This could be the first time in multiple Big 10 conference seasons that Ohio State and Michigan aren't mentioned in the same breath when discussing the Big Ten title. Michigan's fall means Ohio State will instead be battling Illinois, Penn State and maybe Wisconsin for the Big Ten's elite in 2008.
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2008 Illinois Illini NCAA Football Preview:
Because there are only 12 games on the schedule there's no way the Fighting Illini can top last college football season's seven game leap in the win column. But it can and probably will top last year's rank (20th) on the AP Top 25 poll.
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Despite the loss of all-planet RB Rashard Mendenhall to the 2008 NFL Draft, the offense enters the 2008 college football season in great shape. Juice Williams returns at QB. His rare ability to throw (1,498 yards, 13 TDs) and run (774 yards, 7 TDs) can cause defensive coordinators to weep openly along the sidelines. Arrelious Benn, last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, towering Jeff Cumberland, and converted cornerback Chris Duvalt, who looked spectacular in spring practice, all possess playmaking abilities at wide receiver. Coach Ron Zook still hasn't settled on a running back. Daniel Dufrene, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry last year, hasn't impressed enough to be anointed the rightful heir to Mendenhall, leaving the door open for freshman Mikel LeShoure, a bruising back, to see some playing time.
The defense this year will have an SEC look to it, emphasizing speed over brawn. Junior Vontae Davis, brother of San Francisco 49er tight end Vernon Davis and a Bronco Nagurski candidate, ranks as one of the premier cornerbacks in the nation. The defensive line returns three starters, including Will Davis who led the squad last year with 9.5 sacks. Prize recruit Corey Liuget, a 6-3 defensive end with linebacker speed, could see a lot of action.
Road games at Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan will make it hard for Illinois to return to the Rose Bowl. But the team does get Ohio State at home in late November.
2008 Indiana NCAA Football Picks Preview:
The words "promise" and "Indiana football" aren't normally used in the same sentence together, but fans in Bloomington have to feel good about the improving college football program.
The defense, which led the Big Ten Conference last year with 31 turnovers, again looks formidable. Greg Middleton, a first-team NCAA Football All-Big Ten selection who led the nation with 16 sacks, will again be terrorizing quarterbacks from his defensive end position. He'll be joined along the line by run-plugging tackles Greg Brown and Deonte Mack. Cornerback Chris Philips, who had had a strong spring, looks like a suitable replacement for Tracy Porter.
The unspecified suspension of star quarterback Kellen Lewis puts the offense in flux. Between running and throwing last year he totaled 3,779 yards and 37 touchdowns, earning him second-team All-Big 10 Conference honors. If he does not return look for Ben Chappell to move under center. The Hoosiers' backfield remains wide open. Marcus Thigpen, a running back with world-class speed, has yet to live up to his potential and may be moved to wide receiver, which would be a better fit for him in the team's new no-huddle system. Max Dedmond looks ready to contribute from the H-back position following impressive college football spring sessions.
Without Ohio State or Michigan on the schedule Indiana should return to the bowl scene. But, success could depend on whether Lewis rejoins the team.
2008 Iowa Hawkeyes NCAA Football Preview:
Last year the Iowa Hawkeyes played 31 freshmen - the third most in Division One college football. The experience should serve the 2008 Hawkeyes team well and guarantee an improvement over last year's disappointing 6-6 record.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz must decide on whether incumbent quarterback Jake Christensen is the proper fit for his offense, which finished last in the Big Ten in scoring (18.5) and yards per game (316). Despite decent passing numbers (2,269 yards, 17 TDs) Christensen's lack of mobility makes the Hawkeye's offense one-dimensional. The offense will get a needed boost from wide receiver Andy Brodell's return from a torn hamstring. He'll be joined by emerging star Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who hauled in several highlight reel grabs during his freshman year, and Trey Stross. Steady but unspectacular Albert Young (968 yards, 6 TDs) and Damian Sims (499 yards, 3 TDs) return as the team's best options at running back.
Mitch King and Matt Kroul bring strength and experience to the defensive line's interior. The secondary looks young, but full of potential. Brett Greenwood (two interceptions) should improve on an impressive freshman campaign as the team's starting free safety.
With Michigan and Ohio State absent from the schedule, and the opening two weeks at home against Maine and Florida International, the Hawkeyes should finish the season with a minimum of eight wins.
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Michigan Wolverines College Football Preview:
Almost a year later and Michigan is still trying to rebound from its terrible Appalachian State hangover. After an embarrassingly long search for a head coach pick the team finally settled on Rich Rodriguez as their selection, who was then sued by West Virginia for leaving his former team. Soon after, offensive lineman Justin Boreman, one of the team's few returning starters, jumped ship to play for Ohio State. And then, the nation's number one high school quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, chose the Ohio State Buckeyes over Michigan as well. So, instead of entering the season with usual Rose Bowl aspirations, the Wolverines are just hoping to find an identity amongst the college football nation and in the Big 10 conference as well..
Rodriguez's spread option offense may take time to gel. Especially with only two starters returning to the mix. Steven Threet is the current starter at quarterback, but lacks the fleetness that's needed to direct the spread option. Compounding Threet's lack of mobility is that the offensive line is full of question marks. Brandon Minor, a brute with 4.5 speed, looks solid at running back. And Hawaii native Greg Matthews, who snared 39 catches as a sophomore, takes over as the team's main go-to receiver.
Tackle Will Johnson, a 285 pound immovable force, anchors a rugged defensive front, the strength of the team. While senior safety Brandon Harrison (one interception) brings leadership to the secondary.
Don't expect much from this year's Big Blue. Road games against Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame will make even a .500 record difficult to reach.
2008 Michigan State Spartans Football Preview:
After returning to the bowl scene for the first time in four years, the Spartans enter the college football 2008 brimming with optimism.
To build on last year's 7-6 record (five of those losses by a touchdown or less) coach Mark Dantonio first needs to patch an offensive line, which lost four starters to graduation. Junior Brian Hoyer is set at quarterback after completing almost 60% of his passes last season and tossing for 2,725 yards and 20 scores. He'll be joined in the backfield by running back Javon Ringer, a human gazelle with 4.3 speed. In his three seasons with the Spartans Ringer has averaged a mind-numbing 6.1 yards per carry. If he stays healthy he's a potential Heisman candidate.
Safety Otis Taylor (four interceptions) returns as the leader of the Spartan secondary. Trevor Anderson, a former NCAA All-Big East defensive end who followed Dantonio from Cincinnati, will be a key addition to the interior line. And look for linebacker Greg Jones, who had 78 tackles as a freshman, to emerge as defensive superstar.
If the Spartans can learn how to close games they'll compete for the Big Ten title. The schedule bodes well with home games against Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame.
2008 Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Preview:
At least the Golden Gophers have a good hockey team. With that said don't expect any miracles this year on the ncaa football gridiron.
With so many freshman and junior college transfers joining this year's squad Minnesota will be hard pressed to emerge from the Big Ten basement. Coach Tim Brewster's biggest challenge is repairing a defense that ranked dead last in the nation. The emergence of Tramaine Brock, a former junior college football All-American, who consistently shined during spring practice at free safety, will ease the burden of entering the season with an unproven secondary. Willie VanDeSteeg looks to be completely recovered from last year's broken wrist, which will help him return to his 2006 form when tallied 10 sacks. Tim McGee, another junior college transfer, could provide instant impact at the tackle position.
The offense is ahead of the defense, thanks to starting quarterback Adam Weber. As a freshman he ran the team's spread offense like a fifth-year senior, setting school records in passing yards (2,895), completions (258) and touchdown passes (24). He also ran for 617 yards and five scores, making him one of the Big Ten's biggest offensive weapons. He'll again be tossing to junior Eric Decker (909 yards, 9 TDs), provided he doesn't get drafted in baseball. Duane Bennett returns as the team's only experienced and healthy running back.
Thanks to one of the best recruiting classes in the country, Minnesota should improve on last year's pathetic 1-11 record. But until the team gains some experience, a major NCAA football bowl game looks to be at least a season or two away.
2008 Northwestern College Football Preview:
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was so knocked out of whack over year's 6-6 record that he brought in Bowling Green's Mick McCall, an offensive wizard, to install a no-huddle offense, and Wisconsin's Mike Hankwitz to implement an attacking 4-3 defense.
Last year's second ranked offense in the Big Ten will become scarier under McCall's no huddle blitzkrieg. C.J. Bacher returns as the starting quarterback after leading the Big Ten in 2007 with 304 passing yards per game. He'll be aided by a veteran corps of receivers led by Eric Peterman (744 catches, 3 TDs) and Ross Lane (49 catches, 7 TDs). Running back Tyrell Sutton will add another level of octane to the attack if he stays healthy. In limited action last year he still managed to rumble for 522 yards and four scores, averaging almost five yards per carry.
Hankwitz hopes his attack-style defense will improve on last year's woeful 16 turnovers. The transition to a 4-3 should be easy, since the defense returns a veteran crew led by defensive tackle John Gill, a 2008 Outland Trophy candidate.
Look for the Wildcats to improve on last year's record. The schedule looks favorable with non-conference games against Syracuse and Duke.
2008 Penn State NCAA Football Picks Preview:
Joe Paterno enters his 43rd college football season as Penn State's head coach determined to prove that retirement is for the young.
For Paterno to succeed he'll need to find a quarterback to lead an offense that's double-barreled loaded. Junior Daryll Clark currently holds the inside edge, but is being pressed by redshirt sophomore Pat Devlin, a former high school Parade All-American. Whoever gets the nod will be protected by a veteran offensive line that some rate as the best in the Big Ten. Evan Royster returns at running back, after averaging an impressive 6.3 yards per carry last season. He could, however, be sharing carries with Stephfon Green, a human blur with 4.2 speed. Green was electrifying during the Blue/White spring game, ripping off a 57-yard TD run on the game's third play.
You could describe Penn State's defensive line as strong, stout, and aggressive and still fall 14 adjectives shy of properly describing it. Led by defensive end Maurice Evans (12.5 sacks), a first-team All-American, the defense looks poised to handle the high number of spread offense attacks it will be facing in 2008. The loss of Sean Lee (138 tackles) to a season-ending knee injury is big, but Penn State's reputation as Linebacker U means there's probably another future All-American ready to take his place.
A tough schedule could derail Penn State's championship hopes. Not only must the team play eight bowl teams, but the Nittany Lions must also tangle with Ohio State and Wisconsin on the road.
2008 Purdue Boilermakers State Football Preview
Purdue's reputation as a school that's good enough to compete, but never good enough to win, will hold true again in 2008. Only 12 starters return for Joe Tiller's final season as head coach.
For quarterback Curtis Painter to top last year's wow-stats (3,846 yards, 29 TDs) he'll need to do it with a new artillery of receivers. Greg Orton returns (67 grabs, 3 TDs), but gone are Dorien Bryant and Dustin Keller and their combined 155 catches. Seniors Kory Sheets (859 yards, 11 TDs) and Jaycen Taylor (560 yards, 4 TDs) bring depth and experience to the backfield. But with the offensive line in flux, both backs will have difficulty finding running room this season.
Defense, the team's annual wince, must improve on last year's number when it yielded almost 400 yards per game. The return of Jason Werner from back surgery will help solidify the linebacking unit. David Pender and Royce Adams give the Boilermakers two reliable cornerbacks, but the safety positions remain unsettled.
Illinois and Wisconsin are absent from this year's schedule. But the team must still play Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame and Oregon. Joe Tiller's final season could be a long one.
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Ohio State Buckeyes Football 2008 Preview:
While most teams enter the season with questions, the Buckeyes only have answers. Ohio State possesses so much depth, its second team could easily, if allowed, receive a Top 25 ranking.
Eighteen starters return, including Chris Boeckman (2,171 yards, 23 TDs). Strong, but not spectacular, Boeckman will be looking to rebound after faltering down the stretch the last season when he was picked six times over the final three games. Don't be surprised to see high-five recruit Terrelle Pryor receive a fair amount of snaps. His ability to run with the ball gives the offense an added and indefensible dimension. Heisman candidate Chris Wells ran for 1,463 yards last season on a bum ankle and a mangled hand. Now that he's healthy again, whispers of a 2,000 yard season are already being heard around the Ohio State campus. Brian Hartline (46 catches, 5 TDs) had a terrific spring and could challenge Brian Robiskie (50 catches, 10 TDs) as Boeckman's number one target.
Linebacker James Laurinaitis' decision to forgo the NFL draft was bad news for the rest of the Big Ten. Last year he totaled 121 tackles, five sacks, and two interceptions. He returns to a veteran unit that's strong and fast. Defensive end Lawrence Wilson's return from a snapped leg will help mitigate the loss of Vernon Gholston to the NFL and give the Buckeye's yet another pass rushing ace.
The Buckeye's championship hopes will be tested early in the season when the team travels to California to battle USC. Win or lose the team is a lock to capture the Big Ten crown.
2008 Wisconsin Badgers College Football Preview:
While the rest of the conference dawdles with spread option attacks, the Badgers continue to adhere to a grinding, run-orientated offense, emblematic of old-style Big Ten football.
This year's offense is built to run, run, run, run and run. The offensive line will be pounding holes for a talented four-some of running backs. Junior P.J. Hill (1,212 yards, 14 TDs), leads the charge after an injury-hampered sophomore season. He'll be sharing carries with Zach Brown (568 yards, 5 TDs), Lance Smith (429 yards, 3 TDs), and redshirt freshman John Clay who shredded Wisconsin's first-string defense in the spring game for 90 yards. Allan Evridge and Dustin Scherer continue to battle at quarterback. Whoever starts will have the advantage of throwing to All-American tight end Travis Beckum.
New defensive coordinator Bret Bielema takes over a veteran unit with injury problems. Second-team All-Big Ten defensive end Matt Shaughnessy snapped his leg during spring practice, and cornerbacks Allen Langford and Aaron Henry are still recovering from knee surgeries. He hopes to have all three back by the start of season. If not look for several new starting faces, including cornerback Mario Goins who impressed the coaches during spring practice.
2008 Big 10 Conference Summary
The Buckeyes are the obvious favorite for Big Ten honors and even the 2008 NCAA football national championship. Penn State, Wisconsin and Illinois all appear to be very strong college football programs, but don't possess enough guns to match Ohio State. Look for Michigan State to emerge as the surprise of the conference and maybe the suprise of college football all together. It should be another exciting college football season in the Big 10 conference.