NEWS

Big 10 Preview: A look at each team in the conference

John Supinie

Embargoed for Sunday (Aug. 19) release.

(In predicted order of finish)

1. MICHIGAN

Coach: Lloyd Carr, 113-36 in 13th year at Michigan and overall.

2006: 11-2 overall and 7-1 (T-2nd) in the Big Ten. Lost to USC 32-18 in Rose Bowl.

NCAA rankings: No. 38 among 119 Division I-A teams in 2006 in total offense, 370.8 yards per game; No. 10 in total defense, 268.3.

Starters back: 6 on offense, 4 on defense.

Notable losses: DT Alan Branch, DE LaMarr Woodley, LB David Harris, CB Leon Hall.

Big question: Does Carr ride off into the sunset if the Wolverines defeat Ohio State and win the Big Ten championship?

Outlook: With QB Chad Henne, RB Mike Hart and OT Jake Long returning, the offense has firepower. But the defense must retool after a late-season meltdown. The season hinges on the last two weeks, when the Wolverines travel to Wisconsin and host Ohio State. Carr is 1-5 against Ohio State's Jim Tressel.

Coach Carr says: "We're very excited about our team at Michigan. We return a lot of people at our skill positions with a lot of experience. Our goals are going to be high.''

2. WISCONSIN

Coach: Bret Bielema, 12-1 in second year at Wisconsin and overall.

2006: 12-1 overall, 7-1 (T-2nd) in Big Ten. Defeated Arkansas 17-14 in Capital One Bowl.

NCAA rankings: No. 35 in total offense, 373.1; No. 5 in total defense, 253.8.

Starters back: 9 on offense, 7 on defense.

Notable losses: QB John Stocco, OT Joe Thomas, FS Roderick Rogers.

Big question: Is Bielema as good as his first year, when he was the league's Coach of the Year who made all the right moves?

Outlook: Sophomore P.J. Hill led the Big Ten in rushing last season, so he should take some pressure off a first-year starting quarterback. The key offseason move came when the Badgers retained offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who was coveted by the Dallas Cowboys. DE Matt Shaughnessy is the star of a blue-collar defense.

Coach Bielema says: "Everybody tells (Hill and Bielema) we did too well in our first year. It's better to have high expectations than low expectations. It sounds like a song.''

3. PENN STATE

Coach: Joe Paterno, 363-181-3 in 42nd year at Penn State and overall.

2006: 9-4 overall, 5-3 (T-4th) in Big Ten. Beat Tennessee 20-10 in Outback Bowl.

NCAA rankings: No. 53 in total offense, 349.9; No. 15 in total defense, 284.5.

Starters back: 8 on offense, 6 on defense.

Notable losses: LB Paul Posluszny, DT Jay Alford, RB Tony Hunt, OT Levi Brown, P Jeremy Kapinos.

Big question: After the joy returned to Happy Valley over the past two seasons, can the Nittany Lions be the league's dark-horse candidate for the title?

Outlook: QB Anthony Morelli doesn't have the flashy style like his predecessor, Michael Robinson, but Paterno is relying on Morelli to be an accurate passer and effective leader this fall. The defense didn't allow more than 13 points in any of the Nittany Lions' last six games last year.

Coach Paterno says: Talk about his retirement "is all pure speculation. I'm healthy now, and I don't bother don't bother with what people think.''

4. OHIO STATE

Coach: Jim Tressel, 62-14 in seventh year at Ohio State, 197-71-2 in 22nd year overall.

2006: 12-1 overall, 8-0 (1st) in Big Ten. Lost 41-14 to Florida in the BCS national championship game.

NCAA rankings: No. 26 in total offense, 384.5; No. 12 in total defense, 280.5.

Starters back: 4 on offense, 5 on defense.

Notable losses: QB Troy Smith, WR Anthony Gonzalez, WR Ted Ginn Jr., RB Antonio Pittman.

Big question: Even though there's always talent on this roster, how much will the Buckeyes suffer on offense without Smith, Pittman, Ginn and Gonzalez?

Outlook: Since veteran defensive coordinator Jim Heacock (the former Illinois State coach) returns stars such as LB Jim Laurinaitis and DE Vernon Gholston, the Buckeyes should finish in the league's upper half even if they don't come near the 34.6 points a game Ohio State averaged last season.

Coach Tressel says: "I think all of the people who were part of preparing and then coming in short in a big opportunity (against Florida), we'll use that often. It's a great reminder.''

5. IOWA

Coach: Kirk Ferentz, 55-43 in ninth year at Iowa, 67-64 in 12th year overall.

2006: 6-7 overall, 2-6 (T-8th) in Big Ten. Lost 26-24 to Texas in Alamo Bowl.

NCAA rankings: No. 27 in total offense, 383.3; No. 68 in total defense, 343.8.

Starters back: 6 on offense, 8 on defense.

Notable losses: QB Drew Tate, TE Scott Chandler, FS Marcus Paschal, K Kyle Schlicher.

Big question: With Tate graduated, can former Lockport all-state QB Jake Christensen play well enough to help Iowa bounce back from losing six of its last seven games?

Outlook: After the league's top four, there's a dropoff to the Hawkeyes. Last year's losing season was Iowa's first since 2000, and one of the league's best coaching staffs will be tested. RB Albert Young must carry the offense, and LB Mike Klinkenborg is back after ranking second in the Big Ten in tackles last season.

Coach Ferentz says: "We've done better traditionally flying low, and I thnk that's where we're at this year. At the end of the day, (predictions) don't matter.''

6. PURDUE

Coach: Joe Tiller, 75-49 in 11th year at Purdue, 114-79-1 in 17th year overall.

2006: 8-6 overall, 5-3 (T-4th) in Big Ten. Lost 24-7 to Maryland in Champ Sports Bowl.

NCAA rankings: No. 14 in total offense, 415.7; No. 114 in total defense, 432.4.

Starters back: 9 on offense, 9 on defense.

Notable losses: DE Anthony Spencer, OT Mike Otto, LB George Hall.

Big question: Wasn't it just a couple years ago that Purdue sold more than 60,000 season tickets and appeared set for a trip to the Rose Bowl?

Outlook: QB Curtis Painter must cut down on interceptions (league high 19 in 2006), but WR Dorien Bryant's 87 receptions were 23 more than anyone else in the Big Ten. The defense ranked last in the league in rushing defense and total defense last fall. Tiller is already fighting the perception that his program has gone stale.

Coach Tiller says: "One thing that changed at Purdue is that our players rededicated themselves to improving their strength and size. There's a sense of urgency.''

7. MINNESOTA

Coach: Tim Brewster, first year at Minnesota and overall.

2006: 6-7 overall, 3-5 (T-6th) in Big Ten. Lost 44-41 to Texas Tech in Insight Bowl.

NCAA rankings: No. 30 in total offense, 375.4; No. 113 in total defense, 426.4.

Starters back: 6 on offense, 9 on defense.

Notable losses: QB Bryan Cupito, TE Matt Spaeth, WR Logan Payne.

Big question: Since his only head coaching experience came during a two-year stint at Lafayette (Ind.) Central Catholic, how will Brewster react when calling the shots?

Outlook: Imagine a motivational speaker in a tight end's body. That's Brewster, who worked under Texas coach Mack Brown before NFL stints under San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer and Denver's Mike Shanahan. A cupcake schedule provides the Gophers with another chance for a lower-tier bowl game.

Coach Brewster says: "It seems like yesterday that in 1983 I was captain of Illinois' Rose Bowl team. To be here at as the Minnesota coach is a dream come true to me. How special it is to be a coach in the best conference in America.''

8. ILLINOIS

Coach: Ron Zook, 4-19 in third year at Illinois, 27-33 in sixth year overall.

2006: 2-10 overall, 1-7 (T-10th) in Big Ten.

NCAA rankings: No. 57 in total offense, 345.3; No. 33 in total defense, 310.2.

Starters back: 9 on offense, 9 on defense.

Notable losses: RB Pierre Thomas, CB Alan Ball, DT Josh Norris, OG Matt Maddox.

Big question: After securing the league's best recruiting class, can Zook coach as well as he can recruit?

Outlook: If sophomore QB Juice Williams improve his accuracy and decision-making, the offense should help a defense that ranked No. 5 in the Big Ten last fall. Illinois must do better in turnover margin and special teams. Another year of rugby-style punting would be too much to stomach. A home schedule that includes Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State doesn't help anywhere but the box office.

Coach Zook says: "This is the year we need to take the next step. The players feel that way. They look forward to show that they're a much improved football team.''

9. MICHIGAN STATE

Coach: Mark Dantonio, first year at Michigan State, 18-17 in fourth year overall.

2006: 4-8 overall, 1-7 (T-10th) in Big Ten.

NCAA rankings: No. 48 in total offense, 356.7; No. 88 in total defense, 363.7.

Starters back: 6 on offense, 6 on defense.

Notable losses: QB Matt Stanton, P Brandon Fields, DT Clifton Ryan, OG Kyle Cook.

Big question: Can RB Javon Ringer overcome two knee injuries suffered last season to give the Spartans a difference-maker?

Outlook: Dantonio, a former Michigan State assistant under Nick Saban, overhauled Cincinnati after serving as defensive coordinator at Ohio State under Tressel. First, Dantonio must build a tough winning attitude in a program that's been an underachiever since Saban left for LSU in 1999.

Coach Dantonio says: "What I've tried to say since I've come to Michigan State is that change affects everybody. Change is tough. Our attitude is that we'll measure up.''

10. INDIANA

Coach: Bill Lynch, first year at Indiana, 81-67-3 in 15th year overall.

2006: 5-7 overall, 3-5 (T-6th) in Big Ten.

NCAA rankings: No. 65 in total offense, 335.9; No. 109 in total defense, 402.3.

Starters back: 8 on offense, 9 on defense.

Notable losses: FS Troy Grosfield, SS Will Meyers.

Big question: Is there life in the program following the death of popular and enthusiastic coach Terry Hoeppner?

Outlook: QB Kellen Lewis has drawn comparisons to former Hoosiers star Antwaan Randle El. WR James Hardy is a big physical receiver who will play on Sundays, if he stays on the right side of the law. Indiana hasn't played in a bowl game since 1993 -- the league's longest drought. Perhaps the game against Purdue could be for something other than a wooden bucket.

Coach Lynch says: "As a football team, they have been through a lot of adversity, and I know this summer has been tough on them.''

11. NORTHWESTERN

Coach: Pat Fitzgerald, 4-8 in second year at Northwestern and overall.

2006: 4-8 overall, 2-6 (T-8th) in Big Ten.

NCAA rankings: No. 92 in total offense, 311.1; No. 85 in total defense, 362.5.

Starters back: 7 on offense, 8 on defense.

Notable losses: WR Shaun Herbert, CB Marquice Cole.

Big question: How much did Fitzgerald learn as the nation's youngest coach after taking over following the death of Randy Walker?

Outlook: Northwestern's offense found another gear when QB C.J. Bacher started the final six games. RB Tyrell Sutton fits well in the Wildcats' one-back offense. A schedule that doesn't include Wisconsin and Penn State helps. Northwestern has questions at linebacker. Unfortunately for Northwestern, Fitzgerald is out of eligibility.

Coach Fitzgerald says: "I was just figuring out which key got me in the office and which one is my car (last year). I'm much more prepared this year to lead the program.''

John Supinie covers college football for GateHouse News Service. He can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.