The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 20, 2010

2010 Big Ten Conference Preview

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2010 Big Ten Conference Preview

The Big Ten started all this realignment mess, but all they did in the end was add Nebraska.  While we wouldn’t be shocked to see Commissioner Jim Delany add two or even four more teams before the year is up, nothing will be more surprising than the Big Ten race this season—at least in our opinions.

We are not about to shock anybody and pick Indiana and Minnesota to split the title.  No, we believe, like most other pundits, that Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin are the main contenders, and Penn State and Michigan State are right behind.  We do throw in one surprise team that could contend this year.  Our big surprise is that we feel like the league has become as balanced as the Pac-10.  We actually expect that there is a possibility that four teams could go 6-2 and split the title multiple ways.  Every contender has a strength that can be used to exploit one of the other contenders’ weaknesses.  Thus, every contender also has an exploitable weakness.  It should be an interesting season, as the Big Ten sends its champion to the Rose Bowl (no BCS Championship Game again this year) to face a Pac-10 champion, just like the good ole days.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team B10 W-L
1 Wisconsin 7-1 11-1
2 Iowa 6-2 9-3
3 Ohio State 6-2 10-2
4 Michigan 5-3 8-4
5 Michigan State 5-3 9-3
6 Penn State 5-3 8-4
7 Northwestern 3-5 7-5
8 Purdue 3-5 6-6
9 Illinois 2-6 4-8
10 Indiana 1-7 5-7
11 Minnesota 1-7 3-9

 

BCS (Rose) Bowl: Wisconsin

Capital One Bowl: Ohio State

Outback Bowl: Iowa

Gator Bowl: Michigan

Insight Bowl: Penn State

Texas Bowl: Michigan State

Dallas Football Classic: Purdue

Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl: Northwestern

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

Team Illinois Fighting Illini
               
Head Coach Ron Zook
               
Colors Orange and Blue
               
City Champaign-Urbana, IL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 98.3
               
National Rating 63
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 4-8
               
Strengths: Running Back, Linebacker, Cornerback
               
Weaknesses: Wide Receiver, Safety, Special Teams
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Missouri (N), Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois, @ Fresno State
   
Key Games: Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern (@ Wrigley Field)
   
Offense Pred. 22-26 points & 350-375 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

Ron Zook almost lost his job last year, and he will lose it this year if the Illini don’t return to a bowl.  He hired new offensive and defensive coordinators, but that may not be enough to turn the tide in Champaign-Urbana. 

 

Illinois will have a decent running game again this year, but we do not see the Illini averaging 200 yards a game like last year.  Quarterback Nate Scheelhaase does not have the wheels former QB Juice Williams had.  He will pass for more yards possibly.

 

At running back, the Illini will rely on a good tandem.  Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford could combined for 1,500 yards, but their average per gain will drop some without a mobile QB threat.

 

Scheelhaase will struggle against better secondaries, because his receivers are not that talented.  Jarred Fayson is the leading returnee after catching just 16 passes for 218 yards.

 

The offensive line is average at best, and they will give up considerably more sacks with a less-mobile QB.

 

Illinois stunk on this side of the ball last year, and things won’t be much better this season.  Illinois switches to the 3-4 defense this year, and the three-man line will struggle some.  Only one starter, Clay Nurse, returns to this unit.  He will see a lot of double team blocks, as the rest of the line will not pick up a lot of sacks.

 

Linebacker is the strength of this side of the ball, as three with starting experience return. 

 

The Illini are set at the corners, but safety is a concern.  Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne combined for 12 batted passes but intercepted just two.  Illinois finished #120 (dead last) in the nation in intercepted passes, so there is only one way to go in this category.

 

We do not believe the Illini have enough to get over the hump.  They had a lot better talent last year and won just three games.  Zook is headed back to the assistant coaches ranks after this season. 

Team Indiana Hoosiers
               
Head Coach Bill Lynch
               
Colors Cream and Crimson
               
City Bloomington, IN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 92.5
               
National Rating 82
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 5-7
               
Strengths: Wide Receiver
               
Weaknesses: Running Back, Offensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Towson, @ Western Kentucky, Akron, Arkansas State
   
Key Games: Michigan, @ Illinois, Northwestern, @ Purdue
   
Offense Pred. 24-28 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 31-34 points & 400-425 yards
               
Outlook

Three close losses were the difference in a 7-5 season and the 4-8 season in Hoosierland in 2009.  Indiana has a lot of talent on the offensive side and a lot of questions on the defensive side of the ball this year.  It looks like another year of close, high-scoring games with IU on the losing side.

 

Quarterback Ben Chappell returns for his senior year after completing 62.6% of his passes for 2,941 yards and 17 touchdowns.  His 15 interceptions have a lot to do with an offensive line that did not do its job.  He had to heave the ball in desperation too many times.

 

Chappell has some excellent receivers, and when IU plays teams with weaker pass rushes, the Hoosiers will generate a lot of passing yards.  Tandon Doss, Damario Belcher, and Terrance Turner teamed for 183 receptions and 2,175 yards last year, and they should top that contribution this season.

 

Indiana will pass the ball more this year, because their running game is still a problem.  Their offensive line does not block well for the run, and we don’t see the Hoosiers getting much more than 100 yards on the ground this year.  If they do, it will be because they fatten their stats against the non-conference opponents.

 

The Hoosiers were less than mediocre on the defensive side of the ball last year, and the news gets worse this year.  Seven of the top eight tacklers are gone, including the only two quality pass rushers.  IU has a decent tandem at defensive tackle, and Adam Replogle and Larry Black will stop up the middle running plays.  Replogle is the only pass rushing monster returning.

 

Only one starter returns at linebacker and in the secondary, and with a weaker pass rush, the Hoosiers will be quite generous through the air.  Look for IU to give up more than 250 passing yards per game in a conference noted for heavy running attacks.

 

A very easy non-conference slate will give Indiana four wins.  They will only need two conference victories to become bowl eligible, but getting one win will be tough.

Team Iowa Hawkeyes
               
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Iowa City, IA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 11-2
               
PiRate Rating 119.8
               
National Rating 15
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: Defensive Line ***, Receiver, Defensive Back, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Linebacker
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Eastern Illinois, Iowa State, @ Arizona, Ball State
   
Key Games: Penn State, @ Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State
   
Offense Pred. 26-30 points & 360-380 yards
               
Defense Pred. 13-17 points & 275-300 points
               
Outlook

Iowa was a losing team last year if you look at their scores through three quarters.  They came from behind numerous times and barely earned victories over Northern Iowa and Arkansas State.  Of course, if you look at their bowl game against Georgia Tech, they looked like a top five team.

 

The Hawkeyes are the trendy pick to win the Big Ten this year because they host Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.  We won’t bash the Hawkeyes, but we see just enough exploitable areas to select them to come up a game short in the league standings.

 

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi completed just 56.3% of his passes last year and tossed 15 interceptions.  He forced passes at times, and he shut cut down on those this year.  On the other hand, some of those forced passes resulted in spectacular plays that helped Iowa move the ball in the fourth quarter. 

 

Stanzi will have two excellent weapons at his disposal.  Wideouts Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt combined for 79 receptions and 1,424 yards (18.0 per catch).  Their ability to break loose for long gains opened the running lanes for the backs.

 

Speaking of backs, Coach Kirk Ferentz welcomes the return of two fine runners in Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher.  Look for the two to team for 1,500 or more yards this year.

 

The one weakness on this side of the ball is in the offensive line, as three starters departed.  Iowa usually has excellent line play, but only tackle Riley Reiff qualifies for all-conference material.  Stanzi could receive a tougher pass rush this year, and if he reverts to his old ways…

 

Iowa won with defense last year, and they will probably rely on defense to win again this year.  Eight starters return on this side of the ball, but the Hawkeyes lost three excellent players who heard their names called in the NFL Draft.

 

The overwhelming strongest unit on this side of the ball is possibly the top in the nation!  All four defensive line starters return, and with North Carolina’s defensive line possibly missing the best player in the nation, we give the nod to Iowa.  In fact, we would not be surprised if all four starters (Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Karl Klug, and Broderick Binns) ended up on the 1st or 2nd Team All-Big Ten list.  Clayborn made 20 total stops behind the line last year.  The other three combined for 32 for an incredible 52 plays where the other team lost yardage!

 

The second line of defense is the vulnerable unit on this side of the ball.  Expect teams to use a lot of play-action passes and short passes into the seams of the underneath zones to try to exploit the youth in the linebacking corps.

 

The secondary is almost as tough as the defensive line, even with the loss of Amari Spievey to the NFL.  Safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood combined to defend 22 passes last year.  Sash proved to be very valuable in run support as well.

 

Most pundits believe the Big Ten race could come down to the two big games the Hawkeyes host at Kinnick Stadium—October 23 with Wisconsin and November 20 with Ohio State.  We believe they will win one and lose one.  We actually believe the race will be decided on October 16, when Iowa plays at Michigan.  We think the Wolverines might upset the Hawkeyes in that game, forcing Iowa to sweep the other two teams.  At 6-2, they may fall one game short.     

Team Michigan Wolverines
               
Head Coach Rich Rodriguez
               
Colors Maize and Blue
               
City Ann Arbor, MI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 106.3
               
National Rating 43
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4
               
Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Linebacker, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Connecticut, @ Notre Dame, UMass, Bowling Green
   
Key Games: Michigan State, Iowa, @ Penn State, Wisconsin, @ Ohio State
   
Offense Pred. 30-34 points & 400-425 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 360-380 yards
               
Outlook

Coach Rich Rodriguez’s seat is just as hot as Ron Zook’s, but we believe he will right the ship in Ann Arbor this season.

 

Michigan will unveil a new quarterback that will remind folks of Pat White.  Denard Robinson has apparently beaten out last year’s starter Tate Forcier, and Robinson could easily rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 this year.  The Wolverines increased their offensive production from 20 to 30 points per game last year, and if Robinson is as good as advertised, they could top that number in 2010.

 

With Robinson set to get a lot of rushing attempts, look for running backs Vincent Smith and Fitzgerald Toussaint to benefit from the linebackers having to freeze to make sure they pursue the right player.  Toussaint has the potential to be an every down back in the Big Ten, as he combines power and speed.

 

Receiver Roy Roundtree may be the only deep ball threat for the Wolverines this year, but he will require double coverage by many opponents, and that will open up the zone read to explode.  If opponents put an extra man in the box to stop the run, Roundtree will burn them with a breakaway play.

 

The offensive line is the key to the offense moving from really good to outstanding.  The healthy return of center David Molk should give this line a chance to shine.  They will give up fewer sacks with Robinson taking the snaps.

 

The key to a possible surprise move into title contention is the progress of the defense.  UM has suffered through two dreadful seasons on this side under the Rodriguez tenure.  The Wolverines are switching to a 3-3-5 alignment this season, which is a gutsy move when you have to face Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State’s ground games.

 

Michigan still had a decent pass rush last year, but the man responsible for that, Brandon Graham, is now getting paid to play in the City of Brotherly Love.  End Ryan Van Bergen will be the new sack specialist after recording five a year ago, but the key to the front line will be nose tackle William Campbell.  If he can hold his own in the trenches, the linebackers can move and make plays.

 

Linebacker is the key to this defense; can the Wolverines find enough talent to make the 3-3-5 work?  Former end Craig Roh has the tools to play linebacker in the Big Ten.  Jonas Mouton has not lived up to his press clippings, but this new defense may suit him better.

 

The back line must improve by leaps and bounds for UM to have a chance at winning the Big Ten.  Losing Troy Woolfork to injury will make that impossible, but the Wolverines will improve just enough on this side of the ball to win two or three more times.

 

We believe Michigan can win eight games this year.  That would save Rodriguez’s job.  It would be funny if he won big this year and then went shopping for a possible vacant position if an opening popped up in the SEC (LSU, Georgia, South Carolina???). 

Team Michigan State Spartans
               
Head Coach Mark Dantonio
               
Colors Green and White
               
City East Lansing, MI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 107.4
               
National Rating 42
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: Quarterback, Receiver, Linebacker
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: W. Michigan, Fla. Atlantic (@ Detroit), Notre Dame, N. Colorado
   
Key Games: Wisconsin, @ Michigan,  @ Northwestern, @ Iowa, @ Penn State
   
Offense Pred. 31-34 points & 420-440 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 360-380 yards
               
Outlook

Here is a team that is not far from being ready to challenge for a conference championship.  The Spartans have a first-rate passing attack that rivals those of the great West Coast teams.  Unfortunately, a below-average secondary will allow opponents to pass like they are a West Coast passing team.

 

Quarterback Kurt Cousins returns to pilot the MSU offense after taking most of the snaps last year.  He tossed for 2,680 yards and 19 touchdowns to just nine interceptions.  Keith Nichol, last year’s backup threw for 764 yards, but he is now a starting wideout.  Cousins could easily approach 300 passing yards per game this year.

 

Besides Nichol, Cousins will have two excellent wideouts and a talented tight end to pass to.  B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin give Cousins two different types of receivers to aim for.  Cunningham is a possession receiver who can take a lick and hold onto the ball.  Martin can get open deep quickly and pick up a long gain.  He scored five times on just 18 catches last year.

 

With the passing game ready to excel, the running game may not produce a lot of yards, but the yards per attempt may go up.  Larry Caper is a bull who can get the tough yards inside, while Edwin Baker can get around the perimeter quickly.

 

The offensive line may be a small liability this year, as just two starters return.  Due to a lot of injuries last year, several players saw action.  So, this year’s starters are not totally raw.

 

The Spartans will use both the 4-3 and 3-4 defense this year.  The defensive line welcomes back two starters including tackle Jerel Worthy, who registered nine tackles for loss.

 

Middle linebacker Greg Jones is the real stud of this defense.  He led the Big Ten last year with 154 tackles and had nine sacks and 14 total tackles for loss.  Eric Gordon returns at Sam linebacker after finishing runner-up on the team with 92 stops.

 

The secondary is the big question mark on this team.  Even with an exemplary pass rush last year, MSU gave up 268 passing yards per game.  Two defensive back starters graduated, one to the NFL.  Chris Rucker is a Big Ten-caliber defensive back, but two or three more quality player must emerge for this team to compete with the elite.

 

Michigan State games will be shootouts this year, as the offense appears to be dominant and the defense is pedestrian.  It will keep MSU from winning the title, but they could play spoiler.  Expect at least eight wins and maybe nine.

Team Minnesota Golden Gophers
               
Head Coach Tim Brewster
               
Colors Maroon and Gold
               
City Minneapolis, MN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 100.7
               
National Rating 57
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-9
               
Strengths: Offensive Line, Safety
               
Weaknesses: Receiver, Running Back, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Cornerback
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ Middle Tennessee, South Dakota, Southern Cal, N. Illinois
   
Key Games: Northwestern, @ Purdue, @ Illinois, Iowa
   
Offense Pred. 23-27 points & 325-350 yards
               
Defense Pred. 30-34 points & 400-425 yards
               
Outlook

Minnesota fired Glen Mason after the 2006 season because they were fed up with seven, eight, nine, and 10-win seasons and no conference championships.  In the three years since, the Gophers have won one, seven, and six games.  With a major rebuilding job facing Coach Tim Brewster’s defense, Minnesota’s win total could drop 50% this season.

 

The Gophers return most of their offense from last year, but that offense was not all that good.  The best player, receiver Eric Decker, is now in the NFL.  

 

Quarterback Adam Weber returns for his final season after having a subpar junior season.  He threw 15 interceptions and completed just 52% of his passes. 

 

With Decker gone, the Gophers have few downfield weapons.  The leading returnee in reception yardage is Da’Jon McKnight.  He had 311 yards on 17 catches, most of them after Decker went down to injury.

 

The running game, which was always stellar during Mason’s tenure, has fallen to the bottom of the league.  The Gophers rushed for just 99 yards per game last year, but the offensive line gave up 41 sacks to skew that number a little.

 

All five starters return to the offensive line, so there should be some improvement both in pass protection and in opening holes for the run.  Guard Matt Carufel is the best of the five.

 

The defense could be the weakest stop unit in the Big Ten since the Minnesota defense of 2007.  Just safeties Kyle Threet and Kim Royston return to the starting lineup this season, and Royston has leg issues. 

 

Linebacker Keanon Cooper played quite a bit last year, and he is the only other experienced player on the roster.

 

In the defensive line, end Anthony Jacobs is the closest thing to an experienced player.  He registered 19 tackles in a backup role last year.  His career start total is three games, which is three more than the rest of the d-line.

 

To make matters worse, Minnesota must play Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, and Penn State, and they don’t play Indiana.  It is going to be a long year in Minneapolis, but at least the Gophers have a really beautiful stadium now.  Just how many people decide to come to TCF Bank Stadium in November when it is 25 degrees and windy…

Team Northwestern Wildcats
               
Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
               
Colors Purple and White
               
City Evanston, IL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 95.7
               
National Rating 69
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 7-5
               
Strengths: Offensive Line, Linebackers
               
Weaknesses: Receiver, Running Back, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ Vanderbilt, Illinois State, @ Rice, Central Michigan
   
Key Games: @ Minn., Purdue, Mich. St., @ Indiana, Illinois (@ Wrigley Field)
   
Offense Pred. 24-28 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

The Wildcats may take a small step back this year but not enough to keep them from going to their third consecutive bowl.  Northwestern lost their starting quarterback and top two receivers on offense, and five starters on defense, so we expect NU to be a couple points weaker.  Thanks to a soft non-conference slate of opponents, they should win seven games and earn another bowl trip.

 

The new quarterback is Dan Persa.  He saw limited action last year, completing 59% of his 34 pass attempts.  Persa is a sneaky runner, so expect more rushing yards from this position than last year.

 

No NU backs rushed the ball with any competency last year; Arby Fields led with 302 yards.  Expect a big improvement, because Persa can run the zone-read quite well.

 

The running game has to improve, because the passing game will take a step backward.  NU lost 148 receptions and 1,783 yards when their top two receivers graduated.  The replacements are not as talented.  Nobody on this roster is a consistent deep threat; Drake Dunsmore is the closest thing to that, and he averaged just 11.1 yards per catch last year.

 

Helping make the running game improve this year is an experienced offensive line with four returning starters.  Tackle Al Netter was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten player last year.

 

The Wildcat defense is above average in the line, really good at linebacker, and below average in the defensive backfield.  End Vincent Browne tied for the NU lead with five sacks and had three other tackles for loss. 

 

The other co-leading sack man is linebacker Quentin Davie.  To Davie’s five sacks, he added 6 ½ other tackles for loss.  Fellow linebackers Nate Williams and Ben Johnson return to make this a solid unit.

 

Opponents with good quarterbacks (Ricky Stanzi, Kirk Cousins, Scott Tolzien, Robert Marve, Ben Chappell) will torch the NU secondary this year.  Jordan Mabin is the only returning starter, and he was more of a run-stopper than pass defender in 2009.

 

Look for the Wildcats to win all four of their non-conference games.  They will only need two conference wins to gain bowl eligibility, and there are four conference opponents that they can beat.  We’ll say they win three of those games and post another winning season.  Maybe, this is the year they draw an easier bowl opponent and finally win a bowl.

Team Ohio State Buckeyes
               
Head Coach Jim Tressel
               
Colors Scarlet and Gray
               
City Columbus, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-2
               
PiRate Rating 124.3
               
National Rating 5
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-2
               
Strengths: Quarterback,  Receiver, Offensive Line, Linebacker
               
Weaknesses: Not many, maybe slightly at Defensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Marshall, Miami (FL), Ohio U, Eastern Michigan
   
Key Games: @ Wisconsin, Penn State, @ Iowa, Michigan
   
Offense Pred. 30-34 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 13-17 points & 275-300 yards
               
Outlook

We could be far off base here, but we actually believe that Ohio State will not win the Big Ten and will not play in the National Championship Game this year.  The Buckeyes have an incredible offense returning, but it is not as good as Wisconsin’s or Michigan State’s offense, and is no better than Purdue or Michigan’s offense.  They have a very good defense, but it is not as good as Iowa’s or Penn State’s defense.  Thus, we believe they will fall twice in conference play and watch a rival lost just once.

 

Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is a Heisman Trophy contender.  He must be considered one of the top five preseason choices.  He ended the season on a roll with a dynamic Rose Bowl performance, but he was almost a non-factor passing in November.  He threw for less than 300 yards in the last three regular season games combined.  He also threw 11 interceptions (3.73%) and finished 8th in passing efficiency.  His ability to run made him a lot more dangerous than other QBs, but we believe Coach Jim Tressel will try to limit his runs this season and increase his passing attempts.

 

OSU is still a run first team, but Pryor has a plethora of good receivers to toss the ball.  DeVier Posey is a classic possession receiver, and his 60 receptions led the Buckeyes last season.  Dane Sanzenbacher is more of a deep threat.  Tight end Jake Stoneburner will be a new star for the Buckeyes this season.  He provides a large target with a good pair of hands.

 

The running game benefits from the return of Brandon Saine and Dan Herron.  The two combined for 1,339 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Saine is a weapon coming out of the backfield as a pass receiver as well.

 

The offensive line returns four starters, and all four are all-conference talents.  This is a one of the nations’ top five lines, but it is just number two in the Big Ten.

 

The defense will not crumble even though it lost five great players.  Tressel’s last four teams yielded just 12.5, 13.9, 12.8, and 12.8 points per game.

 

The defensive line is a minor strength, even with the loss of three starters.  Tressel rotated fresh players in every week, so the three new starters saw extensive playing time in big games.  End Cameron Heyward is ready to become the next great lineman to play at the Giant Horseshoe.  He registered 10 total tackles for loss, but he was not an every down player last year. 

 

Two players return to the second line of defense.  Brian Rolle earned 2nd Team All-Big Ten accolades after making 95 tackles.  Ross Homan was a 1st Team all-conference selection and led OSU with 108 stops.  He also recorded 10 passes defended with a team-leading five interceptions.

 

The back line of defense will be a team strength with three starters returning.  Cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence are among the best in the league.

 

The Buckeyes must travel to both Wisconsin and Iowa.  Home games with Penn State and Michigan will be toughies.  A September home game with Miami will be very interesting.  We think Ohio State will beat the Hurricanes, but the two road games in Big Ten play will be a bit too much.  Call it a second place finish.

 

Team Penn State Nittany Lions
               
Head Coach Joe Paterno
               
Colors Dark Blue and White
               
City State College, PA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 11-2
               
PiRate Rating 109.6
               
National Rating 38
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4
               
Strengths: Running Back, Receiver, Defensive Line, Defensive Back
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Linebacker
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Youngstown State, @ Alabama, Kent State, Temple
   
Key Games: @ Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, @ Ohio St., Michigan St.
   
Offense Pred. 22-26 points & 350-375 yards
               
Defense Pred. 17-21 points & 300-325 yards
               
Outlook

Penn State will have to break in a new quarterback this year, and we don’t have much faith in the possible replacements for Daryll Clark.  Two sophomores and two freshmen will battle it out, but we believe sophomore Kevin Newsome will get first crack at the job.  Expect a major decline in passing yardage and more interceptions.  With just an average offensive line, we wouldn’t be surprised if the number of sacks rose as well.

 

The Nittany Lions will try to get the job done with a strong ground attack.  Running back Evan Royster is a great stone to build that running foundation.  Royster rushed for 1,169 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry.  Backup Stephfon Green added 319 yards.  Expect the two to combine for close to 2,000 rushing yards this year.

 

The Lion receiving corps has talent, so if a quarterback can emerge that can consistently deliver the ball on target, Penn State can still enjoy a decent passing attack.  Derek Moye and Graham Zug return after teaming for 94 receptions and 1,385 yards.  Expected starter Curtis Drake will miss at least half the season with a broken leg.

 

Penn State gave up just 12.2 points per game last year, the sixth consecutive season they held teams under 20 points per game.  Six starters are gone, but PSU had to replace seven starters last year.

 

The two returning starters to the defensive line are end Jack Crawford and tackle Ollie Ogbu.  Crawford recorded 5 ½ sacks and nine other tackles for loss, while Ogbu recorded eight total tackles for loss.  The two new starters are on par with those two, so Penn State should once again be dominating up front.

 

Ironically, the weakness on this defense is the one position football fans think about when they think about Penn State. “Linebacker U” will have an off season.  All three starters must be replaced.  Middle linebacker Michael Mauti missed last year with an ACL injury, and if he can return to his 2008 form, he will be the leader of this group.

 

The strength of the back line is at safety.  Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino are tough against the pass and the run. 

 

Not many teams contend for championships with poor quarterback play these days.  That’s why we cannot pick Penn State to contend for the Big Ten title.  They will be good with their defense and running game, but they will lose two or three times in conference play.

Team Purdue Boilermakers
               
Head Coach Danny Hope
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City West Lafayette, IN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 99.4
               
National Rating 61
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-6
               
Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Line
               
Weaknesses: Running Back, Offensive Line, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ Notre Dame, Western Illinois, Ball State, Toledo
   
Key Games: @ Northwestern, Minnesota, @ Illinois, Indiana
   
Offense Pred. 27-31 points & 400-425 yards
               
Defense Pred. 25-29 points & 375-400 yards
               
Outlook

After enjoying many years among the elite of the Big Ten, Purdue has fallen back among the also-rans.  The Boilermakers have endured losing seasons three times in the last five years, including back-to-back sub-.500 years.

 

Coach Danny Hope could guide the Boilermakers back into a bowl in his second season in West Lafayette.  The offense has to replace almost all of its running game and lost some quality receivers, but with former Miami of Florida starting quarterback Robert Marve becoming eligible this year, we believe Purdue will have a first class passing game again. 

 

Marve has a rifle arm, so he will tend to throw longer passes.  This could lead to a lower completion percentage but higher yardage per completions.

 

With Keith Smith returning after grabbing 91 passes for 1,100 yards, the Boilermakers have a potential 1st Team All-Big Ten pick.  Marve needs a game-breaking deep threat to emerge so he can air it out a couple times per game.

 

The running game has to start from scratch this year.  Sophomore Al-Terek McBurse had four carries for 10 yards, and he will open up as the new starter. 

 

The offensive line is going to be young as well.  Guard Ken Plue could contend for all-conference honors, but three new starters will line up in the trenches.

 

The defense gave up close to 30 points per game last year, and it will not be much better this season.  The defensive line will be much improved, but the secondary will be a major liability.

 

The front line features a great pass rusher in Ryan Kerrigan.  He registered 13 sacks last year.

 

All three starters return to the second line of defense.  Joe Holland, Jason Werner, and Chris Carlino finished second, third, and fourth in tackles.  Werner recorded 14 ½ stops for loss.

 

The secondary must replace all four starters, and only free safety Albert Evans saw any real game action last year.  Purdue gave up 203 passing yards per game last year with a really good pass rush.  They could give up 250+ yards this year.

 

Like Michigan State, expect Purdue games to be fast-paced and high scoring.  We believe they will just squeak by with six wins and garner a bowl bid for the first time in three years. 

Team Wisconsin Badgers
               
Head Coach Bret Bielema
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Madison, WI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 117.0
               
National Rating 20
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-1
               
Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Offensive Line ***
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State, Austin Peay
   
Key Games: @ Michigan State, Ohio State, @ Iowa, @ Michigan
   
Offense Pred. 33-37 points & 425-450 yards
               
Defense Pred. 20-24 points & 310-330 yards
               
Outlook

The Badgers have quietly become the next most consistent Big Ten program after Ohio State.  They have been to eight consecutive bowl games and have won double digit games three of the last five seasons.  With 10 offensive starters returning from a fantastic offense a year ago, UW may have an unstoppable attack this year.

 

Coach Brett Bielema’s offense averaged more than 200 yards rushing and passing last year, and both phases will be even better in 2010.  Quarterback Scott Tolzien returns after passing for 2,705 at a 64.3% rate.  The Badgers have built a solid offense the last several years even though they have had to break in a new starter at quarterback the last three seasons.  Expect Tolzien to top 65% completions and 3,000 passing yards.

 

With Tolzien throwing the pigskin, the running game will have more holes available.  The Badgers have three running backs that they can unleash on opponents, and all three can rush for 100 yards in a game.  John Clay may not get much respect outside the league, but in our opinion, he is the near equal of Mark Ingram and LaMichael James.  Clay rushed for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns last year.  Backups Montee Ball and Zach Brown may get more carries this year at Clay’s expense.  The duo combined for 670 yards last year.

 

The receiving corps is not far from being as talented as the running backs.  Nick Toon has exceptional strength and good hands, while Isaac Anderson has the quickness to turn a five yard catch into a 50-yard touchdown sprint.  UW has made a tradition out of developing all-conference tight ends, and Lance Kendricks should be the next one.  He comes off a season in which he caught 29 passes in a secondary role.

 

We saved the best for last.  The offensive line is not just the best in the league, we believe it is the very best in college football.  All five starters return including 1st Team All-Big Ten studs at center (John Moffitt) and tackle (Gabe Carmi). 

 

The defense will not be as dominating as the offense, but we don’t expect the Badgers to give up a lot of points this year.  If an adequate pass rush can be molded out of a rebuilt defensive line, the Badgers are going to grab their first Big Ten title since the days of Ron Dayne.

 

J.J. Watt is the lone returnee up front.  He earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors after recording 15 ½ total tackles for loss and batting down five passes.  Two of the new starters saw a lot of playing time, but this unit will be a little weaker than last year’s front four.

 

The second line of defense returns two talented starters.  Culmer St. Jean and Chris Borland are equally effective against the run and the pass.

 

The secondary is the real strength on this side of the ball.  With three competent starters back and with the new starter having past starting experience, teams will not burn UW for a lot of passing yards.

 

Throw in a great punter and placekicker, and this team looks primed to win the conference championship. 

Coming Tomorrow: The Southeastern Conference continues to produce national champion after national champion.  Can anybody challenge Alabama and Florida in the divisional races? 

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