2004 College Football Preview
ACCBig 12Big EastBig TenPac-10SECIndependent
IllinoisIndianaIowaMichiganMichigan State
MinnesotaNorthwesternOhio StatePenn StatePurdueWisconsin

Author: John Brumbaugh,

09/04/04Florida A&M
09/18/04Western Michigan
10/09/04@Michigan State
Quarterback Jon Beutjer (7) of the University of Illinois Fighting Illini passes during the Big Ten game against the Ohio State University Buckeyes.
Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel
Head Coach: Ron Turner

Last Season's Record: 1-11 (0-8, 11th place in Big Ten)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2001 Sugar Bowl (47-34 loss to LSU)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 11 UCLA, Sept. 25 Purdue, Nov. 6 Indiana.

Star Power: QB Jon Beutjer, RB E.B. Halsey, RB Pierre Thomas, LB Matt Sinclair.

Notable Additions: FB Brock Bolen

Notable Subtractions: CB Christian Morton, OL Sean Bubin, DE Derek Strong.

Notable Returnees: OL Bucky Babcock, CB Kelvin Hayden, DE Mike O'Brien, WR Mark Kornfeld

Offensive Overview: Ron Turner's offenses in his time at Illinois have never been the problem for his football teams, and this year will be no different. QB Jon Beutjer received his sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and is back behind center calling the shots for the Illini offense. Beutjer will be happy when he looks at the trio of sophomore running backs behind him of E.B. Halsey, Pierre Thomas, and Marcus Mason because they will inevitably take pressure off the quarterback. Freshman Brock Bolen is expected to take snaps as well in single back situations for Illinois, and he may supplant Jason Davis as the starting fullback by mid-season. With the combination of Beutjer's passing ability and a solid running game, Illinois' offense should be able to score enough to keep them in football games.

Defensive Overview: After last season's horrific performance on defense, Ron Turner fired Defensive Coordinator Mike Cassity and replaced him with linebackers coach Mike Mallory. Turner is hoping that Mallory's simplified scheme, and a focus on defensive fundamentals will allow the Illini defense to hold opponents enough that his offenses can win the games. In an effort to bolster the overall team defensive speed, Turner moved WR Kelvin Hayden to corner back, and RB Morris Virgil to safety before Spring practice. Mike O'Brien, who was granted his sixth year of eligibility after suffering an injury in the Missouri game last season, is being counted on to bolster the Illini's defensive line and actually get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, something Illinois was not able to do last season. Senior Matt Sinclair is the leader of the Illini line backing corps.

Special Teams Overview: The Illini will head into the season with a competition at kicker, but the job will initially go to Steve Weatherford, the Illinois punter. The other kickers that will be looking to be the Illini place kicker are Sophomore Dominc Shafer and freshman Jason Reda. The return game will once again be bolstered by E.B. Halsey, Morris Virgil, Marcus Mason, and Travis Williams. Halsey will probably rest on punt returns and leave that duty up to Virgil or Travis Williams.

The Illini will surprise people if... they head into conference play at 3-0. The two most important games on the Illini schedule are the UCLA game on September 11 and the opening of the conference season against Purdue. With seven games at home, including their first four, Illinois has a chance to gain the confidence lost after last season. If Illinois defeats UCLA, the team could end up in a minor bowl with a 6-5 record, but if the Illini lose to the Bruins, they could end up with their third straight losing record.

Author: Ben Beachler,

09/04/04Central Michigan
09/25/04Michigan State
10/23/04@Ohio State
11/13/04Penn State
Wide receiver Courtney Roby (19) of the University of Indiana Hoosiers is tackled by Donny Mateaki (91) of the University of Washington Huskies.
Getty Images/Otto Greule Jr.
Head Coach: Gerry DiNardo (5-19, 56-68 career)

Last Season's Record: 2-10 (1-7, T-9th place in Big Ten)

Last Bowl Appearance: 1993 Independence Bowl (45-20 loss to Virginia Tech)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 11 @Oregon, Nov. 20 @Purdue.

Star Power: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (SO), 5-11, 220; WR Courtney Roby (SR), 6-0, 185; DT Jodie Clemons (SR) 6-2, 276; LB Kyle Killion (JR), 6-0, 230.

Notable Additions: QB Mike Vlahogeorge, 6-3, 220; WR Issac Price, 6-3, 195.

Notable Subtractions: None

Notable Returnees: QB Matt LoVecchio(SR), 6-3, 216

Offensive Overview: It will be a steady dose of run, run, run for the Indiana offense this year. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Chris Taylor provide a good 1-2 punch for the running game. The key to the offense this year is whether LoVecchio can revive a passing game that accounted for only four touchdown passes last season. He still has his favorite target from last year, Courtney Roby, who at 6-5 has excellent size. If the offensive line can give LoVecchio time expect the number of passing touchdowns to increase this season.

Defensive Overview: The defense remains a giant question mark as it was constantly torched last season. It was anchored by the strong linebacking core of Killion, Moore, and Powers and up front by Jodie Clemons, a Big Ten honorable mention selection. The secondary was flat out bad last season and must show the biggest improvement for this unit to get much better.

Special Teams Overview: Both kicker Bryan Robertson (SR) and punter Tyson Beattie (SO) return for the Hoosiers. Beattie averaged 40.8 yards on 68 punts last year, Robertson was the team leader in scoring with 55 points.

The Hoosiers can win three games if... LoVecchio can take charge of this offense and lead a passing game to complement the running game.

Author: Jon Miller,

09/04/04Kent State
09/11/04Iowa State
09/18/04@Arizona State
10/02/04Michigan State
10/16/04Ohio State
10/23/04@Penn State
Defensive end Matt Roth (31) of Iowa sacks Quarterback Carson Palmer (3) of USC during the FedEx Orange Bowl.
Getty Images/Andy Lyons
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (32-39, 44-50 overall)

Last Season's Record: 10-3 (5-3, T-4th in Big Ten)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2004 Outback Bowl (37-17 win over Florida)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 25th @Michigan, Oct. 16 Ohio State

Star Power: Abdul Hodge, LB, Jr. 6-2, 232; Chad Greenway, LB, Jr. 6-4, 239; Matt Roth, DE, Sr. 6-4, 275; Peter McMahon, OL, Sr. 6-7 320

Notable Additions: Walner Belleus, Dodge City CC, DB, 5-10, 180

Notable Subtractions: Robert Gallery OL (graduation), Fred Russell, RB (graduation), Nathan Chandler QB (graduation), Jared Clauss DT (graduation), Bob Sanders, SS (graduation), Mo Brown, WR (graduation), Nate Kaeding, PK (graduation), Erik Jensen, TE (graduation), DE Howard Hodges (graduation)

Offensive Overview: Before the start of the 2003 season, most informed Hawkeye fans knew that they were going to witness a 'Back to the Future' type of season that would resemble their 1981 Big Ten title team: don't fumble the ball, get close enough to kick a field goal, and get out of the way of the defense. They did enough of that to win 10-games for the second season in a row, the first time that trick has been pulled off in Iowa history. Iowa loses several key players on offense: QB, RB, FB, LT, RT, WR. Though the losses are significant, all hope is not lost. This was an offense that was among the lower third in the nation last year, yet did enough to allow their defense and special teams to keep them in the game. Iowa also has a version of the West Coast Offense that is predicated on running the football and using its play action and waggle game to pick teams apart underneath. Though they did not stretch the field all that often in 2003, as their primary deep threat was injured for much of the year, they might do more of that this year. Iowa will start a sophomore at quarterback this year; either Drew Tate or Jason Manson. Tate is the all-time passing leader in the history of the state of Texas, while Manson provides more of a dual threat. They will have several young talents to throw to, but none of them is refined, save Jr. Ed Hinkel. RB Jermelle Lewis finally gets his chance as Iowa starter and he just might be the best player in the Big Ten you have never heard of. Iowa has started three different quarterbacks in each of the past three seasons and has compiled a 28-10 record, including two back to back #8 finishes in the national polls. It should be mentioned that all three of those QB's were seniors.

Defensive Overview: Iowa has ranked among the nation's best defensive units over the past three seasons, and that should not change in 2004. Defense will be the strength of the team, as Iowa returns seven starters. The losses of SS Bob Sanders, LB Grant Steen, DE Howard Hodges and DT Jared Clauss are significant, but the Hawkeyes mantra of 'Next Man In' has served them well over the past several years, and there is no reason to expect anything less in 2004. Iowa plays primarily a base 4-3 set with a cover two in the secondary. The secret to their success has been their ability to stop the run with just four men on the defensive line. Last year, that led to then soph's Hodge and Greenway finishing first and third in the league in tackles, respectively. Iowa's LB corps are among the best in the nation, and their secondary should be at its strongest since Kirk Ferentz's first season at Iowa in 1999. The only position where they will be breaking in a 'green' starter is at SS, where Marcus Paschal replaces Sanders, who was an all American. Expect another stellar year from the Hawkeyes if everyone stays healthy. If Iowa loses any of its four defensive line starters to injury, a redshirt freshman will have to step up, as four of them are listed as the backups to start fall drills.

Special Teams Overview: Losing PK Nate Kaeding, one of the best place kickers in the history of the Big Ten and the most accurate kicker in NCAA history from 40-yards out or further, is huge. He was such a huge weapon for Iowa, as they needed only to get to the 35-yard line and they were in his range. Those duties now fall to Soph. Kyle Schlicher. Schlicher has a strong leg and was able to learn from Kaeding for two full years. No matter who was to replace Kaeding, you would be expecting a drop off. Sr. David Bradley will handle the punting duties for the Hawkeyes for the fourth straight season. Iowa's coverage and punt blocking units are traditionally among the best in the country, and we see no reason for that to change in 2004.

The Hawkeyes will get back to their third straight New Year's Day Bowl if... the offense can avoid turning the ball over, and they can average better than 4.3 yards per carry, something that has become the norm in Iowa City. The defense will be good enough to keep them in every single game. The rest will come down to turnovers and special teams.

Author: Tom Beaver,

09/04/04Miami (Oh.)
09/11/04@Notre Dame
09/18/04San Diego State
10/30/04Michigan State
11/20/04@Ohio State
Cornerback Marlin Jackson (3) of the Michigan Wolverines celebrate on the sideline during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Getty Images/Andy Lyons
Head Coach: Lloyd Carr (9th Season, 86-26)

Last Season's Record: 10-3 (7-1, 1st in Big Ten, No. 6 AP, No. 7 USA Today/ESPN)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2004 Rose Bowl (28-14 loss to No.1 USC)

Key matchup(s): Sat., Sep. 11 Notre Dame 2:30 p.m. NBC; Sat., Sep. 25 Iowa; Sat., Nov. 20 Ohio State 1:00 p.m. ABC

Star Power: Marlin Jackson - CB 6-1 199 Sr.; David Bass - OG 6-5 307 5th; Braylon Edwards - WR 6-3 206 Sr; S Ernest Shazor - S 6-4 226 Jr.

Notable Additions: Tim Jamison - OLB 6-3 230 Fr. Riverdale, Ill. (Harvey Thornton); Jamar Adams - S 6-2 190 Charlotte, N.C. (Butler); Doug Dutch - WR 6-0 190 Bowie, Md. (Gonzaga College)

Notable Subtractions: QB John Navarre, RB Chris Perry

Notable Returnees: WR Steve Breaston, WR Jason Avant, OLB Pierre Woods, OLB Lamarr Woodley

Offensive Overview: The overall offensive talent on the on the 2004 Wolverines is among the best in the country. They return the top receiving corps in the nation (Sr. Braylon Edwards, 6-3, 206; Jr. Jason Avant, 6-1, 209; So. Steve Breaston, 6-1, 170), and that explosiveness on the flanks has many predicting great things for the upcoming campaign. And Michigan returns three offensive linemen (5th yr. OG David Baas, 6-5, 307; Jr. OT Adam Stenavich, 6-5, 313; Jr. OG Matt Lentz, 6-6, 316) and both of its top two tight ends (Jrs. Tyler Ecter, 6-6, 249 and Tim Massaquoi, 6-4, 249). That said, the Maize and Blue will be lining up new starters right up the middle of the offense, at center (So. Mark Bihl, 6-4, 301), quarterback (So. Matt Gutierrez, 6-4, 230), and running back (5th David Underwood, 6-0, 227, or So. Jerome Jackson, 5-11, 198). Fortunately there is no shortage of talented replacements, but the overall lack of experience is what tempers the expectations of some pundits who follow this team closely. Opposing teams' defense will no doubt be geared to stopping the Wolverine running game and coming after new QB Gutierrez -- look for Michigan to counter by running an offense similar to the National Championship 1997 season, rolling the mobile Gutierrez out of the pocket and running bootleg pass patterns to the tight ends.

Defensive Overview: In a year where there is inexperience at a number of key offensive positions, the 2004 Michigan team will have to be lead by its defense. Depth is a concern at a few spots, and the D-line has all new starters (Jr. DE Pat Massey, 6-8, 276, Jr. DT Gabe Watson, 6-4, 333; and So. Larry Harrison, 6-3, 313), but there isn’t any question that this Michigan Defense is as physically talented a unit as Head Coach Lloyd Carr has had. The question before it is: has that talent matured enough to become a dominant force. During the spring it appeared that the Michigan coaching staff made a few changes to help achieve this goal. The most significant difference was the use of the "3-4" scheme. The Wolverines are immensely talented at the linebacker spot (JR. OLB Pierre Woods, 6-5, 248; So. OLB Lamarr Woodley, 6-2, 268; and JR. ILB’s Scott McClintock, 6-2, 243, and Lawrence Reid, 6-1, 219), and the 3-4 alignment allows them to get four LB’s on the field at the same time. The move could signify a more attacking style on defense -- and the Wolverines have the personnel to be very effective at it. And we saved the best for last: the defensive backfield could be the best in the country: Sr. CB’s Marlin Jackson (6-1, 199, and Marcus Curry (5-11, 183); Jr. S Ernest Shazor (6-4, 226); and So. S Ryan Mundy (6-1, 209).

Special Teams Overview: As far as Michigan’s punter and place kicker for 2004, the Wolverines is in good shape with both. Fifth year punter Adam Finley (6-4, 209) was a weapon last year when his protection was good (he averaged 40.0 yards), and sophomore PK Garrett Rivas (5-9, 210) won the job early in the season last year and went 9 for 12 in field goals.

In the kick return department, Michigan is in better-than-good shape for 2004. Redshirt sophomore Steve Breaston (6-1, 169) is being picked for preseason All Big Ten and even some All American honors after returning two punts for touchdowns in 2004.

Michigan will take a trip back to the Rose Bowl (or better) if... the team can copy the '97 Wolverines: the offense taking care of the ball and not beating itself, and the defense holding opponents to 10 points a game.

Author: Mike Fowler,

09/11/04Central Michigan
09/18/04Notre Dame
11/06/04Ohio State
11/20/04@Penn State
Safety Jason Harmon (25) of the Michigan State Spartans makes an interception against wide receiver Jonathan Makonnen (5) of the California Golden Bears.
Getty Images/Danny Moloshok
Head Coach: John L. Smith (118-65)

Last Season's Record: 9-4 (5-3, T-4th in Big Ten)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2003 Alamo Bowl (17-3 loss to Nebraska)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 18th @Notre Dame, Oct. 30th @Michigan, Nov. 6 Ohio St.

Star Power: Jason Harmon, Free Safety, Junior, 5-11, 185; Eric Smith, Strong Safety, Senior 6’ 1", 193; Wide receiver Agim Shabaj,Junior, 5’ 10", 187

Notable Additions: Roland Martin, 6' 5", 335, OL, Chicago Harper; Carl Grimes, 5' 9", 180, WR, Detroit St. Martin DePorres; SirDarean Adams, 6' 0", 223, LB, Bradenton, FL

Notable Subtractions: Quarterback Jeff Smoker, drafted by the St. Louis Rams, 6th round (No. 201 Overall pick).

Notable Returnees: Agim Shabaj, 5' 9", 195, WR; Junior; Ron Stanley, 6' 0", 234, LB, Senior; Jason Harmon, 5' 11", 202, FS, Senior; Eric Smith, 6' 1", 193, SS, Junior

Offensive Overview: Michigan State's Drew Stanton will lead a talented receiving corps (6' 6" Matt Trannon, 5' 11" Agim Shabaj) as good as any in the Big Ten, but with a patchwork offensive line and an unproven running game, Coach Smith will have to get creative.

Defensive Overview: MSU sports one of the best safety tandems in the nation with Harmon and Smith, and their front seven is not bad, they must overcome inexperience at the corners

Special Teams Overview: An embarassment of riches with kicker Dave Rayner, punter Brandon Fields. Smith also recruited standout junior college transfer John Goss

The Spartans could crash the Big Ten's bowl party if... a little bit of good fortune comes their way. While Stanton is inexperienced, so is almost every other Big Ten signal caller. If they can shore up the corners and the offensive line, MSU could surprise again and finish in the top five of the conference.

Author: Tim Yotter,

09/11/04Illinois State
09/18/04@Colorado State
10/02/04Penn State
10/16/04@Michigan State
Running back Marion Barber III (21) of the Minnesota Gophers in a game against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Getty Images/Elsa
Head Coach: Glen Mason (34-37 at Minnesota)

Last Season's Record: 10-3 (5-3, T-4th in Big Ten)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2003 Sun Bowl (31-30 win over Oregon)

Key matchup(s): Oct. 9 @Michigan, Nov. 6 @Wisconsin

Star Power: Laurence Maroney, RB, So. 5-11, 200; Marion Barber III, RB, Jr. 5-11, 215; Greg Eslinger, C, Jr. 6-3, 285

Notable Additions: Adam Ernst, QB, Jr. 6-2, 210; Paris Hamilton, WR, Sr. 6-1, 195.

Notable Subtractions: Asad Abdul Khaliq QB (graduation), Ben Utecht TE (graduation), Aaron Hosack WR (graduation), Ben West LB (graduation), Eli Ward S (graduation), Justin Isom S (graduation)

Notable Returnees: Jared Ellerson WR, Darrell Reid DE, Terrance Campbell LB, Kyle McKenzie LB.

Offensive Overview: The past few seasons have been a marathon with the Gophers. They have run the ball long and hard, and with great success. While junior Marion Barber III is considered a Heisman Trophy candidate, sophomore Laurence Maroney is every bit as good. They each had more than 1,000 yards rushing last year, and with the loss of quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq to graduation, Gophers followers are expecting more big numbers from the talented running back duo. Bryan Cupito may have the early lead to succeed Abdul-Khaliq as the starting signal-caller because Cupito was with the team last year. However, junior college transfer Adam Ernst looked just as solid in the spring game. The Gophers have one of the most talented offensive lines to run and throw behind, led by Lombardi Watch List center Greg Eslinger. The loss of Ben Utecht at tight end is bound to hurt, but talented wide receiver Paris Hamilton coming back from an injury-riddled junior season should help the starting quarterback’s options in the passing game.

Defensive Overview: The Gophers haven’t enjoyed tough defenses in recent years, but they have been busy adding speed on the defensive side of the ball over the past few seasons. They also are hoping one full year under defensive coordinator Greg Hudson will help the unit improve in 2004. Darrell Reid and Mark Losli will lead the defensive line with their experience, and they have a relatively experienced group of linebackers in Terrance Campbell and Kyle McKenzie to help stop the run. The big question remains the Gophers’ pass defense, which has been erratic in the past and will have to replace the two starting safeties from last year, Eli Ward and Justin Isom. Justin Fraley brings some experience at strong safety, but free safety will be manned by an inexperienced athlete.

Special Teams Overview: Rhys Lloyd led a very solid special teams effort last year, kicking game winners in two big matchups — a 35-yarder as time expired to beat rival Wisconsin and a 42-yarder in the final minutes of the Sun Bowl to give the Gophers a 31-30 win over Oregon. He also did a solid job punting. The biggest question on special teams will be replacing long snapper Peter Prudden.

The Gophers have been criticized for padding their schedule with weak non-conference opponents in the past, but... this year they will have some measure of early proving to do with top-25 Toledo right out of the gate and a decent Colorado State team before entering the Big Ten schedule. Last season, the Gophers’ Big Ten title hopes fell apart with a second-half collapse against Michigan in the Metrodome, followed by another loss to Michigan State. They will get their chance at revenge with those two squads with back-to-back October road games (in 2003 it was back-to-back October home games). It should be the pivotal point in the Gophers’ season — either helping them build upon an improving program or throwing them out of contention for one of the top spots in the Big Ten.

Author: Roy Lamberton,

09/11/04Arizona State
10/02/04Ohio State
11/06/04@Penn State
Defensive end Loren Howard (66) of Northwestern celebrates a sack as teammate Colby Clark (97) gives him a hug.
Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel
Head Coach: Randy Walker (24-35)

Last Season's Record: 6-7 (4-4, T-7th place in Big Ten)

Last Bowl Appearance: Motor City Bowl 2003 (28-24 loss to Bowling Green)

Key matchup(s): 9/2/04 @TCU (ESPN2), 9/25 @Minnesota (ESPN2), 10/02 Ohio State (ESPN or ESPN2), 10/23 @Wisconsin, 11/13, @Michigan.

Star Power: Zach Strief RT Junior 6-7 335 Loren Howard DE Junior 6-4 280 Brett Basanez QB Junior 6-2 210 Noah Herron RB Senior 5-11 230

Notable Additions: Frank Bass WR St Olaf, MN 6-3 190; Kim Thompson WR; David Ngene DE Humble HS 6-3 260; Derell Jenkins SAF (moved from offense) 6-1 210.

Notable Subtractions: RB Jason Wright graduated now with 49er's, SAF Louis Ayeni signed with Indianapolis Cilts

Notable Returnees: Mark Philmore WR Junior 5-10 185, Ashton Aikens WR Senior 6-2 200, Tim McGarigle OLB Junior 6-1 230, Brian Huffman Kicker Senior 6-1 225.

Offensive Overview: This year the Northwestern Spread offense will be running behind and immense offensive line. All but the Center, Trevor Rees weigh in at over 300 lbs and they all have experience with RT Zach Streif and RG, Senior Matt Ulrich [6-2 230] leading the way.

The O-Line will be both protecting QB Brett Basanez, who is expected to rebound from his sophomore slump, and clearing the way for Senior RB Noah Herron. Herron ran backup last year and still ground out 5.7 yards per carry in Big 10 play [and 4 100 yard efforts]

New to the game is the resurgence in the use of the tight end as a receiver. With the big O-line up front, the TE can release and become another target for Basanez.

Last year the weakness in the passing game was caused by injuries to two of the starting wide receivers - Ashton Aikens and Mark Philmore both missed most of the season - and the inexperience of the rest of the wideouts. A new WR Coach [Garrick McGee], the emergence of freshmen Kim Thompson and A.J. Burdex and the return of Frank Bass [and several others] should give Basanez plenty of targets.

The key to the Northwestern Spread's success however will be the running game and Herron is in place to step up and be NU's next 1000 yard rusher.

Defensive Overview: Lets see, NU runs a 4-3, or is it a 3-4 or is it a 4-5?

Suffice to say that the term "swarming" describes how NU plays defense now.

Defensive Coordinator Greg Colby brought a defensive style that is designed to keep teams off balance.

Starting up front, Defensive End Loren Howard should become a big outside sack threat, and DT Luis Castillo has developed into the inside run stopper the Cats have lacked in recent years. DT/DE Colby Clark is both a force and a fighter up front. The Cats are shuffling the D-Line around, but watch them play stronger again this year.

At Line backer the only question is in the middle, who replaces Pat Durr. Right now the choice is Adam Kadela. Tim McGarigle and John Pickens should be able to hold the fort until Kadela gets up to speed.

D-Backs is where the Cats took the biggest hit, with 3 safeties graduating. Taking up the slack there should be Senior Dominique Price and Soph Bryan Heinz. Former running back Junior Derell Jenkins has moved to safety also. Cornerbacks Marvin Ward, Jeff Backes, Herschel Henderson and Marquice Cole all should play better after another year of experience.

Watch for more swarming, more hitting, more varied sets and smarter play from the defensive unit.

Special Teams Overview: Very simple; Brian Huffman will Kick off, Punt, Place Kick unless someone else knocks him out of one of the those slots.

Returning kicks should be Jeff Backes [a former Mr. Ohio Football] Mark Philmore and Derell Jenkins. All three are very quick, with good hands.

Purple Reign is notorious for not making predictions (they are usually wrong), however... Watch the first three games and see how the Cats progress. If Basanez comes out throwing behind Herron's running, and we see some 100 yard rushing games early, this could be another really good NU team.

Add a good win the Big 10 opener in Minnesota to that mix and the Big 10 could become very interesting, with Northwestern challenging for the title.

The big stumbling blocks? Away games at Wisconsin, Michigan and Hawaii. At least we get the Buckeyes at home.

Author: Steve Helwagen,

09/18/04@North Carolina State
10/30/04Penn State
11/06/04@Michigan State
Linebacker A. J. Hawk (47) of the Ohio State University Buckeyes.
Getty Images/David Maxwell
Head Coach: Jim Tressel (32-7, 167-64-2 overall)

Last Season's Record: 11-2 (6-2, T-2nd place in Big Ten)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2004 Fiesta Bowl (35-28 win over Kansas State)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 18, @N.C. State (ABC); Oct. 16, @Iowa; Nov. 20, Michigan (ABC).

Star Power: A.J. Hawk, LB, Jr., 6-1, 238; Santonio Holmes, FL, So., 5-11, 185; Simon Fraser, DE, Sr., 6-6, 280; Nick Mangold, C, Jr., 6-4, 290; Mike Nugent, K, Sr., 5-10, 180.

Notable Additions: Anthony Schlegel, Air Force Academy, MLB, 6-2, 245; John Kerr, Indiana, MLB, 6-1, 246; Ted Ginn Jr., Cleveland Glenville, WR-CB, 6-0, 170; Antonio Pittman, Akron Buchtel, TB, 5-11, 190; Marcus Freeman, Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne, LB, 6-2, 230.

Notable Subtractions: Will Smith, DE (graduation); Michael Jenkins, SE (graduation); Chris Gamble, FL-CB (early entry to NFL draft); Craig Krenzel, QB (graduation); Darrion Scott, DT (graduation); Tim Anderson, DT (graduation); Will Allen, S (graduation); B.J. Sander, P (graduation).

Notable Returnees: Rob Sims, OT; Ryan Hamby, TE; Lydell Ross, TB; Branden Joe, TE; Mike Kudla, DE; Bobby Carpenter, OLB; Dustin Fox, CB; Nate Salley, FS; Donte Whitner, SS.

Offensive Overview: Ohio State won 11 games in spite of its offense last season. The Buckeyes lagged in the bottom of the national rankings in total offense and rushing offense. They welcome just five starters back, led by the explosive Santonio Holmes. Roy Hall leads the way to replace Michael Jenkins at split end. Lydell Ross is still looking for his first 1,000-yard season and would love to have it as a senior. If he falters, freshmen Antonio Pittman and Erik Haw should be there to pick up the pieces. The line is regrouping and could hold the key to this unit’s success, particularly the right side where there will be new starters at guard (Mike Kne) and tackle (T.J. Downing or Tim Schafer). The big position battle will be at quarterback, where Justin Zwick and Troy Smith will battle to replace Craig Krenzel. Zwick may hold a slight edge, but Smith should not be counted out.

Defensive Overview: Ohio State won a national championship in 2002 and nearly advanced to the title game a year ago behind the play of the Big Ten’s best defense. There are only four starters back on this side of the ball, but strong recruiting advances leave OSU in a great position to reload. Simon Fraser is the key name up front at end. Mike Kudla will try and replace Will Smith at the other end. The interior spots will be manned by Quinn Pitcock, Marcus Green and David Patterson. The back seven could be really special. A.J. Hawk returns after earning All-Big Ten honors last year. He’ll be joined at OLB by Bobby Carpenter, who has bided his time the last two years. The inside spot could go to Air Force transfer Anthony Schlegel or Mike D’Andrea. The secondary will miss Chris Gamble. But E.J. Underwood is penciled in at his cornerback spot. Donte Whitner will likely replace All-American Will Allen at safety. Veterans Dustin Fox and Nate Salley also return on the final line of defense.

Special Teams Overview: The good news is that Mike Nugent could be in line to again be an All-American at kicker, as he was during the national championship season. The bad news is OSU will be searching for a reliable punter to replace Ray Guy Award winner B.J. Sander. Josh Huston may be the number one option. The return games have also been lackluster. But with Holmes, Ashton Youboty, Bam Childress and Ted Ginn Jr. due to handle returns, this may end up being a plus.

The Buckeyes could again contend for the national title, but... they may actually have to be content to bide their time until 2005, when -- with 17 starters due back -- they could be favorites to win it all. The biggest question mark is at quarterback, where sophomores Zwick and Smith have to step up. This year, OSU needs its many youthful front-line players to play beyond their years if they expect to contend in the Big Ten or on the national level. Jim Tressel has won five national titles in 18 years as a head coach, so you can never count his team out. If the Buckeyes win it all with such a young team this year, though, Tressel will have earned his money.

Author: Staff,

09/11/04@Boston College
10/30/04@Ohio State
11/20/04Michigan State
Quarterback Zack Mills (7) of the Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions drops back to pass.
Getty Images/Craig Melvin
Head Coach: Joe Paterno (339-109-3)

Last Season's Record: 3-9 (1-7, T-9th place in Big Ten)

Last Bowl Appearance: Jan. 1st, 2003 Capital One Bowl (13-9 loss to Auburn)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 11, at Boston College (ABC); Oct. 9, vs. Purdue (ESPN); Nov. 20, vs. Michigan State

Star Power: Alan Zemaitis, CB, 6-2, 194; Zach Mills, QB, Sr., 6-3, 214; Paul Posluszny, LB, 6-2, 228.

Notable Additions: Dan Connor, LB, Strath Haven High School (Wallingford, Pa.), 6-3, 220; Anthony Morelli, QB, Penn Hills High (Pittsburgh, Pa.), 6-4, 216.

Notable Subtractions: Rich Gardner, CB, graduated.

Notable Returnees: Jay Alford, DT, So., 6-3, 283; Levi Brown, T, So., 6-5, 315; Paul Jefferson, FB, Sr., 6-1, 258; Paul Posluszny, LB, So., 6-2, 230; Tyler Reed, G, Jr., 6-4, 302; Michael Robinson, QB, Jr., 6-2, 227; E.Z. Smith, C, Jr., 6-1, 275

Offensive Overview: The addition of Galen Hall as Offensive Coordinator should jumpstart a Penn State offense that last season lacked any real sense of direction. Hall, the Nittany Lion’s starting QB in 1960 and 1961, boasts an impressive resume which includes positions as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma from 1966-83, head coach at Florida from 1984-89, and head coach of the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe from 1995-2000 where he was honored as Coach of the Year three times. Fifth year senior Zack Mills will have the chance to excel behind a starting offensive line consisting of five players with previous starting experience. Sophomore running backs Austin Scott and Tony Hunt, who both made solid contributions last season as true freshmen, return, but could face competition from redshirt freshman Rodney Kinlaw. Kinlaw has reportedly fully recovered from an ACL injury he suffered in practice last year after having greatly impressed the coaching staff in the early going. Since the top five leaders in pass receptions from last season are gone, the Nittany Lions will look to senior wide-receiver Gerald Smith, juniors Terrance Phillips and Kinta Palmer, and redshirt freshman Terrell Golden to fill the void. That shouldn’t be to daunting a task in light of the consistent problems Penn State receivers had catching the ball in 2003.

Defensive Overview: The defense, which returns 14 players with at least one game of starting experience, is being conditioned for a more aggressive style of play this season. The defensive line proves to be the position with the most returning experience. Although junior Tamba Hali has moved from defensive tackle to defensive end, the Nittany Lions still have three other returning tackles with starting experience, namely Jay Alford, Ed Johnson and Scott Paxson. Senior OLB Derek Wake returns alongside sophomore Paul Posluszny, one of only four true freshman to see playing time last season, and redshirt sophomore Tim Shaw. Penn State, ranked third nationally last season in pass defense, returns five letterman in the secondary with starting experience. Anwar Phillips looks to replace departing cornerback Richard Gardner and should get tested often as opponents look to avoid outstanding junior cornerback Alan Zemaitis. Seniors Andy Guman and Chris Harrell, in addition to junior Calvin Lowry, will man the safety positions.

Special Teams Overview: Penn State special teams were abysmal last season, with the Nittany Lions finishing at the bottom of the Big 10 in kickoff returns, kickoff coverage, field goal percentage, PAT percentage and net punting. Kickoff specialist David Kimball will be missed. Sophomore punter Jeremy Kapinos was one of only a few bright spots last season. He returns as does senior place kicker Robbie Gould who will be entering his fourth season as the Lion’s placekicker.

The Nittany Lions should return to their winning ways and earn a meaningful bowl bid this season if... the experienced offensive and defensive lines perform to their potential, the young running backs learn from last year’s experience and make marked improvements, Zack Mills returns to his sophomore form and the young linebackers take it upon themselves to restore the tradition of Linebacker U.

Author: Marissa Parry,

09/11/04Ball State
10/02/04@Notre Dame
10/09/04@Penn State
11/13/04Ohio State
Quarterback Kyle Orton (18) of the Purdue Boilermakers hands the ball off during the Capital One Bowl game against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Getty Images/Matt Stroshane
Head Coach: Joe Tiller (55-32 at Purdue, .632 winning percentage)

Last Season's Record: 9-4 (6-2, T-2nd place in Big Ten, AP No. 18, ESPN/USA Today No. 19)

Last Bowl Appearance: Capital One Bowl (3-27 loss to Georgia)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 5 Syracuse, Legends Weekend (ABC); Sept. 25 @Illinois (ESPN or ESPN Plus); Oct. 2 @Notre Dame (NBC); Oct 23, Michigan; Nov. 13, Ohio State; Nov. 20, Indiana.

Star Power: Kyle Orton, QB, Sr., 6-4, 220; Jerod Void, RB, Jr., 6-2, 212; Taylor Stubblefield, WR, Sr., 6-1, 172; Ben Jones, K, Jr., 6-0, 215; Bernard Pollard, SS, So., 6-2, 219; Brent Grover, DT, Jr., 6-4, 287; Antwaun Rogers, CB, Sr., 6-2, 172; Jerome Brooks, RB, So., 5-11, 179.

Notable Additions: Ryan Baker, TE, Bishop Chatard, 6-6, 225; Jeremy Coley, DL, Mesabi Range Community,6-5, 250; Dorien Bryant, WR, Fork Union Military Academy, 5-11, 175; Bruce Gordon, WR, Dodge City Community College, 5-11, 190; Desmond Tardy, WR, Warren Central, 6-1, 180.

Notable Subtractions: Shaun Phillips, DE, 4th Rd., San Diego Chargers (98th); Niko Koutouvides, LB, 4th Rd., Seattle Seahawks (116th); Kelly Butler, OT, 6th Rd., Detroit Lions (172nd); Craig Terrill, DT, 6th Rd., Seattle Seahawks (189th); Jacques Reeves, CB, 7th Rd., Dallas Cowboys (223rd); Nick Hardwick, C, 3rd Rd., San Diego Chargers (66th); Stuart Schweigert, FS, 3rd Rd., Oakland Raiders (67th); Gilbert Gardner, LB, 3rd Rd., Indianapolis Colts (69th); Landon Johnson, LB, 3rd Rd., Cincinnati Bengals (96th).

Notable Returnees: Mike Otto, LT, So., 6-5, 309; Matt Turner, LG/C, Jr., 6-3, 288; Tyler Moore, RG, Sr., 6-7, 282; Charles Davis, TE, Jr., 6-6, 263; Ray Williams, WR, Jr., 6-2, 192.

Offensive Overview: The Boilermakers will be entering the 2004 season with experience and depth on the offense. With eight returning starters including senior quarterback, Kyle Orton who has thrown for 6,247 yards and 32 touchdowns, completing 58.1 percent of his passes. Taylor Stubblefield will be replacing John Standeford, the Big Ten's all-time leading receiver. Starting in the Boilermakers' backfield will be Jerod Void, who averaged 4.1 yards per carry last season. With the loss of Kelly Butler to the NFL and Nick Hardwick who graduated, there are a few holes on the line. Tiller will be looking to Tyler Moore, Matt Turner and Mike Otto for there experience and talent on the line. The Boilermakers' offense has all of the potential and experience to be the strongest in the Big Ten.

Defensive Overview: The Boilermakers' defense will be the key ingredient for their success this season. Tiller will be replacing eight defensive starters, including Shaun Phillips, Purdue's all-time sack leader. Replacing Phillips will be Ray Edwards, who has the skills to fill his shoes. The Boilermakers' strongest defensive lineman, Anthony Spencer has been on and off due to injuries throughout his career, but the Boilermakers' need him to remain healthy for the season. The biggest hit to the Boilermakers' defense this season is in the Linebacker position, with the loss of two starters to the NFL. Antwaun Rogers will be the only returning senior starter on the defense and will give the Boilermakers' some experience in the secondary. It will be a growing year for the Boilermakers' defense but if they can post some decent numbers the Boilermakers will be in a good position to compete in the Big Ten.

Special Teams Overview: Ben Jones returns as the placekicker in 2004. Jones converted 25 of 30 field goal attempts in the 2003 season, including all nine of his attempts from 40-to-49 yards. The punting responsibilities will be placed on Dave Brytus, a true freshmen. Purdue will look to Jerome Brooks as the kick returner, averaging 21.9 yards per return during the 2003 season.

The Boilermakers make it to their eighth straight bowl appearance if... while relying on an offense with all the talent and experience to have a stand-out season, their defense can put up some decent numbers and remain consistent.
Author: Jonathan Linder,

09/25/04Penn State
10/09/04@Ohio State
11/13/04@Michigan State
Running back Anthony Davis (28) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers gets past a tackle.
Getty Images/Danny Moloshok
Head Coach: Barry Alvarez (99-67-4, 14 years)

Last Season's Record: 7-6 (4-4, T-7th place in Big Ten)

Last Bowl Appearance: 2003 Music City Bowl (28-14 loss to Auburn)

Key matchup(s): Oct. 9 @Ohio State, Oct. 16 @Purdue, Nov. 6 Minnesota, Nov. 20 @Iowa.

Star Power: Anthony Davis, TB, Sr., 5-8, 194; Jim Leonhard, FS, 5-8, 183; Anttaj Hawthorne, DT, 6-3, 312

Notable Additions: Andy Crooks, LB, Wausau Wis. (East HS), 6-3, 234; Marcus Randle El, QB, Harvey Ill. (Thornton Township HS), 5-10, 172; Mike Newkirk, DE, Ladysmith, Wis. (Ladysmith HS), 6-3, 235; Bryan Savage, QB, Haverford, Pa. (The Haverford School), 6-3, 210; Sean Lewis, QB, Oak Lawn, Ill. (H L Richards HS), 6-7, 220; Taylor Mehlhaff, K-P, Aberdeen, S.D. (Central HS), 5-11, 180; Jammar Crane, LB, Garland, Texas (Garland HS), 6-1, 195; Gino Cruse, DT, Phoenix, Ariz. (Desert Vista HS), 6-4, 300

Notable Subtractions: Lee Evans, WR, completed eligibility (Buffalo Bills first-round draft pick); Jim Sorgi, QB, completed eligibility (Indianapolis Colts’ sixth-round pick); Alex Lewis, LB, completed eligibility (Detroit Lions fifth-round pick); Jeff Mack, LB, completed eligibility; Darius Jones, DE, left team; Ernest Mason, WR-KR, suspended indefinitely, will transfer; Matt Schabert, QB, transferred to Eastern Illinois; Kareem Timbers, LB, not cleared to play medically.

Notable Returnees: Brandon Williams, WR, Jr., 5-11, 175; Scott Starks, CB, Sr., 5-10, 176; Dan Buenning, Sr., OG, 6-4, 313; Morgan Davis, Sr., OT, 6-5, 319; Donovan Raiola, C, 6-3, 280; Jonathan Welsh, DE, Sr., 6-4, 231; Erasmus James, DE, Sr., 6-4, 263; Jason Jefferson, DT, Sr., 6-3, 308 - 17 starters in all.

Offensive Overview: Wisconsin’s offense was alternately extraordinarily potent and impotent last season, the result of talent abashed by injuries and inconsistency. The Badgers, though, still had plenty of high spots and should bring a high-powered attack to the table in 2004.

Wisconsin returns nine starters offensively, but the two departures are huge: wide receiver Lee Evans, quite possibly the most electrifying player in Badger history, and quarterback Jim Sorgi, who played well when healthy last season.

All eyes will be on sophomore quarterback John Stocco, who confidently assumed the No. 1 role during winter workouts. Stocco has the arm strength and savvy to succeed and he has decent athleticism to boot. With just 17 pass attempts under his belt, though, experience is an obvious question mark. His backups are a redshirt freshman and three true freshmen.

The Badgers should have a diverse offense, but the focal point will be senior tailback Anthony Davis, who ran for more than 3,000 yards his first two seasons combined, then suffered through an injury plagued season last year. Replacing Evans is impossible, but Brandon Williams could be a 1,000-yard receiver and Jonathan Orr, Darrin Charles, Brandon White and tight end/receiver Owen Daniels are talented options.

Defensive Overview: Wisconsin also struggled with consistency and injuries defensively in 2003, but with eight starters returning there are high expectations for the group.

Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator for the past 10 seasons, Kevin Cosgrove, left for Nebraska in January and has been replaced by former Kansas State and Iowa assistant Bret Bielema, who will also assume Cosgrove’s role as linebackers coach.

Bielema adopts a defense with two All-America candidates in free safety Jim Leonhard and defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne, and the Badgers five additional potential senior starters. Despite the departure of 2003 starter Darius Jones in the offseason, the defensive line has plenty of depth and talent and should be the strength of the defense. Corner Scott Starks deserved All-Big Ten recognition last season. If the Badgers can win a few more games, he will get it this year.

The big question is linebacker, where Wisconsin must replace two starters and the only returning starter-LaMarr Watkins-is switching from strong side to the weak side.

Special Teams Overview: Leonhard is one of the best punt returners in college football and Brandon Williams can be a dynamic player at kick returner. Senior kicker Mike Allen was yet another player who was never quite healthy last season. He still went 9-for-12 on field goals, but his range was severely limited. Freshman Taylor Mehlhaff should take on the kickoff duties and could become the long-range place kicker. Incumbent punter senior R.J. Morse was much improved in 2003, but redshirt freshman Kenneth DeBauche may take his spot this fall.

The Badgers can call their season a success if… they finish in the top three in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has enough talent to challenge for a BCS Bowl berth, but has made a habit of falling on its face against seemingly overmatched opponents. Inconsistent play has been a calling card in recent years.