2009 Early Big Ten Lookaheads
Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor
Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor
Posted Feb 17, 2009

Is this the year the Big Ten bounces back and becomes among the nation's elite conferences again? It's not likely, but there's talent in several key spots, led by Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. Here's an early look ahead at each Big Ten team with what needs working on, why to be excited, and why to be grouchy.

2009 Big Ten Team Lookaheads

2009 Pages
Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota
Northwestern | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin

2008 Pages
Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota
Northwestern | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin
- 2008 CFN All-Big Ten Team | 2008 CFN Preseason All-Big Ten Team
- 2007 Big Ten Lookback/Recaps | 2008 Big Ten Lookaheads

 - 2008 Big Ten Lookbacks and Recaps

Illinois Fighting Illini

CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 5-7

Why to get excited
: The skill players might be the best in the conference. Juice Williams has matured into an efficient passer and a good all-around playmaker, and he has all his key parts back from receivers Arrelious Benn and Jeff Cumberland to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who’ll be a bigger part of the offense. Three of the four conference road games should be as easy as they come going to Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota.

Why to be grouchy: The other Big Ten road game is at Ohio State. The Illini lose three key veterans off the offensive line, hurt mostly by the loss of center Ryan McDonald. The defense that was so good in several different areas last year, but it loses just enough good starters to hurt. CB Vontae Davis was a disappointment, but he’s a first-round draft pick caliber corner who was an elite athlete. LB Brit Miller was a tackling machine and a leader for the front seven, while end Derek Walker was one of the team’s leading pass rushers. 

The number one thing to work on is: Holding up better against the run. The Illini pass rush was the best in the Big Ten while the front seven was great at getting into the backfield. How mediocre was the run defense? Illinois led the league in tackles for loss, and still finished ninth in the conference in run defense. This is going to be yet another athletic, active defense. Now it’ll have to show it can be tough.

Biggest offensive loss: C Ryan McDonald
Biggest defensive loss: LB Brit Miller
Best returning offensive player: QB Juice Williams, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Martez Wilson, Jr.

Indiana Hoosiers

CFN Preseason Prediction: 5-7   Final Record: 3-9

Why to get excited
: The offense loses RB Marcus Thigpen, arguably the team’s best offensive player last year, but it gets back everyone else including QB Kellen Lewis. The offensive line might have struggled last year, but with all five starters returning, it should be better. For anyone else, the schedule starts out nice with Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, Akron and Michigan.

Why to be grouchy: Is the talent level there to improve? The Hoosiers have miles to go to be more competitive compared to last year. The Hoosiers were last in the Big Ten in almost every meaningful defensive category, struggled offensively, and were blown out in every FBS game but two. The receiving corps is going to continue to be an issue. 

The number one thing to work on is: Making Kellen Lewis, Kellen Lewis. When he had James Hardy to throw to and everything was clicking in 2007, he threw for 3,043 yards and 28 touchdowns while running for 736 yards and nine scores. Last year, a bit banged up and off the mark after the first three games, he finished with just 1,131 passing yards and six touchdowns with eight interceptions, while running for just 167 yards and no touchdowns over the final nine games.

Biggest offensive loss: RB Marcus Thigpen
Biggest defensive loss: SS Joe Kleinsmith
Best returning offensive player: QB Kellen Lewis, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Jammie Kirlew, Sr.

Iowa Hawkeyes

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5    Final Record: 9-4

Why to get excited
: The offensive line that was so strong last year loses guard Seth Olsen and center Rob Bruggeman, but the tackles are back along with emerging quarterback Ricky Stanzi and top receivers, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. The defense that led the Big Ten in pass efficiency D, and was 12th in the nation, gets back three starters while the entire linebacking corps is back.

Why to be grouchy: The schedule and the stars. Mitch King and Matt Kroul might have been the best defensive tackle pair in America that no one paid any attention to. They’ll be sorely missed, but not as much as RB Shonn Greene. The Doak Walker winner might have come from out of nowhere, but Iowa doesn’t have another one quite like him waiting in the wings. And then there’s the schedule. How’s this for the Big Ten road schedule? Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Thank you very much. Good night. 

The number one thing to work on is: Getting more from Ricky Stanzi. It took a little while for Stanzi to take the starting quarterback job by the horns, but when he did, he was solid. However, the Iowa offense was all about Greene and the running game, and while the passing attack was efficient, it wasn’t spectacular. With Greene gone, Stanzi will have more pressure on his shoulders to make the offense go.

Biggest offensive loss: RB Shonn Greene
Biggest defensive loss: DT Mitch King
Best returning offensive player: OT Kyle Calloway, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Pat Angerer, Sr. s

Michigan Wolverines

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5   Final Record: 3-9

Why to get excited
: Everyone but QB Steven Threet, who’s transferring, is back on offense. While that might not seem like a positive considering the woeful, last-in-the-Big-Ten season, for a team trying to figure out the new coaching staff and the system, having a year under the belt means there won’t be a ton of turnover early on. The recruiting class wasn’t remotely as good as Ohio State’s, but it was good enough to be excited for the near future.

Why to be grouchy: The schedule. While it doesn’t appear to be that bad early on, Western Michigan and Notre Dame are the only two concerns in the first month, all home games, and then comes the fun. At Michigan State, at Iowa, Penn State, at Illinois. If the Wolverines, who aren’t going to be Florida, can survive that, and can get through the eye of the Hurricane, the home date with Purdue, the reward is going to Wisconsin and getting Ohio State. Defensively, Michigan loses two key players, TIm Jamison and Terrence Taylor, on the front four, while the secondary has to replace CB Morgan Trent and SS Brandon Harrison. 

The number one thing to work on is: Running the football. The passing game simply isn’t going to shine. It should be better, depending on the quarterback, but if the Wolverines have to throw to win, they’re sunk. They have to do one thing, do it very well, and then move on to the next week, and that one thing has to be the running game. West Virginia’s ground game wasn’t always consistent, but it almost always blew up in the second half after a few adjustments. Michigan’s ground game has to be good throughout … and the fumbles have to stop.

Biggest offensive loss: PK K.C. Lopata
Biggest defensive loss: DE Tim Jamison
Best returning offensive player: RB Brandon Minor, Sr.
Best returning defensive player:
DE Brandon Graham, Sr.

Michigan State Spartans

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5   Final Record: 9-4

Why to get excited
: There’s no Ohio State on the schedule and the road games are at Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue. That’s easier than it looks on paper. The defense might not have been a rock last year, but it should be loaded with LB Greg Jones and DE Trevor Anderson leading a good front seven. The receivers that were so mediocre last season should be better with a year of experience under its belt, and with everyone returning. Oh yeah, and Michigan still stinks. It’ll be a stunner of MSU isn’t better than its arch-rival again.

Why to be grouchy: Keith Nichol, the one-time super-recruit should be a good quarterback in time, but he might need a little while. Kirk Cousins will probably be the option on day one, and he won’t have Javon Ringer to fall back on. While the defense should be stronger, it does lose a few key players in DT Justin Kershaw, SS Otis Wiley, and DE Brandon Long.  The offense loses All-Big Ten linemen Roland Martin and Jesse Miller.

The number one thing to work on is: Getting the receivers involved. Mark Dell had the look of MSU’s next superstar receiver in the season opener against Cal, catching nine passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, but he didn’t do much the rest of the way. Neither did anyone else. The offense revolved around Javon Ringer and the running game, and now there needs to be more balance and more pop to the passing attack. The receivers have experience, and now they need to produce.

Biggest offensive loss: RB Javon Ringer
Biggest defensive loss: SS Otis Wiley
Best returning offensive player: C Joel Nitchman, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Greg Jones, Jr.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 7-6

Why to get excited: Everyone is back. The new TCF Bank Stadium will get an experienced team to open it up. Oh sure, TE Jack Simmons, DE Willie VanDeSteeg, and LB Deon Hightower were all major producers, but they’re the only ones missing from a team that started out the year so hot. Fine, so the kickers are gone, too, but everyone else is back including QB Adam Weber, WR Eric Decker, and eight other starters on offense. Nine starters return on defense.

Why to be grouchy: In Big Ten play, Minnesota has to go on the road to face Northwestern, Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa. While missing Michigan would normally be a plus, that’s not necessarily the case this year. The Gophers also miss Indiana, likely the league’s worst team.  Offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar is gone, but that’s not a killer. Losing defensive coordinator Ted Roof to Auburn, is. 

The number one thing to work on is: Getting the running game back on track. There was a time when Minnesota had one of the nation’s most feared ground attacks. But injuries, a change in offense, and the lack of a steady back meant a last place Big Ten finish in rushing offense. While Weber and the passing game will be fine, there’s a hard ceiling on what the team can do without an improved ground game.

Biggest offensive loss: TE Jack Simmons
Biggest defensive loss: DE Willie VanDeSteeg
Best returning offensive player: WR Eric  Decker, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: S Tramaine Brock, Sr.

Northwestern Wildcats

CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 9-4

Why to get excited
: The offensive line was second in the Big Ten in sacks allowed and did a decent job for the ground game. That was with three redshirt freshmen starting, and now they’re matured to go along with senior right tackle Desmond Taylor. The defense gets back eight starters after allowing just 341 yards and 20 points per game. Schedule-wise, starting out with Miami University, Towson, at Syracuse, Minnesota, at Purdue, and Eastern Michigan is nice. A home game against Indiana should also be a win, while missing Ohio State is a gift.

Why to be grouchy: Is Corey Wootton ready? Apparently he’s on track to come back from the knee injury suffered in the Alamo Bowl, and the line will need him with DT John Gill and end Kevin Mims gone. There are veterans back for the offensive backfield, but Mike Kafka has to prove he can do more than just run and a steady running back has to emerge to replace Tyrell Sutton. Top receivers Ross Lane and Rasheed Ward are gone.

The number one thing to work on is: The passing game. Kafka came in to replace an injured C.J. Bacher and ran for 217 yards in the win over Minnesota and ran for 83 yards against Ohio State. While he completed 32-of-46 passes in his limited time, he threw three interceptions to go along with the two touchdown passes he tossed against the Gophers. With new starters in at receiver, and without Sutton to rely on to carry the offense, the Wildcats need a big off-season from Kafka.

Biggest offensive loss: QB C.J. Bacher
Biggest defensive loss: DT John Gill
Best returning offensive player: OT Al Netter, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: DE Corey Wootton, Sr.

Ohio State Buckeyes

CFN Preseason Prediction: 12-0   Final Record: 10-3

Why to get excited
: If you’re going to play USC, especially this year, do it early. While the Buckeyes have some reloading to do, USC has to do more work and has to be ready for the date in Columbus on September 12th. If OSU can somehow pull that one off, it should be smooth sailing in a weak Big Ten until early November with a trip to Penn State. By then, the defense, that returns seven starters, should be solid, while Terrelle Pryor and the offense should be good enough to win with.

Why to be grouchy: James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Alex Boone, Beanie Wells, Marcus Freeman, Brian Hartline, Donald Washington, Brian Robiskie, Rory Nichol and Steve Rehring. Those ten players are likely to be drafted, and there’s a chance punter A.J. Trapasso and kicker Ryan Pretorius will end up pushing for an NFL job in someone’s camp. Ohio State might reload, but that’s a lot of next-level talent to replace right away.

The number one thing to work on is: Opening up the passing game. Pryor was kept under wraps with the passing game, much to the chagrin of NFL-caliber receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. Now, with Beanie Wells gone, all eyes will be on Pryor to carry the load of the offense. If he and the attack are as one-dimensional as last year, there will be major problems. He has to be able to open things up early on.

Biggest offensive loss: RB Beanie Wells
Biggest defensive loss: LB James Laurinaitis
Best returning offensive player: QB Terrelle Pryor, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: SS Kurt Coleman, Sr.

Penn State Nittany Lions

CFN Preseason Prediction: 8-4   Final Record: 11-2

Why to get excited
: It’s a four game schedule, and the one big one is at home. Penn State has to worry about trips to Illinois and Michigan State, while Iowa and Ohio State have to come to Happy Valley. Win three of the four, with one of the wins coming against the Buckeyes, and it’s off to Pasadena for a second year in a row. Sean Lee comes back from his knee injury to join Josh Hull and Navorro Bowman, forming one of the nation’s best linebacking corps, while the offensive backfield is loaded with Clark and running backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green returning.

Why to be grouchy: The lines need a lot of retooling. With Maurice Evans and Aaron Maybin taking off early for the NFL, new stars need to be found at defensive end. The offensive line is a bigger issue. Guard Stefen Wisniewski might be the best in the country, but he’s one of just two returning starters. Good luck replacing the four-year receiving corps of Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. 

The number one thing to work on is: The passing game. Clark had a great season, but he wasn’t able to come through in the fourth quarter against Iowa and he wasn’t in for the key final drive in the win over Penn State. He was ultra-efficient, and now he’ll have to be even better with his receiving corps gone. The offense will revolve around the running game early on, and there will be time, with the schedule relatively light, to get the passing attack rolling.

Biggest offensive loss: WR Derrick Williams
Biggest defensive loss: DE Aaron Maybin
Best returning offensive player: QB Daryll Clark, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Sean Lee, Sr.

Purdue Boilermakers

CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 4-8

Why to get excited
: The Big Ten’s leading pass defense gets the entire secondary back. While the Boilermakers led the conference primarily because the run defense was getting rolled, this should still be the team’s strength. Six of the first eight games are at home, and while there are some tough battles, especially against Ohio State and Illinois, there should be time to reload a bit.

Why to be grouchy: The offense has to replace just about everyone. Including Curtis Painter, Purdue loses eight starters off an attack that didn’t do anything anyway, while the defensive line loses Alex Magee and Ryan Baker. Yeah, the home games define the first part of the season, but there’s a price to pay. The Boilermakers go on the road for three of their final four games, even if they are against Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.  

The number one thing to work on is: Incorporating the first recruiting class. It’s not a strong class, but it was build to immediately fill some holes. And there are a lot of holes. Can Al-Terek McBurse carry the rushing load right away? Will receivers Eric Williams, Gary Bush, and Gabe Holmes, all from Florida, be able to take over the passing game? Hope needs an influx of talent to at least build depth early on.

Biggest offensive loss: RB Kory Sheets
Biggest defensive loss: LB Anthony Heygood
Best returning offensive player: OT Zach Jones, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Ryan Kerrigan, Jr.

Wisconsin Badgers

CFN Preseason Prediction: 10-2   Final Record: 7-6

Why to get excited: The Badgers might be tremendously flawed, and if they play like they did last year they can be beaten by anyone, but the schedule works out relatively well with no Penn State or Illinois and plenty of winnable home games against teams like Wofford, Northern Illinois, and Purdue. The offense gets back seven starters, while the defense returns three starters in the secondary. Getting back PK Philip Welch and P Brad Nortman is a plus.

Why to be grouchy: There are eight games against 2008 bowl teams, and that includes a regular-season ending trip to Hawaii. For a team that struggled against Cal Poly and was lucky just to get a 13th game last season, it’ll need to be far tighter and a lot better. The defensive line that was such a disappointment at times last season loses three key starters, while the offensive line has to replace three starters, too.  John Clay might be the team’s most talented back, but losing P.J. Hill to the NFL a year early will sting.

The number one thing to work on is: Generating more of a pass rush. The offense isn’t going to be explosive enough to win with on a regular basis; the defensive will need to steal a game or three. That’ll only happen if the front line shines. Even with a good group of defensive linemen last year, the Badgers still struggled to get into the backfield on a regular basis. Now they need to replace, tackles Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk along with end Matt Shaughnessy.

Biggest offensive loss: RB P.J. Hill
Biggest defensive loss: CB Allen Langford
Best returning offensive player: TE Garrett Graham, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Jaevery McFadden, Sr.