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BIG 10 PREVIEW – Leaders Division

BY MICHAEL LEESE

OHIO STATE  The Buckeyes enter the season with National Title hopes after Urban Meyer led the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 mark last year in his first season as head coach in Columbus.   Hopes are high as nine starters return on offense, including standout QB Braxton Miller.   Miller, a dual-threat, led the Buckeyes in rushing last season with 1,524 yards, while passing for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns.    If Miller can improve his completion percentage from 58% last year, he could be in the Heisman Trophy mix!    He gets his top two receivers back from last years team, and has four returning lineman.  Top RB Carlos Hyde will be back for conference play.   I expect improved production over last year’s solid 37.2 PPG.

The defense will decide just how good the Buckeyes are going to be.  They lose seven starters off a defense that allowed 22.8 PPG, the most allowed by the Buckeyes in the past seven seasons!  The good news is, that the top four tacklers return including  All-American candidate Ryan Shazier at linebacker.   The  entire defensive line must be replaced, and the secondary has some questions, but the Buckeyes have several highly-touted athletes waiting in the wings.to step in.  The Buckeyes have four soft foes in the non-conference schedule, which I think this will give the defense time to gel.  I expect the Buckeyes to be 11-0 going into battle in Ann Arbor, but I’m calling for a Wolverine win.  I still expect the Buckeyes to play in the BiG 10 Title game and crash the BCS party in January.

  • KEY GAME………NOVEMBER 30, AT MICHIGAN
  • THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH……..DE Adolphus Washington, DT Michael Bennett, NT Tommy Schutt
  • MY PREDICTION 11-1 OVERALL, 7-1 CONFERENCE

WISCONSIN  First-year head coach Gary Andersen, walks into a nice situation at Wisconsin as 14 returning starters dot the Badgers roster.   The first big decision for Anderson will be at quarterback where Badgers have three QBs with starting experience. They’re led by sophomore Joel Stave, who appears to be the front runner, but Anderson traditionally likes a more mobile QB.  What we do know is that the top seven receivers from last year return, along with three out of five lineman.  Replacing Montee Ball and his 1,909 yards would be a huge deal on most teams, but the Badgers have Melvin Gordon and James White, both are capable of having a monster season!

Six starters return from a defense that gave up an average of only 19.1 PPG.  The secondary took the biggest hit suffering the loss of three starters.  Up front the Badgers look solid, as the defensive line returns!  The scheme is different, and the secondary is you, so I look for the Badgers to give up a few more points per games this year.  Normally I don’t like a team’s chances the first year of a new coaching regime. In this case, I believe that Andersen has stepped into a great situation, as the schedule should allow the team to gel early.  I look for the Badgers to suffer close losses on the road at Arizona Stater and Ohio State, and then finish with seven straight wins.

  • KEY GAME…..SEPTEMBER 28 AT OHIO STATE
  • THREE TO WATCH    Head Coach Gary Anderson, RB Melvin Gordon, LB Brendan Kelly
  • MY PREDICTION 10-2 OVERALL, 7-1 CONFERENCE

INDIANA   Indiana has been to one bowl game in the last 20 years.   That is about to change, as head coach Kevin Wilson welcomes back 19 starters!    The offense is loaded and has three QBs with starting experience.  Only the center will be new.  I expect big improvement over last years 30.8 PPG no matter who starts as QB.   The defense got better last year, but still gave up 35.3 PPG.   The Hoosiers return the entire linebacking crew, and the entire secondary!   Two replacements are needed on the line, and Darius Latham and David Kenney, two highly touted freshmen, should see playing time.  With nine starters back, I expect improved play from an experienced defense.   The non-Conference schedule features four home games, and I think the Hoosiers could start the season at 5-0.  I look for Indiana fans to end their bowl drought as a 7-5 season is well within reach!

  • KEY GAME….SEPTEMBER 21 HOSTING MISSOURI
  • THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH……..RB Tevin Coleman DT Darius Latham, DL David Kenney
  • MY PREDICTION 7-5 OVERALL, 4-4 CONFERENCE

PENN STATE  The Lions come off an 8-4 campaign which saw them lose 11 players prior to the start of last season.  I really have to say how much I admire coach Bill O’Brien for keeping the Lions playing at such a high level last year.  But this season figures to be a rebuilding year, as several key players have moved on.   Eight starters return on an offense that scored 29.1 PPG.   A starter has not been named, but true Frosh Christian Hackenberg, the No.2 rated QB in last year’s high school class, has had a great camp.  The Lions do have the top five receivers back along with 1,000 yard rusher Zack Zwinak.   Three offensive linemen also return forming a good nucleus for the new QB, but a a true freshman at QB in a tough conference, is not a good recipe for early success.   I think it will be tough for the Lions to approach last years production offensively.   The defense loses four of the top five tacklers including standouts Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti who combined for over 200 stops last year!   There are six starters returning including linemen Deion Barnes and DaQuan Jones.   I think it will be difficult for the Lions to match last season’s 19.1 PPG.   The Lions could start the season at 4-0 as the non-conference schedule is managable.  League play might be another story as the Lions play at Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin and face Michigan and Nebraska at home.

  • KEY GAME….OCTOBER 12, HOSTING MICHIGAN
  • THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH…..QB Christian Hackenberg, TE Jesse James, DE Anthony Zettel
  • MY PREDICTION – 6-6 OVERALL, 2-6 CONFERENCE

PURDUE New head coach Darrell Hazell steps in after leading an impressive turnaround at Kent State.  He inherits a team with 13 returning starters including senior QB Rob Henry.  Last  year, the offense that averaged 28.7 PPG, and ifHenry can remain healthy, the offense could surprise under the tutelage of Hazell.  The strength of the team appears to be the defensive.   Six of the top seven tacklers will be back, and the defensive line and the secondary appear to be solid.  The Boilers play a very tough non-conference slate as they open at Cincinnati and face BCS teams Notre Dame and Northern Illinois at home.  This looks to be a rebuilding year for Hazell in his first season.

  • KEY GAME   8/31 AT CINCINNATI
  • THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH……QB Danny Etiling, RB Akem Hunt, WR Dolapo Macarthy
  • MY PREDICTION – 3-9 OVERALL, 2-6 CONFERENCE

ILLINOIS Tim Beckman enters his second season at the helm after the Illini suffered through a 2-10 season that saw them beat only Western Michigan and Charleston Southern.   The offense struggled mightily, as they only put up 11 PPG in Big 10 play!   Eight starters do return including QB Nathan Scheelhaase, who was banged up much of last season.  Several skill players return, including top RB Donovonn Young and WR Ryan Lankford.  A healthy  Scheelhaase will be the key to success on offense.   Look for a more balanced attack this year.  The Illini defense allowed 32.6 PPG last year, and only four starters return, leaving many holes to be filled.  The defensive line and secondary have been gutted by departures.  The strength of the defense figures to be at linebacker, as Mason Monheim and Jonathan Brown both return.  I think the Illini will get two home victories over Southern Illinois and Miami (Ohio) in September, but I expect another win less season in league play.

  • KEY GAME……NOVEMBER 30, HOSTING NORTHWESTERN
  • THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH….. QB Aaron Bailey, DT Abe Cajuste, DB Darius Mosely
  • MY PREDICTION – 2-10 OVERALL, 0-8 CONFERENCE

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