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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive 2008 Big Ten Preview - Part II
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar
Man, if you missed the first part of Buckeye Dan Wismar's 2008 football preview of the Big Ten Conference, you need to go back and read it.  It's linked inside.  Just a very thorough, well thought out, well penned look at Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State.  Today, Dan takes a look at Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, and Wisconsin.  Dan put a lot of time into this piece, and it shows.  How much longer till football season?!?

Click here for Part I, which previews Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Head Coach - Tim Brewster - 2nd Year

Offense: Tim Brewster's Golden Gophers run the spread offense, and have sophomore Adam Weber returning at quarterback for his second season as the starter. The Gophers might have preferred that Weber not be the team leader in rushing yardage (736 yds) as well as passing yardage (2895 yds) for their 2007 team, but that's the way it was. Weber's 24 TD's were somewhat tainted by his 19 interceptions, but a year of experience is bound to help in that department. Finding a reliable running game might be more problematic. Sophomore Duane Bennett (442 yds rushing in '07) is the likely starter at RB, and junior Jay Thomas will see if he can rebound following knee surgery. They'll be replacing two of the five OL starters from last year as well. The Gophers do have an outstanding receiver returning in Eric Decker, but return no other receiver that had over 22 grabs in 2007. Brewster had a good year in recruiting, including dual-threat QB MarQueis Gray, a dynamic athlete who could be a playmaker for the Gophers without starting at QB (much as OSU will is likely to use Pryor.) Look for some improvement on offense over 2007, if only because there will be experience at QB. 
Defense: The Minnesota defense will be better in 2008, but that is mostly because it could not possibly be worse. The Gophers were dead last in the NCAA in total defense last season, giving up an astounding 518 yards per game, and surrendering an average of 36.7 points. I would use the fact that they have 8 defensive starters returning in 2008 as both the "Good News" and "Bad News" below, but that would be tired and cliché, and besides, I'm using it here. Minnesota brought in a new defensive coordinator for the sixth time since 2000. They turned to Duke (stop laughing) for help, in the person of Ted Roof. Actually, Roof has an excellent track record, and should help immediately, along with the infusion of lots of young players on defense. They do have senior MLB Deon Hightower to make tackles, and are counting on JC transfer Tramaine Brock to start right away at free safety. Still it figures to be a long year on this side of the ball. Strategy: keep them off the field. 
Summary: There's no sugar-coating the fact that the Gophers were terrible in 2007. First-year head coach Tim Brewster avoided an 0-12 season when, in their second game, the Miami (OH) kicker missed a 33-yd field goal attempt in OT, and the Gophers prevailed in the third OT. They have Florida Atlantic and Bowling Green on the schedule, which looks promising till you realize that both teams beat the Gophers in 2007. Montana St. and N. Illinois round out the non-conference slate. They don't play Penn St. or Michigan St. this year. It would be a success if the Gophers could win two or three conference games in 2008. 
Good News: Brewster recruits well, and the program has both an infusion of young talent, and the exciting prospect of their new stadium in 2010. 
Bad News: Their best player might be their punter, Justin Kucek. 
Returning Starters:15 
2007 Record: 1-11  (0-8 in Big Ten) 
Best player starting in 2008 that no one knows about yet
: S Tramaine Brock 
Last Beat OSU: 2000, 29-17 
Chances of beating the Buckeyes in 2008: 2% 
Buckeye Matchup - 2008: September 27, in Columbus, where the Gophers are 1-17 since 1969. 
Preseason Big Ten Ranking - (11 teams) #10 Lindy's;  #11 Athlon's; #10 Phil Steele's; #11 TSN 
Preseason National Ranking - (119 teams) #75 Lindy's;  #78 Athlon's; Unranked- Phil Steele's Top 50; Unranked- TSN Top 25 
2007 Minnesota-OSU Game Recap 
2008 Minnesota Roster 
2008 Minnesota Schedule

Northwestern Wildcats

Head Coach - Pat Fitzgerald - 3rd Year 

Offense: The Wildcats have excellent talent and tons of experience at the skill positions coming into 2008. Senior quarterback C. J. Bacher was the total offense leader in the Big Ten last year, throwing to WR's Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and Rasheed Ward. Those three receivers caught 161 passes a year ago, and 10 of Bacher's 19 touchdowns, and they all return this season as seniors. Part of Northwestern's problem on offense was that Bacher also threw 19 completions to the guys in the wrong-colored jerseys. Another was their inability to run with the football, leading to the worst rushing yardage in the conference. They do have talented running backs in Akron's Tyrell Sutton and Omar Conteh. Sutton was the team's leading rusher with 522 yards, but had only 108 carries in the Wildcats' pass-happy offense. Sutton was a workhorse in his freshman year, and the 'Cats were a better team back then. The offensive line lost three starters, but Fitzgerald has recruited well, especially at the tackle position, and some of those kids could see the field early. 
Defense: Northwestern has not been able to put together a defense capable of stopping much of anything lately. They gave up 38.4 points per game in the conference in 2007, finishing last in that category, and were 10th in yards per game surrendered. The defensive line returns intact, and senior John Gill is the anchor there. Junior end Corey Wootten is huge (6'7", 270) and athletic, and the line overall should be the strength of the defense. The linebackers, with Malcolm Arrington moving to MLB from outside, will miss their leading tackler from last season, and don't figure to be one of the conference's stronger units. Half of the secondary will also be first-time starters this year, so a move up in the Big Ten rankings for the defense will be tough to pull off. Nordonia's Jordan Mabin redshirted last season, and could help in the secondary as the season goes along. 
Summary: The Wildcats are heavy with seniors at important positions, and if the defense can make a significant improvement over 2007, they could win three or four Big Ten games, though two of the teams they beat in 2007, Indiana and Minnesota, will host them this time around. The non-conference schedule isn't scary, with Syracuse, Duke, S. Illinois and Ohio U. on the slate, although Duke edged them last year, shattering their psyche a week before the Bucks hung 58 on them. This is their year though. Bacher, Sutton, Peterman and Co. are all seniors and they need to knock off one or two of the better conference teams to get any attention. They haven't had the strength on the lines on either side of the ball to make that happen in the last few years, and it's still hard to look down their 2008 schedule and see many conference games likely to go in the win column. 
Good News: The Wildcats return 15 starters, and on the schedule they miss Wisconsin and Penn State, two of the four best teams in the conference. 
Bad News: They still have to play eight Big Ten games, and it's possible they will be favored in only one of them. 
Returning Starters: 15 
2007 Record: 6-6 (3-5 in Big Ten) 
Best player starting in 2008 that no one knows about yet
: OT Al Netter 
Last Beat OSU: 2004   33-27 (OT) 
Chances of beating the Buckeyes in 2008:  4% 
Buckeye Matchup - 2008: November 8 in Evanston, IL. Could it be just four years ago that OSU lost to these guys? 
Preseason Big Ten Ranking - (11 teams) #11 Lindy's;  #8 Athlon's; #T7 Phil Steele's; #8 TSN 
Preseason National Ranking - (119 teams) #82 Lindy's; #53 Athlon's; #49 Phil Steele's; Unranked TSN                                                          
2007 Northwestern-OSU Game Recap 
2008 Northwestern Roster 
2008 Northwestern Schedule

Penn State Nittany Lions

Head Coach - Joe Paterno - 43rd Year 
Offense: A quick look at the Penn State offense for 2008 shows new starters at quarterback and running back, and the tendency might be to predict a long season in Happy Valley. But those are the only two positions on the offense without a returning Nittany Lion starter, and the closer you look, the better Joe Paterno's team appears. Senior quarterback Darryl Clark (Youngstown Ursuline) will probably share time with strong-armed sophomore Pat Devlin. Clark may have more versatility as a dual-threat player, but Devlin is probably better as a pocket passer. Either guy would be excited to be throwing the ball to Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Anthony Norwood. There may be better individual receivers in the Big Ten, but it's hard to find a stronger group than this senior trio that combined for 142 catches last season. At running back, sophomore Evan Royster (513 yds, 5 TD, 6.3 yd. avg. in '07) will replace Tony Hunt (2nd all-time PSU rusher) and everyone is excited about the great speed that redshirt freshman Stephfon Green brings to the offense as Royster's backup. The offensive line is outstanding, with center A.Q. Shipley, guard Stefen Wisniewski, and tackle Gerald Cadogan the big names. Kevin Kelly is a reliable senior placekicker.

Defense: The strength of the Penn State defense will be the line, which returns intact and features preseason All-American Maurice Evans at end. Evans can be a dominant force outside, and big things are expected of junior Jared Odrick at one of the tackle spots. Keep an eye on freshman end Eric Latimore in that defensive line group. Sean Lee was expected to replace Dan Connor at inside linebacker, but Lee suffered a season-ending injury and the Lions will turn to Chris Colasanti and Josh Hull to be their men in the middle. And don't be surprised if top recruit Brandon Beachum (Cardinal Mooney) gets some playing time at linebacker too. In the secondary, strong safety Anthony Schirrotto may be the Lions' best player. They'll need improved cornerback play in 2008 if they're going to challenge for the conference championship. 
Summary: Talk of the succession plan for iconic head coach Joe Paterno continues to dominate discussion of Penn State football. Although there has been no announcement of his intentions, PSU coaches are reportedly telling recruits concerned about a 'housecleaning' that Paterno's successor will come from within his current staff. This runs counter to persistent rumors that Rutgers coach Greg Schiano is a likely candidate to move to State College when Joe Pa hangs it up. As beloved as Paterno is at Penn State, there is a growing sense of impatience with the uncertainty, and a desire to at least see the destination in this transition, however long the journey may turn out to be.

That impatience was intensified when the Lions had a disappointing season on the field in 2007. Two of their Big Ten losses (Illinois and Michigan St.) were games Paterno felt they should have won ("We should have been 10-2"). Breaking in a new QB and RB before the conference grind begins should be no problem, since the early schedule consists of a plate of cupcakes. A visit from Oregon State, a second-tier PAC team, is the closest thing to a challenge for the Nittany Lions, who will garbage up on Coastal Carolina, Syracuse and Temple before it gets cold. Trips to Wisconsin and Columbus look like the toughest tests for PSU, and their conference opener, a home game against Illinois on Sept. 27, could be an early indicator of which team is positioned to make a run at the Buckeyes.

Good News: Schedule is favorable and motivation is high. They should own the line of scrimmage in most of their games.

Bad News: Inexperience at QB almost always costs a game or two. Regularly losing Pennsylvania's best high school players to OSU. 
Returning Starters: 18 
2007 Record: 9-4  (4-4 in Big Ten) Beat Texas A&M 24-17 in the Alamo Bowl. 
Best player starting in 2008 that no one knows about yet
: DT Jared Odrick 
Last Beat OSU: 2005  17-10 
Chances of beating the Buckeyes in 2008:  24% 
Buckeye Matchup - 2008: October 25, in Columbus. PSU hasn't won in Columbus since Art Schlicter's debut game in 1978. 
Preseason Big Ten Ranking -  (11 teams) #4 Lindy's;  #4 Athlon's; #2 Phil Steele's; #7 TSN 
Preseason National Ranking - (119 teams) #26 Lindy's; #23 Athlon's; #10 Phil Steele's; Unranked in TSN Top 25


2007 Penn State-OSU Game Recap 
2008 Penn State Roster 
2008 Penn State Schedule

Purdue Boilermakers

Head Coach - Joe Tiller - 12th Year 
Offense: Senior quarterback Curtis Painter ('07 - 3846 passing yds., 29 TD's, 11 Int.) needs just over 3000 more yards to break Drew Brees' all-time career mark of 11,792 yds. for Big Ten QB's. But in two and a half seasons of starting for the Boilermakers, he has not yet directed his team to a victory over OSU, Michigan, Wisconsin or Penn State, going 0-7 in those games. Tiller's offense averaged an impressive 45.4 points in going 5-0 out of the gate in 2007, but the much-anticipated "White Out" game in W. Lafayette against the Buckeyes would have been a "Shut Out" instead, had the Boilermakers not scored a meaningless TD with a couple of ticks left on the clock in a 23-7 loss to OSU. Receiver Greg Orton ('07 - 67 rec.) returns, but the rest of the receiving corps is young by necessity. The top rushers from a year ago, Kory Sheets ('07 - 859 yds.) and Jaycen Taylor ('07 - 560 yds.) are back as seniors. They'll be running behind an offensive line that returns three starters, but has been slowed by offseason surgeries. Three-year starter at tackle Sean Sester is the class of that group.

Defense: Purdue finished in the bottom third of the Big Ten in defense in 2007, giving up over 28 points and just under 400 yards of offense per game in conference play. Those numbers will have to get better if the Boilermakers want to return to a bowl game this year, and send Joe Tiller into retirement on a positive note. The defensive line returns three of four starters, and will have to carry a less-experienced linebacker corps and secondary. Tackles Alex Magee and Ryan Baker are solid in the middle and senior DE Keyon Brown will pressure the QB. Converted RB Anthony Heygood (81 tackles in '07) is the only veteran at linebacker, and the secondary will have two new starters, including Glenville's Royce Adams, a junior cornerback. A defense that gave up 48 points three times last year doesn't appear to have improved enough to project Purdue into the top half of the conference standings. 
Summary: In Joe Tiller's last year at Purdue, the Boilermakers may be hard-pressed to repeat last year's 8-win season. The non-conference slate will be much harder to roll through undefeated like they did in 2007. They have Oregon coming into town on Sept. 13, and both Central Michigan and Notre Dame (at South Bend) will be tougher to beat than they proved to be a year ago. The conference schedule starts out with Penn State and OSU before it offers up any breathers, although in the last six games, only the two Michigan schools figure to provide many headaches for Purdue. Their Big Ten record could improve from a year ago, and they still might finish with a worse overall mark. 
Good News: A record-chasing season for NFL prospect Painter should be fun for Purdue fans to watch. And missing Illinois and Wisconsin on the schedule can only be considered good news in W. Lafayette. 
Bad News: Painter can't do it by himself. Not enough 'D'  (Good thing the new coach is named Hope.) 
Returning Starters: 12 
2007 Record: 8-5  (3-5 in Big Ten) Beat Central Michigan 51-48 in Motor City Bowl. 
Best player starting in 2008 that no one knows about yet
: P/K Chris Summers 
Last Beat OSU: 2004  24-17 
Chances of beating the Buckeyes in 2008: 17% 
Buckeye Matchup - 2008: October 11, in Columbus. 
Preseason Big Ten Ranking - (11 teams)  #8 Lindy's;  #9 Athlon's; #T7 Phil Steele's; #5 TSN 
Preseason National Ranking - (119 teams) #47 Lindy's; #54 Athlon's; Unranked Phil Steele's Top 50 and TSN Top 25 
2007 Purdue-OSU Game Recap 
2008 Purdue Roster 
2008 Purdue Schedule 

Wisconsin Badgers

Head Coach - Bret Bielema - 3rd Year 
Offense: The 2008 Badger offense could be rather one-dimensional, with its dominant rushing attack and its lack of any proven passing game. And that might not even be a problem. The running backs are special, and are led by P.J. Hill ('07 - 1212 yds, 14 TD, 5.2 yd.avg.) the powerful junior. Backups Zach Brown (568 yds) and junior Lance Smith (429 yds) combined for another 1000 yards rushing in 2007, and star redshirt freshman John Clay will push them all for playing time. At quarterback it looks like Alan Evridge, a senior transfer student will get the start. Evridge did start six games for Kansas State in 2005, making him the only experienced signal-caller at Bielema's disposal. His competition will come from junior Dustin Sherer and true freshman Curt Phillips. Glenville's Kyle Jefferson started seven games as a true freshman in '07, and returns as the only veteran wide receiver, but All-American candidate Travis Beckum, the Badgers' fine tight end, is often the primary target for the QB's. On the line, Wisconsin replaces only their all-conference center from last year. They are huge (the guards average 6'6", 322) and experienced, with sophomore tackle Gabe Carimi looking like a fitting bookend to match senior Eric Vanden Heuvel. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will have to fashion a credible passing attack to keep defenses honest and play ball control.

Defense: New coordinator Dave Doeren will have to upgrade a Badger defense that disappointed in 2007, and he'll have to overcome a rash of injuries to key players in order to succeed. Both projected starters at cornerback, Allen Langford and Aaron Henry are attempting to come back from ACL surgery, as is tackle Jason Chapman. Numerous other Badgers missed spring ball with various injuries, and both defensive ends, Matt Shaughnessy and Kirk DeCremer have been hurt as well. The linebackers should be solid, with leading tacklers Jonathan Casillas, Elijah Hodge and DeAndre Levy all returning with experience as starters. Safety Shane Carter is another standout, having led the Big Ten in interceptions last year with seven.

Summary: The Badgers should start fast, as the non-conference schedule is pretty tame, with Akron, Marshall and Fresno State on the slate. And the Big Ten schedule looks like it was set up by the Wisconsin A.D. They have OSU, Penn State and Illinois coming to Madison, and their trip to Michigan looks to be occurring in a down year for the Wolverines.  They do have Michigan, Penn  State and OSU in succession, but their second half is fairly light, including a home game with Cal Poly on Nov. 22, when most teams are battling key conference rivals. I don't believe Wisconsin is the second best team in the Big Ten, but their schedule is so favorable as to make it tough to pick them down much farther than that. But significant questions remain as to their ability to stop good offenses, and to pass the ball effectively themselves. 
Good News: Toughest three games (OSU, PSU, Illinois) are at home. All cupcake non-conference schedule. (Cal-Poly on Nov. 22...really?  Did Carson-Newman not have an open date?) 
Bad News: Kicking game could be very shaky, and depth in the defensive backfield could also be a problem. 
Returning Starters: 17 
2007 Record: 11-2 (5-3 in Big Ten) Lost to Tennessee 21-17 in Outback Bowl. 
Best player starting in 2008 that no one knows about yet
: T Gabe Carimi 
Last Beat OSU: 2004   24-13 
Chances of beating the Buckeyes in 2008: 45% 
Buckeye Matchup - 2008: October 4, in Madison, WI. 
Preseason Big Ten Ranking - (11 teams)  #2 Lindy's;  #2 Athlon's; #2 Phil Steele's; #3 TSN 
Preseason National Ranking - (119 teams) #11 Lindy's; #12 Athlon's; #21 Phil Steele's; #14 TSN 
2007 Wisconsin-OSU Game Recap 
2008 Wisconsin Roster 
2008 Wisconsin Schedule

Conclusions, Notes, and Guesses on the 2008 Big Ten Race

More from the experts on the Buckeyes...since I left them out...
Conspicuous by their absence in this preview of course, are the Ohio State Buckeyes. For the kind of information on the Buckeyes' personnel that is found here on the other 10 teams (and much more), I would refer you to the "Meet the 2008 Buckeyes" series
here, and also to Mike Furlan's two-part preview and analysis, "An Early Look at the 2008 Buckeyes" which can be found at Mike's archive
As you noticed, I have included the preseason predictions for the Big Ten, and for national ranking of the conference teams, by four of the traditional college football publications...Lindy's College Football Preview, Athlon Sports College Football, Phil Steele's College Football Preview and The Sporting News (previously Street and Smith's) College Football. And you may have also noticed that while there is some consensus of views on the strengths of the Big Ten teams, there are also some significant disagreements among the cited publications. 
A few examples; Phil Steele has Iowa tied for 4th in the conference, and TSN has them 9th. Illinois is considered the 10th best team in the nation by TSN, but didn't even make Phil Steele's Top 50.  TSN has Penn State ranked 7th in the Big Ten, while Steele has them 2nd. I point these out only to contrast them with the utter lack of disagreement about the Bucks, who are ranked #1 by all four publications. 
Some of the publications also rank the nation's best position units, and those rankings also demonstrate the talent differentials in the Big Ten. 
Athlon's Top 10 units: 
QB's - OSU 7th - No Other Big Ten teams ranked (NOBT) 
RB's - OSU 5th - (Wisc 4th) 
DB's - OSU 1st - (NOBT) 
WR's - OSU 6th - (NOBT) 
LB's - OSU 5th - (Wisc. 7th) 
OL's - OSU 4th - (Wisc 5th, PSU 7th) 
DL's - OSU not ranked - (PSU 3rd, Ill. 6th) 
Phil Steele's Top 15 units: 
QB's - OSU 12th - (Purdue 11th) 
RB's - OSU 1st - (Wisc 6th) 
WR's - OSU - 6th (NOBT) 
OL's - OSU 2nd - (Wisc 6th, PSU 10th, Iowa 11th) 
DL's - OSU not ranked - (PSU 2nd, Michigan 8th) 
LB's - OSU 1st - (NOBT) 
DB's - OSU 2nd - (Michigan 13th) 
Special Teams - OSU 5th - (PSU 2nd) 
Note that over half (6) of the Big Ten teams rated no mention at all, with three others (Iowa, Purdue, Ill.) getting only one mention each. 
Steele's also rated the position units among Big Ten teams, in nine categories. He has OSU ranked #1 in seven of them, and #2 in the other two (Special Teams and DL). I guess you could call that dominance....on paper, that is. 
We know Tressel won't allow these guys to mail in any performances, but before we get too cocky around here, it's worth noting that every other team in the conference except Indiana (1988) has beaten the Buckeyes within the last nine seasons, and seven of them have beaten the Buckeyes since they won it all in 2002 (five seasons). They're going to get every team's best effort, highest emotional pitch, and 'nothing-to-lose' coaching philosophy. 
Most of the pundits also rank the conferences on overall strength, and on this there was total consensus among Lindy's, Steele's and TSN.  
1. SEC 
2. Big 12 
3. Big Ten 
4. PAC 10 
Coaching Turnover 
It's hard to believe that Jim Tressel, entering just his eighth year as OSU head coach could soon become the "dean" of conference coaches. At the moment, only Paterno (43 years), Purdue's Joe Tiller (12 years) and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (10 years) have more seniority than Tressel. Tiller has already announced his retirement after 2008, and we know JoePa is gone soon. That leaves Ferentz, who seems to have the Iowa program regressing, and could get a call from an NFL team someday soon. 
On the other end of the tenure track, Michigan of course has a first-year coach, and Indiana (Lynch), Minnesota (Brewster), and Michigan State (Dantonio) have coaches entering their second seasons. Northwestern (Fitzgerald) and Wisconsin's (Bielema) head coaches are starting their third seasons, and Zook at Illinois is beginning his fourth. The new kids on the block are not all 'kids' though. Brewster, Fitzgerald and Bielema qualify, but Lynch, Dantonio, Zook and Rodriguez have been around that block. 
Nice Legs 
I didn't pay a great deal of attention to special teams in the team previews, but one thing that jumps out at me as I look at the rosters is that the conference is loaded with excellent punters and placekickers this season. Penn State's combo of P Jeremy Boone and K Kevin Kelly might head the list. The Buckeyes' A.J. Trapasso and Ryan Pretorius are both standouts, and Minnesota punter Justin Kucek is on the Ray Guy Award list. Purdue's Chris Summers does double duty, and excels at both punting and placekicking.  Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko (Twinsburg) will be playing on Sundays, and Indiana's kicker Austin Starr was 11 of 12 from 40 yards plus in '07.   
It seems to me that the Big Ten in 2008 could be broken down into four tiers of teams, and within those groupings just about anything could happen. The Buckeyes truly do stand alone on top  (I know...on paper). Here's my breakdown: 
1) Ohio State 
2) Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois 
3) Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue 
4) Northwestern, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota 
In order, top to bottom and left to right, is my predicted order of finish. We'll call it Wismar's W.A.G.

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