Big Ten football picks & Week #1 preview by BigTen-fans.com

 
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Big Ten Football Week #1 Preview & Picks

The time has come, Big Ten fans. Football season kicks-off.

This past off-season saw the movement of more than 40 players into the National Football League. It saw the tragic loss of Northwestern Head Coach Randy Walker. At the same time, it saw new players blooming in practices, Heisman Trophy campaigns launch for Iowa's Drew Tate, Ohio State's Troy Smith and Teddy Ginn Jr., Michigan State's Drew Stanton, Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton, and Michigan's Chad Henne, and four teams from the conference rank among the Top 25 in the country.

Fans comb magazines, newspapers, and radio talk shows to receive tidbits of information regarding their team.
"Ohio State QB Troy Smith - Talk About His Offense."
"Can Ron Zook Make Illinois Compete This Year?"
"Coach John L. Smith Speaks on His Quarterback and the Heisman Trophy."
"Does Lloyd Carr Think His Job is on the Line?"

The wait is up. Everything that anyone has said over the last 235+ days means nothing. It's time for teams to show their stuff on the field.



Minnesota @ Kent State

August 31, 2006

Minnesota's run system ensured that three consecutive Gopher running backs received their NFL paychecks. Amir Pinnix is looking prove that he can run just as hard as Gary Russell, Marion Barber III, and Laurence Maroney. But has Minnesota's recent running game dominance been from Glen Mason's schemes or four-year starters Greg Eslinger and Mark Setterstrom?

Minnesota's game against Kent State won't be the kind of game which proves whether or not Pinnix is ready to step-up. While Kent has a solid MAC defensive line, the Flashes are looking to fill the void of the team's two leading tacklers at dual inside linebacker. Oh, did I mention they play in a 3-4 defense?

Experience on the defensive line seems to favor Kent State, but Minnesota has garnered something of a reputation as the Offensive-Line U. of the Midwest. Joe Ainsile and Tony Brinkhaus are ready to fill the gap of their All-Conference predecessors and look to do so by shutting down the Flashes' top two defenders, DE Danny Muir and Colin Farrell.

To make matters worse for the Flashes, Kent State's offense returns the core of the 110th ranked total offense and the 109th ranked scoring offense in the country from 2005.

Where Minnesota will be challenged is the passing game. Kent State returns all of its starters from the 24th best secondary in the country, not only talented, but deep. All summer long, Minnesota QB Bryan Cupito has been hailed as the unsung quarterback of the Big Ten. He'll be able to plead his case with a big game against this secondary, in the event he is able to pull something like that off.

Analysis: The Golden Flashes' secondary shuts down Cupito and the passing lanes, but this doesn't come into play much, as their front seven gets bulldozed.

The Gophers win @ Kent: 31-14.

 

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Northwestern @ Miami (OH)

August 31, 2006

Northwestern kicks off its 2006 campaign without either of their two leaders in 2005, All-Big Ten QB Brett Basanez and Head Coach Randy Walker.

The stat to look at in this game is the number of returning starters each team has.
Northwestern: 16 vs. Miami: 7

The Wildcats return experience and talent on both offense and defense while the RedHawks are in short supply of both. With the big guys up front, led by seniors Ryan Kennan and Joe Tripodi, opening holes in an inexperienced 'Hawks D-line, superstar RB Tyrell Sutton will have a big day. With Sutton running the ball, the pressure will be off of the Wildcats' new quarterback.

On defense, the Wildcats return with a unit who gave up nearly 34 points a game last season. Fortunately, eight starters return, and new Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, the former linebackers coach, looks to significantly reduce that number. Miami has talent at running back and wide receiver, but no proven quarterback and only two returning starters from last year's offensive line. Normally a staple of Miami teams, the O-line will have to grow up and adjust quickly to what Northwestern brings to the table.

Analysis: Northwestern is a team looking to make a statement after losing their coach. They make such a statement by blowing out an inexperienced Miami (OH).

Northwestern rolls: 41-10.



Illinois v. Eastern Illinois

September 2, 2006

The Fighting Illini had trouble adjusting to Ron Zook's system, averaging only 17 points a game while allowing more than thirty in every single game last season. Expect those two numbers to come closer together in Zook's second season, although not necessarily switching.

Fortunately, the team returns with 20 starters from last season, each with a better grasp of the system. A game against Division I (no longer called Division I-AA, right?) Eastern Illinois will be a great chance to show how well the team has clicked this off-season.

Game time experience is needed for the Illini's offensive line, who gave up 32 sacks last season. QB Tim Brasic is looking also for a chance to show what a year of experience does for a player. Expect WR Kyle Hudson to be on the receiving end of Brasic's experience often.

This game is exactly what a team like Illinois needs. The tune-up game ought to tighten up this team for tough games down to road.

Analysis: Eastern Illinois keeps it close in the first quarter, then gets waxed.

Illinois wins: 28-7.



Indiana v. Western Michigan

September 2, 2006

Western Michigan was the proud owner of one of the worst pass defenses in the country last year, giving up more than 300 yards per game in the air. And there is nothing Terry Hoeppner likes to do more than have his quarterback and receiver play soft toss.

QB Blake Powers and WR James Hardy had good run at doing just that last season, before injury took Hardy out of the equation. Back and healthy, look for the two to drive Western Michigan's terrible secondary bananas all day long.

Indiana has questions on defense as well. The Hoosiers return with a talented secondary, but questions on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps. Unfortunately for them, the Broncos play their best football in the trenches. Featured back, Mark Bonds, averaged almost five yards a carry last season and looks to continue that statistic on into the 2006
season.

Should the Indiana defensive line kick in, the Broncos can resort to sixth-year senior Ryan Cubit. There are no superstars among the team's receivers. Instead, the unit is pleased to announce itself as all-around good; certainly good enough to hang with the Hoosier secondary.

Analysis: This games looks like a shootout. Indiana's front seven probably don't kick in until the end of a game. They make the play and the Hoosiers pick up a victory.

Indiana wins: 44-38.



Iowa v. Montana

September 2, 2006

Iowa takes on perennial Big Sky and Division I powerhouse in their first game of the season. If the Iowa Hawkeyes were the Iowa Hawkeyes of old, one could probably suggest a pretty generic response: “The Grizzles can probably hang around for a quarter or two, but then the Hawkeyes' depth will kick in. Game should be over by the third quarter."

Such is not the case, this year. This year, the Grizzlies don't stand a chance, in any facet of the game. Period.

Heisman-candidate Drew Tate, the unquestioned leader of the Hawkeyes, returns to lead an offense which averaged more than 30 points a game last season. Tate is aided by his running back, Albert Young, a second-team All-Big Ten selection. Tate is a field general and every facet of the offense, offensive line, receivers, runners, everything, is tuned to
perfection. There isn't a stand-out receiver, but this group of of rceivers is all-around good.

The game against Montana won't show how Iowa misses top tacklers Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge from last season. The D-line is solid, with a rising star in DE Ken Iwebema and the secondary is solid. The defense will look good in this game, against a much weaker opponent, but problems with the linebackers might rise from time to time, not only this game, but on down the road.

Analysis: Drew Tate leads the offense downfield on the first drive of the game. And the second... And the third... Iowa wins handily, even after Coach Kirk Ferentz calls off the dogs, but keep an eye on how their young linebackers adjust to real game situations.

Iowa wins: 35-3.


Michigan v. Vanderbilt

September 2, 2006

Lloyd Carr is out to silence his critics. After a disastrous 7-5 campaign last year, the Wolverines are out to prove that they haven't fallen from grace among the football gods. Chad Henne has developed a relationship with WR Steve Breaston and the next great Michigan receiver, Mario Manningham. Superstar RB Mike Hart is healthy. LB LaMarr Woodley, the Big Ten's all-time leading sacker, returns with a vengeance. CB Leon Hall continues to knock down and intercept balls in practice. Two words: Poor Vanderbilt.

Meanwhile, the Commodores have only graduated the most prolific passer in their history: first round draft pick Jay Cutler, perhaps their last glimpse of football success for another five or ten years.

There are a few things which Vandy can take from what they have. Catching perfect passes from Cutler last year broke in an inexperienced group of receivers and the offensive line (which should be pretty darn good.) Cassen Jackson-Garrison is a better-than-average running back as well. Their defense is a solid SEC Defense with an all-conference performer in Jonathan Goff at safety. But they aren't stellar. They won't be able to keep up with Henne, Hart, and Manningham.

Analysis: Vandy stays tight for a quarter. Michigan unleashes the dogs and doesn't let up. The opinion of a few voters get swayed toward the Wolverines.

Michigan wins: 55-7.

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Michigan State v. Idaho

September 2, 2006

The "Disappointment Bowl" kicks off in East Lansing, Michigan on September 2, 2006. Last season, the Spartans tore off four wins in a row before going 1-6 for the rest of the season, missing out on bowl eligibility. On the other side, the Idaho Vandals, a staple of WAC imperfection, won only two games.

QB Steve Wichman for the Vandals is a talent quarterback, and new Head Coach Dennis Erickson has implemented the perfect system to make the Idaho passing attack among the top of the nation. This could mean trouble for the decimated secondary of the Michigan State Spartans. Fortunately, the Vandals were among the worst rushing teams in the country last season. This plays into the Michigan State defense, which was also a lower tier run-stopper last season.

All of the action will take place on the offensive side of the ball. Heisman-candidate QB Drew Stanton can put up numbers with anyone in the country (running the ball as well as tossing it). Expect a quarterback duel between Stanton and Wichman. Both sides have solid offenses; this will be a game of whose defense is worse. Unfortunately for the Vandals, Michigan State can recruit athletes like WR Matt Trannon and DB SirDarean Adams.

Analysis: Someone, be he a Vandal or a Spartan, makes a play in this shootout and wins the game. Offense galore, terrible defenses. This is a tough pick. The combined total of the score of this game could reach the 100's. Drew Stanton pulls off some magic.

Michigan State wins: 55-42.



Ohio State v. Northern Illinois

September 2, 2006

When was the last time Head Coach Jim Tressel had a bad defense? The worst defense Tressel ever coached was ranked 23rd in the nation. It was four years ago in 2002. That year, the Buckeyes won a National Championship.

Northern Illinois is a squad in the running for a MAC West Championship. Ohio State is in the running for a National Championship. To any other team, monster RB Garrett Wolfe and senior QB Phil Horvath would incite fear into linebackers and defensive tackles alike. Both players will likely garner All-MAC honors. Wolfe has an outside shot at the Heisman, the token mid-major candidate of each season. Wolfe is notorious for burning big teams in big games, and Northern Illinois has none greater this season. He averaged more than nine yards per carry last year against Michigan and ran for more than 200 yards and three scores against Northwestern.

The Buckeyes lost nine everyday starters on defense, but return faster than ever. Horvath and Wolfe might perplex the Buckeyes at first, but expect adjustments to be made. All around, this will be a stellar defense and one player can be beaten or schemed out of a game.

The Huskies have a reasonable MAC team defense, but they are just too slow to cover the speed Ohio State has in WR Teddy Ginn, Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, and QB Troy Smith. For those who have never seen Ginn speed toward the end zone from seventy yards out: you are in for a treat. The man runs like a gazelle.

Analysis: O-State wins in a landslide. Wolfe returns against Ohio University the next week and smokes the Bobcats with 350 yards and six touchdowns.

OSU wins: 41-14.



Penn State v. Akron

September 2, 2006

So long, Alan Zemaitis, the long-time anchor of the Nittany Lions' defense.

Penn State won the Big Ten last season and went to the wire with Michigan and a perfect season. Then, 14 of its starters graduated or left for the NFL.

The Akron Zips were the surprise of the MAC last season, winning the conference and getting QB Luke Getsy to break numerous school records in the passing attack. The core of last year's team: 18 starters, return to looking to win the MAC once again.

Penn State excels in two areas this season. They have blindingly quick wide receivers in Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood, and the baddest defender in the league, with LB Paul Posluzny. They also have a talented quarterback in Anthony Morelli.

Akron returns 10 starters on defense. The entire defensive line returns as does the entire secondary. LB Jay Rohr has graduated, but Akron is deep at the position.

If it weren't for Posluzny, I have no idea why Penn State would even break the Top 25 in the preseason polls. In short: I smell upset.

Akron is looking for a quick start to its deadly schedule. Penn State comes in a little high on themselves, as last year's season built on a miracle turnaround by then-QB Michael Robinson. Robinson showed poise and talent that he had never shown before and his heroics made him the leader of the team. Don't expect that this year.

Analysis: The Zips pull off the upset against a team that just can't be as good as it was last year.

Zips win: 24-20.


Purdue v. Indiana State

September 2, 2006

This game will be a great chance to see how things work out for the new Purdue team. Officially, Curtis Painter has been named the starting quarterback, and boy-oh-boy does he have options in the speedy Dorien Bryant and the 6' 9" tower of Kyle Ingraham. The Boilermakers need to find a running back, and a game against hapless Division I Indiana State will help them do just that.

Kory Sheets will start with the job, while Anthony Hedgewood will likely be used as a powerful change-of-pace back.

On the other side of the ball, Purdue returns just four defensive starters. This may be a blessing in disguise, as the Boilers gave up almost 30 points a game on defense. In-game experience will do well for this squad, and ought to prepare them to take on a tough Miami (OH) in the following week.

Analysis: Painter works three quarters before Head Coach Joe Tiller is happy with his man. Sheets scores. Hedgewood scores. The new defense is broken in. Everyone is happy, except the poor Sycamores fans.

Purdue wins: 34-6.

Wisconsin v. Bowling Green (@ Cleveland)

September 2, 2006

Wisconsin has been known as the Defensive Juggernaut (second only to Ohio State) of the Big Ten since Barry Alvarez's tenure. His departure will test whether it was Alvarez's coaching, or the Badger mystique which consistently created NFL-caliber defensive players.

Bowling Green, meanwhile, has enjoyed the talent of Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs at QB the last few years. The two Falcons both set scoreboards on fire with their offense and have since moved on to the NFL.

Except down years on both assumptions.

The Wisconsin defense is good, but it is unlikely that their players will turn many heads once the season kicks off. Similarly, Bowling Green will be hard pressed to keep tossing quarterbacks in their systems and having them throw for 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns.

Bowling Green's undersized front line will spell their doom. Their defensive line is both undersized and inexperienced. This will enable the traditional run-first tactics used by the Badgers to get the edge in the contest early. QB John Stocco has been pressed with expectations to rise to the level of other Big Ten quarterbacks Drew Tate, Drew Stanton, and Troy Smith. Bowling Green's secondary, however, has the tools to shut down the passing game. Wisconsin has no big play receiver to speak of.

Still, that doesn't mean that the Badgers won't be able to run the ball down the Falcons' throat.

Analysis: Badger defense takes care of business. Wisconsin RBs have a big day.

Badgers win: 24-17.

 

by Cory Spicer
BigTen-fans.com Staff Writer