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.

August 30, 2011

2011 Big Ten Conference Preview

2011 Big Ten Conference Preview

 

Call this conference the “B1G Conference.”  The new logo is about as wacky at the Leaders and Legends Divisions.  Who did Commissioner Jim Delany hire to come up with this new marketing scheme?  Maybe, the same people that told the Fords to build the Edsel?

 

No, this conference is not going to be a big flop.  Unfortunately, as of late, it has not been what it once was.  Ohio State finally beat an SEC team in a bowl last year, but they used players that should not have been eligible.

 

Which brings us to the next topic of conversation—the historically “Big Two” both must break in new head coaches.  Michigan hired Brady Hoke from San Diego State, while Ohio State was forced to elevate Luke Fickell to head coach after Jim Tressel resigned under fire.

 

There are three other new head coaches in the league.  Kevin Wilson, the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma for nine seasons, takes over at Indiana.  Jerry Kill, the former head coach at Northern Illinois, takes over at Minnesota.

 

Of course, the third new head coach is only new to the league and not his team.  Bo Pelini brings the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the league.

 

For the most part, the stronger teams from the top have taken a minor step backwards, while the weaker teams at the bottom have improved a little bit.  It adds up to more parity and less chance of sending a team to the National Championship Game.

 

 

Leaders Division

WISCONSIN

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Wisconsin came up with the big bonanza this summer, when Russell Wilson signed to play in Madison.  Coach Bret Bielema has a passer capable of getting the Badgers back to Pasadena.

 

Wilson completed 58.4% of his passes for 3,563 yards and 28 touchdowns last year.  His interception percentage was a miniscule 1.7% (former QB Scott Tolzien’s was 2.3%).

 

Wilson took a lot of sacks at North Carolina State, but in offensive coordinator Paul Chryst’s offense, he will throw quicker passes.  He may not pass for 275 yards per game like he did in Raleigh, but his completion percentage should head north of 60 this year.

 

Receivers

Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis do not appear on All-Big Ten watch lists, but they are solid and can deliver the mail.  They combined for 56 receptions and 748 yards with six touchdowns last year.

 

The Badgers are known for developing terrific tight ends.  UW will use many two tight end sets.  Jake Byrne and Jacob Pedersen may not be able to approach the production of graduating tight end Lance Kendricks (team-leading 43 receptions and five scores), but together they may equal his production.  The duo scored touchdowns on 23% of their 13 receptions last year.

 

Running Backs

The Badgers fell four yards short of having three 1,000-yard rushers last year.  Two of the three return this year.  The Badgers could have had another three-headed monster, but one of the heads decided to find a new situation.

 

James White led the Badgers with 1,052 yards at 6.7 yards per attempt.  Montee Ball rushed for 996 yards and 18 touchdowns, while averaging 6.1 yards per rush.  White has more outside speed, but Ball runs with more authority and will be the starter.

 

Bradie Ewing will start at Fullback and supply interference for Ball and White.

 

Offensive Line

The Badgers had the best offensive line in the nation last year, and they still have a top notch blocking quintet, but it will not be as strong as last year.  The two graduating starters were 1st and 3rd Round NFL Draft choices.

 

Center Peter Konz will be flanked by guards Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick.  Zeitler has been dealing with an ankle injury.  Josh Oglesby and Ricky Wagner will start at tackle. 

 

The offensive line of 2010 gave up 14 sacks blocked proficiently enough to allow the running game to average 5.5 yards per rush.  Those numbers will be a tad weaker this year, but the Badgers will still be tough offensively.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Three starters return on this side of the trenches.  UW gave up 128 rushing yards per game last year and could equal or better than mark in 2011.

 

Jordan Kohout and Patrick Butrym started at tackle last year and teamed for 50 tackles.  However, Ethan Hemer has unseated Kohout and will start in his place.  Bielema will use a deep rotation, using more than just two-deep.  Louis Nzegwu starts at one end slot. He recorded 46 tackles with 7 ½ stops for loss.  He also knocked away three passes.

 

Linebackers

Chris Borland missed most of 2010 with an injury, and he will reassume the starting position he held in 2009 and the start of last season.  Kevin Claxton will be the new starter on the outside.  He made 24 tackles last year in relief.  Mike Taylor is the returning star of this unit.  He made 58 tackles with eight going for losses.  That performance earned him 2nd Team All-Big Ten honors.

 

Secondary

Two starters are back, and this is the team’s one Achilles’ heel.  Wisconsin gave up almost 200 passing yards per game last year, but against the bowl teams on their schedule, that number climbed to 217.

 

Cornerback Antonio Fenelus was a 1st Team All-Big Ten selection.  He intercepted four passes and was credited with 11 passes defended.  His running mate at the other cornerback position this year is senior Devin Smith.  Smith made 30 tackles in a reserve role last year.

 

Aaron Henry returns to one safety spot.  He had nine passes defended and two interceptions.  Shelton Johnson is the new starter at safety.  He saw limited action and made 15 tackles last year.

 

OTHER

The Badgers lost defensive coordinator Dave Doeren to Northern Illinois when Jerry kill left NIU for arch-rival Minnesota.

 

SUMMARY

Wisconsin was not going to be the highest rated team in this division.  They assumed this position following all the mess at Ohio State.  Their schedule gives them a chance to repeat their performance of last year, but it will not be easy.

 

Their non-conference slate includes games against UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois, and South Dakota, with the NIU game being played at Soldier Field in Chicago.  UW should go 4-0 in those games.

 

Inside the league, the Badgers welcome Nebraska for the Cornhuskers’ first official conference game.  They host Indiana, Purdue, and Penn State as well.  In road action, they visit Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Illinois.  This has the look of a 10-win team.

 

 

PENN STATE

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin might platoon at this position all year long.  Almost on the eve of the Nittany Lions’ first game, Coach Joe Paterno has yet to make a final decision on which player will start.

 

Bolden had a higher completion percentage last year (58.0% to 54.9% for McGloin, but McGloin averaged more yards per attempt (7.2 to 7.0) and had a better TD/Int ratio (14/9 to 5/7).  Neither player is a spectacular runner.

 

Receivers

Penn State has an excellent collection of receivers, and this unit ranks high in the conference in both talent and depth.  Derek Moye returns to the team after leading the Lions with 53 receptions and eight touchdowns.  He averaged 16.7 yards per catch.

 

Justin Brown is the other wideout.  He caught 33 passes last year and averaged 13.7 yards per reception.  Devon Smith will start in the slot.  As a semi-regular, he grabbed 27 passes last year.

 

Tight end Kevin Haplea started three times and caught three passes.  Shawney Kearsey, Brandon Moseby-Felder, and true freshman Bill Belton will see action here this year.

 

Running Backs

Evan Royster topped 1,000 yards and gained right at five yards per carry last year.  He moved on, and the new feature back will be sophomore Silas Redd.  Redd rushed for 437 yards and two touchdowns and gained 5.7 yards per attempt.  His projected backup is Brandon Beachum.  Penn State routinely comes up with decent running attacks, and this group will find a way to top 150 yards on the ground this season.

 

Offensive Line

While not the strongest offensive line in the league, there is decent depth here.  Three regulars return from 2010, led by tackles Chima Okoli and Quinn Barham.  Guards John Urschel and Johnnie Troutman will flank center Matt Stankiewitch.  Look for slightly better numbers from this group.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Devon Still is solid and close to becoming a star.  The tackle recorded 39 stops with 10 going for losses.  He could become an all-conference pick this year.  Jordan Hill is quick off the ball and a perfect complement for Still at tackle.  He made 36 tackles as a second teamer last year.

 

Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore make a formidable, but not outstanding pair of ends.  Crawford starting seven times; Latimore started three games.  Last year, they combined for 20 tackles and seven for losses.

 

Sean Stanley and DaQuan Jones will make some plays in relief.

 

Linebackers

This unit is not going to be confused for the great 1969 team with Dennis Onkotz and Jack Ham, but the current version is mighty good.

 

Glenn Carson has won a spot in the starting lineup after making a dozen tackles in limited action as a true freshman last year.  Gerald Hodges is a potential all-star.  He started one time and saw action in all others, making 31 tackles.  Michael Mauti was a part-time starter last year, and he finished with 67 tackles and 5 ½ for losses.

 

In reserve, Nate Stupar and Khairi Fortt will see significant amounts of time. 

 

Secondary

This unit is deep and talented.  All four regulars return, and two defensive backs should earn all-conference honors.  Cornerback D’Anton Lynn finished with 75 tackles and seven passes defended.  Hero Back Drew Astorino made 70 tackles with six passes defended.  Both players could appear on a post-season all-star team.

 

The other two starters are cornerback Stephon Morris and safety Nick Sukay, who combined for 68 tackles.  Sukay had three interceptions.

 

OTHER

This is Joe Pa’s 46th year as head coach at Penn State.  Prior to becoming head coach, he was an assistant to Rip Engle from 1950 to 1965.  That makes this his 62nd season coaching at Penn State.  There have been 12 Presidents in that amount of time.

 

SUMMARY

This could be Paterno’s last season, and he has the talent to contend for the division title.  Penn State could be 6-0 in the Big Ten when they close the season at Ohio State and at Wisconsin.  Those will be tough games to play in consecutive weeks, but this schedule could give the Nittany Lions’ young players a chance to mature and gel.

 

Outside of league play, Penn State hosts Indiana State, Alabama, and Eastern Michigan, and plays at Temple.  They will win the three not against the top team in the nation.

 

It all adds up to a 9-10 wins and a probably January bowl.

 

OHIO STATE

OFFENSE

Quarterback

The difference between Terrelle Pryor and Joe Bauserman is about seven to 11 points per game.  Instead of 3,500+ total yards and 31 touchdowns, the Buckeyes get a journeyman senior who has thrown less than 60 passes in three seasons.  Bauserman will probably give way to true freshman Braxton Miller for two or three possessions per game.  Miller was almost as highly recruited as Pryor was four years ago.

 

Receivers

The Buckeyes relied on two breakaway threats last year, and one of them returns for his senior season; however, he is one of the players suspended for the first five games.  DeVier Posey grabbed 53 passes for 848 yards and seven touchdowns.  Helping interim coach Luke Fickell make up for the loss of Dane Sanzenbacher and to fill in for Posey is redshirt freshman Verlon Reed.

 

Corey Brown will start at one wideout.  The sophomore caught just eight passes last year.

 

Others sure to see playing time trying to replace Posey for five games include Devin Smith and true freshman Evan Spencer.

 

Tight end Jake Stoneburner caught 21 passes and will see more balls thrown his way. 

 

Running Backs

Here is another position that will take a hit for the first five games, as leading rusher Dan Herron is on the suspension list.  In his place, OSU will use as many as four backs.  Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry have experience, as they combined for 436 yards and three touchdowns last year.  Berry has been nursing a hamstring injury and may not be available for the opening game.  Rod Smith and Carlos Hyde could figure into the mix as well.

 

Offensive Line

Tackle Mike Adams is another five-game suspension starter.  Until he is eligible again, Ohio State has two returning starters here.  It helps that one of those two players is perhaps the best offensive lineman in college football.  Center Mike Brewster is the Rimington Award favorite and a reigning 1st team All-American.

 

Marcus Hall and Jack Mewhort are the new starters at guard.  Both were highly-rated in their recruiting class.  Andrew Norwell replaces Adams, while J. B. Shugarts will start at the vacant tackle position.  This is still a decent offensive line without Adams, and once he comes back, it will be excellent.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

At first, the loss of end Solomon Thomas for five games did not seem like a big loss, since he was a backup to Nathan Williams.  Then, Williams began missing practice-after-practice with an undisclosed reason. 

 

It looks like true freshman Michael Bennett could start at end along with John Simon, while Garrett Goebel and Johnathan Hankins start at tackle.  Simon is the only experienced player in this quartet.  He made 41 tackles with 4 ½ sacks and 9 ½ stops for loss.  This unit, while good, is not up to recent Ohio State standards and will give up more than 100 rushing yards per game for just the second time in seven years.

 

Linebackers

Andrew Sweat, Storm Klein, and Etienne Sabino make an athletic trio, although not very experienced.  Sweat started a majority of the games last year and registered 41 tackles.  Klein made 18 tackles in a reserve role, while Sabino redshirted last year.  Sabino fractured a bone in his hand in mid-August and may not be ready for the opening week. 

 

Secondary

Ohio State will use more 4-2-5 defense this year, and when they do, Klein will come out at linebacker for a nickel back.

 

One full-time player returns to this unit.  Safety Orhian Johnson is the leading returning tackler on the team.  He made 50 tackles and successfully defended three passes.  C. J. Barnett will start at the opposite safety.  In two years, he has made a grand total of nine tackles.

 

The two new cornerbacks are Travis Howard and Bradley Roby.  Both players are athletic, but inexperienced. 

 

Tyler Moeller and Christian Bryant will platoon at nickel back.

 

OTHER

There is too much pride and tradition for The Ohio State University to let the coaching change and suspensions affect them in a negative way.  The only effect will be in the talent not available to play.  Unfortunately, the Buckeyes will lose one or two games they would not have lost with Pryor.

 

SUMMARY

Fret not Buckeye fans.  Sure, a three or four-loss season is not what you want, but your team will recover and even challenge for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game.

 

The five games the suspended players will miss are at home against Akron, Toledo, Colorado, and Michigan State, and on the road at Miami of Florida, in what will be given a catchy name due to the Hurricanes having to place 13 players on the ineligible list.

 

OSU must play at Nebraska and at Michigan, but they host Wisconsin in a revenge match.  The Badgers prevented Ohio State from playing in the National Championship game last year.

 

ILLINOIS

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Nathan Scheelhaase is “the best of the rest” in the Big Ten.  There are four top-notch quarterbacks in this league, and Scheelhaase is number five.

 

As a freshman last year, he topped 1,000 yards rushing (with sacks removed), and he completed 59% of his passes for 1,825 yards and 17 touchdowns.  Barring a sophomore slump, he should top 2,000 yards passing.

 

Receivers

Coach Ron Zook does not have a lot of experience here, and Illinois receivers only averaged 12.5 receptions per game.  A. J. Jenkins returns after leading the Illini with 56 receptions, 746 yards, and seven touchdowns.  Sophomores Ryan Lankford and Darius Millines earned starting spots in the spring.  They both averaged over 20 yards per catch, but they combined for just eight receptions.  Evan Wilson caught 10 passes from his tight end position. This position is a concern, but offensive coordinator Paul Petrino will get a lot of mileage with what he has to work with.

 

Running Backs

Mikel Leshoure finished second in the Big Ten with 1,697 rushing yards, missing out on the rushing title by a mere five yards.  He was the only reason to visit Wrigley Field in the last year.  He torched Northwestern for more than 300 rushing yards in the game played there last November.  However, he chose not to come back for his senior year, and he is now a Detroit Lion.

 

Jason Ford inherits this position.  He rushed for 480 yards and seven touchdowns and could top 1,000 yards this year, but he does not have the ability of the star he replaces.

 

Fullback Jay Prosch tips the scale at 250 pounds, and he can move a linebacker out of the way.

 

Offensive Line

This is a talented line with enough experience to lead the Illini to a repeat showing of last year’s excellent offensive showing.  Illinois averaged 32.5 points and almost 400 yards per game, and there is no reason to think they cannot top 30 and 400 this year.

 

Tackle Jeff Allen is the leader of the blocking corps.  After earning a spot on the All-Big Ten 2nd team last year, he should move up to 1st team this year.  Center Graham Pocic has all-star potential.  Guard Hugh Thornton is beginning his third year as a starter.  The new starters are guard Jack Cornell and tackle Michael Heitz.  Cornell played sparingly in his first three seasons, while Heitz is a redshirt freshman.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning runs his version of the Bandit Defense, where one player is half end and half linebacker.  The Bandit is Michael Buchanan, and he needs to greatly better his production of last season if the defense is to succeed.  Buchanan started eight times and played in three others, making 40 tackles and 5 ½ stops for loss.

 

The rest of the line is a liability.  Koenning likes his linemen to be aggressive and cause things to happen rather than react to what happened.  End Glenn Foster has seen minimal action in his first two seasons, but he will get a bulk of the reps opposite the Bandit.

 

Tackle Akeem Spence made 45 tackles as a freshman and earned a spot on the Freshman All-American team.  Craig Wilson moves across to the other side of the ball and will start at the other tackle position.

 

Linebackers

Ian Thomas is the top holdover in this unit.  He is also the leading returning tackler, having made 67 stops in 2010.  6 ½ of those stops were behind the line.

 

Trulon Henry has been moved here from the secondary.  He had six passes defended and made 64 tackles.  Jonathan Brown inherits the other vacant spot.

 

Secondary

The improvement in talent and experience here will allow Koenning to blitz more up front.  Expect Illinois to play more Cover 0 and Cover 1 defenses (man-to-man defenses) with an extra one or two pass rushers this year.  Having two cornerbacks that can cover without help is the reason.  Terry Hawthorne and Tavon Wilson teamed for 13 passes defended and should improve that communal number north of 15 this year.  Two new safeties will start on the back line.  Supo Sani missed all of 2010 with an injury, while Pat Nixon-Youman saw playing time last year, making 15 tackles and intercepting a couple of passes.

 

OTHER

The hiring of new coordinators pumped life into this lifeless program.  Zook was on the way out, but he was rescued by Petrino and Koenning.

 

Illinois kicker Derek Dimke is worth a couple extra points in PiRate Rating.  The senior connected on all 43 PAT attempts and was good on 24-29 field goal attempts, hitting two from 50 yards+.

 

SUMMARY

Illinois will begin 2-0 and have a chance to improve to 4-0 before Big Ten play starts.  They host Arkansas State and South Dakota State before hosting Arizona State in what will be a pivotal game.  Then, a week later they host a tough Western Michigan team that could catch the Illini looking ahead one week to rival Northwestern.

 

The Illini do not hit the road until game six at Indiana.  They could be 6-0 when Ohio State comes to Champaign-Urbana on October 22.  The back end of the schedule has four tough games, but Zook should be able to coax eight wins out of this team.

 

PURDUE

OFFENSE

Quarterback

A school noted for excellent quarterbacks (Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Mike Phipps, Mark Herrmann, Drew Brees, etc.) finds itself in a quarterback quandary as the 2011 season begins.  Expected starter Rob Henry went down with an ACL injury in the late stages of preseason practice.  He could miss the entire season.

 

Former Miami quarterback Robert Marve split the signal calling duties with Henry last year, and he too has a knee injury, albeit not as serious as the one Henry has.

 

Caleb TerBush will start the opening game.  He has virtually no experience as a college quarterback.  Sophomore Sean Robinson had a tough freshman season, completing 48% of his passes with a 2/6 TD/Int ratio, and he will be the number two option until Marve is healthy again.  Look for a decline in production here if Coach Danny Hope has to go with his third and fourth options.  He will call more running plays, hoping to minimize mistakes.

 

Receivers

Three of the top four receivers have graduated, leaving this position a bit inexperienced and less talented.  Antavian Edison caught 32 passes but averaged less than 10 yards per reception.  O. J. Ross and Justin Siller are the next most experienced receivers, but they teamed for just 23 receptions and two touchdowns.  Purdue receivers as a whole averaged just 9.2 yards per catch.  A lot of their receptions were little more than glorified overhanded quick pitches just across the line. 

 

Running Backs

Henry was the leading rusher last year, so his loss hurts in more than one way.  Purdue used a lot of backs last year, but unfortunately most of them are now gone.  Edison is actually the leading returning rusher.  He ran the reverse sweep 36 times for 130 yards.

 

All is not lost. Junior Ralph Bolden ran for over 900 yards two years ago, but he missed 2010 with an ACL injury.  He has taken his job back and if he is fully recovered and can cut laterally, he could challenge for 1,000 yards rushing.  Of course, Hope likes to platoon here, and he signed multiple backs in this incoming class.

 

Offensive Line

This unit could have been a major strength this year, but instead, it will be closer to neutral.  Instead of two legitimate stars, PU will have to make do with just one.  Guard Ken Plue was placed on the Outland Trophy watch list, but he will be the one watching when the season begins, as he is dealing with academic issues.

 

As a result, Hope had to do some shuffling.  Tackle Nick Mondek was moved to guar to replace Plue.  Justin Kitchens moved into the starting tackle spot vacated by Mondek.  Additionally, center Peters Drey and guard Rick Schmeig switched positions.

 

Tackle Dennis Kelly stayed put where he is, and he is the one true star of this unit, at least until (if) Plue is allowed back. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Expect another good season in the trenches this year, even with the loss of the best defensive end that has played at Ross-Ade Stadium in many years; Ryan Kerrigan made a whopping 26 tackles for loss.  Three veterans return to the four-man line, while the new starter has a lot of experience.  Tackle Kawann Short made six sacks and 12 ½ stops for loss while coming up with 41 total tackles—all high for a typical defensive tackle.  His counterpart inside is Bruce Gaston, but Gaston could miss the opener due to a sore back.

 

Robert Maci will not replicate Kerrigan’s stats, but he will make a lot of tackles coming his way.  Gerald Gooden returns to the other terminal spot after making 35 stops a year ago. 

 

The Boilermakers should not give up too much more than the 138 yards per game they allowed last year, and they could come close to matching their 33 sacks.

 

Linebackers

There will be improvement in this unit in 2011.  Middle linebacker Dwayne Beckford and outside linebacker Joe Holland finished 2nd and 3rd in tackles with a combined 157 stops and 11 going for losses.  Will Lucas was the principle reserve here last year, and he came up with 43 tackles.

 

Secondary

While not as talented as Penn State’s secondary, this group has a lot of depth.  All four 2010 starters return, and there are capable backups at each spot.  Cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen teamed for 126 tackles and 14 passes defended.  Normando Harris will see considerable time here as well and will serve as the nickel back.

 

Safeties Logan Link and Albert Evans combined for just seven passes defended, but even worse, just two interceptions.  As a whole, PU had only 10 interceptions, which is the major reason they had a -6 turnover margin.  Additionally, Link led the team in tackles from his strong safety position.  That indicates a weak overall defense, and Purdue gave up 29 points and 370 yards per game last year.

 

OTHER

Purdue has endured three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the 12-year run of losing seasons from 1985 to 1996.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule just got a little trickier, as an unsettled situation at quarterback could present the Boilermakers with a couple of trap games to start the season.

 

Purdue hosts Middle Tennessee in week one and goes to Rice in week two.  They would have been easy picks to win both, but now both games move closer to becoming tossups.  Following a breather against Southeast Missouri and a week off, Notre Dame comes south to West Lafayette.  Purdue must be 3-1 after this game to have a shot at bowl eligibility.

 

In Big Ten play, PU hosts Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State, and Iowa, and they visit Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana.  The Boilermakers can win maybe three of these games.

 

INDIANA

OFFENSE

Quarterback

The Hoosiers start over with new coach Kevin Wilson who ran Bob Stoops’ offense at Oklahoma after spending three years as OC at Northwestern.  Both the Sooners and Wildcats put up a lot of points on the scoreboard and placed a lot of quarterbacks on all-conference teams.

 

This year, IU replaces one of their best passers in history.  Ben Chappell was a prized gunfighter in the Pistol Offense.  He completed 62.5% of his passes for 3,295 yards and 24 touchdowns, and he did it with virtually no help from the running game.  His loss will keep the Hoosiers from competing with the rest of the league in 2011.

 

Dusty Kiel takes over under center.  As a freshman, he attempted 17 passes and completed just four with two interceptions.  Edward Wright-Baker performed little better in his brief time last year, completing 41.7% of his passes.  Expect both to see duty this year.

 

The passing statistics will take a considerable drop this season, from 287 yards per game to as little as 175.

 

Receivers

IU has one quality possession receiver in Damarlo Belcher.  He caught 78 passes last year, but his two principle cohorts are now longer around.  Defenses will concentrate on slowing him down.

 

Two starters expected to contribute will be missing playing time at the beginning of the season.  Tight end Ted Bolser and wideout Duwyce Wilson are the second and third leading returning receivers (59 receptions and eight touchdowns), but neither are on the depth chart for the opening game.  Dre Muhammad and Kofi Hughes will see more passes thrown their way.  It leaves an already suspect receiving corps in very weak condition.

 

Running Backs

Wilson’s teams were not strictly pass-crazy.  At Northwestern, his tenure as OC coincided with Damien Anderson’s years at running back.  He had Adrian Peterson and Demarco Murray at Oklahoma.

 

Wilson does not have a back on his roster that is capable of running 25 times for 125 yards.  In fact, IU’s leading rusher from 2010 gained just 352 yards.  Darius Willis returns this year, but he is facing a one-game suspension as well as a demotion into Wilson’s doghouse.  The new running back contingent will feature redshirt freshman Matt Perez and Juco transfer Stephen Houston.  There’s nowhere to go but up for this unit.

 

Offensive Line

There are no stars in the blocking corps, but at least there is some experience returning, and it can only mean some improvement will be made here this year.  The Hoosier offensive line only gave up 12 sacks last year, but Chappell’s quick read and release played a significant part in that.

 

Center Will Matte begins his third year as the starter, and he is the best pass blocker on the team.  Justin Pagan moves to guard after starting at tackle last year.  He has started at both positions throughout his career in Bloomington.  Marc Damisch moves from second team to first team to start at the opposite guard.  Andrew McDonald starts at one tackle position, while Josh Hager will man the other spot.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Three starters return to the trenches, led by end Darius Johnson.  Johnson made 65 tackles with seven going for lost yardage.  He led IU with 4 ½ sacks.  Redshirt freshman Ryan Phillis will start at the opposite end.  Adam Replogle and Mick Mentzer return at the tackle positions, but Larry Black has beaten out Mentzer.  The three combined for 67 tackles and 10 tackles for loss.  Overall, this is a weak unit for a Big Ten team, but it is not the weakest in the league.

 

Linebackers

Middle linebacker Jeff Thomas is the only player on this side of the ball with the potential to make 3rd Team All-Big Ten.  Thomas registered 82 tackles last year with 7 ½ for loss.  He also picked off a couple of passes.

 

Leon Beckum finished with 69 tackles and nine stops for loss.  Joining him on the opposite side is redshirt freshman Chase Hoobler.  While not as weak as the defensive line, this unit is still below par for the Big Ten.

 

Secondary

Unfortunately, the secondary is the weakest unit and most inexperienced on the entire team.  The Hoosiers gave up 238 passing yards per game last year, and they allowed enemy passers to complete better than 65% of their passes.  Two players with starting experience are back, but only one will start this year.

 

Greg Haban has moved from safety to cornerback.  He intercepted one pass and knocked loose five others while making 40 tackles last year.  Lawrence Bennett will start opposite him.  Bennett played sparingly at safety as a freshman.

 

Jarrell Drane and Chris Adkins will man the safety positions.  Both made seven tackles last year in limited action, but Adkins has prior starting experience.  Former Starter Donnell Jones will be the nickel back.

 

OTHER

Indiana has enjoyed just one winning season since 1994.  Bill Mallory produced winning regular seasons seven times in nine seasons, but before him, Lee Corso had just two winning seasons in his 10 years in Bloomington.  Wilson’s task is a tough one.

 

The movie “Hoosiers” is one of the all-time best sports movies, but we believe another movie could be made about the 1967 Indiana football team.  Picked to finish in the bottom two or three of the standings, the Hoosiers continued to upset opponents and pull victory out of the jaws of defeat week after week until they were Big Ten Champions and Rose Bowl participants. 

 

SUMMARY

2011 is going to be a long year at Memorial Stadium.  Indiana has three winnable non-conference games, and they better take advantage against Ball State, South Carolina State, and North Texas.  We do not see them winning a conference game this year.

 

Legends Division

NEBRASKA

OFFENSE

Quarterback

The Cornhuskers join the Big Ten at the right time.  Most of their adversaries in this division are in a rebuilding mode.  The Cornhuskers suffered some heavy losses on this side of the ball, but they had so much depth, they can reload rather than rebuild.

 

One place where Coach Bo Pelini does not have to reload is at quarterback, where Taylor Martinez was fabulous as a freshman last year.  Martinez rushed for more than 1,000 yards (sacks removed) and passed for more than 1,600.  He had a 241-yard rushing game against Kansas State, and he had a 323-yard passing game with five touchdowns against Oklahoma State.  Look for him to rush for a little less and pass for a little more in 2011.

 

If Martinez is injured for any amount of time, this position could become a big concern as three other QBs expected to contend for playing time are no longer in the program due to a transfer, an injury, and a professional baseball career.

 

Receivers

Nebraska’s most valuable receiver is tight end Kyler Reed.  He caught 22 passes for 395 yards and eight touchdowns last year.  Pelini liked to send him over the middle when the ‘Huskers penetrated the opponents’ 30 yard line.  Ben Cotton is an excellent second tight end, and NU will use two tight end sets.

 

Brandon Kinnie led NU with 44 receptions last year.  He scored five touchdowns and averaged 11.2 yards per reception.  Khiry Cooper saw some action as a starter and a reserve, and he will join freshmen Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner and junior Tim Marlowe as receivers who will see playing time.  It is a decent unit but not spectacular.

 

Running Backs

Rex Burkhead rushed for almost 1,300 yards as a freshman, and he added 951 in an injury-shortened sophomore season last year.  He could challenge for the Big Ten rushing lead this year, and we expect him to top 1,000 yards again.

 

Fullback Tyler Legate will open holes for Burkhead.  Nebraska used to utilize their fullbacks in their running and passing game, but now they are glorified third guards.

 

Offensive Line

This is the only concern on this side of the ball.  Three starters are missing from 2010, and only tackle Jeremiah Sirles can be considered an all-conference possibility.  Sirles missed Spring Practice, but he should be okay to start the season.  Center Mike Caputo is solid, but he will not remind Cornhusker fans of Dave Rimington or Rik Bonness.

 

Redshirt freshman Jake Cotton will start at the vacant tackle spot.  Sophomore Andrew Rodriguez will start at one guard spot, while true freshman Tyler Moore will man the other guard position.  There is depth here, but not like in past seasons.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini’s Blackshirt Defense regressed a little last year, giving up 17 points and 300+ yards per game after leading the nation in 2009 by giving up just 10 points and 270 yards per game.

 

The Cornhuskers return some stars, but they lost some as well.  They are loaded on this side of the trenches, as most of the two-deep returns.

 

Jared Crick will contend for All-American accreditation after making 70 tackles with 9 ½ sacks and 17 total tackles for loss.  He forms one of the nation’s best tackle tandems with Baker Steinkuhler, who registered 46 tackles and four for losses.

 

At end, Cameron Meredith is a potential all-conference player.  He made 64 tackles with eight stops for loss.  The new starter at end will be Jason Ankrah, who saw very limited duty but won the spot with a great showing in practice.  This looks like a line capable of holding opponents to less than 120 rushing yards per game. 

 

Linebackers

Lavonte David could become the first player to lead two different conferences in total tackles in consecutive seasons.  He led the Big 12 with 152 tackles last year.  The potential All-American also had six sacks and made 15 stops behind the line.  He also knocked away 10 passes.

 

Any two average linebackers could be put on the field with David and give the Cornhuskers the best trio in the Big Ten.  The two players joining him are more than average linebackers.  Will Compton was a Freshman All-American two years ago.  He made 15 tackles in limited action last year.  Sean Fisher missed more than half of 2009 and all of last year, but he should be ready to return to his pre-injury form.  As usual, the depth here is rather strong.

 

Secondary

If any teams exploit this defense, it will be the secondary that gets exploited.  It isn’t like this is a bad unit.  It’s a B+ unit with two A+ units in front.

 

The star of this group is cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, but he may miss the start of the season with a pulled leg muscle.  Dennard finished 2010 with four interceptions and 11 passes defended.  Ciente Evans inherits the other cornerbacks after seeing limited action last year, but he will not be able to replicate what Prince Amukamara did for the ‘Huskers (13 passes defended).

 

Austin Cassidy returns at safety after making 48 tackles last year (but only one pass defended), while Courtney Osborne made 41 tackles and five for losses in relief last year.

 

OTHER

Pelini felt as if biased Big 12 officiating cost the Cornhuskers a couple of games last year.  The Big Ten has been known for a lot of questionable officiating calls; might Nebraska have a rough Plebe year in this conference?

 

As strong as this program is, the Cornhuskers have not played in a BCS Bowl since they lost the Rose Bowl game to Miami 10 years ago.

 

SUMMARY

This team is strong enough to be the favorite in the Legends Division, but we cannot see Nebraska challenging for the National Championship Game.  They were hindered by their first Big Ten schedule forcing them to play Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State from the other division.  We’ll call this a nine or 10-win regular season and install NU as the favorite in the Legends Division.

 

MICHIGAN

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Last year, we told you to watch out for Denard Robinson, and that he could become the next Pat White.  At least we were right about something.  Robinson’s stats were on par with Cam Newton.  Let’s look at the comparison. 

 

Robinson rushed for 1,702 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 6.6 yards per attempt.  Newton rushed for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns while averaging 5.6 yards per rush.

 

Robinson completed 62.5% of his passes for 2,570 yards and 18 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.  Newton completed 66.1% of his passes for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns to seven interceptions. 

 

Robinson’s total yardage output was just 55 yards shy of matching Newton’s, and Newton played in one more game.

 

In new head coach Brady Hoke’s offense, Robinson will pass more and run less, but Hoke would be crazy not to use Robinson’s running skills.

 

Last year’s backup and former starter Tate Forcier transferred to San Jose State, so there is a concern should Robinson go down with an injury.  Sophomore Devin Gardner threw 10 passes last year.

 

 

Receivers

Robinson should top 3,000 yards passing this year because he welcomes most of his favorite targets from last season.  Roy Roundtree led the Wolverines with 72 receptions, 935 yards, and seven touchdowns.  Junior Hemingway caught 32 passes and averaged 18.5 yards per reception with four touchdowns.  Tight end Kevin Koger made 14 receptions and scored twice while averaging 14.2 yards per catch.

 

UM has a lot of depth here with Martavious Odoms, Kelvin Grady, and Jeremy Gallon.

 

Running Backs

The Wolverines will go with a two-man platoon here with Michael Shaw and Fitz Toussaint.  Shaw rushed for 601 yards and five scores, while Toussaint rushed for just 87 yards but averaged 11 yards per carry.

 

Vincent Smith will be the conversion back who comes in on 3rd and short and at the goal line.  He rushed for 601 yards last year and scored five touchdowns.

 

Offensive Line

Hoke’s offense will have a chance to match last year’s production because he has a strong offensive line.  Center David Molk was a 1st Team All-Big Ten choice last year.  Patrick Omameh starts beside him at guard for the second consecutive season.  Rickey Barnum is the new starter at the other guard.

 

Taylor Lewan returns to start at one tackle position after starting nine times last year, while senior Mark Huyge will start at the other tackle spot.  Huyge was a co-starter last year and a full-time starter in 2009.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This is what cost Rich Rodriguez his job.  None of the units on this side of the ball looked like a Michigan defensive unit.  The maize and blue gave up 189 rushing yards per game and 262 passing yards per game, surrendering 35.2 points per game.  Five teams topped 500 total yards.  Unofficially, we do not believe the Wolverines gave up 500 total yards in any game coached by Bo Schembechler during his tenure in Ann Arbor, and we know his teams gave up 35 or more points one time in 21 seasons, and that was against a top-five-ranked Missouri team in his third game of his UM career.

 

Hoke hired former UM defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to turn this side of the ball around.  Expect immediate progress, especially up front, where three starters return to the trenches.

 

Ryan Van Bergen has been moved from end to tackle to join Mike Martin.  This tandem teamed for 74 tackles and 14 ½ tackles for loss.  End Craig Roh will team with new starter Will Heininger, who missed all of last year with an ACL injury.  Walk-on Nathan Brink has earned playing time with a great spring and August showing.

 

Linebackers

Middle linebacker Kenny Demens has the potential to make 100 or more tackles after making 82 stops last year.  Cameron Gordon finished with 77 tackles, and he finished with seven passes defended.  Mike Jones moves into the starting lineup after redshirting last year.  The depth is not all that strong.  Leading tackler Jonas Mouton will be sorely missed, and this unit will be the biggest liability on this team.

 

Secondary

Strong safety Jordan Kovacs made 116 tackles, which is not a good sign.  8 ½ of those tackles went for lost yardage.  He joins the other returning secondary starter, cornerback J. T. Floyd, who finished with 66 tackles and five passes defended.

 

Thomas Gordon has some starting experience, and he will get the nod at safety, while Troy Woolfolk returns from injury to regain the starting cornerback spot he had in 2009.  Carvin Johnson will be the nickel back.

 

OTHER

It has been 12 years since Michigan last won a BCS Bowl game (defeated Alabama in the Orange Bowl 1/1/2000) and 14 years since they last won the Rose Bowl.

 

SUMMARY

Are we crazy to place Michigan this far up in the Legends Division standings?  Probably.  However, we have a lot of confidence in Hoke.  He will prove to be the best coach at the Big House since Bo retired.

 

Michigan’s schedule is not a cakewalk.  They begin the season with one of the MAC’s tougher teams in Western Michigan.  Then, they host Notre Dame.  A breather against neighborhood rival Eastern Michigan precedes a date with Hoke’s former team—San Diego State.

 

We can see this team winning five or six conference games.  UM hosts Minnesota, Purdue, Nebraska, and Ohio State, while they go on the road to Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa, and Illinois.  This may be the year that UM breaks the seven year losing streak to Ohio State.

 

MICHIGAN STATE

OFFENSE

Quarterback

When last we saw Kirk Cousins, he was testing the feel of the turf at the Florida Citrus Bowl stadium.  He tested it five times thanks to the Alabama Crimson Tide.  Prior to the bowl game, Cousins was having an excellent season.  He finished the year with 2,825 yards and 20 touchdowns, while completing 67% of his passes.

 

Backups Andrew Maxwell returns after seeing limited action.  If called on, he can be a reliable emergency option.  However, he is no Cousins.  Cousins might be the best passer in the league.

 

Receivers

Spartans coach Mark Dantonio has one of the better receiving units in the Big Ten.  B. J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin return for their final seasons after teaming for 82 receptions 1,005 yards.  Cunningham scored nine times.  Keith Nichol began his career at Oklahoma.  In reserve last year, he caught 22 passes.  There is adequate depth at the wideouts.

 

Brian Linthicum and Garrett Celek will split the load at tight end, while Dion Sims has improved enough to see some time there as well. Linthicum started his career at Clemson.

 

Running Backs

Bulky Edwin Baker returns after rushing for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.  He missed a game and part of another, so he averaged more than 100 yards per full game.  The 1st Team All-Big Ten selection could challenge for the conference lead this season.  He isn’t a breakaway runner, but he will aggravate defenses with several five to 10 yard gains. 

 

Larry Caper and Le’Veon Bell will back up Baker.  Bell gained more than 600 yards last year, while Caper added 144.

 

Offensive Line

The Spartans must rebuild a little in the blocking corps.  They lose three starters, including an all-conference star.  The returning starters are guards Chris McDonald and Joel Foreman.  Foreman is the leader of this group, and he could contend for 1st Team All-Big Ten accolades this year.

 

Redshirt freshman Skyler Burkland will start at one of the vacant tackle positions, while Dan France and Jared McGaha will platoon at the other tackle.  Travis Jackson and Blake Treadwell will both see time at center.

 

There is dept here, but this unit is barely above mediocre.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Spartans have excellent depth here, especially at end, where four players will share the load.  Marcus Rush and Denzel Drone will share one end spot, while William Gholston and Tyler Hoover will split snaps at the other. 

 

Jerel Worthy starts at one tackle position after making 40 tackles with eight for losses.  Anthony Rashad White has beaten out former starter Kevin Pickelman at the nose.  White made 17 tackles in relief last year.

 

Linebackers

There is a little depth here this season, but overall, this is just an above-average group.  Max Bullough is the only sure starter, and he will man the middle spot.  He made 23 stops as a backup last year.

 

The outside positions will be split by three players.  Chris Norman will start at the Star (weak side) position, while Steve Gardiner will start at the Sam position, but Denicos Allen will see time at both positions.  The trio combined for 88 tackles.

 

Secondary

Johnny Adams is the one of two stars in the secondary.  The cornerback made three interceptions and had 10 passes defended.  Free safety Trenton Robinson bettered that with four picks and 12 passes defended.

 

Daqueze Dennard will start at the vacant cornerback spot, while Isaiah Lewis will start at the other.

 

OTHER

Michigan State has enjoyed four consecutive winning seasons, and should make it five in a row this year.  The last time they had five consecutive winning seasons was 1985-1990, when they extended it to a sixth year.

 

It has been 24 years since the Spartans last went to the Rose Bowl.

 

For those old enough to remember, it is hard to believe that it has been 45 years since the Spartans and Notre Dame hooked up for their epic “Game of the Century” in November of 1966. 

 

SUMMARY

We are split here in our opinion about the Michigan State season.  One of us believes they should be the odds-on favorite to win the Legends Division and the Big Ten Championship.  One of us believes the Spartans will be affected by their 49-7 pasting from Alabama in the Capital One Bowl and struggle to break even at 6-6. 

 

The non-league schedule includes the toughie at Notre Dame and home games against Youngstown State, Florida Atlantic, and Central Michigan.  They draw Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders, and face Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern on the road.  It looks like a slight regression for MSU this year.

 

IOWA

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Ricky Stanzi had a splendid senior year in Iowa City, but the Hawkeyes disappointed their fans with an 8-5 record.  James Vandenberg takes over for Stanzi, and the junior has completed less than 50% of his passes in the short amount of time he has played.

 

Vandenberg attempted just eight passes last year, and he completed five for 45 yards and a touchdown.  He will not come close to matching Stanzi’s 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns.

 

Redshirt freshman A. J. Derby will be the number two option.

 

Receivers

It is hard to succeed with just one primetime player in your receiving corps, but Iowa has one star and “the rest.”  Marvin McNutt caught 53 passes and gained 861 yards with eight touchdowns.  Keenan Davis caught just 11 passes and has never become the star he was forecasted to be.  Tight end Brad Herman averaged over 17 yards per reception last year, but he only caught nine balls.  McNutt needs another receiver to have a breakout season, or else he will be shadowed by two defenders on every passing play.

 

Running Backs

Coach Kirk Ferentz must replace his top rusher from 2010.  Adam Robinson rushed for 941 yards and 10 scores, leaving Marcus Coker to replace him.  Coker was actually the better back last year, as he averaged almost a full yard more per carry while gaining 622 yards after not playing the first three games.  Coker was the star of the Insight Bowl, rushing for 219 yards on 33 carries.

 

Matt Meyers gets the start at fullback.

 

Offensive Line

Like a lot of the teams in this conference, Iowa has an average offensive line this year.  The line could be below average for the season opener, because guard Nolan MacMillan is recovering from hernia surgery and may not be ready.  Matt Tobin will replace him in the lineup until he is ready to go full speed again.

 

Riley Reiff made the All-Big Ten 2nd Team last year at tackle.  Markus Zusevics will start opposite him.  The other guard spot will go to Adam Gettis, while Coach Ferentz’s son James will start at center for the second year. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This unit is the weakest link on the defensive side of the ball.  Expect the Hawkeyes to give up considerably more on the ground than the 102 yards per game they gave up in 2010.  Iowa loses the services of three NFL Draft choices, and their replacements are not NFL prospects.

 

Tackle Mike Daniels is the lone returnee.  He made 40 tackles with 11 stops for loss.  Thomas Nardo will start at the other tackle position after seeing very limited action in his first three seasons.  Lebron Daniel has made nine tackles in three years, but he will start at one end position.  Broderick Binns will start at the other end spot.  He made 36 tackles last year.  While not very talented or experienced, this unit is made up of four seniors, so there should be maturity here.

 

Linebackers

The Hawkeyes have talent at this position.  Middle Linebacker James Morris was a freshman All-American last year after making 70 tackles.  Tyler Nielsen started eight times and made 42 tackles.  He defended five passes.  Christian Kirksey takes over at the other linebacker spot after making six tackles in a short amount of playing time.

 

Secondary

This is sort of a hit and miss unit.  Two starters are as good as any two other teammates in the league.  Cornerback Shaun Prater and safety Micah Hyde combined for 150 tackles, eight interceptions, and 21 passes defended.  Prater earned 1st team all-conference honors and could compete for All-American honors this year, but only if the rebuilt line gets enough pressure on quarterbacks.

 

Cornerback Greg Castillo and safety Collin Sleeper are two juniors that are more like fourth year freshmen.  There isn’t much depth here either.

 

OTHER

Iowa lost a lot of their special team skill players.  Kicker Mike Meyer is the lone returnee of the key players, and he is not one of the better kickers in the league.

 

The Hawkeyes have given up less than 20 points per game the last four years.

 

SUMMARY

Iowa has two easy non-conference games, its annual rivalry game, and a tough game against a team that could be in a BCS Bowl.  The Hawkeyes host Tennessee Tech and Louisiana Monroe which will give them two wins.  The CyHawk game is at Iowa State this year, but Iowa should win that one.  If they can beat Pittsburgh to start 4-0, then they could build on the momentum and even exceed last year’s final outcome. 

 

We tend to believe they will go 3-1 outside of the Big Ten and then struggle to break even in league play with a lot of close games.  They will be bowl eligible.

 

NORTHWESTERN

OFFENSE

Quarterback

When Dan Persa went down for the season with an Achilles injury suffered after a big win over Iowa, it destroyed the Wildcats’ season.  They mailed it in against Illinois and Wisconsin, losing by a combined 118-50.  Persa’s absence wasn’t directly responsible for the defensive breakdown, but his replacement could not sustain long drives like Persa could, and it exposed Northwestern’s defensive liabilities.

 

Persa returns after completing 73.5% of his passes for 258 yards per game.  His TD/Int ratio was 15/4.  He rushed for close to 700 yards (sacks removed).  If he is 100% healthy, he could guide NU to an upper division finish in the Legends Division.  However, if his heel prevents him from being as mobile as he was, he could get clobbered.

 

Receivers

Persa has some tools to work with.  Jeremy Ebert earned 1st Team All-Big Ten honors last year.  He grabbed 62 passes and picked up 953 yards, while scoring eight touchdowns.  H-Back Drake Dunsmore caught 40 passes and score five times.  Demetrius Fields added 25 receptions.  There is depth returning here as well with Charles Brown, Tony Jones, and Rashad Lawrence.  Lawrence will probably start the opener. 

 

Running Backs

Mike Trumpy and Jacob Schmidt will share most of the carries.  Trumpy is more like a fullback from the old days when teams liked to run the ball between the tackles to set up the sweep.  Trumpy rarely goes down on first contact.  He gained 530 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per attempt.

 

Schmidt gained just 161 yards and scored four times.  Adonis Smith will see significant time as well.

 

Offensive Line

Considering that most of the offensive lines in the Big Ten are on the mediocre side, Northwestern’s blocking corps must be considered a strength when compared to the other teams.

 

Four starters return.  This is not a super unit, as their 40 sacks allowed can attest, but it is better than about seven or eight conference rivals.

 

Tackles All Netter and Patrick Ward are big and quick, while guards Ben Burkett and Brian Mulroe are quicker but maybe not as strong.  The new center will be redshirt freshman Brandon Vitabile.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Wildcats gave up 29 points and 426 yards per game last year, so there is a lot of room for improvement.  However, we are not sure NU can improve much this year because there is not enough talent.

 

One player that is talented is end Vincent Browne.  Of the returning Big Ten players, Browne led with seven sacks and 15 ½ tackles for loss.  Kevin Watt returns to the opposite end.  He made 29 tackles with 5 ½ tackles for loss, but he may be replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore Tyler Scott.  Jack Dinardo picked up seven tackles for loss and returns to one DT spot, while the new tackle will be Niko Mafuli.

 

Linebackers

This is the biggest weakness for NU.  Bryce McNaul returns after making 62 tackles with five for losses.  David Nwabuisi and Ben Johnson combined for 47 tackles in relief roles.  Behind this trio are untested players with Damien Proby the best of the rest.

 

Secondary

If the Wildcats can generate any pass rush, the secondary should do just fine.  The strength of this unit is at safety with David Arnold and Brian Peters returning after teaming for 149 tackles and 10 passes defended.  Arnold is nursing a sprained ankle and may not be ready to play in the opener.  If he cannot go at Boston College, redshirt freshman Ibraheim Campbell will go in his place.

 

Jordan Mabin returns to one starting cornerback spot after making 63 tackles with 15 passes defended (led Big Ten).  Jeravin Matthews inherits the vacant cornerback position.

 

OTHER

In the last 16 seasons, NU has had seven winning records, seven losing record, and two .500 records.  The Wildcats have enjoyed three consecutive winning seasons.

 

Prior to this run, the Wildcats had endured 23 consecutive losing seasons.  Their last three-year winning record streak came in 1958-59-60.  Their last run of four consecutive winning seasons came in 1928-1931.

 

SUMMARY

It is hard to list Northwestern as the number five team in the Legends Division, and we know that our PiRate Rating has underestimated their power based on how the Wildcats fell apart last year after Persa went out with his injury.

 

NU’s out-of-conference schedule offers only one sure win.  A week two game with Eastern Illinois is the only “gimme” on the schedule.  The other three non-Big Ten games include road trips to Boston College and Army and a home game with Rice. 

 

In this year with more parity in the Big Ten, Northwestern could finish go 6-2 at best and 1-7 at worst. 

 

MINNESOTA

OFFENSE

Quarterback

New coach Jerry Kill starts the rebuilding process at Minnesota minus the Gophers’ all time leading passer.  Adam Weber passed for 2,679 yards and 20 touchdowns last year.  Weber was criticized as the reason UM lost game-after-game, yet he is on the verge of making the Denver Broncos 2011 roster.

 

MarQueis Gray, Max Shortell, and Tom Parish will probably all see the field in September, as none of these three quarterbacks is a complete package.  Gray was actually UM’s second leading receiver last year, and he will be a better runner than passer.

 

True freshman Shortell is a more prototypical pocket passer, while redshirt freshman Parish is a little bit of both.  Regardless of who plays the bulk of the time, this unit will be considerably weaker than last year.

 

Receivers

The number of receptions this year could drop by as many as 50, as the Gophers will have to go back to a predominantly running team.  One receiver who should still see a lot of passes thrown his way is Da’Jon McKnight, who led the Gophers with 48 receptions, 750 yards, and 10 touchdowns.  Redshirt freshman Marcus Jones will start in the slot.  Brandon Green returns after missing all of last year with an injury, and if he can resume where he left off, this unit will be in good shape.  Watch out for Juco transfer Malcolm Moulton.  The late signee has been coming on strong in fall practice, and we would not be surprised if he snuck into the starting lineup.

 

Tight end Eric Lair returns after catching 39 passes and gaining 526 yards.

 

Running Backs

Duane Bennett, Lamonte Edwards, and Donnell Kirkwood will benefit from the new offense running the ball about seven to ten times more per game.  Bennett rushed for 529 yards and caught 33 passes last year.  Edwards is a redshirt freshman, and Kirkwood played sparingly.  With Gray likely running the ball 10-15 times a game, look for the Gophers to easily surpass last year’s average of 135 yards per game.  We are not talking Glen Mason era rushing yards, but they could average 175 yards per game.

 

Offensive Line

This is as big a concern as the quarterback position.  The starting five here is the weakest offensive line unit in the league.  None of the players on this roster look like candidates to make the 3rd Team All-Big Ten list.  Ryan Wynn will man the center position, while Ryan Orton and Chris Bunders start at guard.  Ed Olson will occupy one tackle spot, while redshirt freshman Jimmy Gjere starts opposite.  Bunders and Olson are the only returning starters, but Wynn has past starting experience from 2008.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

UM gave up 34 points per game in Big Ten play, and their 2011 conference schedule does not offer them much chance of shaving that number down into the 20’s. 

 

The defensive line returns most of the two-deep from last year and will be better.  Tackles Brandon Kirksey and Anthony Jacobs teamed for 69 tackles and 12 tackles for loss.  Ends D. L. Wilhite and Matt Garin combined for 27 tackles in part-time starting roles.  Ben Perry could crack the starting lineup, and Kendall Gregory-McGee will see significant playing time in reserve.

 

This unit finished dead last in the league with just nine sacks.  Three of those came against Illinois.

 

Linebackers

This unit is the strength of the team.  UM returns all three starters and welcomes a top reserve who was a highly sought after recruit that signed with Florida but never saw the field due to injury.

 

Gary Tinsley led the team with 90 tackles and 9 ½ for losses.  Keanon Cooper made 68 tackles with 4 ½ stops for loss.  Mike Rallis added 37 tackles with six stops behind the line.  Florida transfer Brendan Beal will supply quality backup.

 

Secondary

This unit is another major liability, but you have to place some of the blame on the lines’ inability to generate a pass rush last year.  UM gave up more than 200 passing yards per game and allowed 65% of enemy passes to be completed.

 

Cornerback Troy Stoudermire returns after registering six passes defended.  After him, the rest of this unit is new.  Brock Vereen made 10 tackles but did nothing else.  Safety Shady Salamon has seen little action in the secondary, but he will generate buzz with his name.  Kim Royston missed all of last year with an injury after performing admirably in 2009.

 

OTHER

Since firing Glen Mason after the 2006 season, Minnesota has gone 17-33.  Mason’s teams went 56-42 after his original rebuilding.

 

Kill was quoted as saying that most of the incoming freshmen would play this year because there was not enough depth to redshirt them.

 

SUMMARY

The Gophers were not that far from being a halfway decent team last year, but they face some rebuilding in Kill’s first year.  They could take a step backward, but they should find a way to match last year’s win total.  They have three winnable games outside of league play, and they may go winless in the Big Ten, since they do not play Indiana.

 

 

2011 Big Ten Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Leaders Division

 

 

Wisconsin

22

141

Ohio State

1

113

Penn State

1

95

Illinois

 

76

Purdue

 

52

Indiana

 

27

 

 

 

Legends Division

 

Nebraska

19

139

Michigan State

4

118

Iowa

 

82

Michigan

1

71

Northwestern

 

69

Minnesota

 

25

 

 

 

Championship Game Winner

 

Nebraska

 

12

Wisconsin

 

11

Michigan State

 

1

 

 

2011 Big Ten Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Leaders Division

 

 

Wisconsin

116.2

6-2/10-3

Penn State

113.4

6-2/9-3

Ohio State

108.1

5-3/8-4

Illinois

107.8

3-5/7-5

Purdue

101.7

3-5/6-6

Indiana

86.5

1-7/4-8

 

 

 

Legends Division

 

Nebraska

116.4

6-2/11-2 *

Michigan

114.8

5-3/8-4

Michigan State

113.5

5-3/8-4

Iowa

107.8

3-5/6-6

Northwestern

101.2

4-4/7-5

Minnesota

101.1

1-7/4-8

   

 

* Nebraska to beat Wisconsin in

 

Big Ten Championship Game

 

 Coming Tomorrow: The PiRate Ratings For Week One–It’s Football Time!

August 15, 2010

2010 Mountain West Conference Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

2010 Mountain West Conference Preview

 

The best of the non-BCS conferences will undergo a change next year, as Utah leaves for the newly named Pac-12.  Boise State will move here from the WAC and continue a great rivalry with TCU.  It wouldn’t shock us to see the Horned Frogs and Broncos meeting for a third consecutive season in a bowl, and it isn’t impossible for that bowl game to be the last one of the year!

The only mystery for this season’s race is who will finish second.  TCU will win the league and should go undefeated in the regular season for the second year in a row.  There is no clear-cut second best team as five teams could wind up in the runner-up spot.

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 MWC Overall
1 T C U 8-0 12-0
2 Utah 6-2 8-4
3 Air Force 5-3 7-5
4 B Y U 5-3 7-5
5 Wyoming 4-4 6-6
6 San Diego State 4-4 7-5
7 U N L V 3-5 5-8
8 Colorado State 1-7 2-10
9 New Mexico 0-8 1-11

 

BCS Bowl—T C U

Las Vegas Bowl—Utah

Poinsettia Bowl—B Y U

Independence Bowl—Air Force

New Mexico Bowl—San Diego State

Armed Forces Bowl—Wyoming

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Air Force Falcons
               
Head Coach Troy Calhoun
               
Colors Royal Blue and Silver
               
City Colorado Springs, CO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 102.0
               
National Rating 52
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: The Falcons have a feast/famine tug of war on this side of the ball.  Coach Troy Calhoun has molded three fantastic offenses in his first three seasons in Colorado Springs, and we believe the string will continue despite Calhoun having to start almost from scratch up front.

Right guard A.J. Wallerstein started one game at left guard last year, and that represents all of the starting experience for this season’s offensive line.  It isn’t a complete disaster though.  Air Force frequently has a lot of turnover because traditionally, there has been a reliance on seniority.  Also, because the Falcons utilize the option offense, the blocking schemes rely heavily on double team blocks and leaving other defenders unblocked so the quarterback can read and option them.  We are not concerned with the new starters, but there is an issue of depth.  None of the next five are ready to play at this level.

The rest of this offense is loaded and lethal.  Returning quarterback Tim Jefferson went 4-1 as a starter last year.  He connected on 57% of his passes with five touchdowns against two interceptions.  Jefferson connected on longer passes than the two other quarterbacks, and his ability to throw the ball downfield will open more running lanes for a great stable of back.

All the contributing ball carriers return this season.  Fullback Jared Tew and tailback Asher Clark teamed for 1,835 rushing yards and 16 scores.  Z-receiver Jonathan Warzeka added 267 yards on the ground running misdirection plays.

Kevin Fogler benefitted greatly from having Jefferson under center.  He averaged 22.7 yards per catch and scored a touchdown every fifth time he caught a pass.  Warzeka added 18 more catches.

Air Force has averaged 29 points and 380 yards per game in Calhoun’s tenure.  There is no reason to believe those stats won’t be continued again this year.

Defense: The defensive line is a cause for concern with just one of the three regulars from last year returning.  AFA is a little small at Defensive tackle in their 3-4 alignment, so opponents will be able to run the ball up the gut on them. 

The four-man linebacking crew welcomes back both of the outside defenders, Andre Morris and Wale Lawal.  The two combined for 9 ½ stops for loss, but the Falcons will have troubles replacing their two excellent inside linebackers.  John Falgout and Justin Moore finished one-two in tackles.

Only TCU has a better MWC secondary than Air Force, and the Falcons may have a better pair of cornerbacks than the Horned Frogs.  Anthony Wright and Reggie Rembert picked off 10 passes and knocked away six others.

Air Force gave up just 15.7 points and 288 yards per game in 2009.  Those numbers will go up this year.  Expect the Falcons to give up 21-24 points and 320-350 yards per game.

Schedule: The schedule gives the Falcons a leg up on competing for number two in the league.  After an easy opener with Northwestern State that should allow the new offensive line to gain confidence, AF hosts BYU.  The Cougars have run defense issues this year, and we believe Air Force will win that game.  The following week, the Falcons visit Oklahoma, who is loaded this year. 

As usual, AF plays Army and Navy, and we feel that they will win at least one of those games.  The key to the season comes in back-to-back weeks in October.  They face TCU in Ft. Worth on the 23rd, and then they host Utah a week later.  If they have anything left after the TCU loss, they could give the Utes a great game.  We feel that as the season progresses, the lack of depth in both trenches will hurt them.  Call it a repeat of 2009: 5-3 in league play and 7-5 overall before the bowl.

Team Brigham Young Cougars
               
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall
               
Colors Navy and White
               
City Provo, UT
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-2
               
PiRate Rating 103.2
               
National Rating 50
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: 2010 will be a rebuilding season in Provo.  Brigham Young lost too much talent on this side of the ball, and there will be a substantial drop in production.  The Cougars lost a multi-year starting quarterback (Max Hall) who finished second all-time in passing yards at a school with a dozen excellent former QBs.  Also gone is the school’s career leader in rushing yards; Harvey Unga rushed for almost 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns.  He was dismissed from school and became a supplementary NFL pick.  2009’s top receiver, tight end Dennis Pitta, is now in training camp with the Baltimore Ravens after he led the team with 62 receptions (30 more than any other player).

It could be a blessing or a curse that BYU has two quarterbacks still competing for the starting nod this close to the first game.  They have totally different styles, and according to Coach Bronco Mendenhall, neither player has separated himself from the other.  Jake Heaps is the prototypical straight drop-back passer in the Peyton Manning mode.  He has all the physical tools to be the next in a long line of great passers here.  However, he is a true freshman.  Riley Nelson is more of a scrambler who can pass well on the run.  He saw very limited action last year, but he has starting experience from his days at Utah State.

BYU has no answer at tailback with the loss of Unga.  Unga rushed the ball 208 times last year, and the top reserve ran the ball just 55 times.

Without Pitta, BYU will once again concentrate on throwing the ball to wide outs and less to tight ends.  We believe O’Neil Chambers will emerge as the breakout star of this group.  Chambers caught 32 passes last year.

The one ray of sunshine on this side of the ball is the return of four starting offensive linemen.  Tackle Matt Reynolds has first round NFL draft potential.

BYU has topped 30 points and 425 yards per game for five straight years, but this streak will more than likely end this year.  Call it 25-28 points and 380-420 total yards per game.

Defense: There is more rebuilding to do on this side of the ball than on the other side.  The Cougars lost seven of their top 11 tacklers from 2009, including six starters.  Just two of the front seven return, so BYU will have a tough time against the run and rushing the passer.  It wouldn’t surprise us to see the Cougars give up 150 points in the first four games this year (see schedule below).

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is an experienced secondary.  Three starters return including leading tackler, free safety Andrew Rich.  Rich also tied for the team lead with four interceptions.

The Cougars lost their two best pass rushers, leaving outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton as the only quality sack man.  Pendleton had three sacks and three other tackles for loss.  He is a quality pass defender in the short zones as well.

Up front in the 3-4 alignment, BYU has a decent space-occupier in nose tackle Romney Fuga.  He won’t make 50 tackles, but he will command double team blocks, giving the linebackers a chance to be heroes.

BYU may not give up too many more points this year than last, because opponents will eat the clock running the ball much better this year against them.  Expect the Cougars to yield 22-25 points and 325-350 yards per game.  However, also expect the defense to be on the field for more plays this year.

Schedule: The month of September will be a back-breaker for the defense.  BYU opens with Washington and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Jake Locker.  Then, they must travel to Air Force, where their newly rebuilt defensive front seven will struggle against the option.  A week later, they will melt in Tallahassee against Florida State.  They close out the month with Nevada coming to Lavell Edwards Stadium.  It looks like a 1-3 start for this team.  After the annual first October Friday game (precedes the Church’s National Conference) with Utah State, BYU faces three of the league’s other four expected bowl-eligible teams—San Diego State, at TCU, and Wyoming.  By this point, we expect the Cougars to be out of the conference race just trying to salvage a winning season.  November gives them a chance for three quick wins before closing the season at Utah.  We will call it a seven-win ceiling this year.  And, you can take the Las Vegas bowl off the schedule for the first time in six years.  A trip to San Diego might be a nice alternative.

Team Colorado State Rams
               
Head Coach Steve Fairchild
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Ft. Collins, CO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 85.8
               
National Rating 96
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: After starting the season 3-0 with wins over Colorado and Nevada, it looked like the Rams were primed to make a bid for a second consecutive bowl game.  Then, the bottom fell out.  CSU lost their final nine, including an embarrassing loss to a New Mexico team that went 1-11.  With only four starters returning on this side of the ball, don’t expect the Rams to match last year’s three-win season.  They will take a step backwards this year.

CSU lost both of their contributing quarterbacks, and the replacement will be one of two freshmen competing for the job.  There is a third quarterback on the roster that could eventually emerge as the starter sometime during the season; Junior Klay Kubiak is the son of Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak.  Klay missed all of last season with an injured shoulder that required surgery.

The quarterbacks won’t have much opportunity to star, because there is very little talent at receiver.  CSU lost its top two pass catchers, who combined for 74 receptions.  Additionally, the Rams lost three receivers since spring that were expected to contribute including a possible starter.  Expect true freshman tight end Crockett Gilmore to see immediate action.

Things look rosier at the running back position.  CSU has enough quality backs to flirt with running an old-fashioned two-back pro-set. 

Raymond Carter was a highly-touted recruit at UCLA.  He becomes eligible here this year and could supplant last year’s two-man platoon of Leonard Mason and John Mosure (a combined 1,416 rushing yards and nine scores).  Watch out for true freshman Tony Drake, who we believe could be a difference maker with his breakaway speed.  His size will keep him from being an every down back.

The offensive line lost four starters.  There is a little starting experience returning, but the Rams will field the weakest interior in the conference.

With a raw quarterback passing to inexperienced receivers and having to run for his life due to weak pass protection, expect Colorado State to struggle to score points and to turn the ball over more this season.  A negative turnover margin is a virtual given.  Look for about 14-18 points and 300 total yards from this side of the ball.

Defense: CSU had a lot more experience scheduled to return on this side of the ball, but the Rams lost both returning defensive ends (one to injury/one to academics), a defensive back expected to see a lot of time, and several reserves in the back seven.  This looks like a train wreck waiting to happen.

The one bright spot is at linebacker.  Will linebacker Mychal Sisson will compete for 1st team All-MWC honors after leading the Rams with 91 tackles, six sacks, and 9 ½ other tackles for loss.  He knocked down five passes too.  Coach Steve Fairchild welcomes back Sam linebacker Ricky Brewer who was suspended last year.

The front four will now have four new starters, and it will be the weakest in the conference.  Expect teams to run the ball at will on the Rams and exploit their lack of a pass rush with play-action passes to keep Sisson occupied.

The secondary will be overwhelmed due to the fact that there will be so little pass rush.  Free safety Elijah-Blue Smith led the Rams with three interceptions and knocked down five others, but teams will throw away from him. 

The statistic is not kept, but we have a suspicion that CSU will finish dead last number 120 in scrimmage play differential.  They were -6 last year, and they could easily be -10 to -15 this year.  Expect this defense to give up 200+ yards rushing and 200+ yards passing while surrendering 31-35 points per game.

Schedule: By the time UNLV comes to Ft. Collins for homecoming on October 16, the Rams could be 0-6 and figure to be no better than 1-5.  Outside of league play, they face Colorado at Invesco Field in Denver, play at Nevada and Miami of Ohio, and host Idaho.  They open MWC play with TCU at home and Air Force on the road.  They have two chances to win a conference game—the homecoming game with UNLV and the revenge game at home with lowly New Mexico.  We will call for a 1-7 league finish and 2-10 overall.  If Fairchild can coax four wins out of this team, he deserves a raise.

Team New Mexico Lobos
               
Head Coach Mike Locksley
               
Colors Cherry and Silver
               
City Albuquerque, NM
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 1-11
               
PiRate Rating 81.3
               
National Rating 107
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 1-11

 

Offense: Lobo fans wanted someone else to coach this team after watching Rocky Long’s teams play conservative football and simply go to bowl game after bowl game.  So, they forced him out.  They got Mike Locksley’s new offense—the one that gained 315 total yards and scored 16 points per game.  We hope they enjoyed what they got.

Locksley may only last one more season in Albuquerque, because this year’s offense could make last year’s look like Boise State.

A true freshman will open up at quarterback.  Tarean Austin is a speedy multiple-threat player who could lead the team in rushing as well as passing.  Let’s hope he can run enough to avoid the oncoming slew of defenders shooting through the line.  Austin’s backup will be another freshmen—Darain “Stump” Godfrey.

New Mexico returns their top three running backs from last year.  None of them will be confused for DonTrell Moore.  The trio combined for 987 yards and five touchdowns last year, and with an even weaker offensive line, they may not equal that mark this season.

The receiving corps has some experience returning, but like the running game, Hank Baskett won’t be walking out on the field.  Ty Kirk led the Lobos with 36 receptions and 427 yards. 

The offensive line will struggle.  Two starters return, and there is much less experience here, but last year’s regulars were not world-beaters.  This year’s unit cannot be much worse.

Look for UNM to average about 14-18 points and 280-320 yards.   

Defense: As weak as the offense was last year, the defense was worse.  Without the defensive genius of Long, the Lobos gave up 13 more points and 83 more yards per game in 2009.  If the offense could hold onto the ball, the defense could show a little improvement this year.

The Lobos have strength in numbers up front.  Three starters return to the four-man line, including one of UNM’s two potential 1st Team All-MWC performers.  End Johnathan Rainey finished second in the league (to the great Jerry Hughes) in sacks with 9 ½.  He added six more tackles for loss for good measure.  When he was busy dealing with double teams, counterpart Jaymar Latchison found time to pick up 4 ½ sacks and four other tackles for loss.

The other potential 1st Team All-MWC performer would be repeating that feat if he made it again this year.  Middle linebacker Carmen Messina led the country with 162 tackles and eight for loss.  He will have two new partners on either side of him.

The secondary gave up 254 yards per game and 63% completions last year, even with the great press rush.  The Lobos need to find two new safeties.  Both cornerbacks return, but they were the two weakest corner starters in the league.

The defense will be a little more talented, but it may not show in the stats.  Because opponents emptied the bench early in five of their games last year, and New Mexico figures to be in these games a little longer this year, expect opponents to leave their starting offense in deeper into the game.  The result—opponents will still score a lot of points.  Expect 31-35 points and 400-425 yards allowed once again.

Schedule: The Lobos have a chance in two of their non-conference games, and we think they will win one of the two.  Expect an 0-2 start with a road game against Oregon and a home game with Texas Tech.  After losing at home to Utah and on the road at UNLV, the Lobos get UTEP at home and travel to New Mexico State.  If they are 0-6 at this point, then they will end up 0-12.  We believe they will be lucky once and finish 1-11 again this year.  Locksley won’t be so lucky.

Team San Diego State Aztecs
               
Head Coach Brady Hoke
               
Colors Scarlet and Black
               
City San Diego, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 92.8
               
National Rating 80
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: Second year head coach Brady Hoke has the Aztecs on the right path, and he could soon replicate here what he did at Ball State.  Hoke’s 2010 Aztecs are going to be much improved on this side of the ball, and with a little bit of help from the other side of the ball, San Diego State could be playing a 13th game in December.

Look for SDSU to move to a two-back pro-set and use the West Coast Offense this year.  The Aztecs are stocked anew in the backfield, and they will force defenses to stop the run first.  Brandon Sullivan moves from tailback to fullback after leading the team in rushing in 2009.  Last year’s number two rusher, Walter Kazee, may have trouble getting on the field this year.  Two outstanding freshmen may get most of the reps at halfback.  Ronnie Hillman is a blazing runner who can take a simple pitch and turn it into a long gain.  Ezell Ruffin moves to halfback from wide receiver in high school.  He is almost as speedy as Hillman, but at 205 pounds, he packs some brute force punch in his game.  The Aztecs could double their running production after rushing for less than 80 yards per game.

If the running game takes some heat off the passing game, then SDSU will have a potent attack.  Quarterback Ryan Lindley could challenge for 1st Team All-MWC accolades.  With very little running game to supplement last year’s offense, Lindley passed for 3,054 yards and 23 touchdowns.  If he can cut down on his 16 interceptions of a year ago, he could challenge Andy Dalton for top honors in the league.

Lindley has a surplus of talent at receiver where two fine wide outs return.  DeMarco Sampson caught 62 passes for 851 yards and eight touchdowns, while speedy Vincent Brown added 45 receptions for 778 yards (17.3 avg.) and six scores.  There is depth behind these two.  For a West Coast offense to click, the tight end must be a pass catching weapon, and Alston Umuolo is that.  He grabbed 22 throws a year ago, and that number will improve to 30+ this year.

SDSU’s offensive line welcomes back four starters, and the new starter is a quality junior college transfer.  Expect much improved numbers in the running game and better protection for Lindley.

We believe San Diego State can improve from 23 to 28-31 points per game this season and from 342 to 375-400 yards of offense.

Defense: New Mexico’s loss was the Aztecs’ gain.  Rocky Long took over as defensive coordinator last year, and SDSU improved on defense by almost as many points and yards as New Mexico worsened.  With the entire three-man line returning up front, look for improved play against the run and a better pass rush.

Neither B J Williams nor Ernie Lawson proved to be a dominant pass rushing end last year, but with a better secondary this year, quarterbacks could be forced to hold onto the pigskin a bit longer.  Expect their sacks totals to rise.

The one suspect part of this defense is at linebacker, where two of last year’s three starters are gone and one other linebacker has been moved back one level. 

The back line of the 3-3-5 defense is loaded with talent and experience.  The aforementioned player that moved from linebacker is Andrew Preston.  He will man the “Aztec” position, a third safety that plays closer to the ball than a regular safety.  Preston played enough last year to record 46 tackles with four for loss. 

Expect more defensive improvement in the stat sheet this year.  We anticipate this team giving up 22-26 points and 350-375 yards per game.

Schedule: San Diego State scheduled well this year.  They should win three non-conference games, and they could stay surprisingly close in the one they lose.  Nicholls State will provide SDSU with an excellent chance to work out the kinks in game one.  A trip to New Mexico State should move the Aztecs to 2-0.  The following week, they could put a scare in Missouri at Columbia, but we expect them to lose by less than two touchdowns.  A home game with Utah State should give them a third win before MWC play begins.

The Aztecs host Air Force, Colorado State, Utah, and UNLV, while they go to BYU, New Mexico, Wyoming, and TCU.  They could be as good as 6-2 in the league or as bad as 3-5.  We’ll call for them to go 4-4, which will make them bowl-bound for the first time since 1998.

Team T C U  Horned Frogs
               
Head Coach Gary Patterson
               
Colors Purple and White
               
City Ft. Worth, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-1
               
PiRate Rating 124.1
               
National Rating 6
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-0

 

Offense: Nine starters return to an offense that amassed 38.3 points and 457 yards per game last year.  That offense was quite balanced, churning out 240 rushing and 217 passing yards.  TCU will be virtually unstoppable on this side of the ball this year, and it wouldn’t surprise us any if the Horned Frogs challenged for 45-50 points and 500+ yards per game!

It all starts with the league’s top quarterback.  Andy Dalton will compete for the Heisman Trophy in his senior year.  As a junior, Dalton completed 61.6% of his passes for 2,756 yards and 23 touchdowns, while rushing for 512 (600+ without the sacks) yards and three more scores.

The leading rusher from last year has graduated, but TCU uses a running back-by-committee approach, and the Horned Frogs return several quality backs this year.  Expect another season of 200+ yards per game running, maybe as much as 275.

The receiving corps is downright scary and could be as good as Houston’s group of stars.  The top four receivers are back.  Jermey Kerly led with 44 catches and 532 yards.  Jimmy Young had 33 receptions for 517 yards.  Antoine Hicks caught just 23 passes, but he averaged an eye-popping 20.8 yards per catch with six scores.  Bart Johnson caught 33 more.  To this fine quartet, add two exceptionally talented youngsters.  Redshirt freshman Josh Boyce and sophomore Skye Dawson will see considerable playing time, and it wouldn’t surprise us if both finished with more than 25 receptions.  Dawson is even faster than Hicks and can turn a line of scrimmage bullet into a 75-yard touchdown.

Throw in the best offensive line in the league and possibly one of the five best in the nation, and you have an offense that will move the ball in every game.  Tackle Marcus Cannon has first round NFL draft potential.  Center Jake Kirkpatrick should make it to a pro roster next year as well (assuming there is a next year in the NFL).

The only drawback in trying to predict the points and yardage for this team is determining how often the bench warmers will be playing for long stretches in their games.  We’ll go with 42+ points and 500+ yards per game.

Defense: Here is the even scarier news: TCU’s defense is even better than their offense.  There is no weakness anywhere on this side.  All three units rank among the best in the nation.  Coach Gary Patterson’s Frogs have given up 12.3, 18.7, 11.3, and 12.8 points in the last four seasons, and it is not impossible for this year’s team to give up single digits in points per game.  The Horned Frogs led the nation in total defense last year by holding teams to 80 yards rushing and 159 yards passing. 

TCU utilizes a 4-2-5 defense, and they have both quality and depth at every position.  Up front, three starters return including two all-conference performers, tackle Cory Grant and end Wayne Daniels.  Even with the loss of All-American Jerry Hughes, this team won’t miss a beat.  His replacement, either Braylon Broughton or Stansly Maponga, will not record 11 ½ sacks, but the other three starters will make up for that lost amount.

The linebacking duo features 1st Team All-MWC Tank Carder.  Carder is one of the best all-around linebackers in college football.  In 2009, he made 89 tackles with 10 for loss.  In pass coverage, he batted away 10 passes and picked off one.  Look for him to compete for a spot on the All-American team this season.

The back five feature a trio of great safeties, but it is the two new cornerbacks that could be the best defenders in the secondary.  Greg McCoy and Jason Teague saw a lot of action last year and combined for four interceptions and seven knocked down passes.

It is tough to improve on number one, but TCU can get better statistically on this side of the ball.  We are going to guess they will give up 10-12 points and 185-225 yards per game.  They could lead the nation in both categories.

Schedule: TCU opens with Oregon State on September 4 at the Cowboys’ Stadium in nearby Arlington.  The Beavers are good and could contend for a Rose Bowl berth, but they are usually a slow-starting team.  We believe TCU will win this game by double digits and continue to roll from there.  They could lead Tennessee Tech by 50 points before halftime.  Game three at home with Baylor will be interesting, and the Bears will be pumped for this game, but the Horned Frogs should score a 17 or more point win.  Game four at SMU comes on a Friday night, and the battle for the Iron Skillet will be heated.  The Mustangs need a little more defense before they can make a game of it with TCU.  The only conference team that could give them a scare is Utah.  The game comes November 6, and it will be at Salt Lake City.  We expect the Horned Frogs to win convincingly in a game that should be on national TV, and it just could propel them into one of the top two spots in the BCS.

We believe there is an outside chance that TCU and Boise State could hook up for a bowl rubber match.  Two years ago, it was the Poinsettia Bowl, and TCU won 17-16.  Last year, it was the Fiesta Bowl, and Boise State exacted revenge with a 17-10 win.  This year, both could return to Glendale, but this one would be for all the marbles.  The SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten champions must all lose one game after October 1 for this to happen, but if it does, it should be the most talked about national championship game in decades.  It could do for the NCAA what the New York Jets’ Super Bowl victory over Baltimore did for the NFL.

Team U N L V  Rebels
               
Head Coach Bobby Hauck
               
Colors Scarlet and Gray
               
City Las Vegas, NV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 94.1
               
National Rating 78
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-8

 

Offense: New head coach Bobby Hauck comes to Las Vegas from Montana, where he guided the Grizzlies to the FCS Championship Game three times.  His arrival in Vegas comes at the right time, because former coach Mike Sanford left him a full cupboard on this side of the ball.

UNLV will transition from a shotgun spread offense to an old-fashioned quarterback under center offense.  Senior quarterback Omar Clayton, a former walk-on, comes back for his third season as starter after topping 60% in completions last year.  We believe he will improve his yards per attempt and cut down on interceptions this year.  Backup Mike Clausen saw a lot of action last year, as he is a better runner than Clayton.  Clausen suffered an ankle injury in early fall practice, but he should be okay for the season.

The Rebels had three productive receivers last year, and two of them return this season.  Phillip Payne and Michael Johnson teamed for 101 catches and eight scores.

UNLV returns the two running backs that saw most of the game action last year.  While neither is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards, C J Cox  and Channing Trotter will get the tough yards—three yards on third and two.  Redshirt freshman Bradley Randle is more of an outside threat, and we believe he will become part of the rotation this year.

Four starters return to the offensive line.  The tackles, Matt Murphy and Evan Marchal, rank near the top in the league.

Hauk’s first Vegas attack should average 25-28 points and 360-380 yards per game.  If the Rebels can cut down on turnovers, they could surprise a few teams.

Defense: This is the reason Mike Sanford was let go.  He could never mold together a decent defense, as UNLV gave up more than 32 points per game the last two seasons, while falling one win short of bowl eligibility both times.

The Rebels will be more of an attacking defense this year.  They may give up an occasional big play, but they should force more turnovers as well.  Six of the two-deep from the defensive line return this season.  Tackle Ramsey Feagai tips the scale at 350 pounds!  He won’t get to the quarterback, but he should plug the inside just by holding his ground.  His counterpart at the other tackle is “puny 300-pounder”  Isaako Aaitui.  Opponents will not run many line plunges between their tackles, but the Rebels will continue to search for pass rushing answers, and they will probably resort to a lot of blitzing on passing downs.

Two linebackers return to the starting lineup, and they could finish one-two in tackles this year.  Starr Fuimaono and Ronnie Paulo teamed up for 126 stops a year ago.

The secondary is the strength of this unit.  All four starters come back for another season, and they absolutely must improve on last year’s poor showing when they gave up 236 yards and 65% completions.  They combined for just two interceptions.

Expect immediate improvement in this defense, especially in yards allowed.  We’re looking for the Rebels to give up 25-30 points and 380-420 yards.

Schedule: If they had a couple more patsies, we might be inclined to call UNLV a sleeper team.  The out-of-conference schedule is too difficult.  The Rebels host Wisconsin and Nevada and play at Idaho, West Virginia, and Hawaii.  They should be 2-3, 3-2 at best.  They are better than Colorado State and New Mexico and should win those two games.  We think they could pull one upset, maybe over Wyoming or Air Force and finish with five wins for the third consecutive season.

Team Utah Utes
               
Head Coach Kyle Whittingham
               
Colors Crimson and White
               
City Salt Lake City, UT
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 104.0
               
National Rating 47
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: This will be Utah’s last year in the Mountain West, as they move to the Pac-12 next year.  They should go out with a bang and not a whimper thanks to a strong offense.

Coach Kyle Whittingham welcomes back two experienced quarterbacks this season.  Jordan Wynn will get the nod over Terrance Cain.  Wynn started the final five games of the year, and Utah averaged 34 points in those games. 

Wynn lost his top receiver, David Reed and his 81 receptions for 1,188 yards.  Jereme Brooks caught 56 passes and led with seven touchdowns, while earning 2nd Team All-MWC last year. 

The running game will be special this season with the return of Eddie Wide.  Wide rushed for 1,069 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning 1st Team all-league honors.

Like several of the other top teams in this league, the Utes have a talented and experienced offensive line returning.  Four starters are back including two who made all-conference.  Center Zane Taylor and guard Calb Schlauderaff will hear their names called early in the next NFL draft.

Utah averaged 30 points per game for the season, and we expect that number to top 35 this year.  We also expect total yards to top 400.

Defense: Here is the reason Utah will not give TCU a serious challenge for the title.  The Utes regressed on this side of the ball last year, and they don’t look any better this year.  In fact, we expect them to be even more generous with the loss of their top four tacklers.

Three of four defensive line starters are back.  Tackle Sealver Siliga had 49 tackles with 6 ½ for loss, while getting his hand on four passes.

The linebacking corps has been decimated by graduation.  Rover J J Williams had one start last year and made 20 tackles.  Keep an eye on true freshman V. J. Fehoko, who could emerge as a starter at some point in the season.  He is one of the highest-rated recruits Utah has had.

The secondary has just one starter returning, and that is lightning fast cornerback Brandon Burton.  Burton knocked down 10 passes and intercepted one other last year.  Justin Taplin-Ross saw considerable action at strong safety last year, but he has been shifted to free safety.

Utah will surrender 20-24 points and give up 320-340 yards per game this year, and that will be just enough to keep them from competing with TCU. 

Schedule: Utah opens the season with Big East runner-up Pittsburgh on a Thursday night at Eccles Stadium.  Other non-conference games include road games at Iowa State and Notre Dame and a home game with San Jose State.  The Utes could win all four games, which would help TCU’s strength of schedule when the Frogs come to SLC.  Utah could also lose three of those four and struggle to reach eight wins in their final go around in the conference.  We will call for a 2-2 non-conference record and 6-2 league mark.

Team Wyoming Cowboys
               
Head Coach Dave Christensen
               
Colors Brown and Prairie Gold
               
City Laramie, WY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 95.6
               
National Rating 71
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: Dave Christensen inherited a veteran club from Joe Glenn and guided the Cowboys to a 7-6 record and bowl win in his first season in Laramie.  His second team should be as good as his first, and his second attack squad should be better.

Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels earned MWC Freshman of the Year honors last year.  He completed 59% of his passes for more than 1,950 yards and ran for more than 600 yards when you factor out almost three dozen sacks.  His specialty was pulling victory out in the last minutes of games.  Christensen developed Chase Daniel at Missouri, and he Carta-Samuels should rapidly improve in his second season.

The Cowboys had one great receiver and six average ones last year.  Fortunately, the great one returns for his senior year.  David Leonard grabbed 77 passes last year, many of them in tight quarters, as Wyoming was a five yards and cloud of dust passing team.

The running attack had a freshman leading the way in 2009, as Alvester Alexander ran for 640 yards and seven scores. 

The offensive line lost two seasoned veteran starters last year, but two of the three returnees could earn postseason honors.  Guard Sam Sterner is the second or third best in the league at his position, while tackle Clayton Kirven could sneak onto the All-MWC team.

The Cowboys should top 20 points per game for the first time in four years and 325+ yards per game for the first time in five years.

Defense: Seven of the team’s top eight tacklers return this year, so Wyoming’s defense should improve more than the offense.  The strength on this side is the secondary, where all four starters return.  The quartet of Marcell and Tashaun Gipson at cornerback and Shamiel Gary and Chris Prosinski at safety combined for six interceptions and 22 passes broken up.  Prosinski led the Cowboys with 140 tackles, and I am sure Christensen would prefer he wouldn’t have to make so many this season.

Christensen has made a courageous move up front.  Because all three defensive linemen graduated, he took his two outside linebackers and moved them to end and switched to a 4-3.  Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns recorded 193 tackles with 14 recorded for lost yardage. 

Middle linebacker Brian Hendricks becomes the lone holdover in the second line with the moving forward of his two comrades.  Hendricks made 116 stops last year.  Ghaali Muhammad made 21 tackles in a reserve role last year and will start at one linebacker spot.  The other will probably go to Keith Lewis, who has three years of reserve experience.  Freshman Devyn Harris could see as much time at that spot.

Look for a little more consistency out of the Wyoming defense this year.  We believe they will give up around 25-27 points and 375-400 yards again this season, but they play a tougher schedule.

Schedule: The Cowboys face three teams that went undefeated in the regular season last year—Boise State at home and Texas and TCU on the road.  Other non-league games include Southern Utah at home and Toledo on the road.  The key to the season are the two games that come after Texas and Boise State and precede TCU.  Wyoming hosts Air Force on September 25 and goes to Toledo the next week.  They must win both of these games and sit at 3-2 at this point in order to get to six wins.  We believe they can do it.  Their two new defensive ends with past linebacker experience just may be able to shut down the option game, and their improving offense should be able to score enough points at the Glass Bowl.

Coming Tomorrow: We begin breaking down the BCS conferences.  First up: The Big East Conference—Five teams have a shot at the conference title.

Blog at WordPress.com.