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Big Ten Conference football capsules

Discussion in 'Buckeye Football' started by BuckeyeBlitz04, Aug 25, 2004.

  1. By Aaron Rennie SportsTicker Staff Writer



    ILLINOIS

    2003 record: 1-11

    Coach: Ron Turner

    OUTLOOK: The good news for the Illini is that the NCAA granted QB Jon Beutjer a sixth year of eligibility. Unfortunately for Illinois, which went 1-11 in 2003 and ended the season on a 10-game losing streak, he is coming off back surgery and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of just 10-9 last campaign. He will try to get the ball to sophomore WR Lonnie Hurst, who reportedly had a strong spring. Talented sophomore RB E.B. Halsey leads a rushing unit that ranked 101st in the nation last year at just 110.7 ypg. If Halsey, fellow sophomore Pierre Thomas and co. get bigger holes from a veteran offensive line, the Illini should improve upon their 107th-ranked scoring offense, which averaged just 16.9 ppg in '03. The Illini's front seven was poor last year, allowing teams to run for 224.3 ypg, and junior DT Ryan Matha and junior DT Matt Sinclair, both returning starters, were arrested in the offseason for a bar fight. Kelvin Hayden, the team's leading WR last year, has been moved to CB to help a unit that intercepted only two passes last season, tied for worst in the nation.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: The Illini had a -18 turnover margin in 2003 - an average of -1.5 a game - to rank 112th in the nation.

    SCHEDULE: Embattled coach Turner's squad plays all four September games at home, including its Big Ten opener vs. Purdue, and gets Michigan and Iowa at home. The Illini also do not face Ohio State or Penn State.



    INDIANA

    2003 record: 2-10

    Coach: Gerry DiNardo

    OUTLOOK: The Hoosiers should be better than last year's squad, which was only a 17-14 triumph over hapless Illinois away from going winless in the Big Ten. Indiana struggled mightily on offense, averaging just 14.8 ppg to rank 114th in the nation. Senior QB Matt LoVecchio returns, but he tossed only three touchdowns and threw nine interceptions last year. This year, however, he should have more time to throw behind a veteran offensive line that returns every starter. This also bodes well for sophomore RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who ran for 938 yards and seven TDs as a freshman. Like the offense, Indiana's defense returns nine starters, including its entire front four and two of its three LBs. Senior FS Herana-Daze Jones and sophomore CB Cedric Henry lead the mediocre secondary, but Henry was out all spring.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: Despite losing 10 of its 12 games in 2003, the Hoosiers finished with a +3 turnover differential.

    SCHEDULE: Opening with Central Michigan at home and Oregon and Kentucky on the road, the Hoosiers hope to be 2-1 entering Big Ten play, which begins with Michigan State and Michigan at home. They do not face Iowa or Wisconsin.



    IOWA

    2003 record: 10-3 (beat Florida in Outback Bowl)

    Coach: Kirk Ferentz

    OUTLOOK: An extremely well-coached team under Ferentz, Iowa returns seven starters from a defense that finished seventh nationally in scoring (16.2 ppg) and eighth in rushing (92.7 ypg). Junior LBs Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway finished first and third in the Big Ten, respectively, in tackles in 2003, and there is no reason to expect any kind of a dropoff, especially since tenacious DL Matt Roth is likely to receive double coverage up front. For a while, at least, the defense will have to carry the offense, which has only two starters returning. QB Drew Tate, the all-time leading passer in Texas high school history, is the favorite to replace Nathan Chandler behind center, and senior RB Jermelle Lewis, who missed the first seven games with a knee injury in 2003, takes over for Fred Russell. The Hawkeyes will miss All-American K Nate Kaeding, who will be replaced by sophomore Kyle Schilcher.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: The Hawkeyes ranked 104th in passing last season, averaging just 161.2 ypg.

    SCHEDULE: Iowa opens Big Ten play at Michigan, which has lost two in a row to the Hawkeyes. But Iowa gets a chance to avenge its three 2003 defeats - Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue - at home. The Hawkeyes miss lowly Indiana and Northwestern.



    MICHIGAN

    2003 record: 10-3 (lost to USC in Rose Bowl)

    Coach: Lloyd Carr

    OUTLOOK: Even without all-time leading passer John Navarre and Doak Walker-winning running back Chris Perry, Carr has many reasons to be excited about his current Wolverines. Michigan has arguably the best receiving corps in the country in Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, Steve Breaston and Carl Tabb; a speedy LB group headlined by leading tackler Lawrence Reid and Pierre Woods; and a big, athletic secondary paced by menacing S Ernest Shazor and CBs Marlin Jackson and Markus Curry. Breaston, who is overcoming a foot stress fracture, also is a threat to return any punt for a touchdown. If the beefy offensive line, highlighted by two-time all-conference LG David Baas, gives whoever wins the starting QB slot - probably sophomore Matt Gutierrez, who never lost a game in high school - time to throw and RBs David Underwood and Jerome Jackson room to run, the Wolverines will be an outside threat to reach the Orange Bowl.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: Edwards will try to become the first receiver in Big Ten history to have three 1,000-yard seasons. He had 85 catches - 14 TDs - for 1,138 yards in 2003.

    SCHEDULE: As usual, the Big Ten crown should come down to the annual regular-season finale with Ohio State, which this year falls in Columbus. Aside from a visit to Purdue, the Wolverines' toughest games before the tussle with the Buckeyes are at home, vs. Iowa in the conference opener and Minnesota.



    MICHIGAN STATE

    2003 record: 8-5 (lost to Nebraska in Alamo Bowl)

    Coach: John L. Smith

    OUTLOOK: Smith's first season as coach of a program in turmoil turned out splendidly, but his team may struggle a bit without departed QB Jeff Smoker, who threw for nearly 3,400 yards last season. Sophomore Drew Stanton is expected to get the nod behind center, but he did not play much in the spring after sustaining an injury in the Alamo Bowl loss to Nebraska. Senior DeAndra Cobb, a kickoff return specialist, likely is to start at RB after Jaren Hayes and Tyrell Dortch switched to play defense. Speedy Agim Shabaj and tall Aaron Alexander highlight a solid receiving corps. The Spartan defense is paced by senior DE Clifford Dukes, a second-team all-conference selection last year. With the athletic Dortch and Hayes moving to the other side of the ball, Michigan State should improve upon its shoddy pass defense, which ranked 97th last season after allowing 255.2 ypg. The Spartans' special teams are excellent, with Cobb returning kicks and Shabaj punts, and Brandon Fields, who averaged 46.4 yards per punt, again back in the fold.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: The Spartans ranked 10th nationally with a +11 turnover margin.

    SCHEDULE: Beginning at Rutgers, vs. Central Michigan, vs. Notre Dame and at Indiana, the Spartans could be 4-0 before visiting Iowa in the Big Ten opener. But after hosting Illinois, they have a nasty stretch vs. Minnesota, at Michigan, vs. Ohio State and vs. Wisconsin.



    MINNESOTA

    2003 record: 10-3 (beat Oregon in Sun Bowl) Coach: Glen Mason

    OUTLOOK: Minnesota likely is to run the ball on first down. And on second down. And on third down. The Golden Gophers ranked third nationally in 2003 in rushing, averaging 289.2 ypg, and boast two All-American candidates in junior RB Marion Barber III and sophomore Laurence Maroney. But the Gophers will miss experienced QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq, who will be replaced by redshirt sophomore Bryan Cupito. He should have time to throw, or more likely hand off to Barber or Maroney, because he will be playing behind a veteran line that is paced by center Greg Eslinger. The Gophers' defense should be quicker than last year's crew, which forced only 16 turnovers and had just 26 sacks. Senior DL Darrell Reid, a former tackle, may be the best of the bunch. Barber will return kickoffs and punts, while the clutch Rhys Lloyd again will handle the punting and kicking duties.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: The team's leading returning passer actually is Barber, who completed his one attempt for 15 yards.

    SCHEDULE: The Gophers should be 5-0 before visiting Michigan, which rallied from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun Minnesota at the Metrodome last year. Minnesota's next three games are relatively easy before concluding the regular season at Wisconsin and vs. Iowa. The Gophers do not play Ohio State or Purdue.



    NORTHWESTERN

    2003 record: 6-7 (lost to Bowling Green in Motor City Bowl)

    Coach: Randy Walker

    OUTLOOK: The Wildcats' success on offense this season is predicated on the effectiveness of their offensive line, which returns five starters, including 6-7, 335-pound RT Zach Strief. If they can open holes, senior Noah Herron should adequately replace the departed Jason Wright, who produced nearly 1,900 yards last season. Junior QB Brett Basanez followed a stellar freshman year with a poor sophomore campaign in which he threw 12 interceptions to just four touchdowns. Senior WR Ashton Aikens and junior Mark Philmore hope to overcome injuries that ended their 2003 seaons early. Nine starting defenders are back, including the entire front four, but they allowed 417.3 ypg last year to rank 88th nationally. The secondary, which returns three starters, was especially poor, surrendering 253.2 ypg.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: Since 1995, the Wildcats have at least shared three Big Ten titles, second only to Michigan's four.

    SCHEDULE: The Wildcats hope not to struggle at TCU, vs. Arizona State and vs. Kansas before opening Big Ten play at Minnesota and vs. Ohio State. Northwestern does not play Iowa or Michigan State.



    OHIO STATE

    2003 record: 11-2 (beat Kansas State in Fiesta Bowl)

    Coach: Jim Tressel

    OUTLOOK: The Buckeyes lost a record 14 NFL draft picks from a team that went 11-2 in 2003, but they shouldn't slip too much under Tressel, who has several athletic youngsters ready to step up. The Buckeyes certainly will miss heady QB Craig Krenzel, who led the team to the national title two years ago, but they believe they have the answer in heralded sophomore Justin Zwick. But Ohio State has only two returning starters from its offensive line, making things difficult for RB Lydell Ross. Speedy sophomore Santonio Holmes is the best of an inexperienced receiving corps. The Buckeyes again will be tough on defense, one that ranked second nationally against the run (62.3 ypg). DE Simon Fraser is the only returning starter up front, but the LB unit of A.J. Hawk (the preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year), Bobby Carpenter and Air Force transfer Anthony Schlegel rivals any in the nation. Senior CB Dustin Fox leads a secondary that ranked just 80th last year in passing yards allowed (234.5). Though missing stellar P B.J. Sander, the Buckeyes' special teams again should be excellent, especially K Mike Nugent. Look for highly touted true freshman Ted Ginn Jr., a high school track star, to see some action at PR and CB.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: Despite having a reputation for being opportunistic, the Buckeyes only had a +1 turnover margin last year. SCHEDULE: The Buckeyes' toughest tests should come at Iowa and at Purdue before hosting Michigan on November 20. Ohio State does not face Illinois or Minnesota.



    PENN STATE

    2003 record: 3-9

    Coach: Joe Paterno

    OUTLOOK: The Nittany Lions are coming off their worst season under the legendary Paterno, who received a contract extension in the offseason, and hope to turn things around under new offensive coordinator Galen Hall. The offense was last in the Big Ten and 103rd nationally, averaging just 313.3 ypg, and tries to bounce back behind senior QB Zack Mills, who has had numerous injury problems over the years. Don't be surprised to see more mobile junior Michael Robinson behind center for many snaps, as well as at WR. Besides Mills, the Nittany Lions return just three other offensive starters, but all are on the offensive line, which bodes well for sophomore RB Austin Scott. The defense also returns just four starters, but three come from the defensive line. Dan Connor, a true freshman, might win a starting slot at OLB. K Robbie Gould headlines a weak special teams unit.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: The Nittany Lions ranked third nationally in pass defense (153.3 ypg), but that largely is due to an anemic rush D unit that ranked 104th (209.1 ypg).

    SCHEDULE: Penn State begins Big Ten play with a brutal stretch at Wisconsin and Minnesota, vs. Purdue and Iowa and at Ohio State. The Nittany Lions miss Michigan and Illinois.



    PURDUE

    2003 record: 9-4 (lost to Georgia in Capital One Bowl)

    Coach: Joe Tiller

    OUTLOOK: Eight players return for Purdue on offense, including senior QB Kyle Orton, the preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He can either hand off to RB Jerod Void, who ran for 952 yards and 13 TDs, or pass to dependable senior WR Taylor Stubblefield or 6-9 sophomore WR Kyle Ingraham. The offensive line has to replace its starting center and right guard but returns everybody else. On defense, however, the Boilermakers have to replace eight starters from a unit that ranked 14th nationally in scoring (17.4 ppg), 10th in rushing (96.9 ypg) and 13th in total defense (302.5 ypg). One player Tiller can count on is K Ben Jones, who made all nine of his FG attempts between 40 and 49 yards, and 25-of-30 overall.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: Purdue ranked eighth in the nation in turnover differential last season, snatching 12 more than it gave up in 13 games.

    SCHEDULE: The Boilermakers get Michigan and Ohio State at home, but they have to visit Iowa. Purdue misses Minnesota and Michigan State.



    WISCONSIN

    2003 record: 7-6 (lost to Auburn in Music City Bowl) Coach: Barry Alvarez

    OUTLOOK: The Badgers ranked just 37th nationally running the ball last year, averaging 177.0 ypg. That should improve significantly in 2004 with a veteran offensive line and a healthy senior RB Anthony Davis, who missed part or all of nine games last season with ankle problems. Davis, who ran for just over 3,000 yards his first two years, reportedly is fine, but Booker Stanley and Dwayne Smith are capable backups were he to get injured again. Sophomore John Stocco is slated to take over for Jim Sorgi at QB, but he will miss departed WR Lee Evans. Junior Brandon Williams is the only starting receiver back. The Badgers return six starters on defense, but all four defensive lineman are back, including 6-3, 312-pound DT Anttaj Hawthorne. FS Jim Leonhard, an interception and tackling machine, leads a tough secondary.

    IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW: The Badgers began their 2003 campaign at 6-1, then nosedived down the stretch, dropping five of their final six contests.SCHEDULE: The Badgers should be 5-0 before back-to-back road games at Ohio State and Purdue. They also get Minnesota at home but conclude their regular season at Iowa. Wisconsin does not play Michigan or Indiana.
     

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