replace the 16 touchdowns and deep play ability of James Hardy? Will the line be healthy? Can the running backs actually produce? This was a good scoring offense last year that doesn't have a lot of stars, but has a ton of question marks. Defense: While the defense wasn't great, and was hardly consistent, it was far better than it had been in several years. Now there's plenty of hope for one of the best defensive seasons the program has had in a long, long time with pass rushing terror Greg Middleton and solid tackle Greg Brown starring up front, Will Patterson and Geno Johnson leading a strong linebacking corps, and the defensive backs all just good enough to not be a weakness. Finding a second corner on the other side of Chris Phillips will be job one, and not buckling against the better running teams will be a must, but all the pieces are there for a good season.