09 Big 10 Football: PSU, OSU & Northwestern

The Iowa Hawkeyes return several starters from their 9-4 2009 season, and today we take a look at three of next year's opponents in Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern. We will take a look at what these teams may have returning, what they lose & more...

Last week, we took a look at four Big Ten football teams for the upcoming 2009 season in a capsule profile.  Today, we will do the same with three more teams from the league:  Penn State, Ohio State and Northwestern.


OHIO STATE:  The Buckeyes will have some rebuilding to do on offense, as they return just five starters.  Of course, one of those players is quarterback Terrell Pryor who should only get better in his first year as the full-season starter; he split some time this year with Todd Boeckman before and after winning the starting job.  This will be Pryor's first spring practice session in Columbus, and you would expect his passing skills to improve, which will be bad news for Big Ten opponents in 2009.  His ability to run the ball will prove devastating to opponents over at least the next two years.  One of his top targets, Brian Robiskie, will be moving on, but Brian Hartline returns for one more season.  Robiskie was definitely the bigger playmaker of the two, however.  Also gone is talented TR Rory Nichol, LT Alex Boone, RG Steve Rehring, RB's Chris (Beanie) and Maurice Wells and FB Brandon Smith.  Dan Herron had a solid showing in the second half of the Fiesta Bowl, but Beanie Wells was a very special player.  The Buckeye offense was nothing special this year, and it may not become a juggernaut next season, certainly nothing close to group the Hawkeyes saw in 2006, the last time they played the Buckeyes.


On defense, OSU returns seven starters from one of the best units in the land.  They showed a few years back (when they lost nine starters) that they can reload on that side of the ball better than anyone in the nation.  They lose LB James Laurinaitis and CB Malcom Jenkins, two big losses.  They return three of four up front, one LB and three of four on the back side.  Ohio State also loses both of its kicking specialists; PK Ryan Pretorius and P A.J. Trapasso, but it seems like OSU always has an all Big Ten caliber performer waiting in the wings at these positions.


Iowa will play at Ohio State next fall, and it hasn't won there since 1991.  Iowa has only won there twice in my lifetime (born in 1971), and the Buckeyes will likely be named the favorite to win the Big Ten come late July at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. 


PENN STATE:  Some folks are already picking Penn State as the best or second best team in the Big Ten next season, but I wonder if that isn't a rush to judgment of sorts.


On offense, Penn State must replace three first team All Big Ten offensive linemen, plus their top three pass catchers off of this year's powerful unit.  They return TE Mickey Shuler, QB Darryl Clark, RB Evan Royster and two offensive linemen from their starting group in the Rose Bowl, for a total of five returning offensive starters.


On defense, it appears Penn State is going to suffer two big losses to the NFL, in early entrants Maurice Evans and Aaron Maybin, their star defensive ends from this season.  If both or even one of those players had returned, the defense would be in much better shape.  It still won't be a bad group, just not as good as it could have been and in my opinion, not as good as it was this year.  Jared Odrick will return on the inside, as will Abe Koroma, who was slowed by some disciplinary actions early this season.    Koroma was not listed as a starter for the Rose Bowl, but Josh Gaines was.  You could say that PSU returns just one starter on the line, but they have some talent and depth at that position.


The Nits will have a very talented LB corps, but what is new there?  If Sean Lee can regain his old form after recovering from an ACL tear in the Spring of 2008, that will bolster this group.  But Penn State loses its entire starting secondary.  Five or six starters return, depending on how you view Lee's comeback.  They return their punter, but not their placekicker.


Is Penn State back to the point where it can be assumed they will ‘reload', with just 10 or 11 starters back, even on both sides of the ball?  I guess we will see.  Iowa plays at Happy Valley right out of the chute in Big Ten action next September; perhaps that will be a good time to get the Nits.


NORTHWESTERN:  This team loses virtually all of its experienced playmakers on offense, including starting quarterback C.J. Bacher, RB Terrell Sutton & WR's Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and Rasheed Ward.  The three receivers combined to haul in 170 passes this year, and the oft-injured Sutton pulled down another 35.  That's 205 receptions that will need to be replaced, and a running back who was one of the toughest in the league to bring down.  When Kirk Ferentz was asked about the best backs in the league this year, on more than one occasion he made sure to bring up Sutton's name into the conversation.  Those four players accounted for over 2,200 receiving yards, too.


Bacher was sometimes erratic, but when he was clicking, he was quite dangerous.  Mike Kafka had a nice coming out party against Minnesota when Bacher was injured, and he rushed for more than 200 yards, an all time Big Ten record for a quarterback.  But Kafka is not the thrower that Bacher is/was, and Pat Fitzgerald may have to tweak his offense just a bit to help get the most out of Kafka.  The good news for Northwestern is that they return four of their five starters from the offensive line. 


The story is different on defense, where the Wildcats were very good this year.  They return eight starters, including disruptive defensive end Corey Wootton.  Wootton injured his knee in their Alamo Bowl loss to Missouri, and it has been reported he will need surgery.  If he can come back at 100 percent, that injury probably kept him from turning pro.  Losing DE Kevin Mims will hurt, and they also lose 300 pound DT John Gill.  But two of the three linebackers return, as does their entire secondary.  The Wildcats lose kicker Amado Villarreal, who put several kicks through the uprights this season.


The Hawkeyes get Northwestern back in Iowa City for the second straight year (and they must also travel to play at Michigan State for the second year in a row).  I don't think this Wildcats team will be good offensively as last year's group, but if Kafka can develop into a decent thrower, they could attain some dangerous balance with that offensive line coming back, and their defense should be stout once again.  Back to back bowl games seem likely.

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