John Roberts College Football

Friday, August 19, 2005

Preseason 2005: Ranking the teams and a few sleepers

Here are my preseason rankings of all 119 teams. Keep in mind that these rankings are predictions of where they will end up, not how good they are right now.

1. USC
2. LSU
3. Virginia Tech
4. Miami, FL
5. Michigan
6. Oklahoma
7. Iowa
8. Tennessee
9. Ohio State
10. Texas
11. Florida
12. Louisville
13. UCLA
14. Boston College
15. Georgia
16. Arizona State
17. Florida State
18. Texas A&M
19. Georgia Tech
20. UTEP
21. Texas Tech
22. Alabama
23. Boise State
24. Penn State
25. Iowa State

26. Minnesota
27. Bowling Green
28. Fresno State
29. Arkansas
30. Oklahoma State
31. Auburn
32. Purdue
33. North Carolina State
34. California
35. Memphis
36. Missouri
37. Oregon State
38. Colorado
39. Oregon
40. Toledo
41. Clemson
42. UAB
43. West Virginia
44. Northern Illinois
45. Notre Dame
46. Utah
47. Pittsburgh
48. Stanford
49. Wisconsin
50. Virginia

51. Nebraska
52. Connecticut
53. Miami, OH
54. Kansas State
55. Wyoming
56. Washington State
57. BYU
58. South Carolina
59. Wake Forest
60. Rutgers
61. Maryland
62. Tulane
63. Houston
64. Nevada
65. Southern Miss
66. Mississippi
67. Syracuse
68. Michigan State
69. New Mexico
70. Arizona
71. Kansas
72. Indiana
73. North Carolina
74. Middle Tennessee
75. Northwestern

76. Marshall
77. Colorado State
78. Navy
79. Air Force
80. Louisiana Tech
81. North Texas
82. Vanderbilt
83. Washington
84. San Diego State
85. Mississippi State
86. Hawaii
87. TCU
88. Illinois
89. Ohio
90. Baylor
91. Kentucky
92. Eastern Michigan
93. South Florida
94. Western Michigan
95. Duke
96. Ball State
97. Cincinnati
98. Tulsa
99. UNLV
100. Louisiana-Monroe

101. East Carolina
102. Louisiana-Lafayette
103. Buffalo
104. Akron
105. Troy
106. San Jose State
107. SMU
108. Army
109. New Mexico State
110. Rice
111. Idaho
112. Kent
113. Florida Atlantic
114. Central Michigan
115. Florida International
116. Arkansas State
117. Utah State
118. Temple
119. UCF

POTENTIAL SLEEPERS:

It seems that each year I vastly underrate some team in the preseason. So, this year, I am making a list of the teams that I think I may have vastly underrated. This way, I can at least say at the end of the year that I knew that I could be off right from the beginning.

BIG TEN
Purdue- The Boilermakers return a ton of starters, but haven't proven they can win close games or pick themselves up off the mat after a tough loss. They have a chance to run into the Top Five, but also a chance to fall flat on their face. I've fallen for Purdue several times before and always wound up with egg on my face. This year, the egg could wind up there again if they run to the Top Five.

ACC
Clemson- Call me crazy, but I'm really starting to think that Clemson could be really good. They have a lot of the same talent that was here last year when they were supposed to make a run at the title. This year, they are a year more experienced, and they get Texas A&M, Florida State, Miami, and Boston College all at home, whereas last year they had to play three of those four teams on the road. I really think Whitehurst could have a breakout season making up for last year's disappointment, much like Campbell did at Auburn a year ago.

SEC
Auburn- Surely there is no way the can do THAT again, right? Maybe, maybe not. They have a lot of talent, but they lost a lot as well. The Tigers probably will not make another run this year. But the Tigers might be good enough to finish much higher than I have them ranked.

PAC TEN
California- The Bears lost a lot as well, but Tedford is a master at pulling together talent. Plus, their schedule is a walk in the park at the beginning. The Bears have a chance to mesh before mid-October when the season really gets rolling.

BIG TWELVE-
Kansas- I love this Jayhawks team. I think they have a very real shot at winning the division. How can that be since I said they would go 1-7 in conference play? Easy. They play in the North and can win a bunch of those toss up games that were left when I picked their schedule. Don't be shocked if this team goes far.

BIG EAST-
Pittsburgh- Yes, Syracuse may be underrated as well, but the Panthers have a chance to be very very good this year. Good enough to to even beat Louisville. Of course, the new coaching staff could be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole right now. I'm not sure if the staff has the people necessary to make their schemes work. If they do though, look out!

BONUS
Oregon- The more I hear people talk about Oregon, the more I become convinced that they really are a solid bunch. I think they probably are the fifth best team in the conference, but if they beat USC early in the year I wouldn't be shocked, in which case they suddenly have a real shot to win the Pac Ten. Is this the year the Ducks return to their past glory?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Preseason 2005: All Americans and the Heisman Trophy

ALL AMERICANS

Offense
QB Matt Leinart, USC
RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
RB Reggie Bush, USC
WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
WR Greg Lee, Pittsburgh
TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA
OL Eric Winston, Miami
OL Greg Eslinger, Minnesota
OL Justin Blalock, Texas
OL Marvin Philip, California
OL Marcus McNeill, Auburn

Defense
DL Matthias Kiwanuka, Boston College
DL Rod Wright, Texas
DL Darryl Tapp, Virginia Tech
DL Jesse Mahelona, Tennessee
LB Ahmad Brooks, Virginia
LB Chad Greenway, Iowa
LB A.J. Hawk, Ohio State
DB Charles Gordon, Kansas
DB Jaxson Appel, Texas A&M
DB Jason Allen, Tennessee
DB Jimmy Williams, Virginia Tech

Specialists
K Andrew Wellock, Eastern Michigan
P Tom Malone, USC
KR Steve Breaston, Michigan
PR Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State

HEISMAN TROPHY

The Heisman Trophy is one of the most coveted trophies in all of sports. It also may be one of the most political trophies in all of sports. Campaigns are run to try to earn a player this award. Sometimes things can turn ugly.

One thing sticks out in the Heisman race this season. That one thing is that there are about four legitimate candidates, but no one else even appears close to those four. There has to be a darkhorse out there somewhere. It is a long and winding road to the Heisman Trophy. Sometimes players finish in the Top Ten in the voting that don't even get All Conference honors. Sometimes they finish ahead of players that they finish behind in All Conference voting. Things are always a little bit different with the Heisman Trophy.

With that being said, here are the preseason Top Ten Heisman Trophy picks:

10. Marcus Vick, Virginia Tech- The Hokies are going to be good, and if they are going to be as good as was predicted earlier, then Vick will have a great season. He will be thrilling to watch. This is a case of a guy that is not currently on the All Conference list, but that will finish ahead of all of his counterparts in the Heisman voting.

9. Gerald Riggs, Tennessee- The Vols running back ran for over 1000 yards last year in a crowded backfield. This year he is all alone back there. He should put up huge numbers and be in the running down to the very end.

8. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech- Johnson appears ready to explode in his sophomore year as a wide receiver. He may become the first receiver since Desmond Howard to win the trophy. OK, so that's not going to happen, but the Yellow Jackets will be playing in plenty of marquee games, and he will be in the spotlight each time.

7. C.J. Leak, Florida- The Gators quarterback should thrive under the new system implemented by Urban Meyer. He looks like he is ready to take his game to the next level and he has always had the athletic tools to do it.

6. Ted Ginn Jr.,- This year's Reggie Bush, he does it all. He returns kicks. He runs the football. He catches the football. He even plays some in the secondary. If he stays healthy, he should be in for a phenomenal season. If he plays well against Texas on September 10, then his Heisman stock will skyrocket.

5. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma- He is one of the candidates that must be included on any Heisman Trophy short list. However, this year should be a bit of a down year for him. He is a sophomore, and that often means a slump. Last year, Peterson would look great at times, but other times he looked like a freshman, despite his incredible numbers that he amassed. The line won't be as strong, and the quarterback situation is more messy this year. That all means that Peterson's season will be a bit down from last year.

4. Reggie McNeil, Texas A&M- The Aggies quarterback is one of the most exciting playmakers in the country. He can run. He can throw. He has finally developed into the type of player that everyone always thought he could be. He plays a lot like Vince Young.

3. Reggie Bush, USC- While the Trojans star back finished in the Top Five last year without being a permanent starter (he was behind LenDale White at running back), Bush should finish in the Top Five this year while starting. Bush is explosive in every way. He can run, catch, and return kicks. He may be the most exciting player to watch in all of college football.

2. Vince Young, Texas- If McNeil "plays a lot like Vince Young," then surely Young has to be ahead of him. Young will have plenty of chances to showcase his talent early in the year with a trip to Ohio State and a game against Oklahoma. Young may not play spectacularly in those games, but his numbers will be too much to ignore at season's end.

1. Matt Leinart, USC- Never has there been a bigger favorite to win the trophy than Leinart. He won it last year, and unless USC loses two games, he should win it again. He may deserve the immortal status that goes along with being the first college quarterback to ever win two Heisman Trophies in a row. He's that good.

Players that just barely missed the cut include:

Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson
Chad Henne, Michigan
Brian Brohm, Louisville
DeAngelo Williams, Memphis
Omar Jacobs, Bowling Green

Let the campaigns begin!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Look at the SEC

Rarely has a conference experienced so much change at the top. Les Miles takes over for Nick Saban at LSU. Urban Meyer takes over for Ron Zook at Florida. Steve Spurrier takes over for Lou Holtz at South Carolina. Would it surprise anyone to see two of those teams playing in the SEC Championship Game this season? The question is, will stability play out and some other team make it or will new blood win the day? This conference just drips with storylines.

EAST
1. Tennessee (10-1, 7-1)- The Vols have it all together. At quarterback, the battle rages bewteen Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen. Both played last year and were impressive. Ainge has a rifle arm and is a sophomore, while Clausen is a senior who has all the mental aspects of the game down. Gerald Riggs will be running the ball. Riggs burst onto the scene with more than 1100 yards a year ago as the team's second running back. He is expected to contend for the Heisman this year. The receivers are as deep as they have been in several years in Knoxville. Jayson Swain, Robert Meachem, C.J. Fayton, Bret Smith and Chris Hannon give the Vols multiple options of who to throw the ball to. The offensive line returns four starters from a year ago. The problem is that there appears to be a lack of depth on the line. The defense could be a dominant force. The line is lead by Parys Haralson and Jesse Mahelona. Those two are as good as any duo on the line in the conference. Omar Gaither and Jason Mitchell return at linebacker, while Kevin Simon hopes to finally have a completely healthy season. The secondary was a cause for concern a year ago, but thanks to Jason Allen's move to corner and Roshaun Fellows, Jonathan Heffney, and Corey Campbell being all a year more experienced, there is hope that they can show a lot of improvement. The schedule is not kind with UAB at home and road trips to LSU and Florida in September. Trips to Alabama and Notre Dame later in the year are both key contests as well. This team has the talent to be a national title contender, but potentially not the schedule.

2. Florida (9-2, 6-2)- In Urban Meyer's new system, Chris Leak is expected to shine. Leak has shown flashes of brilliance in his first two years at Florida, but has not been able to sustain anything. The receivers are deep and talented. Chad Jackson, Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell, and Jemalle Cornelius give Leak plenty of options to throw the ball to. The offensive line returns three starters, but lacks a lot of depth. The running game will be lead by DeShawn Wynn, an explosive back who needs to establish that he can be the star that he was expected to be when he first got to Gainesville. The defense will be solid up front. Ray McDonald and Marcus Thomas are solid linemen and Jeremy Mincey and Joe Cohen also return to the line. The linebackers are thinner than last year, but Brandon Siler is expected to develop into the leader of the defense that Channing Crowder was last year. The secondary is the lone real question mark on the defensive side of the ball. Jarvis Herring had four interceptions a year ago. The schedule is not easy by any means. Wyoming, a potential Top 25 darkhorse, comes calling on September 3. Tennessee comes to town on September 17. Florida State comes on November 26. They have to go to Alabama, LSU, and Steve Spurrier's new home in South Carolina. They also play in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville against Georgia. Again, the schedule is brutal, but the talent is there to make a run at a national title.

3. Georgia (9-2, 6-2)- The Dawgs lost some of the most talent in the country, but they have capable back ups waiting in the wings. At quarterback, D.J. Shockley has proven that he is as athletic as they come. However, he still has to prove he has the arm to be an SEC quarterback. He showed a strong arm last year in the Tennessee game. The running game will be lead by three sophomores, Thomas Brown, Danny Ware, and Kregg Lumpkin. They all averaged around 5.0 yards per carry last year. That's not bad. The receivers are the biggest downside to this offense. Sean Bailey and Bryan McClendon have talent, but they are very inexperienced and did not look good in spring practice. The offensive line returns five starters, which means that Shockley could have all day to try to find some of those receivers. The defense will be lead by a deep and talented defensive line. Will Thompson, Kedric Golston, Gerald Anderson, Quentin Moses, Darrius Swain, and Charles Johnson all have a load of talent. The linebackers are athletic and talented, but lack a lot of experience and a true leader. The secondary needs to step up their playmaking. DeMario Minter, Tim Jennings, and Greg Blue are all good players, but have never made the big plays. The schedule for the Dawgs is very interesting as they will present two deeply intriguing games right off the bat when they battle Boise State and South Carolina. Both of those teams will be looking to make statements that they belong with the big boys early in the season. Trips to Tennessee and Georgia Tech later in the year won't be any fun. The trip to Jacksonville to play Florida is always interesting. They get Auburn at home this year. The schedule is kinder than either Florida or Tennessee's, at least on paper. The Dawgs lost a lot off of last year's team, but with their kind schedule and a host of talented players stepping in, it is possible that Georgia could stun the country and have a special season.

4. South Carolina (4-7, 2-6)- The rest of the SEC shuddered when it was announced that Steve Spurrier would be becoming the new head coach at South Carolina. The problem is that this year's team looks to be supremely behind the top three of the East. Cory Boyd is expected to be the starting running back. He is a talented back. Noah Whiteside and Syvelle Newton lead a pretty good lot of receivers. Three starters return on the offensive line. The real question is at quarteback. Blake Mitchell and Antonio Heffner are the two most likely candidates to be starters, but neither has much college experience. The defense will be lead by sophomore Ko Simpson in the secondary. He intercepted six passes and came up with 61 tackles a year ago. He made an instant impact and is one of the better safeties in the conference. Fred Bennett also picked off four passes a year ago. The secondary appears to be solid. The rest of the defense is full of questions. Ricardo Hurley returns at linebacker and is expected to finally live up to his potential and make a push towards being an high draft pick in the NFL draft. There are four new players on the defensive line. Marque Hall and Stanley Doughty had very good spring practices. The Gamecocks first three SEC games are at Georgia and Auburn, and a home game with Alabama smashed in between. One win in those three games would tell the world that Spurrier has arrived. A trip to Tennessee in late October and a home game with Florida in November may be the most anticipated games of the whole season just to see Spurrier renewing old rivalries in the SEC. Not getting embarrassed by Clemson on November 19 would also be a nice step for the Gamecocks.

5. Vanderbilt (3-8, 2-6)- The Commodores return Jay Cutler at quarterback and hope everything else falls into place. Cutler may just be the top quarterback in the SEC. Marlon White and Erik Davis both are talented wide receivers. Davis makes the tough catches and is the possession receiver, while White is counted on to stretch the field. The offensive line returns four starters, but all of them have some starting experience. This is a group that may not be as experienced as some, but has the ability to hold their own. The running game will be lead by Jeff Jennings and Cassen Jackson-Garrison. The defense will be counting on the successful transition from linebacker to defensive line of Herdley Harrison. If the Commodores defense is successful, it will be because of Harrison wreaking havoc in the backfield. The linebackers are already pretty talented. Jonathan Goff is a talented linebacker, but Moses Osemwegie is one of the better ones in the conference. The secondary is the biggest question mark for this defense. Andrew Pace, Sean Dixon, and Kelechi Ohanaja all have potential but need to recognize it for the secondary to be solid. The Commodores open in an interesting game at Wake Forest on September 1. A trip to Arkansas and a home date with Ole Miss follow. After that Richm0nd, and Middle Tennessee both come to Nashville. There is a chance for a 5-0 start for the 'Dores. Of course, they could also start 1-4. With a home date with Kentucky on the schedule for late November and a trip to South Carolina in October a winning season is not out of the question. LSU and Georgia both come to Nashville. Last year, the Commodores finished 2-9 and lost five games by five points or less. If this year's squad could win those five, a 7-4 record would follow, and finally another trip to a bowl game.

6. Kentucky (2-9, 1-7)- Andre Woodson is the projected starter at quarterback, and he appears to be a playmaker. He's got a cannon of an arm and is speedy on his feet. He'll be throwing to Glenn Holt, Keenan Burton, Scott Mitchell, and Tommy Cook. Those four all are solid receivers. The offensive line returns just three starters, but the group could be a solid bunch. The running game is cause for some major concern. Rafael Little will be the first to get a crack at running the ball. The defense needs to start stopping the run. Trey Mielsch is the team's most consistent lineman. The linebackers will be lead by Wesley Woodyard and Joe Schuler. The secondary will depend a lot on safeties Muhammad Abdullah (the team's leading returner in tackles, sacks, and interceptions) and Marcus McClinton. The corners need to step up. The key to the season for the Wildcats are the first three games. The home date with arch rival Louisville will be tough, but then come two very winnable games against Idaho State and Indiana. Mississippi State comes to Lexington later in the year and trips to Ole Miss and Vanderbilt also present winnable games. Then if they could sneak a win out of one of the Florida, Auburn, and Tennessee home games, this team could be looking at a bowl game. But it's not likely. Four wins would show some major improvement.

WEST
1. LSU (10-1, 7-1)- The Tigers have the talent to go a long way in Les Miles first season as coach. JaMarcus Rusell will be taking over at quarterback. He played very well a year ago in his split time. The running game will be lead by Joseph Addai. He is a solid back that should have a good season. Justin Vincent also will play very well. Throwing the ball to Skyler Green, Dwayne Bow, and Craig Davis has potential to make any offense look good. The offensive line returns four starters and should again open up huge running holes and provide a lot of protection for the quarterback. The defense will be lead by the defensive line. Melvin Oliver, Claude Wroten, and Kyle Williams will be trying to make up for the loss of Marcus Spears. They should be able to. The linebackers Cameron Vaughn and Kenneth Hollis are both capable of being big time players. LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels are among the best in the SEC in the secondary. Landry picked off four passes a year ago. LSU will battle Arizona State and Tennessee at home before the end of September and get Florida and Auburn at home later in the year. The toughest road game is at Alabama. The team has a nice schedule as long as their tough home field advantage holds up.

2. Alabama (8-3, 5-3)- The Crimson Tide, if they can stay healthy, have as good of a team as any in the SEC. Brodie Croyle returns at quarterback after getting hurt in the third game last year. He was having his best season by far up to that point. After that game, the Tide went a mere 3-6. Kenneth Darby also needs to stay healthy at running back. He rushed for over 1000 yards a year ago, but had offseason hernia surgery. Croyle will be throwing to Tyrone Prothro a lot. Ezekiel Knight and Matt Caddell should make the receivers one of the deeper groups on the team. The offensive line returns just two starters, which could cause some serious problems for the Tide's offense. However, the defense that ranked second in total defense a year ago returns almost entirely intact. Jeremy Clark, Rudy Griffin, and Mark Anderson all return on the line and are very good. However, there are several guys pushing them for playing time, which shows that this unit could be very deep and very talented. The linebackers are solid at the starting positions and a little weaker in the depth department. Juwan Garth, Freddie Roach, and DeMeco Ryans could probably start on any of the other teams in the conference. The secondary is deep and talented. Charlie Peprah is one of the conference's better safeties. The trip to South Carolina on September 17 could tell a lot. However, the season really begins in October, when both Florida and Tennessee come to Tuscaloosa. A home date with LSU and road game at Auburn to close out the season also should be very interesting.

3. Arkansas (7-4, 5-3)- The Razorbacks have to replace do everything quarterback Matt Jones, but he was all they had coming back last year, so this year's team has a lot of experience. Robert Johnson is the favorite to take over at the quarterback spot. He's not as athletic as Jones, but few people are. He has a good arm and good speed. He'll be throwing to Marcus Monk and Anthony Brown, both tall receivers that should be big time receivers this year. The offensive line returns all five starters. That should open up holes for Peyton Hillis and De'Arrius Howard to run through. They both are big tough backs that can make huge plays. The defensive line has the size necessary to compete in the SEC. Marcus Harrison is only sophomore, but looks to be a rising star in the SEC. Pierre Brown and Sam Olajubutu are both returning at linebacker and are expected to take the next step in their senior seasons. The secondary returns four starters, and Vickiel Vaughn has a chance to shine from his safety spot. Trips to USC and Alabama end September. Let's not forget that the Razorbacks always seem to play Texas tough early in the year under Houston Nutt. Can they do the same thing at USC? Things could get very interesting if they do. Trips to Georgia and LSU come later. A home date with Auburn is the season's best home game.

4. Auburn (7-4, 5-3)- Here comes the disrespect train again. The Auburn Tigers are not getting much respect again. But when you lose four first round NFL picks, things just can't get much better. Brandon Cox will take over at quarterback. He has been very impressive in spring and fall drills. Kenny Irons, Tre Smith, and Carl Stewart all look talented, but replacing Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams is no easy task. The offensive line returns three starters and should be a force still. The receivers are very talented, lead by Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu, and Courtney Taylor. The linebackers are the best part of this defense. Kevin Sears, Travis Williams, and Antarrious Williams are all solid contributors that started a year ago. The defensive line returns just one starter, but Stanley McGlover and Quentin Groves both recorded 7.5 sacks a year ago coming off the bench. The secondary is hurt by the loss of Carlos Rogers and Junior Rosegreen. Will Herring and Montavis Pitts will be expected to step up. Georgia Tech and Alabama both come to Auburn, but road games against Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia are not easy tests. This team could be very talented again, but it is very tough to replace so much talent.

5. Mississippi (4-7, 2-6)- Ed Orgeron has a tough task ahead of him trying to take the Rebels to a consistent SEC title contender. Micheal Spurlock, Robet Lane, and Ethan Flatt will battle for the quarterback spot again. Spurlock is the slight favorite. He is athletically gifted. The offensive line returns just two starters, meaning that everyone will need to be patient with the offense. Jamal Pittman and Vashon Pearson are both very solid backs that could explode onto the scene. The receivers are very talented. Mario Hill, Mike Espy, and Taye Biddie all are looking to break out of Bill Flowers shadow. The defense will be lead by the defensive line. Jayme Mitchell, McKinley Boykin, and Michael Bozeman are all senior leaders expected to carry the load. The linebackers featur Patrick Willis and Dontae Reed along with Kelvin Robinson. They should be a much improved unit over a year ago. The secondary will be lead by Trumaine McBride. He had three interceptions a year ago. The Rebels must improve on both offense and defense to see much improvement. Odds are that things ae going to get worse before they get better for the Rebels.

6. Mississippi State (3-8, 0-8)- The Bulldogs should continue to improve under Sylvester Croom, but whether that will translate into more wins remains to be seen. Omarr Conner and Jerious Norwood make up a very talented quarterback-running back duo. Will Prosser and Tee Millons both are capable receivers. The key to the offense is the development of the line. Only two starters return and they need to get a lot better for the offense to improve much. The defense will depend on Quinton Culberson at linebacker. Gabe O'Neal and Clarence McDougal both are talented linebackers as well. The defensive line should be much improved under the leadership of Willie Evand and Michael Hear along with Andrew Powell. Kevin Dockery, David Heard, and Mario Bobo need to help stabilize the secondary to the point that the opposing offenses can not just bomb away on them. The Bulldogs probably have a major upset in them this year, like last year's Florida game. With Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss making up this year's SEC home games, there will be plenty of opportunities.

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
LSU and Tennessee will square off for the second time and a possible shot at the Rose Bowl will be on the line for both teams. LSU will play solid defense and do just enough offensively to put the Vols away, 24-20.

ALL SEC

Offense
QB Chris Leak, Florida
RB Gerald Riggs, Tennessee
RB Jerious Norwood, Mississippi State
WR Chad Jackson, Florida
WR Skyler Green, LSU
TE Leonard Pope, Georgia
OL Arron Sears, Tennessee
OL Mike Gregorn, Florida
OL Max Jean Giles, Georgia
OL Marcus McNeill, Auburn
OL Andrew Whitworth, ALSU

Defense
DL Jesse Mahelona, Tennessee
DL Stanley McGlover, Auburn
DL Claude Wroten, LSU
DL Parys Haralson, Tennessee
LB DeMeco Ryans, Alabama
LB Travis Williams, Auburn
LB Moses Osemwegie, Vanderbilt
DB Jason Allen, Tennessee
DB Roman Harper, Alabama
DB LaRon Landry, LSU
DB Ko Simpson, South Carolina

Specialists
K John Vaughn, Auburn
P Eric Wilbur, Florida
KR Tyrone Prothro, Alabama
PR Skyler Green, LSU

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Look at the MAC

The MAC has changed a bit in recent months. With the loss of UCF and Marshall, things look very different. The problem with the MAC, as has always been the case in recent years, is not at the top of the conference, where the MAC can compare with all the other non-BCS conferences, and even some of the BCS conferences. The problem is at the bottom of the conference, where the MAC is weighed down by some bottom feeders. This year there are four teams that are serious threats to win the conference title, meaning that those four teams out of conference games are critical to earning them some national respect.

EAST
1. Bowling Green (9-2, 7-1)- The Falcons return the incredible Omar Jacobs at quarterback. Jacobs threw for over 4000 yards and had 41 touchdowns to just four interceptions a year ago in his first year as the starter. Amazing numbers. Charles Sharon and Steve Sanders combined for over 2000 receiving yards a year ago, meaning that Jacobs still has plenty of weapons to throw the football to. Just when you think the Falcons do nothing but toss the ball around, then you realize that P.J. Pope is returning and he ran for over 1000 yards a year ago. This is one of the best offenses in the country. Only two starters return on the offensive line, and that is the lone weak spot on the offense. The defense rotates lots of people on the defensive line, and three regular starters return. Devon Parks had four sacks a year ago. The lone returning starter at linebacker is Teddy Piepkow, but he's a pretty good one. Four seniors will start in the secondary, meaning that the pass defense is experienced. They lead the MAC in passing efficiency defense a year ago, but still managed to give up a lot of yards. The Falcons go to Wisconsin in week one and travel to Boise State 18 days later for a deeply intriguing match up. If they come out of those unbeaten, they have a shot to go through the season without a loss. The Falcons don't play another truly tough game until November 15 when they play at Miami (OH). The following week they play at home against Toledo. This could be the year they finally win the MAC.

2. Miami (OH) (8-3, 6-2)- Josh Betts returns at quarterback for the RedHawks, which automatically gives them some stability at the position that they were lacking last year. That could bode well early for a team that began the year 2-3 a year ago before winning six straight games. Martin Nance and Ryne Robinson lead the deep receiving corps. The offensive line returns four starters. All this means that Betts should have a very solid season. The running game is the lone question mark. Brandon Murphy is moving into the role. He gained under 250 yards on less than 50 carries a year ago. John Busing, Terna Nande, and Derek Rehage all return to be starters at linebacker for the RedHawks. That's good news, because that makes this one of the best group of linebackers in the conference. Marcus Johnson anchors the defensive line, which only returns one other starter, Jarrod Rich. The secondary will depend on Darrell Hunter to have a big season. He's expected to be the star of the secondary. The RedHawks open at Ohio State, which will not be an easy test, but they may catch them looking ahead to Texas. A trip to Northern Illinois in October and a home date with Bowling Green in November are the most important dates on the schedule.

3. Ohio (4-7, 4-4)- Frank Solich, the former Nebraska coach, is now coaching the Bobcats, and it should be safe to expect a leap in the win column over the next few years. Austen Everson will be the starting quarterback this year. He saw a significant amount of playing time a year ago. Scott Mayle and Anthony Hackett lead a very deep receiving group. This group will be very solid. The offensive line returns just two starters, but Solich is still very high on the group. Kalvin McRae returns to run the football and is expected to blossom in Solich's system. The defense will either succeed or fail based on the line according to Solich. Brett Sykes and Shane Yates return on the line. Matt Muncy returns at linebacker and has potential to be a real star. Tyler Russ and Spencer Tatum complement him well. Dion Byrum and T.J. Wright return to the MAC's top secondary from a year ago. Watch out for the Bobcats defense to make a huge leap this year. If the offense can do anything, this team could post a winning record. Of course, the schedule is brutla. They open with trips to Northwestern and Virginia Tech sandwiching a home game against Pittsburgh. A trip to Bowling Green and home games with Miami and Toledo follows, which will make this very tough.

4. Buffalo (3-8, 3-5)- The Bulls need something (ANYTHING) positive to happen. This could be the year. Tony Paoli is a junior college transfer and will be the Bulls starting quarterback. He lacks experience, but seems to be capable of giving the Bulls the average quarterback play that they long for. Terrance Breaux and Dave Dawson are the receivers that are needed to get going. The offensive line returns three starters and could be a strength. They will be blocking for a solid group of running backs. Steven King, Chris McDuffie, and Jared Patterson all return to give some depth to the running game. They will be leaned upon heavily until Paoli develops. The defense could be one of the best in the MAC. They will be lead by a potentially dominant defensive line. Aaron Sanders recorded 6.5 sacks a year ago. Philip Jacques, Bill Meholif, and Kirk Berry also return on the line. All four are seniors. The linebackers will be lead by Bryan Cummings, who has a knack for coming up with big plays. Aaron Leeper, James Evans, and Gemara Williams help to stabilize the secondary. The conference games include trips to Toledo and Miami, while out of conference they go to Connecticut and Syracuse. This Bulls team looks primed to have a great defense, and if the offense can just produce at all, then they have a chance to win some games. If they aren't going to win games now, when are they?

5. Akron (3-8, 2-6)- The Zips will be hard pressed to replace Charlie Frye at quarterback, but Jabari Arthur, Luke Getsy, and John Ferguson will give it a try. Domenik Hixon is an excellent receiver for them to be throwing the ball to, while Jason Montgomery is very good as well. The offensive line returns just one starter, but he's a good one in Tim Crouch. The running game should be OK with Brett Biggs leading the way. The defense could be dominated by the linebackers and the secondary. Jay Rohr and Bran Howe return at linebacker while Dion Elie leads the secondary. Reggie Corner, Dionte Henry, and Chevin Pace are also expected to be a big help in the secondary. The line is a cause for some concern, but Kiki Gonzalez is a very solid lineman and should help free up some of his other linemates by demanding to be double teamed. The schedule is not too difficult outside of the road date with Purdue to open the season. The other non-conference games are a trip to Middle Tennessee and a home game with Army, both of which are winnable. They must go to Miami and Bowling Green, but get Northern Illinois at home. This team is a long way from being a contender in this conference this year, but last year's biggest bowl snub (and only bowl snub for that matter) could pull off a few surprises along the way.

6. Kent (2-9, 1-7)- Michael Machen will replace the irreplaceable Joshua Cribbs at quarterback. He spent three years in professional baseball, which have helped him become more mature, thus making him the most likely candidate to start at quarterback this fall. Five starters return on the offensive line, which is a big plus. That will help out the new quarterback. The receivers are also deep. Najah Pruden and Derrick Bush are the two best receivers. Pruden is a top deep threat. The running game is a huge weakness. The leading returner, Kevin Beverly, carred the ball just 19 times a year ago. Luke Tillman is expected to share the load with Beverly. The defense was solid a year ago. Justin Parrish returns at linebacker, where he may just be the conference's best. He had 14 sacks a year ago. Daniel Muir and Roger Attieh lead the defensive line, and they both are solid run stoppers. The secondary will be lead by Usama Young and Jack Williams. The defense is clearly the strength of the Flashes. If the Flashes couldn't get to a winning record with Cribbs at quarterback, what gives them any chance of pulling off a winning record without him? They need to count on their defense early in the season and hope someone steps up at quarterback and running back. If that happens, they could get back to four or five wins.

WEST
1. Toledo (9-2, 7-1)- If not for Omar Jacobs, Bruce Gradkowski would be the player garnering all the national attention from the MAC at quarterback. Last year was a bit of down year for Gradkowski, though he still threw for 27 touchdowns and over 3500 yards. Steve Odom is the team's best receiver after catching 53 passes a year ago. He's a solid target. The running game witll be lead by Scooter McDougle and Trinity Dawson, along with newcomer Dajuane Collins. All have big play potential. They will be running behind a line that returns three starters and should be among the MAC's best yet again. The defense wil be anchored by the linebackers. David Thomas and Anthony Jordan make one of the better duos in the conference. The secondary will be lead by Keon Jackson, who recorded three interceptions last year. Antonio Malone and Nigel Morris are also solid contributors. The defensive line was inexperienced last year, and it showed as they struggled to get pressure on the quarterbacks a lot of the time. But with Tyree Pollard returning and only expecting to get better, the line should make some leaps this season. Going to Fresno State on September 27 is a very interesting contest. The last two games against Northern Illinois and at Bowling Green are also very tough games. However, if the Rockets can win at Fresno, they should be 9-0 heading into those last two games.

2. Northern Illinois (9-2, 7-1)- Phil Horvath will be the starting quarterback for the Huskies, but he got plenty of experience last year. He threw six touchdowns and seven interceptions a year ago. Sam Hurd has a lot of potential at wide receiver and will probably become Horvath's favorite target. The offensive line is also very deep and very talented. Three starters return to anchor that group. The running game will be lead by Garrett Wolfe and A.J. Harris. Wolfe rushed for over 1600 yards a year ago and Harris ran for 120 in the bowl in over Troy. The defense will be lead by the defensive line. This group is very deep and will be lead by the talented Ken West. West recorded three sacks in back to back games a year ago, and had eight on the season. Javan Lee needs to shine at the linebacker position. He's the lone returning starter and is expected to have a huge senior season. The secondary will be lead by the twins, Adriel and Alvah Hansboro. Ray Smith is also a very talented safety. Trips to Michigan and Northwestern to start the season will be very very tough. They do get Miami at home, but must travel to Toledo. The Huskies have the talent to win the MAC, especially if the defense develops. But they haven't beaten Toledo since 1989, and how can we expect that to stop this year?

3. Eastern Michigan (4-7, 3-5)- Matt Bohnet returns at the quarterback position for the Eagles and he should produce some big numbers this year. He has a cannon for an arm. Eric Deslauriers caught 84 passes for almost 1300 yards a year ago, and has potential for another monster season. A.J. Bennett also could put up some nice numbers this year. The offensive line returns just three starters, but they only allowed 14 sacks a year ago, and the depth is solid. Therefore, this should be a good unit again in the MAC. Nelson Drew is expected to be the starting running back and it is hard not to be excited by Drew's aggressive running style. The defense will need to see a lot of improvement. They ranked 114 last year in total defense. Olivier Gagnon-Gordillo and Kevin Howe, along with transfer Josh Hunt, will be counted on heavily to help turn the fortunes around on the line. The linebackers may be the deepest group on the defense, but there are no true stars. Steven Bednarik is the best returning linebacker. The secondary will rely heavily on Rontrell Woodruff and Corey Parker to play some decent defense. If they do not, the whole secondary could crumble. Trips to Toledo and Northern Illinois along with a home date against Miami make winning the MAC a near impossibility. This team would take just making another baby step and improving on their .500 conference record from a year ago.

4. Ball State (3-8, 3-5)- Joey Lynch is the projected starting quarterback for the Cardinals. Bryan Williamson is expected to step up and become the go to receiver. The offensive line returns three starters, but they also gave up 39 sacks a year ago. The running game will be headed up by Charles Wynn, a senior who needs to show something in his last season. He ran for almost 250 yards a year ago. The defense is expected to improve a lot over last year. Tom Kellar returns on the line after an injury kept him down much of last year. Kellar could be one of the better defensive linemen in the MAC. The linebackers have four players they can shuffle in and out. Wendell Brown, Donta Smith, Jason Siemon, and Brad Seiss all have the talent to start for the Cardinals. Erik Keys returns as the key cog in the secondary. Bowling Green and Toledo both come to play at Ball State and a trip to Northern Illinois is not so bad. The defense returns nine starters, and if they come through, then this prediction seems to be likely. If it does not come through, then a winless season is a possibility.

5. Western Michigan (4-7, 3-5)- The Broncos return a lot of talent. Ryan Cubit is the starting quarterback. He is very experienced and is hoping to improve on his 14-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio from a year ago. The offensive line returns four starters, which could help this group improve over their numbers from a year ago. Greg Jennings is one of the better receivers in the country. He had 1092 yards receiving a year ago. Tony Scheffler is the best tight end in the MAC. Trovon Riley is expected to really have a breakout season this year at running back. The defense will need some vast improvement from the defensive line. Paul Moersch and Joe Alvarez return on the defensive line, but looking for help. The linebackers are also very thin. Paul Tithof's is the team's leading returning tackler, and also racked up four sacks last year. The secondary is also very young. Chad Feldpausch and Scooter McIntosh are the two biggest names in the secondary, but the coaching staff things E.J. Biggers could be a star right off the bat as a freshman this year. Trips to Toledo, Bowlinbg Green, and Northern Illinois are all brutal for the Broncos. A winning record is not outside the realm of possibility though for a team looking to make a major step up this season.

6. Central Michigan ( 2-9, 2-6)- Kent Smith returns at quarterback and must get the team to score in the red zone. The Chippewas ranked 79th in scoring while cranking out almost 400 yards a game. Not good. He'll be throwing the ball to Justin Harper and Damien Linson, two very talented receivers. The running game will be lead by Justin Seymour, who ran for almost 1300 yards a year ago. The offensive line returns three starters, which means Seymour could see more of the same this season. The defense will be lead by lineman Dan Bazuin, who recorded three sacks a year ago. Steven Friend and Tony Thompson also return on the defensive line. Thomas Keith is one of the better linebackers in the MAC and lead the team in tackles a year ago. The secondary was young a year ago, so this year the Chippewas are hoping that last year's freshman can turn into this year's stars. The Chippewas went 4-1 at home last year and get Northern Illinois and Toledo at home this year. Finding a way to win one of those would be huge. If they can survive early in the season against Indiana, Miami (OH), and Penn State, then a late season run is possible if they keep on winning at home.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Bowling Green will put up huge numbers on Toledo. The Rockets offense will match them for much of the game, but in the end Jacobs is just too good and the Falcons finally win the MAC, 41-27.

ALL-MAC

Offense
QB Omar Jacobs, Bowling Green
RB P.J. Pope, Bowling Green
RB Brett Biggs, Akron
WR Greg Jennings, Western Michigan
WR Martin Nance, Miami
TE Tony Scheffler, Western Michigan
OL Rob Warren, Bowling Green
OL Kory Lichtensteiger, Bowling Green
OL Ben Lueck, Northern Illinois
OL Brian Van Aker, Northern Illinois
OL John Greco, Toledo

Defense
DL Dan Bazuin, Central Michigan
DL Aaron Sanders, Buffalo
DL Devon Parks, Bowling Green
DL Justin Parrish, Kent
LB John Busing, Miami
LB Terna Nande, Miami
LB Anthony Jordan, Toledo
DB T.J. Wright, Ohio
DB Darrell Hunter, Miami
DB Keon Jackson, Toledo
DB Jelani Jordan, Bowling Green

Specialists
K Andrew Wellock, Eastern Michigan
P Matthew Miller, Ohio
KR Domenick Hixon, Akron
PR Ryne Robinson, Miami

Monday, August 15, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Look at the Big Ten

The Big Ten may be the best conference in the country this year. The depth of the conference is truly shocking this year. Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State all are serious national title contenders. Purdue, Minnesota, and Penn State are all threats to sneak into contention for the conference title. Wisconsin and Michigan State look like they could pull off some upsets along the way, and Northwestern always seems to be a dangerous crew these days. Indiana and Illinois have new coaches and are looking to make some instant splashes as they move up the conference ranks. There just will not be an easy week this year in the Big Ten.

1. Iowa (9-2, 7-1)- The Hawkeyes return the ultra talented Drew Tate at quarterback. Tate is a junior now and looks primed to go the next step in his development. Last year the offense struggled at times, producing just seven points in the 44-7 loss to Arizona State and just six in the 6-4 win over Penn State. But things looked better late in the year, and most of that is due to the rapid improvement of Tate. He will still be throwing the ball to Clinton Solomon (905 receiving yards a year ago) and Ed Hinkel (63 catches a year ago), so the passing game should only improve. The offensive line returns three starters and has two seniors stepping in at the the other two spots. The problem last year for the Hawkeyes was a rushing game that averaged just 72.6 yards per game (good for 116 in the country). Injuries made it impossible for any consistency to be gained at running back. That means that this year, there is a lot of experience running the football. Marques Simmons, Damian Sims, Marcus Schnoor, and Albert Young all should run the ball a lot. The Hawkeyes may have the best duo of linebackers in the country in Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway. Both are phenomenal. Jovon Johnson is a stellar cornerback. Antwan Allen has loads of experience. They both interecepted four passes a year ago. The inexperience on defense is on the line. All four starters will be new, and three sophomores and one freshman are expected to be starting on the defensive line. An early road trip to Iowa State will not be easy, and a trip to Ohio State on September 24 will decide a lot. There is another road trip to Purdue on October 8 and Wisconsin on November 12. Michigan comes to Iowa on October 22, and the Hawkeyes rarely lose at home.

2. Michigan (10-1, 7-1)- The Wolverines were inexperienced last year when they started Chad Henne and Mike Hart (both freshmen) in the backfield. Now, that one two punch is back. Henne has the makings to be one of the truly special quarterbacks of this generation in college football. Hart pounded away for almost 1500 yards rushing a year ago. The offensive line returns four starters, which will give Henne and Hart plenty of room to operate. Without Braylon Edwards at receiver, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston will need to step up. Both have the talent to do so. The defense gave up 10 or more points in every single game a year ago and more than 20 in 7 out of twelve games a year ago. The 75 points allowed to Ohio State and Texas in their final two losses was really crushing. The defensive line returns Pat Massey, who had five sacks a year ago. Gabe Watson is also back looking to make good on all of his potential. LaMarr Woodley is the playmaker at linebacker and had 70 tackles a year ago. Leon Hall and Ryan Mundy return in the secondary and will have to step up even more after the loss of Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor. Road trips to Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Northwestern are relatively easy for a Big Ten schedule. Home dates with Notre Dame, Minnesota, Penn State, and Ohio State all should be winnable at home for the Wolverines. The toughest test must be the trip to Iowa on October 22. A win there and this team has the makings of a national title contender. Of course, with their defense, any week could get interesting very quickly.

3. Ohio State (9-2, 6-2)- Talk about an interesting team. After beginning the year 3-3, and then being 6-4, blowout wins over Michigan and Oklahoma State have the program thinking big for this season. Justin Zwick and Troy Smith will again battle for the quarterback job. Smith is the expected starter and he is a playmaker. The running game will be lead by Antonio Pittman, who has a lot of breakaway speed. The offensive line, which returns four starters, should be dynamite and open plenty of holes for Pittman. The receivers are the real strength for the Buckeyes. Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr. both have big play capabilty and the opportunity to really dominate a football game. The defense will also be a strength, a common occurrence under coach Jim Tressel. The linebackers are lead by A.J. Hawk, one of the best defensive players in all of college football. Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel are there to help him out. Ashton Youboty appears to be a rising star in the secondary, while E.J. Underwood, Tyler Everett and Nate Salley all have plenty of starting experience. In the mean time, do not be surprised if Ginn Jr. winds up playing some in the secondary. The defensive line recorded just nine sacks a year ago. With Marcus Green, Quinn Pitcock, Mike Kudla, and Jay Richardson all back on the line, much more is expected from them. September is the month to watch these Buckeyes. In that month, the Buckeyes play home dates with Miami (OH), Texas, San Diego State, and Iowa. After an off week, they go to Penn State on October 8. A road trip to Minnesota follows in October and a trip to Michigan on November 19 will be incredibly tough as well. This team has a lot of talent, but their very difficult schedule may mean that they are not going to get back to the national championship game this year.

4. Penn State (8-3, 5-3)- The Nittany Lions appear loaded for a run this season. Everything seems to be lining up for this to be Joe Paterno's last stand. The offense will be lead by Michael Robinson at quarterback. He is an athletic playmaker, but he has yet to prove that he can handle the role of starting quarterback for the Nittany Lions. The offensive line returns all five starters, which is good news for players like Tony Hunt, Austin Scott, and Rodney Kinlaw. All have big play ability at tailback. The only returning receivers are Terrell Golden and Mark Rubin, but the recruiting class featured a lot of talent at that position. Derrick Williams enrolled in January and is expected to have an immediate impact on the offense as a playmaking wide receiver. The defense was one of the five best in the country last year, and should only get better. Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor return at linebacker to make this a solid linebacker group. They secondary will be lead by Alan Zamaitis, a true shutdown corner. Anwar Phillips, Calvin Lowry, and Chris Harrell all have a ton of experience. The line is the real strength of the defense. Tamba Hall, Ed Johnson, Scott Paxson, and Matthew Rice all are returning starters and proven veterans. The schedule opens up very nicely with home dates with South Florida, Cincinnati, and Central Michigan to start the season. If the Nittany Lions can then win at Northwestern and against Minnesota, then they should be 5-0 start heading into a home date with Ohio State followed by a trip to Michigan. A home game with Purdue is two weeks later and a home game against Wisconsin and a trip to Michigan State close out the season. There is a chance for a Big Ten title run and a magical season with this schedule. However, there is also the chance for another disappointment and possibly not winning more than two Big Ten games like they did last year. Joe Paterno wants to have one more magical season and with 13 expected starters being seniors this year, this may be his last chance.

5. Minnesota (8-3, 5-3)- The Golden Gophers lost Marion Barbour III. For most schools that loss would be devastating. But few can sustain that loss like the Gophers, who return Laurence Maroney, who ran for over 1300 yards a year ago. With three starters back on the offensive line, things are looking good for the Gophers running game. Bryan Cupito is back at quarterback as well, but must improve on his passing game. With Jared Ellerson and Ernie Wheelwright running the routes at receiver, this team has the capabilities to make some big plays in the passing game, which is all this offense needs to be truly explosive. The defense will need to improve dramatically. Anthony Montgomery and Mark Losli are on the defensive line and are capable run stoppers. John Shevlin is expected to be a team leader as a sophomore from his linebacker position. Kyle McKenzie also returns as a starter. The secondary, which was much maligned for a large portion of last year, will be lead by Trumaine Banks, Brandon Owens, and John Pawielski. How much the secondary improves could have a direct coorelation to how many games this team wins. Trips to Michigan, Iowa, and Penn State, and home games with Purdue and Ohio State give this schdule an extra kick. The Gophers should have a very solid team again, and everyone keeps on waiting for Glen Mason's crew to put it all together and win the Big Ten title. Their clock is running down. This group needs to do it this year, although there is a chance that next year's team could be every bit as good.

6. Purdue (7-4, 5-3)- Everyone is high on the Boilermakers this season, and for good reason. The loss of Kyle Orton would be crushing at some places, but with Brandon Kirsch there ready to take over, things are not as bad as they would seem. Kyle Ingrham will become the team's go to receiver, while Dorien Bryant, Ryan Williams, and Brian Hare are more than capable receivers. The offensive line returns three starters. They are a solid front, and will spend their time blocking for the talented Jerod Void. Brandon Jones and Kory Sheets will be backing him up. Void has the capability to come up with a breakout season. The defense will be lead by the defensive line. Ray Edwards and Anthony Spencer are very tough against the run. Brent Grover and Brandon Villareal are wonderful from the tackle positions. The linebackers feature Bobby Iwuchukwu, George Hall, and Stanford Keglar. All are huge playmakers, though Hall is the leader of the bunch. Bernard Pollard is the best player in the secondary, while Paul Long, Brian Hickman, Torri Williams, and Kyle Smith are more than adequate back ups. Trips to Arizona and Minnesota in September are not going to be fun, while home dates with Notre Dame and Iowa will not be easy either. The trips to Wisconsin and Penn State in October could be tough. All in all, without Ohio State or Michigan on the schedule, the Boilermakers look primed to make a run at the national title. But the team lost five games by a total of fourteen points a year ago, and once things turned down hill, they kept on going down hill. Until the Boilermakers prove they can win the close ones and bounce back from a tough game and prove they can win a truly huge game, they will have to be considered a step below several other Big Ten teams.

7. Wisconsin (5-7, 4-4)- The Badgers three losses at the end of last season were truly disappointing, especially considering that they were 9-0 when the losses began. With only two starters back on the offensive line, things look like they could be tough again. But if the offensive line develops, this offense has a chance to be very very good. John Stocco returns at quarterback, and he will be throwing the ball to the talented wide receivers. Those wide receivers are Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr. The two are very good and possess game breaking speed. The running game will be lead by fullback Matt Bernstein, while tailback Brian Calhoun appears to be a big playmaker that can step in at quarterback. The brightest spot on the Badgers defense is the linebackers. Mark Zalewski, Andry Crooks, and Dontez Sanders are all returning starters for the Badgers. The rest of the defense is unproven. The defensive line is all new. Jamal Cooper is the best player on the line. The secondary is full of questions as well. Levonne Rowan may be the most important player to the secondary. If he can fufill his potential at corner, then the rest of the secondary may fall into place. The Badgers don't play Ohio State and get Michigan, Iowa and Purdue all at home. They can have their mark on the Big Ten race. Of course, the home date with Bowling Green in the opening week may be one of the more interesting games of the first week. If the Badgers find people to play both lines, then this team has potential to be very very good again.

8. Michigan State (4-7, 2-6)- The Spartans return one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the conference in Drew Stanton. He worked a lot on his accuracy in the spring and if he has a true breakout year, then there is no telling how high these Spartans could go. He will be throwing the ball to Jerramy Scott, Kyle Brown, and Matt Trannon, one of the better groups of receivers in the Big Ten. The running game will be lead by Jason Teague and Jehuu Caulrick, who ran for over 1300 yards combined last year as back ups for DeAndra Cobb. The offensive line returns three starters and could be among the conferences best. The defensive line is lead by the big play ability of Clifron Ryan, and Brandon McKinney has a world of potential. The linebackers are anchored by David Herron Jr., who is still growing in experience at the position. Eric Smith is also a very talented player. The secondary needs to provide some solid play. They are returning virtually no experience back there. If the Spartans can win at Notre Dame on September 17, then the season really opens up. A 4-0 start would be likely heading into the Michigan and Ohio State games. Northwestern and Indiana would come after that, meaning this team has the capability put together a 7 or 8 win season pretty easily. Of course, the down side is that a loss to the Irish could send the team spiraling, and if they don't recover in time, a loss at Illinois the following week in the Illini's first conference game under the new coaching staff is a distinct possibility.

9. Northwestern (3-8, 2-6)- With Brett Basanez back at quarterback, anything is possible for these Wildcats. He is a four year starter and very durable. He will be throwing the ball to Jonathan Fields and Mark Philmore, two big play threats at receiver. The offensive line returns just two starters and a new tailback must be found. Terrell Jordan is the favorite at the running back spot, where he ran for 315 yards a year ago. The defense will be lead by Loren Howard and Barry Coefield on the defensive line. They are both future NFL prospects. At linebacker, Nick Roach and Tim McGarigle are expected to shine. McGarigle had 151 tackles a year ago, and Roach recorded five sacks. Jeff Backes should become a very good cornerback this year in the secondary. Marquice Cole, who was injured last year, returns to help shore that area up as well. For the Wildcats, Michigan, Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin all come to play at their place. Road trips to Arizona State, Purdue, and Ohio State will not be fun either. Another run at a bowl game is possible, but not likely for the Wildcats.

10. Indiana (4-7, 1-7)- The Hoosiers will be looking to improve under new head coach Terry Hoeppner. With just three starters back on offense, and all the offensive line, the skill positions players will need to step up. Blake Powers has a strong arm and is very mobile at quarterback, but getting him experience will be the key. Chris Taylor has been a top back up for three years for the Hoosiers and finally gets the chance to be the starting running back. Jahkeem Gilmore is the lone returning threat at receiver. The defense will be lead by the linebackers. John Pannozzo, Jake Powers, and Kyle Killion are all stars in the making at that position. The defensive line returns three startes, but lacks depth. Victor Adeyanju, Russ Richardson, Ben Ishola, and Kenny Kenday all are solid on the line but those are the only players with much experience. The secondary will be lead by Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors, making teams have to struggle to get the ball into their receivers hands. The schedule begins with Central Michigan, Nicholls State, and Kentucky. Illinois comes to town on October 8. The possibility for a 4-1 start is there, and that confidence could carry over to the rest of the season if the Hoosiers can get it rolling. Things will be interesting to say the least.

11. Illinois (2-9, 1-7)- The Illini will be improved under Ron Zook and will improve more in the coming years. The strength of the Illini this year will be the running game. With E.B. Halsey and Pierre Thomas running the ball, the Illini will be able to move the ball down the field. The offensive line also returns three starters, adding to the team's ability to run the ball. The offense will be lead by Tim Brasic or Kisan Flakes at quarterback, more than likely. Kendrick Jones is the team's best receiver. The defense will be lead by a new look defensive line that is trying to focus more on getting to the quarterback. Derek Walker, Ryan Matha, Chris Norwell, and Xaveir Fulton should benefit from that. The linebackers are still looking for their next star. Remond Willis is expected to be just that as he moves into a starting role this year. Anthony Thornhill may be the best returning linebacker. Charles Bailey and Alan Ball return to anchor the secondary. The Illini open with Rutgers and San Jose State and get Michigan State at home early. Zook will find a way to win a few he shouldn't this year and start getting the Illini back to respectability.

ALL BIG TEN

Offense
QB Chad Henne, Michigan
RB Mike Hart, Michigan
RB Laurence Maroney, Minnesota
WR Steve Breaston, Michigan
WR Ted Ginn Jr, Ohio State
TE Tim Massaquoi, Michigan
OL Jake Long, Michigan
OL Mike Otto, Purdue
OL Chris Morris, Michigan State
OL Greg Eslinger, Minnesota
OL Mike Setterstrom, Minnesota

Defense
DL Gabe Watson, Michigan
DL Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State
DL Ray Edwards, Pudue
DL Tambe Hall, Penn State
LB Chad Greenway, Iowa
LB LaMarr Woodley, Michigan
LB A.J. Hawk, Ohio State
DB Jovon Johnson, Iowa
DB Antwan Allen, Iowa
DB Bernard Pollard, Purdue
DB Alan Zemaitis, Penn State

Specialists
K Garrett Rivas, Michigan
P Brandon Fields, Michigan State
KR Steve Breaston, Michigan
PR Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State