Prospects, previews and predictions

Greetings this week from Ann Arbor, Mich. Home of the Big House, Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger, Red Hot Lovers (hot dog stand), The Pizza House, Scorekeepers Grill … and twin city to Ypsilanti, where Eastern Michigan University and former University of Iowa backup quarterback Matt Bohnet reside.

Before I get into the real content of this column, I guess I'll share with you what it is I am doing up here in Michigan. My real/day job (and I use the word "job" very loosely) is as an analyst for Forbes Recruit Evaluation. Each fall I make a 6-8 week trip to Northwest Ohio and around and about the state of Michigan to visit high school coaches and view/evaluate prospects. As an unabashed Big Ten alumnus and loyalist, I have chosen to set up camp in cities like Ann Arbor and East Lansing whenever I have the opportunity. It also gives me a prime opportunity scout out water holes and eateries for future road trips.

OK, so some of you have already asked me what kind of talent I have seen up here so far. And, more importantly, is Iowa seriously involved in recruiting of any said talent. The answer is this: Yes, I've seen plenty of eligible talent, but no, my particular territory has not been a real prime spot for Iowa's recruiting efforts. I think that the Iowa staff is very interested in a lot of kids around here, but it's just tough beating out UM, MSU, OSU, ND, Pitt and even some of the better MAC schools to woo away the locals.

But, since you asked anyway, here are the 10 best prospects I have seen so far (only 1/3 of the way done with my trip), regardless of year and regardless of who is recruiting them.

  • Alex Boone (Jr.) OT/DT 6-7/272/5.1 St. Edward HS (Lakewood, Ohio): Ohio State commit as a sophomore. A rock-solid monster.

  • Fred Davis WR/SS 6-4/222/4.55 Rogers HS (Toledo, Ohio): Big, strong, great hands. Offers from everyone.

  • Terrance Taylor (Jr.) DT 6-0/280/5.1 Muskegon HS (Muskegon, Mich.): Think Warren Sapp. Very disruptive player. Has offer from Big Blue.

  • Butler Benton RB/LB 6-2/214/4.5 King HS (Detroit): Might be best prospect in Detroit PSL this year. Big, slasher, likes to hit.

  • Blake Simms WR/SS 6-1/195/4.5 King HS (Detroit): Might be second best PSL prospect. Smooth, fluid, can turn and run.

  • Christopher Johnson QB/FS 6-2/180/4.6 King HS (Detroit): Smooth, flows well, long arms, good instincts.

  • Brad Jones TE/LB 6-2.5/225/4.5 East Lansing HS (East Lansing, Mich.): Committed to Colorado. Big athlete who can do a lot of things. Very little downside.

  • Greg Keys RB/CB (Jr.) 6-1/190/4.4 Bellevue HS (Bellevue, Ohio): Not well known … yet. Big, strong and fast athlete.

  • Mark Andrew OT 6-5/324/5.5 Waverly HS (Lansing, Mich.): Looks like you could land a 747 on his chest. Huge kid. Not fat.

  • David DiFranco TE/FB/OG 6-4/250/4.9 Midview HS (Grafton, Ohio): Has an offer from Pitt to play OG but is holding out for chance to play TE in the Big Ten. Huge and solid.

    That's all for now … I will add more updates later.

    Now for the real column that I sat down to write this morning. It's prediction time! Yearly, weekly, ATS, Hypesman predictions -– you name it, you'll get it from me.

    Ironically, the first thing I'm going to do is rail on predictions and the predictors who make them. I hate preseason predictions, I really do. And I really hate the people who make them and their reasons for making them. Am I just bitter about defending co-champ Iowa being picked to finish no better than 7th or 8th in the Big Ten most preseason publications? Not really. It doesn't mean much to anyone anyway, and if anything it might help motivate an already hungry team. But it's really the reason behind most of the predictions that bugs me.

    For example, many pundits have picked Virginia Tech to be smack-dab in the national championship mix this year. Why? Because of their "favorable" schedule. After all, they argue, the Hokies get Miami at home this year … in November … when we all know that it will definitely be snowing and the temperature will be no higher than about –5 degrees. Uh, folks. If you've ever played football, you'd you know that the temperature inside your pads and helmet even on the most frigid of days is at least 112 degrees. To pick Va Tech to play in the national title game over the likes of Big East rivals Miami or even Pittsburgh (which hosts VT this year) based on some half-baked idea that it will be "cold" in Blacksburg on 11/1/2003 is ridiculous and stupid. Worse than that, it's played. Wouldn't it be nice if one of ESPN's talking heads would come up with an original thought now and then?

    Next example: Why isn't anyone picking Ohio State to repeat as Big Ten champs this year? Well, it's because they have to go to Michigan this season, of course. We all know that a team that returns 11 offensive starters from a group that defeated mighty Miami for the national championship surely doesn't have enough mojo to win at Ann Arbor. As I write this from Ann Arbor, I say crapola.

    What makes a great team -- a championship team -- is its ability to win tough games, games on the road, and games they weren't necessarily "supposed" to win. In fact, you can't be a great team -- a championship team -- without a tough win or two on the road.

    Which leads us to Purdue, the team that so many prognosticators are dying to pick to win the Big Ten "if they just had a better schedule" (i.e., no road games at UM, OSU and UW.) Listen, geniuses. If you like this team so much, realize that they will have to win a tough game or two on the road in order to be a great team. (See Iowa's win at Michigan last year and Ohio State's wins at Purdue and Wisconsin.) The problem with Purdue, which managed to go 6-6 last year while leading the Big Ten in both total offense and total defense, is that these guys always find a way to lose. That's not the mark of a champion. Finding a way to win -- a la Ohio State/Iowa last season -- that's the lasting imprint of a winner. You can also forget about winning a Big Ten title with special teams like Purdue's. Just ain't gonna happen.

    Another team I'd like to see everyone back away from is our friends from the north, Minnesota. Will they win seven or maybe even eight games? Probably. Will they contend in the Big Ten? Not a chance. Four non-conference victories over toughies Tulsa, Troy State, Ohio and UL Lafayette will set the Gophers up nicely for a letdown that feels like a 3-5 Big Ten record to me. Oh, and did I mention that it's looking more and more possible that the Gophs could lose their home dates versus Michigan and Michigan State in mid-October because of possible postseason baseball scheduling conflicts at the Hump Dump. UM and MSU are balking at the idea of playing Friday night football in Minnie instead. A decision is expected from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney later this week about moving the games.

    So, how do I see the Big Ten stacking up this year? Those of you who get Hawkeye Illustrated have already seen my picks, but here they are again, with a couple of small changes.

    Jamie's predicted Big Ten standings
    1. Wisconsin 11-1, 7-1 (Loss: Pur)
    2. Ohio State 11-1, 7-1 (@Wis)
    3. Michigan 9-3, 6-2 (@Ore, @Iowa, OSU)
    4. Iowa 9-3, 5-3 (@OSU, @Pur, @Wis)
    5. Purdue 8-4, 5-3 (ND, @Mich, @OSU, @Ind)
    6. Illinois 7-5, 4-4 (@UCLA, Wis, @Pur, @Mich, @Iowa)
    7. Minnesota 7-5, 3-5 (@PSU, Mich, @Ill, Wis, @Iowa)
    8. Penn State 6-6, 3-5 (@Neb, Wis, @Pur, @Iowa, OSU, @MSU)
    9. Michigan State 5-7, 2-6 (@ND, Iowa, @Ill, @Minn, Mich, @OSU, @Wis)
    10. Indiana 5-7, 2-6 (@Wash, @Mich, @MSU, OSU, @Minn, Ill, @PSU)
    11. Northwestern 1-11, 0-8 (only win: at Duke)

    Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis RB (Wisconsin)
    Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year: Tim Anderson DL (Ohio State)
    Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Austin Scott RB (Penn State
    Big Ten Coach of the Year: Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin)
    Game of the Year: Ohio State at Wisconsin
    Upset of the Year: Indiana over Purdue

    This week's game:

    Aug. 30 vs. Miami (Ohio): Iowa's toughest home opener in quite some time. In fact, Miami is just about everyone's pick to the MAC East. The main reason is the play of QB Ben Roethlisberger. Iowa's defense will be as tough as any unit in the Big Ten and already has the blue print for slowing down the RedHawks.

    The 3-point Breakdown

    Quarterbacks edge: Miami +3
    Running backs edge: Iowa +1
    Receivers edge: Iowa +2
    Offensive line edge: Iowa +2
    Defensive line edge: Iowa +3
    Linebackers edge: Iowa +1
    Secondary edge: Iowa +2
    Kicking game edge: Iowa +3
    Coaching edge: Iowa +3
    Intangibles edge: Iowa +1

    The prediction: Iowa 37, Miami 20

    This week's Art Schlichter/Stu Feiner ATS Picks

    Ready to make a little money this week? Bury your man … with my help! No 900 number or credit card necessary.

    Washington +9 at Ohio State: Ohio State -9
    Missouri –3.5 vs. Illinois: Illinois +3.5
    Indiana +5.5 at Connecticut: Indiana +5.5
    Wisconsin –3 at West Virginia: Wisconsin – 3
    LOCK OF THE WEEK: Northwestern – 6 at Kansas: Kansas +6

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