The Pi-Rate Ratings

September 2, 2009

2009 Big 10 Preview

2009 Big 10 Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

We’ve saved the best for last.  Okay, it’s the best for us, because four of us are Big 10 guys.  Let us take care of something before we go on.  Two of us are University of Wisconsin alums.  One of us is University of Minnesota alum, and our founder is an adopted Wisconsinite married to a former resident of Madison (and Minneapolis).  He’s also a life-long follower of Ohio State, partially because of legendary sports talk show host Pete Franklin, who mentored him during his time in sports radio, and partially because his grade school PE touch football team called itself Ohio State (read how the PiRates started for an explanation).

While the Big 10 is no better than the fourth or fifth best league in college football this year, it could very well be first in excitement.  No team, not even the Buckeyes, is dominant enough to run away with the conference title.  Five teams have a legitimate shot at contending for the Rose Bowl bid.  Four other teams could become bowl eligible.  Even the last place team should be exciting to watch thanks to a change in offensive philosophy. 

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, if Indiana was 0-4 and hosting a 4-0 Kentucky team, it would be expected that those devoted Blue Mist fans would pack Memorial Stadium and make it a home game for the Wildcats.  UK might actually receive a point advantage.  Now, if that same Indiana team instead is 4-0 and hosting San Diego State a week after SDSU played at Hawaii and lost in four overtimes, IU would get as much as 10 points in home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.

 

Big 10 Conference Preseason PiRate Ratings

   

 

Prediction *

  Team

PiRate

Big 10

Overall

  Penn State

116

6-2

10-2

  Iowa

114

5-3

9-3

  Ohio State

113

7-1

11-1

  Illinois

106

6-2

10-2

  Michigan State

103

6-2

9-3

  Michigan

102

2-6

5-7

  Wisconsin

101

3-5

7-5

  Minnesota

101

4-4

7-5

  Purdue

99

2-6

4-8

  Northwestern

97

3-5

7-5

  Indiana

89

0-8

2-10

   

 

 

 

 

*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but

 

on expected changes to rating during the year

 

This preview will be a little different than the rest.  We will list each team’s strengths and weaknesses as we see them

Penn State

Strengths:

Running Back—Evan Royster rushed for 1,236 yards (6.5 avg) and 12 TDs; backup Staphfon Green has sub 4.3 40 speed

Quarterback—Daryll Clark is the perfect fit for this offense.  He passed for 2,592 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for 10 TDs as well.

Linebacker—Duh, this is Linebacker U.  Navorro Bowman led with 106 tackles, 16 ½ behind the line, and broke up five passes.  Sean Lee returns after missing 2008.  In 2007, he had 138 tackles.

Weaknesses:

Receiver—Gone are the top three receivers from 2008 (132 receptions 1,932 yds/17 TDs), representing 59% of the catches, 61% of the yards, and 71% of the touchdowns.

Offensive Line—Three new starters must have it down pat by game four, when PSU takes on Iowa.  Guard Lou Eliades and tackle DeOn’tae Pannell both have the potential to be stars, so this unit could prove to be okay.  Tackle Dennis Landolt is already a star.

Secondary—The Nittany Lions were wiped out by graduation here.  Four new starters make it the weakest unit on the team. 

Outlook—An easy out-of-conference slate guarantees four wins.  Penn State hosts Ohio State, but the visiting team has won the last two years.  A season finale at Michigan State could have the Rose Bowl trip on the line.  We think they have a few too many holes to fill but enough talent to finish in the top four in the conference.

Iowa

Strengths:

Defense—The entire defensive side, with the exception of tackle, will be tough.  The Hawkeyes gave up 13 points and 291 yards per game last year, and there’s no reason to think they won’t repeat that performance this year.  The back seven has no peer in the Big 10.  The Hawkeyes could intercept 25 passes.  Safety Tyler Sash and linebacker Pat Angerer both intercepted five passes in 2008, and Amari Spievey picked off four. 

Quarterback—Ricky Stanzi isn’t going to make the All-Big 10 Team, but he flies just under the radar.  He should top 2,000 yards passing and toss 15-20 touchdown passes.

Weaknesses:

Offensive Line—This isn’t a weakness per se; it’s a total shuffling of the roster.  Only tackle Bryan Bulaga started last year and will start this year.  The depth chart here has been scrambled, with two former starters losing their jobs.  If former starter Dace Richardson, who missed most of the last two seasons, can return to form, this will actually become a fairly good unit.

Running Back—The Hawkeyes cannot replace Shone Greene (1,850 yards/6.0 avg/20 TDs).  New starter Paki O’Meara ran the ball 21 times for 67 yards last year.

Defensive Tackle—Karl Klug could develop into a fine player, and Christian Ballard is capable of playing anywhere on the line, but neither of them is close in talent to departed stars Matt Kroul and Mitch King.

Outlook—Iowa can stop just about any offense in the league, and they should hold their four non-conference opponents (Northern Iowa, Iowa State, Arizona, and Arkansas State) to about 35 total points.  Inside the Big 10, tough games at Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State will prevent them from winning the title.  Nine wins and a eighth bowl bid in the last nine years is very reachable.

Ohio State

Strengths:

Quarterback—Terrelle Pryor is just a sophomore, but he’s the co-number one QB in this league.  Look for him to pass for 2,250-2,500 yards and rush for close to 1,000, accounting for 25 touchdowns.

Defensive Line—Three starters return from a unit that surrendered 110 rushing yards per game and provided a strong pass rush.  End Thaddeus Gibson recorded five sacks and four other TFLs.

Safety—Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell form the best safety tandem in the league.  Both are NFL prospects.

Weaknesses:

Cornerback—Malcolm Jenkins will give quarterbacks in the NFC South headaches this year, and he cannot be replaced.  Teams refused to pass the ball in his direction as much as possible, yet he still intercepted three passes and broke up nine others.

Receiver—The Buckeyes lost the two Brians, Robiskie and Hartline, both of whom were drafted.  The replacements will eventually be quite proficient, but it will take a few games.  The Southern Cal game comes up in week two.

Running Back—Beanie Wells and his 1,197 yards rushing are gone.  Pryor will lead the Buckeyes in rushing this year, but he needs somebody to take the heat off him occasionally.  Sophomore Dan Herron could subsidize the running of Pryor and allow OSU to rush for the same amount of yards this year (192 per game in ’08).

Linebacker—Ohio State lost James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, and the replacements are lightly experienced.  Lone returnee Ross Homan could make the All-Big 10 1st Team.

Outlook—Ohio State’s backups from one year usually become starters the next year and perform admirably, so weaknesses for them are not the same as weaknesses for other teams.  The key to the season comes in week two.  If they beat Southern Cal, it will be a shot in the arm, and the Buckeyes could run the table.  If they lose this game, they will have a hard time playing their best all season, knowing they have little chance of going to the second Pasadena bowl.  We think they have a better than 50-50 shot of winning. The game at Penn State may not go their way, and the Buckeyes may have to settle for the first Pasadena bowl.

Illinois

Strengths:

Quarterback—Juice Williams is the other co-number one QB in the league.  He won’t be confused for Tebow, Bradford, or McCoy, but he will make Illinois go.  He passed for 3,173 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, but he needs to cut back on interceptions.  He also led the Illini with 719 rushing, and he is capable of topping 1,000.  Backup Eddie McGee has talent and can move the team as well.

Receiver—It starts with Arrelious Benn, who finished second in the league with 67 receptions and 1,055 yards.  Tight end Mike Hoomanawanui is a nightmare on enemy safeties at 6’5 and 270.  Look for him to catch 30-40 passes and plough his way for a few extra yards after every catch except for the diving receptions.  Jeff Cumberland is a serious threat to go all the way with every catch he makes.

Running Back—The offensive skill positions are the best in the Big 10 thanks to the able running abilities of Daniel Dufrene, Jason Ford, and Mikel Leshoure.  The trio will split reps and rush for about 1,200 yards this year.  All three are threats as receivers as well.

Weaknesses:

The Defensive Front Seven—The Illini gave up 153 yards rushing and 4.0 yards per rush.  Only two of the front seven starters return this year, and this will be a big liability.  Expected starting end Jerry Brown was declared academically ineligible and won’t play this year.

Outlook—The lack of stars on the defensive side will necessitate the Illini holding onto the ball longer this season.  New offensive coordinator Mike Schulz was noted for putting together TCU offenses that held onto the ball for long, time consuming drives. 

What Schulz cannot change is the schedule.  After having an off week September 19, the Illini must play at Ohio State, at home against Penn State and at home against Michigan State.  That is a tough three game stretch, and very few teams other than the top four in the nation can beat these three powers back-to-back-to-back.  Illinois should enjoy a return to a New Year’s Day Bowl, and if  more than one team can beat Ohio State, Coach Ron Zook could gain a share of the Big 10 title.

Michigan State

Strengths:

Receiver—All the receivers who caught more than five passes return this year.  Mark Dell, Charlie Gantt, and Blair White may not catch 50 passes each, but if they continue to average an aggregate 17 yards per catch, they are going to make things difficult for defenses, as the running game gets more room to operate.

Defensive Front Seven—The linebacker trio is up there with Penn State and Iowa, and the front four is above average.  End Trevor Anderson is a QB’s nightmare.  He could post double digit sacks after recording eight a year ago.  Offenses will not be able to key on him, because linebackers Eric Gordon, Greg Jones, and Brandon Denson can shoot through and drop a passer or take a running back down for a loss.

Weaknesses:

Quarterback—The loss of Brian Hoyer is harder to overcome than first thought.  None of the possible replacements has distinguished himself, and the Spartans will open the season with a possible platoon of Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, two sophomores with limited experience.  Look for Coach Mark Dantonio to run more, pass less, and pass deeper when the Spartans do throw it.

Running Back—Javon Ringer was one of the most underrated running backs in the NCAA.  He led the Big 10 with 1,637 yards and 22 touchdowns last year.  Caulton Ray, a redshirt freshman will get first crack at filling those shoes.  Larry Caper and Edwin Baker will see plenty of action.  The three will get 400 carries and hope to replace the lost yardage as a trio.

Outlook—The Spartans had a chance at the end of the year to get a piece of the Big 10 title, but Penn State thrashed them 49-18.  MSU doesn’t have enough offensive talent to score enough points to beat the better offensive teams, and their defense won’t be strong enough to hold those teams’ score down low enough to win 17-14.  The Spartans play at Notre Dame, and that could be an extra loss on their schedule.  We expect them to get their revenge on Penn State this year and prevent the Lions from winning the Big 10.  As for the MSU record, even with the offensive woes, we think they will win as many as last year.

Michigan

Strengths:

Running Back—Brandon Minor is still around, and when healthy, he is capable of piling up good yardage.  A big year could move him onto the draft boards of some teams.  Quarterback Tate Forcier will be a much better runner than Steven Threet was last year.  Nick Sheridan is another option, but Coach Rich Rodriguez would love Forcier to take the reins and not give them up.

Offensive Line—All five starters return, and with a year of experience in this offense, the rushing numbers should jump by as much as 100 yards.  Guard Stephen Schilling has all-conference potential.

Defensive Front Seven—Linebackers Obi Ezeh, Jonas Mouton, and Stevie Brown make this yet another excellent group in this league.  End Brandon Graham is the best at his position in the Big 10 (10 sacks and 10 more TFLs!)

Punter—Zoltan Mesko is a Ray Guy Award contender.  He averaged 43 yards per punt with a net of 39.3.  His punts have great hang time, and he can place them inside the 20 any time he’s punting from beyond his 35 yard line.

Weaknesses:

Secondary—Three 2008 starters are gone, and the new starters didn’t see much playing time last year.  Expect major problems when the Wolverines play Notre Dame, Iowa, Penn State, Illinois, and Ohio State.

Team Morale—We were ready to pick Michigan as a surprise contender for eight wins and a bowl until the news came out about players going to the Detroit Free Press to accuse Rodriguez of making them practice more hours than the NCAA allows.  We think there is a concerted effort from within the booster community to send Rodriguez on his way, and we expect more bad news to emerge this year.

Outlook—It looks like two years could be all for Rich Rodriguez.  He cannot coach with this lack of respect coming from within the ranks.  Rodriguez will get another chance somewhere else if this is his final year in Ann Arbor.  We say 5-7 is the best this team can do.

Wisconsin

Strengths:

Running Back—P. J. Hill is gone, but Zach Brown and John Clay are back.  The Badger running game should continue to grind out 200-225 yards per game.

Tight  End—Wisconsin usually uses two tight ends, and Mickey Turner and Garrett Graham are big and sure-handed.  Graham led the Badgers with 40 receptions and 540 yards.  He could top 50 this year, while Turner should match graduated starter Travis Beckham yard-for-yard.

Secondary—Three starters return to a unit that gave up just 52.5% completions and 196 yards per game.  Cornerback Niles Brinkley intercepted four passes and knocked away nine more, and yet he was beaten out in August practice. 

Weaknesses:

Quarterback—Allan Evridge and Dustin Sherer didn’t remind anybody of Aaron Rodgers, as they combined for just 54% completions and a TD/INT ratio of 11/10.  Neither had much running ability, and they were sacked 29 times.  Scott Tolzein has beaten out Sherer (Evridge graduated), and he’s a little more mobile. 

Defensive Front Seven—Wisconsin has usually been strong up front on defense.  This year, only two of the seven starters return, and the new starters have little game experience.  Look for opponents to rush for 150-180 yards per game against the rebuilt run defense, and look for quarterbacks to have more time to pass.  UW will give up 28-33 points per game.

Outlook– Coach Bret Bielema could be on the hot seat if Wisconsin continues to slide the wrong way.  Since taking over for Barry Alvarez, UW has won 12, nine, and seven games.  That number better move the other way this year.  An easy non-conference slate should produce four wins, but we see the Badgers repeating their 3-5 league record for a repeat of 2008.  That will place Bielema on a very hot seat for the 2010 season.

Minnesota

Strengths:

Receiver—Yes, we are talking about Minnesota being strong at the wide out position.  Eric Decker is the best receiver ever to wear the Big M.  Last year, he led the Big 10 with 84 receptions and 1,074 yards, scoring seven times.  He missed some time with injuries, or else he might have caught 100 passes.  Brandon Green and tight end Nick Tow-Arnett give UM three dangerous weapon.  Tow-Arnett grabbed just 10 passes last year, but he averaged 21.1 yards per catch.

Quarterback—Adam Weber had a Bryan Cupito-like season last year.  He passed for 2,761 yards and 15 touchdowns at a 62.2% completion rate.  He showed an ability to run when called on to do so.  If he improves as much this year as last, he could top 3,000 yards.

Offensive Line—A combination of four returning starters plus a new star-in-the-making mean the Gophers are going to be strong in the trenches.  Coach Tim Brewster would like to bring back the power running game enjoyed just four years ago in the Lawrence Maroney days.

Weaknesses:

Running Back—Duane Bennett, DeLeon Easkridge, and a host of others combined to run for just 104 yards per game (34 sacks skewed those numbers a bit).  Bennett showed the most promise for turning into a consistent runner, and he has become the starter.

Defensive Back—Minnesota is not ready to challenge for conference honors because their pass defense isn’t strong enough.  After surrendering 240 yards per game, there should be some improvement this year.  It would have been better had safety Tramaine Brock been able to remain academically eligible.  Kyle Theret  and Marcus Sherels make up half of a good secondary, but they cannot cover two zones at once.

Outlook—The most exciting thing about Minnesota football in 2009 is their brand new outdoor, on-campus stadium.  We’ve watched its construction adjacent to Williams Arena, and it is one beautiful work of architecture.  It’s light years better than old Memorial Stadium (The Brick House), and much more student friendly and personable than the Metrodome.  If you get a chance to see TCF Bank Stadium, don’t pass it up.

As for the Gophers, a better running game to compliment an outstanding passing game should allow UM to score 28 to 33 points per game and gain around 400 yards per game.  Unfortunately, the Gophers will give up 28 points per game as well.  The schedule has one tough non-conference game (Cal) and one semi-touch non-conference game (Air Force).  The Gophers should match last year’s seven-win total.

Purdue

Strengths:

Defensive Back Seven—Five of seven starters return to these two units, led by free safety Torri Williams (83 tackles, 2 int., 6 PBU) and cornerback David Pender (12 PBU).  Linebackers Chris Carlino and Joe Holland have all-conference potential

Weaknesses:

Quarterback—Is it true that this is a weakness at Purdue?  With the loss of Curtis Painter and backup Justin Siller’s dismissal, it leaves inexperienced senior Joey Elliott to take control of the offense.  There will be a major drop-off for first year coach Danny Hope.  The Boilermakers averaged 183 yards per game through the air last year, which was the lowest this century.  It will be the second lowest after this season concludes.

Running Back—1,131-yard rusher Kory Sheets and his 16 touchdowns scored are history.  Replacement Ralph Bolden rushed for 28 yards on 16 attempts.  Expect a minor decrease only, because PU just rushed for 125 yards per game last year.

Receiver—To complete the troika of skill positions, the Boilermakers suffered heavy losses at receiver.  The top two pass catchers, Desmond Tardy and Greg Orton, are gone after grabbing 136 passes for 1,546 yards and 10 TDs.  This year’s starters combined for 60 receptions and 710 yards.

Outlook—Purdue opens the season playing Toledo at home and Oregon on the road.   The next two games are at home against Northern Illinois and at Notre Dame.  If they don’t win two of those four games, they may lose double digit games for the first time since 1993.  If they split those first four, then they could win two or three more times.  We’ll call it a repeat of last year—4-8.

Northwestern

Strengths:

Defensive Line—Coach Pat Fitzgerald has slowly started to turn Northwestern into a defense before offense team, much like the way NU played when he was starring for Coach Gary Barnett.  He’s built a strong front four with end Corey Wootton leading the way.  Wootton had 10 sacks and six other tackles behind the line and made 1st Team All-Big 10.  Starting at the other end, Vince Browne recorded four sacks off the bench last year.  Tackle Corbin Bryant proved to be a reliable run stopper.

Defensive Backs—All four starters return from last year, and all of them could make one of the all-conference teams.  Safety Brad Phillips led NU with 109 tackles with six going for losses; he picked off three passes and knocked away six others.  His counterpart at the other safety, Brendan Smith, finished third on the team with 82 tackles.  Cornerbacks Sherrick McManis and Jordan Mabin teamed for five interceptions and 17 passed knocked away.  Northwestern gave up 214 passing yards per game, and that number could go down.

Weaknesses:

Quarterback—C. J. Bacher has graduated, and senior Mike Kafka takes over.  Kafka is a much better runner than Bacher, but he isn’t as competent passing the ball. 

Running Back—Tyrell Sutton rushed for 890 yards in eight games of action, and backup Stephen Simmons started in his place.  NU averaged just 80 rushing yards per game in Simmons’ starts, and more than 175 yards per game when Sutton played.  Simmons takes over the position full time this year after gaining just 2.9 yards per carry.  Expect the Wildcats to rely more on Kafka than any of the running backs.

Wide Receiver—Another reason Northwestern’s offense will stagnate this year is a weak receiving unit.  The top three receivers (top four when you count Sutton’s passes caught from his RB spot) have graduated, leaving a roster that combined for 57 catches and 480 yards. 

Outlook—Northwestern won all their non-league games last year for the first time since 1963, and it’s a good bet it will happen again in 2009.  They will only need two Big 10 wins to become bowl eligible, and with both Purdue and Indiana on the schedule, they have a great shot.  Throw in one upset along the way when the defense dominates in inclement weather, and you have the Wildcats’ first back-to-back winning seasons since 1995 and 1996, when Fitzgerald was the star linebacker.

Indiana

Strengths:

Defensive End—Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton give the Hoosiers one of the best set of terminals in the league.  Kirley is the leading returning sack master in the league after recording 10 ½ last year.  He added nine trappings of backs for losses to that total.  Middleton was a 1st Team All-Big 10 selection two years ago, but he spent most of last year in the doghouse following an early season suspension.

Linebacker—Middle linebacker Matt Mayberry led IU with 89 tackles last year, while Will Patterson added 55 and had 8 ½ total tackles for loss.

Weaknesses:

The entire offense—Indiana will struggle to score points, even with the switch to the pistol offense.  Quarterback Ben Chappell has the potential to be a 200-yard per game passer, but he just doesn’t have much support.  His receivers are not overly fast nor great hands people.  There are no potential stars at running back, and the offensive line is below average.  Look for the Hoosiers to average less than 20 points and 325 yards per game this year.

Outlook—It’s going to be a long year in Bloomington.  Indiana has to get some new blood into the moribund offense.  The defense will give the Hoosiers a couple opportunities to win a game or two, but that’s about all that can be expected.  This is, or at least was, a basketball school.  1967 was 42 years ago, and that’s the last time IU won the Big 10.

Next up: We begin regular season coverage with the PiRate and Mean spreads for the opening week of the college season.  Look for our initial NFL ratings the first of next week.

Advertisements

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: