Big Ten Race Wide Open?

The Big Ten sportswriters' pick a preseason top three -- this year they picked !. Michigan. 2. Ohio State. 3. Iowa. Is this accurate, or a case of 'looking in the rear view mirror? Here's what the 'numbers' given out at the Big Ten Kickoff tell us -- and here's also what some of the coaches themselves said the past couple days. And -- you get a chance to vote as well!

Here are the Big Ten teams' returning starters, as announced at the Kickoff (and we add another fact, whether the team returns its starting quarterback).
In order of the number of returning starters.

Indiana (2003 record: 2-10, 1-7 in the Big Ten. 21 starters return (including QB Matt LoVecchio), 10 offense, 9 defense, plus both kickers.
Coach DiNardo: "We only play five home games this year ... least in the Big Ten, the least I believe of any BCS team."

Wisconsin (2003 record: 7-6, 4-4). 20 starters return, 10 offense, 8 defense, plus both kickers.
Coach Alvarez: "Our better teams at Wisconsin have had strong line play, and a great running back. And in 2004 we return all five offensive line starters, and our guards are both four year starters. At running back we have an elite player, Anthony Davis."

Northwestern (2003 record: 6-7, 4-4 ). 19 starters return, 8 offense (including QB Brett Basanez), 9 defense, plus both kickers.
Coach Walker: "This year we return lot of guys, and have a lot second year starters. We think we have good club coming back."

Illinois (2003 record: 1-11, 0-8). 17 starters return , 8 offense (including QB Jon Beutjer), 8 defensive, plus the punter.
Coach Turner: "The biggest improvement we have to make is defensively. And the biggest improvement we made on defense was naming of Mike Mallory (former Wolverine) as defensive coordinator."

Michigan (2003 record: 10-3, 7-1). 16 starters, 7 offense, 7 defense, plus both kickers.
Coach Carr: "In order to have a great team you have to have a great defense. A great defense begins with not giving up big plays ... our secondary is very experienced, and we expect them not to give up the big play. [And even with a new QB] we still expect this year's offense to play well -- to not put the defense in a hole with bad field position. And some things we'll do a little different for the new guys who may have a little different abilities."

Michigan State (2003 record: 8-5, 5-3). 16 starters; 7 offense, 7 defense, plus both kickers.
Coach Smith: "Our defense has to carry team first half, while we develop a new quarterback and a new offensive front. Eventually our offense will mature ... by midseason we should be a decent football team."

Penn State (2003 record: 3-9, 1-7). 15 starters, 6 offense (including QB Zack Mills), 7 defense, plus both kickers.
Coach Paterno: "We'll be better. Will we win more games I don't know, but we will be better. New offense Coordinator Galen Hall (former Florida head coach)will come into it with a background of success."

Minnesota (2003 record: 10-3, 5-3). 14 starters, 7 offense, 6 defense, plus the P/PK.
Coach Mason: "We won 10 games last year and we're not happy about that. I've got a good football team. I think we'll be good this year. If you don't stop us we're going to run the football. [Minnesota has] the best offensive line I've been involved with. And this is the best defense we've had."

Purdue (2003 record: 9-4, 6-2).12 starters return, 8 offense (including QB Kyle Orton), 3 defense, plus the place kicker.
Coach Tiller: "We lost 8 starters on defense, several of whom were starters since they've been freshmen. And we have 8 returning starters on offense. So, Purdue will be offensive in nature. And our place kicker Ben Jones is back. He's one of the best in the country."

Iowa (2003 record: 10-3, 5-3). 11 starters return - 4 offense, 7 defense.
Coach Ferentz: "For the first time we're picked in the top three in the conference -- but we'll be scrambling a bit more this year than the past two. Sitting here at the beginning of August we have lot of work to do. We're not worthy of our high ranking right now; hopefully we will be by the end of the season."

Ohio State (2003 record: 11-2, 6-2). 11 returners, 4 offense, 6 defense, plus the place kicker.
Coach Tressel: "We have a young group [who are] anxious to see how we match up in 2004. What happens early will tell us what kind of team we have. On offense, first we see what can our quarterback can do. THEN we see what can the rest of the team do. So it's a brand new evolution."



Our experience is that the Big Ten coaches are quite (and perhaps surprisingly) open and acccurate about their teams' chances at the Kickoff.

So, based on the brief statements above (which we tried to make as representative as each coach's point of view), in your opinion which coach-or-coaches seem to think their team is 'loaded' for 2004?

Click HERE to go to our Premium Message Board and cast your vote.

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