The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 25, 2012

2012 Big Ten Conference Preview

PiRate Disclaimer: Most of the PiRates grew up appreciating the Big Ten Conference as our favorite overall conference.  We remember fondly the days of Ohio State and Michigan dominating this league like the New York Yankees dominated the American League.  We remember Michigan State under Duffy Dougherty getting robbed of a chance to be 1966 National Champions because Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian realized that sitting on the ball and playing for a tie would give the Irish the national championship thanks to ND having dozens of AP writers in toe.  We even remember Dick Butkus leading Illinois on a victory lap around the Rose Bowl after the press deemed the Illini out of shape and not able to defeat Washington.  We remember perhaps the greatest modern day Horatio Alger story in college football history—the 1967 Indiana Hoosiers, who in our opinion would make a better movie than “Hoosiers” itself.  Indiana won one game in 1966 and figured to come in last again, but John Pont’s Cardiac Kids won the Big Ten title by coming from behind late in the game seven times!

 

Since 1998, the head PiRate has become an adopted Wisconsin Badger and Green Bay Packer, as he fell in love and married the best Wisconsin girl God ever created.  The Badger state welcomed him with open arms (their loss).  So, this preview is made with extra special love to the most wonderful people on Earth—Midwesterners.

 

The Big Ten figures to take a little hit this year with two continual powerhouse programs unable to appear in the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game.

 

Penn State’s problems have been the third biggest story in the general media after the 2012 election and the Olympics.  There is no need to make any comments here, except to say that the Nittany Lions are through as a football power for the next generation.

 

Ohio State is ineligible for postseason play, and the Buckeyes could win the Leaders Division this year if a lot of the breaks go their way. 

 

The PiRate and PiRate Vintage Ratings show the Big Ten to be down this year by a couple of points.  It is enough to drop them to fourth best conference in our ratings.  However, better days are in the future, as Ohio State and Michigan will soon be just as powerful as they were 40 years ago, but this time Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Iowa will be there to provide top-rate competition.

 

Unlike most conferences, the Big Ten does not release an official media poll of all 12 teams.  So, we have substituted the over/under wins lines from the sportsbooks.

 

 

BigTen Leaders

+/-

Rank

Team

Wins

1

Wisconsin

9.5

2

Ohio State

9

3

Illinois

6.5

4

Purdue

6.5

5

Penn State

5.5

6

Indiana

3.5

 

 

 

 

Big Ten Legends

 

Rank

Team

Wins

1

Michigan

9

2

Nebraska

8.5

3

Michigan State

8.5

4

Iowa

7.5

5

Northwestern

6.5

6

Minnesota

5.5

 

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

BigTen Leaders

PiRate

1

Wisconsin

118.4

2

Ohio State

113.7

3

Illinois

105.9

4

Purdue

103.3

5

Penn State

97.7

6

Indiana

92.9

 

   

Rank

Big Ten Legends

PiRate

1

Michigan

123.1

2

Nebraska

117.6

3

Michigan State

113.8

4

Iowa

104.2

5

Minnesota

99.5

6

Northwestern

98.3

 

   

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

BigTen Leaders

Vintage

1

Ohio State

114

2

Wisconsin

112

3

Purdue

107

4

Illinois

105

5

Penn State

102

6

Indiana

97

 

   

Rank

Big Ten Legends

Vintage

1

Michigan

116

2

Nebraska

111

3

Michigan State

110

4

Iowa

107

5

Northwestern

100

6

Minnesota

97

 

 

Team

Illinois Fighting Illini

               
Head Coach

Tim Beckman

               
Colors

Orange and Blue

               
City

Champaign-Urbana, IL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

105.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

43

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

44

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-5

 

What a topsy-turvy season the folks in Champaign-Urbana had in 2011.  Illinois won its first six games, outscoring opponents by an average of 35-18.  Then, they lost their last six regular season games by an average of 11-22.  The Illini averaged 448 yards in their six wins and 269 in the six losses.

 

It brought the end to the Ron Zook era, and it christened the Tim Beckman era.  Beckman come from Toledo, where his 2011 Rocket team scored 60 points one week and lost and then turned around the next week and gave up 63 points and won.

 

Beckman is a proponent of the Spread Offense, and he inherits a talented dual-threat quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase, who ran for a team leading 624 yards (885 with sacks removed) and passed for more than 2,100 yards, should produce big results in the new offense.  Backup quarterback Miles Osei will see action too.  In fact, it has been rumored that Illinois might put Osei on the field with Scheelhaase in a two-quarterback formation.

 

Scheelhaase will miss having leading receiver A. J. Jenkins around.  The first round NFL pick caught 90 passes for 1,276 yards and will be hard to replace.  Spencer Harris was a distant number two with 26 receptions, but he gained less than nine yards per catch.  The Illini have multiple options at tight end, and Beckman will employ a double tight end formation at times with Evan Wilson and Jon Davis.  The duo combined for 31 receptions last year.  Keep an eye on true freshman Justin Hardee.  He has impressed in preseason practice.

 

Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson will split time at the running back spot, but the Illini will not get a lot of production out of this position.  If the tandem can combine for 850 rushing yards, while Scheelhaase adds another 800, it will be sufficient.

 

Guard Graham Pocic and tackle Hugh Thornton lead an average offensive line.  Center Jake Feldmeyer, guard Alex Hill, and tackle Michael Heitz round out the starting lineup.

 

Beckman brought in co-offensive coordinators in Billy Gonzales (from LSU) and Chris Beatty (from Vanderbilt).  The new offense will be more balanced and less dependent on the running game.  Expect a little more consistency this season and better overall numbers.

 

It will be hard to improve much defensively, as Illinois gave up just 286 yards and less than 20 points per game last year.  Missing from that team is the top sack and tackle for loss man in the conference (Whitney Mercilus 16 & 22 ½) along with the top linebacker and top defensive back.

 

Three defensive line starters are back, led by Akeem Spence at nose tackle.  He contributed 69 tackles in 2011.  Michael Buchanan finished second with 7 ½ sacks and added 13 ½ tackles for loss.  He will see more double teams this year.

 

Jonathan Brown isn’t another Dick Butkus, but he could be the best middle linebacker in the league this year not playing in Madison, WI.  Brown made 108 stops last year with six sacks and 19 ½ tackles for loss.  He will have two new mates starting next to him this year.

 

Terry Hawthorne is a quality cornerback.  He led Illinois with three interceptions and 11 passes defended last year.  Justin Green was a part-time starter and will take over full time at the opposite corner.  Supo Sanni is a competent safety.

 

Illinois will not win its first six games this year, but it will not lose its last six either.  We see the Illini splitting their eight conference games and winning three outside of the league, which means Beckman will guide this team to a bowl game.

 

Team

Indiana Hoosiers

               
Head Coach

Kevin Wilson

               
Colors

Cream and Crimson

               
City

Bloomington, IN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

1-11

               
PiRate Rating

92.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

83

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

97

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

75

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

3-9

 

In nine seasons as an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Indiana Coach Kevin Wilson saw the Sooners lose 24 games.  In one year in Bloomington, his team lost 11.  The Hoosiers had a tough adjustment from the prior staff to the new philosophy.  IU’s only 2011 win came against FCS opponent South Carolina State.  The Hoosiers lost to Ball State and North Texas.

 

Wilson welcomes back enough lettermen to see improvement in year two, but this team has a long way to go before it is competitive in the Big Ten.

 

Tre Roberson took over as starting quarterback as a true freshman last year, and he proved to be a decent run-pass threat.  Roberson rushed for 426 yards and passed for 937.  Should Roberson falter this year, junior college transfer Cameron Coffman will be there to take over.  He comes from a passing offense similar to what Wilson used at Oklahoma.

 

Wide receiver Kofi Hughes led IU with just 35 receptions and 536 yards last year.  Hughes faces a one game suspension over a violation of team rules.  Jamonne Chester finished third last year with 21 receptions, but Cody Latimer may supplant him in the lineup.  Latimer started twice last year and grabbed 12 passes.  Tight end Ted Bolser should see his catches increase from 14 to 25-30.  Overall, this is the best unit on the entire team, but Hughes is the only potential star.

 

Considering the passing game did not scare opponents, it is a wonder the ground game rushed for more than 160 yards per game last year.  Indiana topped 200 rushing yards against Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue and topped 300 against Northwestern.  This unit must be improved, because last year’s starter apparently has lost his job to a true freshman.  Stephen Houston rushed for more than 800 yards and averaged more than five yards per attempt, but Tevin Coleman has an extra gear and could take Indiana to new heights on the ground.

 

3 ½ starters return to the offensive line, but there are no stars here.  Center Will Matte and guards Bernard Taylor and Collin Rahrig have full-time starting experience, while tackle Peyton Eckert started half the games last year.  This is not a Big Ten-caliber blocking wall, but it is improved over last year.

 

The way IU gave up rushing yards last year, you would think they were playing the Ohio State’s and Michigan of the early 1970’s.  Opponent rushed for an average of 244 yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt.  In conference play, they gave up more than 270 rushing yards per game!  Needless to say, the Hoosiers finished 0-8 in the conference.

 

This is still a weak defense compared to the rest of the BCS schools, but at least they are not as far behind as they were last year.  There are even a couple of players that would start at four or five other Big Ten programs.  Tackle Adam Replogle returns after leading the team with four sacks and seven tackles for loss.  Larry Black forms a decent tandem inside. 

 

The linebacker unit needs much improvement for this team to be competitive, but there just isn’t enough talent here to pull it off.  Chase Hoobler is the only returning starter.

 

The secondary has some experience returning, but once again, some of last year’s regulars will be supplanted by new starters.  Kenny Mullen has taken over at cornerback for Greg Heban.  Lawrence Barnett is set to start at the other cornerback spot, but he faces a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules.  Mark Murphy and Drew Hardin will man the safety positions. 

 

Indiana has a chance to begin the year 3-0 with a schedule that opens with Indiana State, UMass, and Ball State.  After that, the Hoosiers could drop their final nine games. 

 

 

Team

Ohio State Buckeyes

               
Head Coach

Urban Meyer

               
Colors

Scarlet and Gray

               
City

Columbus, OH

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

113.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

114

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

10

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

Urban Meyer has an impressive resume at his three previous coaching stops.  At Bowling Green, he took over a 2-9 team and went 8-3 and 9-3 in two years, making stars of quarterback Josh Harris and receiver Robert Redd.  The BGU offense improved by more than 150 points both years.

 

At Utah, he inherited a 5-6 team and guided the Utes to 10-2 and 12-0 records.  Utah improved on offense by 95 and 200 points.  Alex Smith became a 1st round draft choice.

 

At Florida, Urban renewal was not as tough a job as it had been at his two previous stops.  He inherited a team loaded with talent from the Ron Zook recruiting classes.  Florida had finished a disappointing 7-5 and went 9-3 in his first year.  They won the national championship his next year and two years after that, and Tim Tebow became a legend.

 

Ohio State is in about the same boat as Florida was when Meyer arrived at the Swamp.  Meyer will immediately right the ship at the big horseshoe.  Ohio State will compete for the Leaders Division title in year one, and the big improvement will come on the offensive side of the ball.

 

Braxton Miller is a great fit for Meyer’s spread offense.  He led the Buckeyes in rushing with 715 yards, over 900 with sacks eliminated.  He did not attempt many passes until the final two games, finishing with 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns and completing 54% of his passes in just 157 attempts.  Will Miller time become the next big hit?  It could if he rushes for 1,000 and passes for 2,500 this year, which he could.

 

Even thought OSU passed for just 127 yards per game last year, the Buckeyes are talented and deep at receiver.  Of the 11 players that caught more than one pass, 10 return this year.  Devin Smith led the Buckeyes with just 294 yards, but he did it on 14 receptions, scoring 29% of the time he caught a pass.  Former tight end Jake Stoneburner moves into the slot, where he will be a matchup nightmare at 6-5.  Philly Brown, Chris Fields, and tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett round out a receiving corps that could very well double the amount of receptions this year.

 

Jordan Hall can become Ohio State’s version of Percy Harvin.  He will be a running back first, but he will frequently line up in a slot or wing position and run a pass route.  Unfortunately, he may not be running any routes until Mid September due to foot surgery.  Hall’s absence opens up a spot for Carlos Hyde and gives true freshman Bri’onte Dunn a chance to play immediately.  Hyde is more of the quintessential back Woody Hayes used to love like Tom Matte, Jim Otis, and Pete Johnson.  He can make a hole when one isn’t there and turn no gain into a three yard gain.

 

The offensive line has room for improvement to meet Ohio State standards.  Center Corey Linsley, guards Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell, and tackles Jack Mewhort, Reid Fragel, and Taylor Decker were all top recruits, and we expect the blocking to improve in the new offense.

 

The Buckeye defense was good last year, but in Columbus, good is never good enough.  OSU surrendered 21 points and 324 yards per game in 2011, but that was a major deterioration from the last five years, when the Buckeyes gave up an average of less than 14 points and 270 yards per game.  Of course, if Ohio State just repeats last year’s averages, the Buckeyes could find themselves at the top of the Leaders Division.

 

One of the first moves Meyer made, and it was quite classy, was to retain interim head coach Luke Fickell.  Eight full-time starters and a host of talented reserves return to this side of the ball.  But wait, there’s more.  The incoming freshman class signed four of the best high school defensive line recruits that has ever signed with one school.  It wouldn’t be surprising if all four contributed as freshmen.

 

The returning linemen are not going to concede their possessions to the plebes.  All four starters return to the trenches.  End John Simon led the Buckeyes with seven sacks and 16 TFL.  He could be a 1st team All-American in his final year.  Nose Tackle Johnathan Hankins controls two gaps and still finds time to disrupt offenses.  He pushed through the line and made 11 stops for loss last year.  Keep an eye on these names: Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt, Se’Von Pittman, and Adolphus Washington.  This quartet of true freshmen is the future here.

 

It is at linebacker where OSU may be vulnerable.  Three new starters must be found.  Middle linebacker Curtis Grant needs to live up to his billing, and if he does, this unit will be just fine. 

 

The back line has no peers in the Big Ten.  Safeties C. J. Barnett and Christian Bryant are auditioning for the NFL.  The team combined for 143 tackles and 16 passes defended.  Cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby did not produce fancy stats, but ate the clock in a lot of games and kept the defense off the field.  There were not a lot of tackles to be made.

 

To add to the OSU riches, the Buckeyes have the best special teams units in the league and one of the best in all of college football.  Kicker Drew Basil was true on 16 of 19 field goal attempts.  Punter Ben Buchanan seldom gave punt returners a chance to return a punt.  When he wasn’t lining up at running back, Hall was a big weapon on kick and punt returns, and wideout Fields returned just five punts, but took one to the house.

 

Meyer’s first year teams usually improve immediately on the attack side and see modest to minor improvement on defense, and that is exactly what should happen here this year.  Games at Michigan State and Wisconsin plus the home finale with that team from up north are the three games that will decide their fate this year, because OSU should win the other nine.  If the Buckeyes defeat Wisconsin at Camp Randall in mid-November, they will win the division, but of course, they are ineligible for the Big Ten Championship Game.  Watch out for 2013.  Jim Tressel won his national title in his second year, and it would not surprise us if Meyer did it again.

 

 

Team

Penn State Nittany Lions

               
Head Coach

Bill O’Brien

               
Colors

Dark Blue and White

               
City

State College, PA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

97.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

71

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

102

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

59

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

 

It is so depressing to see such a gloried program crash and burn just like Rome.  Many people don’t even realize that Penn State was a powerhouse even before Joe Paterno took over as coach in 1966.  Rip Engle coached there for 16 seasons and never once had a losing record.  His teams were the reason the Liberty Bowl was created (it began in Philadelphia and Penn State played in it twice while it was there).  Before Engel, Bob Higgins led the Nittany Lions to multiple winning records.  In fact, PSU did not have a losing record from 1939 to 1987 (49 years!).

 

This program will not compete for at least 15-20 years with the sanctions in place.  The Lions will begin the season as an average team, but as attrition eats into the roster weekly, the team will get weaker and weaker.  By November, it would not surprise us if they were two touchdowns weaker than they will be on September 1.

 

New coach Bill O’Brien is an excellent offensive mind.  He served as Offensive Coordinator under Bill Belichick at New England.  However, he does not have any Tom Brady clones.  There are no Wes Welker’s or Rob Gronkowski’s.  There isn’t even a Stevan Ridley on this roster.  So don’t expect Penn State to break any offensive records.  They will be lucky to score 17 points and gain 300 yards per game this year with now just two starters left on this side of the ball.

 

Matt McGloin begins the season as the starting quarterback, but he will be pressed by Paul Jones.  McGloin completed 54% of his passes for 1,571 yards and eight touchdowns, but he needs good pocket protection, something that may not be available from week-to-week.  Jones is in his third year in Happy Valley, but he has yet to see the field due to academic issues.  He has the ability to scramble out of danger, which may be something Penn State quarterbacks have to do a lot this year.  It is uncertain whether O’Brien will continue the use of the Wildcat offense, but if he does, Bill Belton returns to pilot that attack.  The Lions did not have much of a passing game last year, completing less than 50% as a team and averaging a paltry 6.1 yards per attempt.  So, the drop won’t be so bad.

 

There isn’t much talent left at receiver as the top three talents chose to get out of Dodge before sunset.  Justin Brown went to Oklahoma; Devin Smith was dismissed; and Kevin Haplea transferred to Florida State.  What’s left?  Allen Robinson caught three passes for 29 yards.  Alex Kenney caught some fine passes—in spring practice.  If he can stay healthy, tight end Gary Gilliam will be more of a third tackle than a receiver, but he will provide a huge target for a hurried quarterback.

 

Penn State’s running game took a major hit, as Silas Redd became the top free agent this summer.  He took his game to Southern Cal, leaving Penn State with Belton as the feature back.  Derek Day may never have seen the field this year prior to the turmoil, but he will now see considerable action as will Curtis Dukes.  Redd averaged 113 rushing yards per game last year.  It will be difficult for all the backs to replicate that amount this year.

 

The Lions were facing a minor rebuilding mode in their interior line, so the fact that they retained all five of their projected starters is only a modest plus.  Center Matt Stankiewitch is the closest thing to a star, but there are a half dozen better centers in the Big Ten.

 

PSU did not suffer as many defections on defense as they did on offense, but the losses on this side of the ball will sting, especially in the secondary.  Both of the expected starting cornerbacks are gone, and it leaves PSU will no quality depth.  Stephon Morris is an average pass defender, but he is the best they’ve got.  The safeties are inexperienced, and this unit will be exploited this year, especially as the season wears on.

 

The great linebacker tradition still lives on with Gerald Hodges.  He led the team with 106 tackles and registered 10 for losses.  He may be called on to blitz from the outside much more this year, because opponents will plan their attack to the other side of the line.  This unit took a hit with the defection of Khairi Fortt, who wound up at UC-Berkeley.

 

Up front, PSU only lost a promising incoming freshman, but they lost their best defender through the normal method—graduation.  No player on this roster will replace Devon Still, who led the team with 17 tackles for loss.

 

The kicking game took the biggest hit of all.  Placekicker/punter Anthony Fera went to Texas, where he can concentrate on placekicking and not have to be the punter too. 

 

Let’s analyze the schedule and how we think the last season the folks in State College will be able to see a competitive team for a generation.  The opening game against Ohio U is winnable.  The enthusiasm and healthy roster gives the Lions the edge.  Game two at Virginia figures to be quite a challenge, as the defense will keep this game close.  The Lions will then have to deal with Navy’s option game, and they should still be able to compete in this one.  The September 22 games at home against Temple should be the last game where the Lions have a decent number of healthy players.  We would be shocked if Penn State was not 2-2 or 3-1 after that game.  Then, things get rough.  A visit to Illinois may not be fun.  They come home to face a physical Northwestern team.  After a week off to lick their collective wounds, the Lions go to Iowa where the Hawkeyes do not treat visitors well, even painting the visiting locker room pink to instill a docile emotion.  The schedule continues to remain tough the next three weeks with sure losses against Ohio State, at Purdue, and at Nebraska.  If they have enough players left, Indiana is beatable in Beaver Stadium.  They finish at home against Wisconsin, and the Badgers should mutilate them by playing steamroller football.  It adds up to a losing record.  It can be mediocre (5-7), or it can be catastrophic (2-10).  This program has never suffered through a double-digit loss season.  Whether it happens this season or in one of the next couple is the question to be answered.  Penn State has 0-12, 1-11, and 2-10 seasons in its future.  Indiana fans can give PSU fans advice on how to handle it.

 

 

Team

Purdue Boilermakers

               
Head Coach

Danny Hope

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

West Lafayette, IN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

103.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

40

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-5

 

After enduring three consecutive losing seasons, there was hope in West Lafayette last year.  Purdue almost dropped their opener to Middle Tennessee and was outgained by 40 yards.  A late score pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat.  That win eventually proved to be the difference in going 6-6 instead of 5-7, and Coach Danny Hope’s Boilermakers earned a trip to Detroit and defeated Western Michigan in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl to finish with a winning record.

 

Hope has enough talent coming back this year to continue the winning, but only on a modest level.  Home games with Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Marshall, Penn State, and Indiana will leave PU needing just one more win to go bowling again.

 

The offense is slowly becoming potent once again, as the Boilermaker train gained 377 yards and 27 points per game last year.  Quarterback Caleb TerBush and former Miami starter Robert Marve both return after spending time as the starter last year.  Both expect to see action again this year.  They teamed up for more than 2,500 passing yards and 17 touchdowns.

 

Whoever is tossing the passes, he will be looking for one man in particular.  Antavian Edison has big play potential.  He led PU with 44 receptions in 2011.  O. J. Ross is an excellent possession receiver.  Keep an eye on Gary Bush; he has the potential to be a big play specialist, but he has yet to show it in game action.  Purdue can deploy two effective tight ends.  Gabe Holmes and Crosby Wright should share about 40 receptions this year.

 

The Boilermakers will miss having their top runner at the start of this season, and Ralph Bolden could be out the entire season due to a torn ACL suffered last year.  Akeem Shavers should fill in and keep the ground game credible.

 

The offensive line is not star-studded, but it is better than average.  The left side is noticeably superior to the right side with guard Peter Drey and tackle Trevor Foy drawing the attention of NFL scouts.

 

Expect continued offensive improvement this year; the Boilermakers should top 28 points per game and could top 400 yards per game.

 

All is not as rosy on the other side of the ball, as the defense has not been dominating since 2004.  The front four returns three talented starters, led by all-Big Ten tackle Kawann Short.  Short made 17 tackles behind the line and could vie for the Outland Trophy this year.  Fellow tackle Bruce Gaston gives PU an unorthodox pass rush strength, as the two tackles are the best sack specialists, while the ends are better run stoppers.  Robert Maci could change that this season.

 

The Boilermakers have potential in the second line of defense.  Linebackers Dwayne Beckford and Will Lucas finished with 91 and 82 tackles respectively last year and teamed for 17 tackles for negative yardage. 

 

The Boilermakers are set at cornerback with two fine returning starters.  Ricardo Allen led the team with three picks last year.  Safety is a concern with two new starters taking over.  Max Charlot saw considerable action as a reserve, but Taylor Richards saw very little.

 

Purdue needs to win one game against the non-creampuffs on the schedule.  The two most vulnerable opponents are Minnesota and Iowa, but both games are on the road.  Maybe, the Boilermakers can upset Michigan at home.  We have confidence that Hope springs eternal in West Lafayette.

 

Team

Wisconsin Badgers

               
Head Coach

Bret Bielema

               
Colors

Cardinal and White

               
City

Madison, WI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-3

               
PiRate Rating

118.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

14

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-3

 

Back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances that ended in close losses have been the only dark spot on UW’s record the last few years.  2012 figured to be a minor rebuilding year, but incidents that took place after the Rose Bowl left the Badgers as prohibitive favorites to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship Game.

 

Ohio State became ineligible for post-season play, and Penn State self-destructed.  Coach Bret Bielema signed yet another all-conference quarterback from the ACC, and Montee Ball decided not to put his name in the NFL Draft hat.  At least for one more year, UW is the team to beat in this division.

 

Danny O’Brien took a circuitous route to Madison.  He was headed to Vanderbilt to rejoin his mentor James Franklin, but Maryland filed a grievance against the Commodores for talking with O’Brien before they were supposed to.  So, O’Brien followed in the footsteps of Russell Wilson and ended up in Madtown.

 

Just how well O’Brien can fill the shoes of Wilson will determine how far the Badgers can go.  As a freshman, with Franklin’s guidance, O’Brien tossed for more than 2,400 yards and earned the ACC Freshman Offensive Player of the Year award.  O’Brien will not come close to matching Wilson’s senior stats (73% completion rate, 33 touchdowns, #1 in NCAA Passing Efficiency).  So, there will be a drop in passing efficiency.

 

There is a small bit of concern at running back, where an expected Heisman Trophy finalist is recovering from a severe mugging earlier this month.  Montee Ball took several blows to the head and suffered a concussion and injured jaw.  His timing was thrown off by the missed practices, and he has not faced any live tackling.  He rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2011, and he showed his receiving tools with 24 receptions and six additional touchdowns, averaging 17 points per game by himself!  Ball is not the only option at the running back position.  James White could easily top 1,000 yards rushing if given a few more attempts.  He finished with 713 yards and six scores with an average per carry almost identical to Ball.  When the Badgers insert a fullback in the game to block, they will have a capable man in Sherard Cadogan, who moonlights as a tight end.

 

The receiving game returns its big star, who happens to be the leading returning receiver in the Big Ten.  Jared Abbrederis  caught 55 passes for 933 yards and eight scores.  When the UW running game is going, defenses have to try to stop him without double covering him, and he is deadly in the play-action passing game.   What’s a Wisconsin offense without terrific tight ends?  Jacob Pedersen is the top TE in the league; he caught 30 passes a year ago and scored eight times.  Brian Wozniak will get his hand on a dozen passes this year as UW uses two tight ends several plays per game.

 

UW may have to be nicknamed “Offensive Line U.”  They are noted for having superstars at center and especially at the all-important left tackle position.  The Badgers return both of their stars at those positions.  Travis Frederick has no Big Ten rival at center, and Alabama’s Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones is the only center in the nation better than Frederick.  Jones may also be the only legitimate barrier to tackle Ricky Wagner becoming the third consecutive UW left tackle to take home the Outland Trophy (Gabe Carimi and Joe Thomas).  Wagner should become the first offensive lineman picked in next year’s draft, as he is every bit as talented as former USC tackle Matt Kalil.

 

There is one more concern on this side of the ball.  Former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is now the head coach at Pitt, and new OC Matt Canada has an entire different offensive pedigree, being a proponent of the spread read-option.  He will leave the power running/play-action passing game intact this year and probably open up the playbook to include more dropback passes.  Chryst’s offenses at UW were about two touchdowns better per game than what former coach Barry Alvarez had before hiring him to run the offense, and UW’s attack became even more explosive in recent years.  It will be impossible to match last year’s offensive numbers (44.1 points/469.9 yards/23.3 FD/235.6 rush/234.3 pass/10.0 per pass attempt).  Look for a drop to about 32 points and 425 yards per game.

 

All is not terrific on the defensive side of the ball.  There are a few questions in the secondary.  The Badgers proved vulnerable against the pass of the better opposing quarterbacks, giving up 571 yards through the air to Michigan State in the two games against the Spartans and 276 against Oregon in the Rose Bowl.  The Badgers  must find a replacement for their top pass defender.  Aaron Henry who was one of three defenders with four interceptions, and he was the best run stopper in the back line as well.  Also gone is top cornerback Antonio Fenelus, another one of the three defenders with four interceptions.  UW will definitely be more vulnerable to the deeper passing routes, but they still have safety Shelton Johnson on hand (the other defender with four interceptions.)

 

The second line of defense features the greatest one-two punch at linebacker in Big Ten history.  Mike Taylor and Chris Borland finished one-two in the league with 293 combined tackles (150 for Taylor 143 for Borland).  That’s 21 tackles per game, and it is all the more impressive when you look at some facts.  First, this duo frequently missed large chunks of playing time in the second half of nine blowout wins.  Also, there were no tackles on a large percentage of plays by Wisconsin’s opponents.  138 times, opposing quarterbacks threw incomplete passes.  A high number of opponents chose to go out of bounds rather than take the punishment UW doled out. 

 

Just one full-time starter returns up front in the trenches, but the reserves saw a lot of game action.  Tackle Ethan Hemer returns to one interior spot, while Beau Allen becomes the new starter at the other tackle spot.  Allen actually finished second on the team in sacks as a key reserve in 2011.  At the terminal positions. Brendan Kelly started eight times, while David Gilbert returns after starting four games prior to suffering a season-ending injury.

 

By default UW should make it back to the Big Ten Championship Game.  Whether they make it as division champs or as runners up to Ohio State is the only question.  We tend to side with the probability that the Badgers will win the division and win 10 or more games for the fourth year in a row and the sixth year in the last eight.

 

 

Team

Iowa Hawkeyes

               
Head Coach

Kirk Ferentz

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Iowa City, IA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

104.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

50

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

37

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

8-4

 

Coach Kirk Ferentz has turned down opportunities to coach in the NFL.  Many experts believe he is the best college football coach.  If he can guide the Hawkeyes to the Legends Division title this year, then Iowa officials need to add a hyphen and his name to Kinnick Stadium.

 

The Hawkeyes suffered heavy attrition on both sides of the ball.  The two best offensive playmakers and ¾ of the defensive line must be replaced.

 

At least quarterback James Vandenberg returns for his senior season.  Vandy completed 59% of his passes for 25 touchdowns a year ago.  Drew Tate and Ricki Stanzi, he is not, but Vandenberg seldom makes big mistakes.  Look for his numbers to improve in his final year as new offensive coordinator Greg Davis will emphasize the passing game more than his predecessor Ken O’Keefe.

 

Vandenberg is going to dearly miss Marvin McNutt, who led the Big Ten with 1,315 receiving yards and scored 12 touchdowns.  There are no players that will take up that slack.  The new go-to guy is Keenan Davis, who finished second with 50 receptions and 713 yards.  He benefitted from having pass defenses concentrate on stopping McNutt, and now those defenses will key on him.  Tight end C. J. Fiedorowicz is no Jacob Pedersen, but he is one of the best of the rest.  Look for his receptions to more than double from last year (16 rec./167 yds./3 TD).

 

It may be even harder to replace star running back Marcus Coker.  Coker quit the team following a suspension for the Insight Bowl.  Three other players with eligibility left the program as well.  That leaves Damon Bullock as the starter for 2012.  Bullock rushed for a whopping 20 yards on 10 carries.  This is an area where a true freshman, or two, could see immediate playing time.  Greg Garmon comes to Iowa City with impressive credentials.

 

The apple did not fall far from the tree.  Coach Ferentz has always been an offensive line specialist, and he helped create one of the better centers in college football.  His son James is the top blocker on the team.  His older son Brian is the offensive line coach.  Iowa has to plug three holes in the interior, and they lost a 1st Round Draft choice in Riley Reiff.

 

The biggest question on the defensive side is the interior line.  End Dominic Alvis is the only returning regular, and he was not a standout defender.  End Steve Bigach moved outside from tackle after seeing a lot of action in reserve.  There is virtually no experience returning to the tackle positions, and this will be a concern for new defensive coordinator Phil Parker.

 

One area that will not be a concern is at linebacker, where the Hawkeyes return their top two 2011 tacklers.  Christian Kirksey and James Morris both registered 110 tackles.  New starter Anthony Hitchens saw enough action to make 25 tackles.

 

The back line of defense lost two quality players that both went in the NFL draft.  Shaun Prater and Jordan Bernstine only accounted for six defended passes.  Micah Hyde and Tanner Miller might have been the top two pass defenders last year, and they both return.  Hyde led with 11 passes defended, while Miller matched Hyde with three interceptions.

 

Iowa benefits with an easy September schedule.  Games against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago, and at home against Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Minnesota will not be “gimmes,” but the Hawkeyes have an excellent chance to start 5-0.  There are four additional winnable games, and we believe Iowa will find a way to win three of them.  Call it an eight-win season, which will be quite pleasing for a rebuilding year.  Rarely does a team win more games when they have to rebuild.

 

 

Team

Michigan Wolverines

               
Head Coach

Brady Hoke

               
Colors

Maize and Blue

               
City

Ann Arbor, MI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

123.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

7

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-2

 

It had been five years since Michigan was a force on the football field.  Losing to Appalachian State brought Lloyd Carr’s career to an end in 2007.  Rich Rodriguez could only go 15-22 in three seasons, and his teams lost to Ohio State by a combined 100-24.  Brady Hoke turned things around in one season, as the Wolverines went 11-2 including a win in the Sugar Bowl.  They finally ended the losing streak to their arch-rival.

 

The only obstacle that might prevent Michigan from becoming a national title contender this year is a brutal road schedule.  The Wolverines open at Cowboys Stadium against defending national champ Alabama.  They also must face Notre Dame, Purdue, Nebraska, and Ohio State on the road.  Throw in a trip to Minnesota for the Little Brown Jug, and Michigan will not be able to take it to the next level this year.  However, the maize and blue could make it to the conference title game in a year where three contenders could make a 6-2 league mark good enough to win the division.

 

The PiRate Ratings actually believe Michigan can compete against Alabama and should be favored in the rest of their games (remember that the PiRate Ratings are only good for the next week’s games and cannot really be used to look ahead).

 

Can quarterback Denard Robinson really be improved from last year?  How do you top 1,176 yards rushing and 2,173 yards passing and 36 total touchdowns?

 

Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy give Hoke two other fine players should anything happen to Robinson.

 

Robinson was not the only1,000-yard rusher last year.  Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint gained 1,041 yards and scored nine touchdowns, while averaging 5.6 yards per attempt.  However, he was arrested for drunk driving this year, and he faces a possible suspension at the start of the year.  Without Toussaint, Michigan’s chances of upsetting Alabama go from slim to almost none.  Sophomore Thomas Rawls has the potential to be a fine back with a combination of power and speed, but he has limited game experience.  Against Minnesota last year, with Michigan ahead by 40 points, Rawls rushed 10 times for 73 yards, including a 25-yard breakaway.  Vincent Smith returns and serves as the back in obvious passing downs.  He caught 11 passes last year, with two going the distance.

 

Another possible holdout for the first game is wideout Roy Roundtree.  He is recovering from knee surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season.  Michigan is very deep at this position with five or six players capable of contributing to the cause.  Jeremy Gallon joins Roundtree as a big play artist.  Drew Dileo, Jerald Robinson, and true freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson all have the talent to play key roles.  Also, backup quarterback Gardner could play some on the flank.  Because there is not much talent at tight end, UM could use more no tight end sets this year.

 

Hoke made his mark on the defensive side of the ball, as the Wolverines looked more like a Bo Schembechler defense last year than the defenses of Rich Rod.  Nine of the top 11 tacklers return for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.  Mattison was the UM DC for a couple of seasons in the 1990’s, and those two teams gave up 17 and 15 points per game.  In his first year back in A2, the Wolverines improved from 35.2 to 17.4 points per game allowed and sliced close to 130 yards allowed per game. 

 

The principle concern on this side is the interior line, where UM lost three starters including Mike Martin, who matriculated to the NFL.  End Craig Roh is a marginal NFL prospect.  He is one of two returning Wolverines to record four sacks and eight tackles for loss last year.  End Brennen Beyer is one of the quickest linemen off the ball, and while he may be a small liability against the run, he should emerge as a sack leader.

 

UM is set at linebacker with the return of three talented players.  Kenny Demens led the team with 94 tackles with five going for negative yardage.  Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan teamed for 100 tackles.  Ryan had three sacks and 11 TFL.

 

Safety Jordan Kovacs offers excellent run support from the back line.  He finished with 75 tackles, including four sacks off blitzes and eight total tackles for loss.   Fellow safety Thomas Gordon and cornerback J. T. Floyd give this unit three experienced defenders.

 

If this Michigan team could play last year’s schedule, we would give the Wolverines a 50-50 shot of going 12-0.  The schedule is too tough to expect 12-0 in 2012.  Michigan figures to lose at least two of those tough games, but two losses could be enough to win the Legends Division title.  I wouldn’t want to face this team in December.

 

Team

Michigan State Spartans

               
Head Coach

Mark Dantonio

               
Colors

Green and White

               
City

East Lansing, MI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-3

               
PiRate Rating

113.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

20

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

Coach Mark Dantonio served as an assistant to Nick Saban and Jim Tressel, so it is obvious that he is a strict disciplinarian and conservative-minded leader.  That is exactly what this program needed when he took over for John L. Smith in 2007.  The Spartans had suffered through three straight losing seasons, and he righted the green ship in year one, guiding MSU to seven wins and a bowl appearance.  State has now been to a bowl all five years since Dantonio arrived in East Lansing.  It is time for the Spartans to advance to the next level and play in a BCS Bowl Game.  They finally knocked off an SEC team in a New Year’s Day Bowl, and now it is time to win the Big Ten Championship.

 

Well, it may not be time this year, because Michigan State lost a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball.  The Spartans may come up short against a couple teams that can score on any defense.

 

The first order of business is to find a replacement for quarterback Kirk Cousins, the school’s all-time leading passer.   Cousins gained more than 3,300 yards through the air last year and connected on 64% of his passes.  Andrew Maxwell takes over after seeing very limited action last year.  He threw 26 passes and completed 18 for 171 yards.  There will be a significant drop in production this year.

 

To make matters worse for the passing game, the top four receivers from last year are missing.  These four combined to catch more than 70% of Cousins’ completed passes.  The leading returnee is Dion Sims, and he caught a total of just a dozen passes and averaged a meager 8.2 yards per catch.  What this means is that MSU might drop from 250+ passing yards per game to less than 200.

 

The running game must take up the slack of the lost passing yardage.  Look for Dantonio to try to shorten games and control the clock with a potential all-conference runner.  Le’Veon Bell started just six games in 2011, but he gained 948 yards and scored 13 times.  He could run the ball 25-30 times per game this year, and at that rate, we expect he could rush for 125 yards per game.  Larry Caper will probably see his attempts double this season.  Bell and Caper may also be the two best pass receivers, and they could be Maxwell’s go to targets in 3rd and short situations.

 

There is a reason the running game should thrive even though the passing game is not going to divert a lot of attention away by enemy defenses.  The MSU offensive line is loaded with talent.  MSU has two tough blockers at the tackle positions, and they will open running lanes with multiple dominating blocks.  Fou Fonoti and Dan France will team with guard Chris McDonald and center Travis Jackson to give MSU four exceptional blockers up front.  Number five is there if Blake Treadwell can return at any point in the season.  Treadwell suffered a hairline tibia fracture and will not be able to practice until well into September.

 

Michigan State’s offense could regress from 31 to 24 points and from 390 to 330 yards per game, and still the Spartans could contend for the Legends Division title.  The defense will be tougher this year than last, and with a more conservative game plan, they probably won’t have to defend as many plays in 2012.  Dantonio could play it close enough to the vest to bring total scrimmage plays per game down to about 120. 

 

The Spartans might have the best stop troops in the league, as there are no liabilities at any of the 11 positions.  The defensive line was tough to run on last year, and it was even better rushing the passer.  Ends Marcus Rush and William Gholston are as good as they come, as both are equally strong against the run and the pass.  They teamed up for 128 tackles, nine sacks and 28 tackles for loss, and they added seven defended passes.  There will be two new starting tackles, but both have prior playing experience.

 

Middle linebacker Max Bullough and Sam linebacker Denicos Allen are as fine a pair of linebackers as anybody in the league that doesn’t have a red “W” on his helmet.  The two athletic defenders united to make 172 tackles with 25 ½ going for negative yards.  Allen finished second in the league with 11 sacks.  If he can remain healthy for a full year, star linebacker Chris Norman could really shine.  He has the potential to make 90 or more tackles.  There is fine depth at this position, and MSU should continue to make life miserable for opposing offenses.

 

Three of the four starters from the secondary are back.  Cornerbacks Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis are tough pass defenders.  The three combined for 10 interceptions and 22 passes defended.  Adams has to be respected on the corner blitz, as he can quickly get to a quarterback.

 

Kicker Dan Conroy may be counted on for more field goal attempts this year.  He was true on 17-23 and has a leg powerful enough to connect from beyond 50 yards.

 

The Spartans are still division title contenders despite the heavy losses on the offensive side.  Instead of winning close games 31-24, they need to win 16-13 this year.  The non-conference schedule includes games against Boise State and Notre Dame plus two in-state directional rivals—Central and Eastern Michigan.  We actually believe the Spartans will stop Boise in the opener and gain enough momentum to go 4-0 before hosting Ohio State on September 29.  If they can get by the Buckeyes, then Dantonio’s troops just might keep rolling.  The October 20 game at Michigan is the toughest one on the schedule, and you never know what is going to happen when these rivals meet.  While Michigan State could be strong enough to go 11-1 and repeat as Legends Division champions, we believe they will come up short and have to settle for another non-BCS bowl.

 

 

Team

Minnesota Golden Gophers

               
Head Coach

Jerry Kill

               
Colors

Maroon and Gold

               
City

Minneapolis, MN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

99.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

63

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

97

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

76

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

6-6

 

Here is another case where the administration and fans believe their school deserves to become a big-time program.  They ran off a coach that guided the Gophers to eight bowl games in nine years, but nary a one came on New Year’s Day, especially in Pasadena.  They expected better than six, seven, eight, nine, and even 10-win seasons.  Recruiting a Lawrence Maroney did not suffice, because former coach Glen Mason could not recruit the next Drew Brees.

 

The Land of 10,000 lakes is not the land of 10,000 recruits.  Landing the quick players that grace the roster at Ohio State and Michigan is not that easy.  Many players just do not want to come to Minnesnowta, especially when they could go to a school where they can study outdoors in January without having to wear a mouton coat.

 

Since Mason left the Cities, UM has been to one bowl game, which they lost.  In three of the five seasons, the Gophers won three or fewer games.  Let this be a lesson to those of you at other schools that mistakenly believe your program is good enough to compete with LSU, Oklahoma, and USC, when your history shows you have competed with Kansas, Arizona, and Maryland.

 

Minnesota might be able to return to the way things were when Mason coached the Gophers, but the times have long passed when UM was a legitimate power every year.  Murray Warmath hasn’t been around in more than 40 years, and Sandy Stephens and Bobby Bell have been gone for a half-century. 

 

Okay, that’s the end of our lecture.  As for the 2012 Minnesota team, expect second year coach Jerry Kill’s squad to threaten for bowl eligibility.  The biggest change is in the schedule as Minnesota gives up Southern Cal for UNLV and FCS power North Dakota State for New Hampshire.  Expect the Gophers to go 4-0 outside of the Big Ten, so a 2-6 conference mark will get them to Detroit in late December.

 

Quarterback MarQueis Gray is a poor man’s Denard Robinson.  Last year, he led the Gophers with 966 yards rushing (more than 1,000 with sacks removed), and he passed for close to 1,500 yards.  His completion percentage hovered just over 50, but the Gophers threw several longer passes trying to stretch defenses and open running lanes.

 

Minnesota only completed 11.2 passes per game last year, and 4.3 of them went to Da’Jon McKnight.  He needs to be replaced this year, and none of the holdovers caught 20 balls in 2011.  There is room here for a true freshman to contribute, and Andre McDonald could be that person.  Brandon Green and Malcolm Moulton teamed for 29 receptions, and both return to add to that total this year.  Expect more contribution from tight ends John Rabe and Drew Goodger.  Both are quick for their size.

 

A new set of running backs needs to emerge, but UM was not exceptionally talented here last year.  Junior college transfer James Gillum and sophomore Donnell Kirkwood could even be a mild upgrade at this position.

 

With the unfortunate forced retirement of tackle Jimmy Gjere due to multiple concussions, the offensive line remains the weakest unit in the division.  Neither Zach Mottla nor Jon Christenson has separated himself from his teammate, so the two players may split time at center.  Zac Epping started eight games at one guard spot, while Tommy Olson started three but has more upside potential than Epping.  Tackle Ed Olson is the only lineman that has started more than one season.

 

With an experienced Gray returning for his senior season, the UM offense should continue to improve on the scoreboard.  We believe the Gophers will top 21 points per game this year and maybe approach 24, something they have not done since 2007.

 

The defense did not improve in Kill’s first season at TCF Bank Stadium.  Even with most of the starters returning, UM gave up 11 more yards per game.  This year, the top two tacklers and five of the top nine have left.

 

The defensive line will be vulnerable to hard-nosed Big Ten opponents.  Ends D. L. Wilhite and Ben Perry started a combined 21 games and made just 31 tackles with four sacks.  Two new starters need to be plugged in at tackle.

 

If you can call it an asset, linebacker is the one unit that is not that far behind the better Big Ten teams.  Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis return as regulars after combining for 160 tackles, but too many of those tackles came at the end of five-yard runs.

 

The back line needs immediate help from incoming freshmen.  Minnesota was overly generous in its pass defense, giving up a completion in better than two thirds of their opponents’ pass attempts.  Cornerback Troy Stoudermire intercepted a pair of passes and broke up three more, but those numbers are not the type you need from your top pass defender.  There are four true freshman that might get the opportunity to play right away; Martez Shabazz could start from day one.

 

The Gophers won two conference games last year.  They clobbered Illinois in the season finale, and they edged Iowa in a big upset to win the Floyd of Rosedale  Trophy.  If Kill’s team can find a way to repeat the 2-6 league mark, they have a great chance of earning a bowl bid.

 

 

 

 

Team

Nebraska Cornhuskers

               
Head Coach

Bo Pelini

               
Colors

Crimson and White

               
City

Lincoln, NE

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

117.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

111

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

18

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-2

 

The State of Nebraska does not have a lot of high school football talent, mainly because there are not that many high schools playing 11-man football.  8-man football is very popular there due to many small towns being too far away from other towns, and thus the male population of these schools cannot support regular 11-man football.

 

Still, because of reputation alone, Nebraska continues to remain a football power.  In their second year in the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers are a strong contender with the two Michigan schools for the Legends Division title.

 

The first order of business for Coach Bo Pelini was finding a replacement for his brother Carl, who left to become the head man at Florida Atlantic.  The new defensive coordinator for the “Blackshirt Defense” is D-line coach John Papuchis.

 

The strength of the Blackshirts is in the secondary.  The ‘Huskers are loaded with talent and depth here.  While NU did not pick off a lot of passes, they did continue to break up a lot of passes.  Safety Daimion Stafford knocked away 10 passes.  Cornerback Andrew Green did it nine times, picking up one interception.  P. J. Smith and Harvey Jackson will both see time at safety, while Antonio Bell has come from deep in the depth chart to the top at the other cornerback spot.  There has to be room on the roster from Memphis transfer Mohammed Seisay as soon as he recovers from an ankle injury.

 

There is quality but not as much depth at linebacker where Will Compton returns in the middle.  Compton finished second last year with 82 tackles.  Sean Fisher started four games coming off an injury.  He should return to his pre-injury form this season.  It will be difficult replacing top tackler Lavonte David, who finished up his career with 133 tackles and 13 TFL.  Alonzo Whaley will split the open position with David Santos and Zaire Anderson.

 

Up front, nose tackle Baker Steinkuhler is the son of the great Dean Steinkuhler (Outland Trophy and Lombardi Trophy winner in 1983).  He is a star in his own right.  Ends Cameron Meredith, Jason Ankrah, and Eric Martin will all contribute. 

 

Look for the Blackshirts to improve this year, but they will not replicate what the 2009 or 2010 units did.

 

Nebraska has a respectable but not spectacular offense.  Taylor Martinez is better than Gray at Minnesota but not as good as Robinson at Michigan.  Last year, he ran for 874 yards (just over 1,000 if you eliminate the sacks) and passed for 2,089 yards and 13 touchdowns.  True freshman Tommy Armstrong is the future here, and his future could begin this year if Martinez falters are gets hurt.

 

The offense still runs through the I-backs, and Rex Burkhead is the best runner in the league not named Ball.  Last year, he gained 1,357 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.  Ameer Abdullah backs him up, but he does not have the explosive burst that Burkhead has.  The Cornhuskers still rely on a fullback to block for their I-back.  Mike Marrow may be pushed by true freshman Andy Janovich.

 

Nebraska did not pass the ball 30-35 times a game like most teams.  They attempted just 22.5 passes per game and completed 12.6.  So, there were not a lot of receptions to go around.  Even though he had just 32 receptions, Kenny Bell is one of the better receivers in the Big Ten.  Quincy Enunwa is almost as good at the other wideout.  However, the real strength is in the middle where two tight ends could become stars.  Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed combined for 29 receptions and 446 yards.  When defensive backfields forget they are not just decoys, these two can burn them for 25-30 yards down the middle.

 

No dynasty can continually find A-1 talent at all the skill positions.  It takes great offensive line play to keep a team consistently among the top offenses every year, and Nebraska has a bevy of talented blockers.  Spencer Long is a stud at left guard.  Seung Hoon Choi is an emerging talent at the other guard spot.  Brent Qvale and Jeremiah Sirles are sufficient tackles.  There is a bit of a question at center, where Justin Jackson and Cole Pensick still compete for the starting job.

 

Pelini has gone 9-4, 10-4, 10-4, and 9-4 in his four years in Lincoln.  For two thirds of the colleges in America, that would be cause for celebration.  In Lincoln, the fans wonder what happened when their team loses four times.  The last time the Cornhuskers lost just three times, they fired Frank Solich.  Nebraska has the talent to lose three or fewer times this season.  In fact, if this team does not win 10 games, Pelini may start to come under fire.

 

 

Team

Northwestern Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Pat Fitzgerald

               
Colors

Purple and White

               
City

Evanston, IL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

98.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

68

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

62

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

After numerous attempts to win a World Series, with many chants of “wait ‘til next year,” next year eventually came for the Brooklyn Dodgers, when they beat the Yankees in seven games to win the 1955 World Series in their eighth attempt.  One of these years, “next year” is going to happen for Northwestern, and the Wildcats will win their first bowl since the 1949 Rose Bowl.  The Wildcats have lost their last nine bowl games.

 

On the positive side, NU is now a regular bowl participant after suffering through multiple decades as the worst Division 1 program.  The 2012 edition should continue the new tradition, but whether or not they can actually win a bowl game is another thing altogether.

 

The first order of business is to find a replacement for graduated quarterback Dan Persa.  Persa threw for 2,376 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing better than 73% of his passes.  The leading candidate to replace him is also the leading returning rusher and receiver.  Kain Colter is a renaissance man.  He ran for 654 yards and nine touchdowns; he caught 43 passes and scored three touchdowns; and he passed for 673 yards and six more touchdowns.  Backup Trevor Siemian could relieve Colter at quarterback, and Coach Pat Fitzgerald could leave Colter in the game to cause opposing defensive coordinators major headaches. 

 

The loss of top wide receiver Jeremy Ebert to the New England Patriots will be tough to overcome, especially when you add the fact that Colter was the next best pass receiver. Also missing is super back receiver Drake Dunsmore, so this unit really needed some new blood.  And, thanks to Southern Cal having enough receivers to stock two teams, NU got their transfusion.  Kyle Prater is the highest-rated offensive player to don the purple and white in more than 50 years.  He may be a bit rusty after not playing in his two years with the Trojans.

 

Venric Mark moved up all the way to the top of the depth chart, and he will start at running back this year with Mike Trumpy backing him up.  The offense gives the backs a good opportunity to run with some daylight, and we believe both backs will thrive this year, maybe combining for 1,000 yards.

 

The offensive line may be the biggest asset on the entire team, and it is the reason why Northwestern should continue to move the ball and score points this year.  Center Brandon Vitabile and guard Brian Mulroe will open holes up the middle in the spread offense.

 

Northwestern has consistently scored between 25 and 30 points per game in recent years.  Expect more of the same in 2012.

 

If the Wildcats fail to become bowl eligible for the sixth year in a row, it will be due to a defense that may not be up to the task against BCS schools.  Six of the nine leading tacklers from last year have moved on.  The player NU will miss the most is safety Brian Peters, who came within two defended passes of tying for the Big Ten lead.  Safety Ibraheim Campbell is the lone returnee to the secondary, and he was the leading tackler on the team last year.  As the PiRates say, “When a defensive back leads the team in tackles, that defense has given up too many yards.”  NU gave up 408 yards and 28 points per game.

 

Dave Nwabuisi and Damien Proby return to the linebacker unit after teaming for 144 tackles and 11 ½ stops for loss.  Neither is an exceptional pass defender.  Chi Chi Ariguzo could be though.  The former top reserve takes over at the weakside linebacker position and could be a pleasant surprise.

 

Up front, NU was too generous last year.  The Wildcats did not generate much of a pass rush, and they had trouble stopping good running teams.  Army’s option offense torched them for 381 yards on the ground.  End Quentin Williams was one of three NU players with three sacks, and he is the only one returning this year.  However, he may be relegated to a backup spot and used as a designated pass rusher in favor of redshirt freshman Deonte Gibson.

 

The 2012 schedule is considerable stronger this year, and it could potentially be too much for the Wildcats.  The season begins with a trip to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse in what looks like an excellent and exciting matchup.  The Wildcats return to Ryan Field to face a Vanderbilt team that is two touchdowns better than the Commodore team they faced in 2010.  They follow that up with a visit from a much improved Boston College team, and then they host South Dakota before starting Big Ten play.  If NU can get halfway decent play out of its defense and not give up 250 passing yards per game, they could go 3-1 in these non-conference games and give themselves a shot at getting back to a bowl.  The conference schedule brings Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois to Ryan Field, while NU can win at Penn State and Minnesota.  We believe they will win at least three conference games, so 3-1 outside of the league will make them bowl eligible.

 

 

Coming Sunday Night, August 26: The Pac-12 Conference Preview.  Will Southern Cal live up to its hype this year?  Can Oregon continue to average more than 40 points a game?  Can Stanford win without Luck on their side?  Can UCLA matter in football once again?  This conference always has a good story line.

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