Hawkeye Insider Big Ten Football Preview

It's that time of year again where media outlets across the land offer up predictions on the college football season. Not to be left out, Hawkeye Insider publisher Rob Howe has compiled his outlook for the Big Ten. Find out what he thinks as he enters his 14th season covering Iowa and the league.

IOWA CITY, Ia. - With Big Ten Media Days in Chicago a week away, Hawkeye Insider is ready to unveil it's conference preview and predictions.

A lot of attention was focused on the league during the off-season. Expansion talk took on a life of its own. But when the dust settled, and Nebraska came aboard to begin play in 2011, the same 11 combatants that have faced off every year since ‘94, when Penn State entered athletics competition, go at it again.

The Bowl Championship Series started in 1999 and the Big Ten has sent two representatives in all but three years. Ohio State has played in an amazing eight BCS games in that time, while Michigan reached the level three times and Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin got their two times each.

Can the conference continue its dominating role on college football's biggest stage? Can anybody unseat the Buckeyes atop the standings? We'll try to answer these and other questions:

HI.com Big Ten Preview/Predictions

1. Ohio State

  • Key Returnees: DeVier Posey, Terrelle Pryor, Brandon Saine, Dan Herron, four of five offensive lineman, Cameron Heyward, Brian Rolle, Chimdi Chekwa
  • .
  • Key Losses: Thaddeus Gibson, Doug Worthington, Austin Spitler, Curt Coleman, Jim Cordle, Jake Ballard
  • .

  • Breakdown: The Buckeyes said goodbye to six starters on defense and that might be a good thing. Gibson was the highest NFL draft pick of that bunch, going in the fourth round to Pittsburgh.

    Something seemed to click for Pryor midway through last season, namely he played within himself and Jim Tressel played to his QB's strengths. With 10 starters back on offense, including the dangerous Posey, it appears to be the best unit in the league.

    The Buckeyes schedule keeps them in Columbus until their Oct. 2 Big Ten Opener at Illinois. They're then home to Indiana. Despite tough trips to Wisconsin and Iowa, they're not exactly facing murderer's row.

    I think Ohio State will be in the national title hunt at year's end.

  • Impact True Freshman: James Louis, WR
  • Record (before bowl): 12-0 overall, 7-0 Big Ten
  • Projected Wins: Marshall, Miami (FL), Ohio, Eastern Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Penn State, Iowa, Michigan.
  • Projected Losses: None.
  • Projected Bowl: BCS Championship Game.

  • 2. Iowa

  • Key Returnees: Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Karl Klug, Jeremiha Hunter, Brett Greenwood, Tyler Sash, Ricky Stanzi, Riley Reiff, Darrell Johnson-Koulianos, Marvin McNutt, Adam Robinson, Ryan Donahue.

  • Key Losses: A.J. Edds, Pat Angerer, Amari Spievey, Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Calloway, Dace Richardson, Tony Moeaki.

  • Breakdown: Expectations are sky high entering 2010 after the ride on which the Hawkeyes took their fans last fall. Postseason wins on the level of last year's Orange Bowl don't come around often in Iowa City, the last occuring a half century earlier.

    The Hawkeyes return firepower on both sides of the ball and appear to have a favorable schedule. As frequently is the case, their success or failure could come down to the development of the offensive line.

    Bulaga, Calloway and Richardson played critical roles on the front a year ago. They left large holes to be filled.

    Iowa might find out a lot about its team during a Sept. 18 trip to Arizona. It's a nationally televised night game in the heat against a solid PAC-10 opponent seeking revenge from a loss a year ago in Iowa City.

    Iowa gets its projected Top 3 opponents - Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin - at home, but road trips to Michigan and Northwestern will not be walks in the park.

  • Impact True Freshman: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE

  • Record (before bowl): 9-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten

  • Projected Wins: Eastern Illinois, Iowa State, Ball State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota.

  • Projected Losses: Arizona, Michigan, Ohio State.

  • Projected Bowl: Capital One.

  • 3. Penn State

  • Key Returnees: Evan Royster, Derek Moye, Graham Zug, Stefen Wisniewski, Drew Astorino, Nick Sukay, Jack Crawford, Ollie Ogbu, D'Anton Lynn.
  • Key Losses: Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman, Jared Odrick, Josh Hull, Dennis Landolt, Daryll Clark.

  • Breakdown: Penn State used to be known as Linebacker U. Well, the Nittany Lions must answer some serious questions at that position this year. Bowman, Lee and Hull, each an all-Big Ten performer, used up their eligibility last season, leaving big shoes to fill. Add in the exit of Odrick and the Lions have a lot to prove on defense.

    Clark leaves a big void at quarterback after piloting Penn State to a pair of January bowls the last two years. The Lions do return the talented Royster and their top three receivers. Their previous best option at QB, Pat Devlin, will play for Delaware this fall.

    Joe Paterno should learn a lot about his football team during the first five weeks when it travels to defending national champion Alabama and Orange Bowl champ Iowa.

  • Impact True Freshman: Paul Jones, QB
  • Record (before bowl): 9-3, 6-2

  • Projected Wins: Youngstown State, Kent State, Temple, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Northwestern, Indiana, Michigan State.
  • Projected Losses: Alabama, Iowa, Ohio State.

  • Projected Bowl: Outback Bowl

  • 4. Michigan

  • Key Returnees: Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, Stephen Schilling, Roy Roundtree, Jordan Kovacs, Jonas Mouton, Obi Ezeh.

  • Key Losses:
  • Brandon Graham, Donovan Warren, Zoltan Mesko, Carlos Brown, Brandon Minor, Stevie Brown.

  • Breakdown: The natives are restless in Ann Arbor. Rich Rodriguez embarks on Year 3 at the helm with serious heat under his seat.

    Last year began with the Wolverines looking like they were ready to turn the corner. But a 4-0 start deteriorated into a 5-7 finish, including a 1-7 mark in the Big Ten.

    There's hope in exciting young quarterbacks Forcier and Robinson, but Michigan must turn around serious defensive shortcomings in the first two years of this coaching regime. The losses of Graham and Warren likely will make that pursuit more difficult.

    The Wolverines start out with two non-conference games against BCS level opponents - Connecticut and at Notre Dame. The Big Ten slate shows road games at Penn State and Ohio State and visits from Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State. If they turn the corner, they'll have earned it.

  • Impact True Freshman: Will Hagerup, P

  • Record (before bowl): 8-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten

  • Projected Wins: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Bowling Green, Indiana, Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin.

  • Projected Losses: Notre Dame, Penn State, Purdue, Ohio State.

  • Projected Bowl: Gator Bowl

  • 5. Wisconsin

  • Key Returnees: John Clay, Scott Tolzien, Nick Toon, Lance Kendricks, Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, J.J. Watt, Jay Valai, Brad Nortman, Culmer St. Jean, Niles Brinkley, Chris Borland.

  • Key Losses: O'Brien Schofield, Garrett Graham, Chris Maragos, Jaevery McFadden.

  • Breakdown: The Badgers bring back 10 offensive starters, including all five on the line that helped Clay run to all-conference honors. And, yeah, he also returns.

    The development of Tolzien helped balance Wisconsin's attack in 2009. Valai set the tone for toughness on defense.

    Borland did a nice job in a reserve role last season, but he'll need to step up his game to make up for the loss of Schofield, one of the league's top pass rushers a year ago.

    The Badgers, who beat Miami in the Champs Bowl last season, boast a favorable schedule. They play five of their first seven at home, with road games at UNLV and Michigan State. They get Ohio State at home and travel to Iowa Oct. 23.

  • Impact True Freshman: Beau Allen, DT

  • Record (before bowl): 9-3 overall, 5-3 Big Ten.

  • Projected Wins: UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State, Austin Peay, Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern.

  • Projected Losses: Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan.

  • Projected Bowl: Insight Bowl

    6. Northwestern

  • Key Returnees: Drake Dunsmore, Sidney Stewart, Stefan Demos, Al Netter, Quentin Davie, Nate Williams, Brian Peters.

  • Key Losses: Mike Kafka, Corey Wootton, Sherrick McManis, Zeke Markshausen, Andrew Brewer, Brad Phillips.

  • Breakdown: Pat Fitzgerald has done a bang-up job at his alma mater. The season might go a long way in telling us about the stability of his program.

    The Wildcats must find replacements for their best player on each of the ball from ‘09 in Kafka and Wootton. Both players highlighted game plans of the opposition.

    Northwestern would benefit from more balance on offense. Kafka was its best rushing piece last season.

    The Wildcats welcome back all five starters on the offensive line. Williams and Davie are active, aggressive linebackers.

    Northwestern misses Ohio State and Michigan this season and plays host to Iowa and Michigan State. Tough road games loom at Penn State and Wisconsin.

  • Impact True Freshman: Rashad Lawrence, WR

  • Record (before bowl): 6-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten

  • Projected Wins: Illinois State, Rice, Central Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, Illinois.

  • Projected Losses: Vanderbilt, Minnesota, Indiana, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin.

  • Projected Bowl: Texas Bowl

    7. Michigan State

  • Key Returnees: B.J. Cunningham, Kirk Cousins, Larry Caper, Mark Dell, Greg Jones, Chris Rucker, Eric Gordon, Trenton Robinson, Joel Foreman.

  • Key Losses: Brent Swenson, Joel Nitchman, Blair White, Trevor Anderson, Jeremy Ware, Danny Fortener.

  • Breakdown: The Spartans hope to turn the tables on some tough losses a year ago that saw them finish .500 in the league. Heartbreakers against Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota (not to mention slim losses against Central Michigan and Notre Dame) spoiled what could have been a stellar season in East Lansing.

    MSU boasts an all-world linebacker in Jones, a favorite for preseason defensive player of the year honors. Running mate Gordon might be one of the more underrated linebackers in the conference.

    Cousins emerged from a quarterback competition Keith Nichols to enjoy a breakout campaign last fall. Cunningham scratched the surface of stardom last season and appears poised to take the next step toward that goal.

    The schedule maker challenged the Spartans in ‘10 with road games at Michigan, Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern. They do get Notre Dame and Wisconsin at home and miss Ohio State.

  • Impact True Freshman: Isaiah Lewis, S

  • Record (before bowl): 7-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten

  • Projected Wins: Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Notre Dame, Northern Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue.

  • Projected Losses: Wisconsin, Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State.

  • Projected Bowl: Dallas Football Classic

    8. Illinois

  • Key Returnees: Mikel Leshoure, Jeff Allen, Clay Nurse, Martez Wilson, Ian Thomas, Tavon Wilson.

  • Key Losses: Jon Asamoah, Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn, Chris Duvalt, Garrett Edwards.

  • Breakdown: Despite not experiencing the type of senior seasons they had hoped, Williams and Benn leave a big void in the Illini attack. Opponents prepared to stop these two and let others attempt to beat them. That strategy worked.

    Maybe Illinois' offense can find success without the name power. Leshoure is one of the better kept secrets in the league. Talented Nathan Scheelhaase takes the quarterback reigns as a red shirt freshman.

    The two Wilsons, Nurse and Thomas provide the Illini with playmakers on defense. That could be key to early success while the inexperienced offense gets its feet under it.

    Although he's only a few years removed from leading his team to the Rose Bowl, Ron Zook will be feeling some heat in Champaign this fall. A third sub-par season in a row could make things very interesting.

    We should find out early in conference play of what the Illini is made. They host Ohio State in the opener before traveling to Penn State and Michigan State.

  • Impact True Freshman: Earnest Thomas, S

  • Record (before bowl): 5-7 overall, 3-5 Big Ten

  • Projected Wins: Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota.

  • Projected Losses: Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern, Fresno State.

  • Projected Bowl: None.

    9. Purdue

  • Key Returnees: Keith Smith, Ryan Kerrigan, Ken Plue, Cason Wiggs, Keith Carlos.

  • Key Losses: Joey Elliott, Brandon King, David Pender, Zach Jones, Torri Williams, Mike Neal.

  • Breakdown: A name not listed above is Robert Marve, a Miami (Fla.) transfer recently named the starting quarterback. He'll be working behind an offensive line returning just two starters.

    Marve also must forge ahead without star running back Ralph Bolden, who tore his ACL in April. He earned all-Big Ten honors last season after rushing 935 yards (4.7 per carry) and nine scores. He will have Smith, one of the league's best pass catchers.

    The Boilermakers said goodbye to all four members of their starting secondary but return one of the best pass rushers in the conference in Kerrigan. Wiggs provides a big leg but needs more consistency.

    Danny Hope experienced a rollercoaster first season as head coach but knocking off Ohio State and Michigan in the same season stoked up the fans for the future. If Marve settles in quickly at QB, a RB emerges in place of Bolden and the secondary can find productive replacements, Purdue is talented enough to surprise.

  • Impact True Freshman: Ricardo Allen, CB

  • Record (before bowl): 6-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten

  • Projected Wins: Western Illinois, Ball State, Toledo, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana.

  • Projected Losses: Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan State.

  • Projected Bowl: None.

    10. Indiana

  • Key Returnees: Ben Chappell, Darius Willis, Tandon Doss, Damarlo Belcher, Terrance Turner, Tyler Replogle.

  • Key Losses: Greg Middleton, Jammie Kirlew, Matt Mayberry, Ray Fisher, Rodger Saffold.

  • Breakdown: It's a good news, bad news situation in Bloomington. The Hoosiers return a lot of firepower on offense. The defense must find replacements for some of the top players it's featured for quite some time.

    Chappell might be the best signal caller about which few Big Ten followers know. He comes of a season during which he completed more than 62 percent of his passes, tossing 19 touchdowns and nearly reaching 3,000 yards through the air.

    Doss might be the Big Ten's top receiver. Willis is a playmaker.

    But can Indiana replace Kirlew and Middleton? Replogle is the only one back among Indiana's top five tacklers back from ‘09.

    Lynch appeared close to the end in Bloomington a few years ago, but the Hoosiers were competitive in almost every game last season. It still could be a make or break year for the coach.

    Indiana opens conference play by hosting Michigan before going to Ohio State in Week 2. If it can survive that tough chore, it's talented enough to keep everyone on its toes as it did a year ago.

  • Impact True Freshman: Chase Hoobler, LB

  • Record (before bowl): 5-7 overall, 1-7 Big Ten

  • Projected Wins: Towson, Western Kentucky, Akron, Arkansas State, Northwestern.

  • Projected Losses: Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue.

  • Projected Bowl: None.

    11. Minnesota

  • Key Returnees: Adam Weber, Troy Stoudermire, Duane Bennett, Kim Royston, Kyle Theret, Matt Carufel.

  • Key Losses: Lee Campbell, Simoni Lawrence, Traye Simmons, Eric Decker, Nick Tow-Arnett, Blake Haudan.

  • Breakdown: Tim Brewster enters Year 4 in Minneapolis needing to take the next step. A bowl game last season helps, but things need to get better as the coach brings a 14-24 record into ‘10.

    The Golden Gophers wlecome back all five starting offensive linemen and up-and-down quarterback Weber. They'll need to improve an inconsistent rushing attack that kept the defense on the field too much a year ago.

    That side of the ball took a hit, losing nine of 11 starters. Royston and Theret are productive safeties but surrounding them will be question marks.

    Minnesota plays host to USC in Week 3 in a game that could be a spring board if it finds a way to knock off a traditional powerhouse, albeit one that's currently in turmoil. The Gophers also get Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa at home in late October and beyond.

  • Impact True Freshman: James Manuel, S

  • Record (before bowl): 4-8 overall, 1-7 Big Ten.

  • Projected Wins: Middle Tennessee, South Dakota, Northern Illinois, Northwestern.

  • Projected Losses: USC, Wisconsin, Purdue, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa.

  • Projected Bowl: None.

    Coach of the Year: Jim Tressel, Ohio State

    Offensive Player of the Year: Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State

    Offensive Lineman of the Year: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

    Defensive Player of the Year: Greg Jones, Michigan State

    Defensive Lineman of the Year: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa

    Freshman of the Year: Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois

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