Written by Mike Rose from BetWWTS
ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI O:9 D:10In '05, new HC Ron Zook's Fighting ILLINI got off to a great start, winning their first 2 games. And then it happened. TheFighting Illini gave up a Big 10 record 435 total points, and the offense only averaged 17 PPG. You can't do much worse than theFighting Illini did last year. The good news is they can only improve, with Zook's squad returning 19 starters from a year ago, and there's no doubt they'll be motivated to make up for last years embarrassing season. The O-Line is returning completely in tact, with a bit of retooling to allow the hogs to play to their best abilities. QB Tim Brasic's should improve on last year's numbers considerably, with a year of the new schemes under their belts. The defense is returning 10 from last year's squad, which might not be a great thing, considering they were torched repeatedly last year. DC Vince Okruch was brought in and he's proven to put out capable defenses where he is coached.
TheFighting Illini should be competitive in '06 after being humiliated last year, and will no doubt take the field with something to prove. Especially in Big 10 play where they were 0-8, and covered one game against the spread. Zook is a proven recruiter, who could have some firepower standing by. A possible 3-0 start would be great motivation for theFighting Illini to upset visiting Iowa who is scheduled for a late September matchup.
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INDIANA HOOSIERS O:8 D:6After their first 5 games in '05, Indiana looked to be on the verge of going bowling for the first time since 1993. However once the schedule got tougher, the sense of confidence that new HC Terry Hoeppner instilled in his team wasn't enough, and the team's impressive stats plummeted. Indy was once again forced to watch Bowl week wondering what could have been.
The Hoosiers are wiping the slate clean for 2006, and they definitely have a roster on hand that is capable of flirting with bowl contention. QB Blake Powers is back as a junior after throwing for 2305 yards, with 22 TDs and 16 INTs. The offensive unit should excel in the second year of HC Hoeppner's schemes, and should easily improve on the 22.5 PPG they averaged in '05. The defensive front line looks very green, but it's anchored by a veteran secondary that returns fully in tact. Last year's defense only gave up 22 PPG before the Big 10 schedule got rough, so look for them to chisel off 10 PPG if not more. Special teams are all back and should be improved with experience.
The Hoosiers welcome the badgers on September 30, which would be their 5th game of the season, with 3 of those games at home. A win over the badgers would be a clear sign that the Hoosiers are going bowling this year. The Hoosiers should be considered a force in the Big 10 . Watch out.
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IOWA HAWKEYES O:7 D:7It was not pretty for the Hawkeyes in the past, but head coach Kirk Ferentz and his personnel coached Iowa to its fifth straight bowl invite. The squad's stats crashed in 2005, but that was a cause of losing some important players. Nonetheless they were hurting with a number of close losses, but seem to be on the brink of something spectacular in 2006. Quarter back Drew Tate returns for his senior campaign, and he will be the chief of what seems to be one of the more lethal offensive units in the entire nation. The Offensive line is crammed with veteran experience, and skill, and should improve upon last season's numbers that saw them open up holes for an amazing 4.8 YPC, while giving up only 19 QB sacks. They are also loaded with speed and quickness in the backfield with the combination of Albert Young (Big 10 # 1 rusher), and Damina Sims. The defense was bothered early on last season by an immature Defensive line. That will not be the scenario in 2006, as the front wall comes in experienced and is ranked amongst the country's best. However, the LB corps takes a huge hit but has skilled veterans looking for an opportunity to step up. The secondary loses both of its corners, but returns six of eight and should improve upon last seasons number with a better defensive line. Special teams are amazing, once again led by K Kyle Schlicher who is nothing but money when his points matter most.
Again the Hawkeyes are stacked and can no longer be considered an underdog contender to win this conference. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has put this masterpiece together with a schedule that is set up to have some major success in 2006.
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MICHIGAN WOLVERINES O:6 D:8Last year, was a nightmare for the Wolverines. Four Big 10 losses and a heartbreak loss to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl, have many people wondering about head coach Lloyd Carr's coaching abilities. Having said that, one should point out that Michigan holds the longest seasonal winning streak (38), along with the longest bowl invite streak (31), in the country. No national championship since 1997 is an irritant to the natives. 14 starters will be back this year, with the expectation of improvements on both ends of the field. QB Chad Henne is back for a junior performance, after last year's 2526 yards and 23-8 TD/INT ratio in 2005. Running back Mike Hart is expected to come back from an injury riddled season in 2005. A 3.9 YPC average for the Offensive line a year ago is expected to improve. Defensively, the wolves seem to be in excellent condition going into the season. Experience in the secondary will allow them to clamp down on their opponents. The front seven should improve on the 3.8 YPC it permitted the previous year. The special team comes back untouched, with Steve Breaston ready to get on the highlight reels.
This is serious stuff for the Lloyd Carr regime at University of Michigan. Another ordinary season, is not healthy for his career at U of M. If the Wolverines avoid injury this year, they can make an excellent run for the championship race with visits scheduled to Notre dame, Penn State, and Ohio State, and a few home games against Iowa and Michigan State.
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MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS O:7 D:6Head coach John L. Smith and the Michigan State Spartans were the phenomena of the Big 10 conference. With a 4-0 start and a huge overtime win in South Bend they looked great. And then they just went away, winning only one of their last seven overall games. The losses were close, but they are still losses and that doesn't bode well when you want to go bowling with the big boys. So for the second straight season, like the rest of us, the Spartans had to watch Bowl Week in their living rooms with a bucket of chicken in one hand and the odds and spreads in the other. A great offense is coming back in 2006 for Coach Smith, and should roll over the 33.8 points per game it averaged in 2005, provided they stay healthy. Quarter Back Drew Stanton will be a major factor if he can keep his body parts in tact and stay out of the Nurse's office for a season. He has both Running Backs back, and one of the top Wide Receiving units in college football. This could be the best Offensive unit in the Big 10 . The Michigan State Spartans can only get better on the defensive line, because they can't get any worse. This defensive line is the most experienced they have had in a long time. Special teams were a disgrace by Coach Smith's standards. He usually has fairly solid special teams, so look for an improvement there.
The Spartans avoid Iowa and host both Notre Dame and Ohio State along with a few visits to Michigan and Penn State. The green and white should be a contender with offensive talent and experience.
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MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS O:6 D:6Will it be 5 straight bowl appearances for the Golden Gophers and Head Coach Glen Mason. In 2005 they won at Michigan for the first time since 1986. They have one of the premiere offenses in the country that averaged 36 points per game. The defense gave up 30 points per game and was a big factor in their failure. The Gophers return 12 starters from last season but lost some offensive fire power. Back for his senior finale is quarter back Brian Cupito after a 4627 yards with a 33-16 TD/INT ratio in 2005. He has a great WR unit to let the pigskin go airborne. The gophers lose their #2 all time rusher, and running back Gary Russell is academically ineligible for the 2006 season. The Gophers should be an offensive powerhouse when airborne. The defensive back seven look decent but not up front where they gave up 4.4 yards per carry last year. Special Teams will be OK with everyone returning with the exception of a few. The Gophers' rushing presence is no more, but look for the offense to go airborne a bit more. Also look for the defense to improve. odds are they won't top last seasons 7 wins but going bowling is a strong possibility.
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NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS O:7 D:6With six or more games for the third season in a row, the Northwestern Wildcats went on to lose to UCLA in the Sun Bowl last year. Head coach Randy walker's fatal heart attack on June 29 puts linebacker coach Pat Fitzgerald in the driver seat. Walker did a great job setting this program up, leaving Fitzgerald to inherit a talented team on both ends of the field. Lots of fire power at the running back and wide receiving positions and one of the best offensive lines in NCAA college football. Someone new must step up as Quarter Back Brett Basanez has departed. Look for the defensive unit to improve on their 34 PPG permitted last year, with sex of their starters coming back. K Stefan Demos was acquired by the program and should have an impact on improving the kicking game.
The team will either play the out the string or come at you on every down. Most predict it will be the latter, due to new head coach Pat Fitzgerald's reputation as a player from his playing days. Going undefeated is a possibility for the Wildcats going into their rematch with Penn State in Happy Valley. This year the wildcats will be a lurking irritability for the rest of the league, as they attempt to go bowling for the second straight year.
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OHIO STATE BUCKEYES O:7 D:2Here come the Buckeyes. Ohio State played some of the best ball in NCAA college football in 2005. With seven straight victories and the finale at the Fiesta Bowl as they trampled the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, head coach Jim Tressel is quickly turning into a legend in Columbus. This year the defense takes a backseat to the highly charged offense. This offense returns 7 starters from last season and is capable of scoring lots of points, with quarter back Troy Smith who threw for 3178 yards with a 24-7 touchdown/interception ratio and rush for 1123. After rushing for over 1500 last season, running back Antonio Pittman is back but the Buckeyes have acquired the number 1 running back in the U.S.A. Chris Wells. The wide receiving unit is ecstatic to have Ted Ginn Jr. after he bailed out on the NFL draft and wide receiver Gonzalez returns to terrorize Michigan a little more. Special teams should be a force in 2006 but the defense loses quite a bit.
The second week of the season will see the Buckeyes visit the Texas Longhorns and a win there should set them up nicely with only 2 tough games in the season, being Michigan State and Iowa. With the offensive fire power, and the defense expected to improve as the season goes along, a championship run for the Buckeyes is not out of the question.
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PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS O:5 D:4Life was good for the Penn State Nittany Lions in 2005 as they won 11 games and beat Florida State Seminoles in a well fought out Orange Bowl battle. The Lions had lots of experience last year but not this year. The squad includes 9 starters, a new quarter back and a completely retooled offensive line in front of him. The running back unit seems to be decent with Tony Hunt and Austin Scott returning to the mix. A healthy Derrick Williams should bring up the RB corps up a notch and help the newbie quarter back settle in faster. On the defensive end the Lions' front seven look promising with Dan Connor, Tim Shaw, and Butkus and Bednarik Award winner Paul Posluszny. The secondary loses everyone, which is disappointing especially when they only allowed 11 touchdowns and intercepted 16 passes. The front seven will have to step up early on until things start to mesh together. Special teams are all returning untouched with 2 very good kickers. Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions might not do as good as last year but don't expect them to spiral down like they did in 2002. They still have good playmakers and an overpowering linebacker corps. The schedule for the Lions is not easy however they manage to avoid Iowa and host both the Michigan State Spartans and the Michigan Wolverines.
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PURDUE BOILERMAKERS O:7 D:5Disappointment is the word that best describes the Purdue Boilermakers 2005 campaign in Big 10 play. They went 5-6 and failed to make post season for the first time in 8 years. Head coach Joe Tiller is enthusiastic about this year, with 12 starters returning, he hopes to take the field with a fresh perspective. Quarter back Curtis Painter returns to lead the spread option offense while running back Kory Sheets and JUCO running back Jaycen Taylor put together are one of the best tandems in NCAA college football. One of the top offensive lines in the country will be an asset to a wide receiving corps looking to improve from a season spotted with injuries and dropped passes. No one has any idea about the special teams situation, which is disturbing especially with the loss of both kickers and punt returner. Joe Tiller has proven he can win during previous campaigns with West Lafayette but this squad must come together early and 4 home games to start the season should help. Look for the Boilermakers to get back into bowl contention.
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WISCONSIN BADGERS O:3 D:8In 2005 the Wisconsin Badgers gave the Auburn Tigers a thrashing in the Capital One Bowl. Quite the finale for head coach Barry Alvarez who leaves his post after 17 years to become the University's Athletic Director. Alvarez hand picked his predecessor Bret Bielema who is the second youngest NCAA football head coach. The team returns 11 starter from last year's team who finished off the year with 10 wins. The offense won't be nearly as good as last season's 34 points per game due to personnel losses along the offensive line and in the wide receiving and running back units. Quarter back John Stocco is coming back for his senior finale and his experience should make something happen regardless of the obstacles. The defense will be the strength on this team. The back seven look sturdy and should improve due to the strength of the front wall. The Badgers have a pair of good kickers but need a punt returner if they expect to be competitive this season. New head coach Bret Bielema will be a new face to get used to for the Badger fans. He has some big shoes to fill and a tough schedule to deal with. He is a defensive minded guy and that can't hurt when you are meeting Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, and Iowa during the season.
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