The Big Ten often has been called the Big Two due to the dominance of Ohio State and Michigan over the years. And although those two teams once again are at the top of my preseason conference rankings, make no mistake about it – the chase for the 2006 Big Ten title is not just a two-team race.
If Iowa can get out of the blocks well – a problem for the Hawkeyes the last couple of years – then Kirk Ferentz could find his team playing for not only the Big Ten championship but also for all the marbles come Jan. 8 in Arizona.
|1. Ohio State Buckeyes Team page | Schedule | Roster | SportingNews.com preview |
Ranked first in Terry's Preseason Sweet 16
The Buckeyes are the preseason No. 1 in the coaches' poll (and my Sweet 16), matching the sky-high expectations in Columbus. The offense should be able to light up the scoreboard with two legitimate Heisman Trophy hopefuls in quarterback Troy Smith and flanker Ted Ginn Jr., and the running game will be stout due to a talented line blocking for running backs Antonio Pittman and true freshman Chris Wells.
The question mark comes on the defensive side of the ball as nine starters need to be replaced. The talent is there but the experience is not, especially in the back seven. We'll find out how much that matters in Week 2 when the Buckeyes travel to Austin to take on the national champion and No. 2-ranked Texas Longhorns.
|2. Michigan Wolverines Team page | Schedule | Roster | SportingNews.com preview |
Ranked 12th in Terry's Preseason Sweet 16
Is Lloyd Carr really on the hot seat? It's hard to believe, but if another 7-5 record were to follow last year's disappointing season, the answer is a big, fat yes. The athleticism of the players at Michigan is through the roof, but that hasn't translated into meeting expectations lately.
New offensive coordinator Mike DeBord won't stray from a balanced attack, but he will hope that the team can stay healthy. Having Mike Hart at running back for a full season will help the Wolverines avoid another unbelievable ninth-place conference showing in total offense. And if Chad Henne goes down, forget about a Big Ten crown because there isn't much depth at the QB position. Henne will have great talent to throw to with Mario Manningham being perhaps the next great wideout at Michigan and Steve Breaston hoping to become the No. 1 receiver everyone thinks he should be. New defensive coordinator Ron English plans on being more aggressive, utilizing more of the talents of super-stud players like LaMarr Woodley and Leon Hall.
|3. Iowa Hawkeyes Team page | Schedule | Roster | SportingNews.com preview |
Ranked 16th in Terry's Preseason Sweet 16
If you knew going into the season that your team would be favored in all but two games on the schedule, you'd have to like your chances of having a big year. Meet the 2006 Hawkeyes. The only two games that Iowa likely will be the underdog? You guessed it: the Big Two (Ohio State at home and Michigan in Ann Arbor). But first things first. Kirk Ferentz needs to get his boys out of the gate this year hitting on all cylinders. Iowa has lost its last three conference openers not to mention non-conference debacles to Iowa State last year and Arizona State in 2004.
With senior QB Drew Tate at the helm, the Hawkeyes have the leadership in place, although his receiving corps is not battle-tested. Albert Young will run behind a very talented offensive line, and Young has the ability to become a household name. On defense, replacing linebackers Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge won't be easy, but the dominant defensive front should help ease the burden.
|4. Penn St. Nittany Lions Team page | Schedule | Roster | SportingNews.com preview |
Joe Paterno says he's going to coach another 10 years. My dad says that means he (Bobby Bowden) will have to coach another 11. Paterno found the magic again last year, leading the Nittany Lions to an 11-1 record, including a triple-overtime bowl win over my old man's Florida State Seminoles. The question in Happy Valley: Can Joe Pa do it again? I don't think 11-1 will happen, but nobody expected that last year either.
Anthony Morelli finally gets his chance under center, and the quarterback will have all-everything tackle Levi Brown helping to protect him. Brown also will be opening massive holes for Tony Hunt and Austin Scott to run through. The receivers are young, but very good, led by Derrick Williams. Only four starters return on defense, but the linebacking unit should be the best in the country. Butkus Award winner Paul Posluszny should be back from a knee injury, and his cohorts, Tim Shaw and Dan Connor, will produce big-time, too. Penn State will find out in a hurry where the holes on defense are as they travel to Notre Dame and Ohio State in Weeks 2 and 4, respectively.
|5. Michigan State Spartans Team page | Schedule | Roster |
There hasn't been a more inconsistent team in the Big Ten over the past several years than the Spartans. Or maybe Michigan State is the most consistent, having gone 18-18 in the three seasons head coach John L. Smith has led the team. The problem is that the Spartans will hang with the big boys and get throttled by teams with less talent.
Smith needs to figure out the problem in a hurry because with a steady, decent, consistent defensive effort, the Spartans could surprise this year. The offense won't be a problem. Led by All-America candidate Drew Stanton at quarterback, Michigan State again should be one of the top units on offense (fifth in total yards and 18th in scoring last year) in the country.
|6. Wisconsin Badgers Team page | Schedule | Roster |
The Barry Alvarez era is over in Madison, and it's Bret Bielema's turn to see if he can continue the Badgers' winning ways. Only three starters return on offense, with the biggest loss being running back and touchdown machine Brian Calhoun. Quarterback John Stocco does return, but without his top seven receivers statistically. The Badger defense certainly will improve on its 92nd-place ranking of a year ago, in part because of a cupcake non-conference slate with games against Bowling Green, Western Illinois, San Diego State and Buffalo.
|7. Purdue Boilermakers Team page | Schedule | Roster |
Last year, the Boilermakers were the chic pick by many to make a run at the national championship. This year, the expectations are much lower, which may be a good thing. The best unit is its offensive line with Jordan Grimes, Sean Sester and Mike Otto leading the way. They'll give sophomore Curtis Painter the time he needs to hit Dorien Bryant and Kyle Ingraham, the receivers who lead the second-best group on the team. The defense struggled last year, especially in the secondary, and again will be the team's Achilles' heel, although a healthy Torri Williams will help.
|8. Minnesota Golden Gophers Team page | Schedule | Roster |
When it comes to running the football, the Golden Gophers are the Denver Broncos of the NCAA. No matter who totes the pigskin for Minnesota, you can guarantee he'll have huge holes to run through while picking up major chunks of yardage. Glen Mason's offensive line always is one of the best in the country (it allowed three sacks last year), and that should continue this season. Like Purdue, defense is another issue altogether for the Gophers. Without a talent upgrade on that side of the ball, Minnesota will have to win its fair share of shootouts to secure a bowl berth.
|9. Northwestern Wildcats Team page | Schedule | Roster |
The sudden, tragic death of head coach Randy Walker leaves a lot of questions to be answered in Evanston, Ill. Pat Fitzgerald will try to keep as much continuity in place as possible, including the spread offense.
The question is: Who will run this year's offense? Sophomore QB C.J. Bacher should get the first crack, but Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka will be pushing for time, too. Running back Tyrell Sutton was 30 yards shy of 1,000 as a true freshman, and will get plenty of opportunities to pass the century mark this year. And the trend of teams that have offense but big question marks on defense continues, as Northwestern allowed 480 yards and 34 points per game last season.
|10. Illinois Fighting Illini Team page | Schedule | Roster |
Ron Zook's first year at Illinois didn't go too well with the Illini averaging just 17 points per game. Offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher moved on to Purdue, and now Jim Pry, who comes over from Akron, gets a crack at solving the problems that plagued Illinois last year. For the team to make any improvement over last year, the offensive and defensive lines have to step it up.
|11. Indiana Hoosiers Team page | Schedule | Roster |
Like Zook at Illinois, Terry Hoeppner enters year No. 2 hoping to make progress. Blake Powers will lead the Hoosiers, and his favorite target will be big man James Hardy, who stands 6-feet, 7-inches. The defense gave up more than 40 points per game over its final five contests, but the secondary returns intact.