Thursday, August 31, 2000

Big Ten overview


        QB/Reds prospect Drew Henson may be the most famous player who's never even been a first-teamer. Henson's baseball future may well be decided by how football goes now that he's finally the full-time starter. His football future is on hold until at least Week 3 after he broke a bone in his foot. A more mature line and the return of TB Anthony Thomas should help.

        Ron Dayne was a massive backfield fixture for the past four seasons. With some help from Dillard's and his offensive line, Dayne won the Heisman Trophy last year. Wisconsin won the past two Rose Bowls, but it won't have another 2,000-yard rusher anytime soon, so speedy Michael Bennett will have to suffice. It may come down to beating Michigan on the road, which the Badgers have done only once in 38 years.

        Joe Tiller revived the Boilermakers in four years. It's one thing to turn a lemon into lemonade. It's another to turn lemonade into a limited-edition Coke bottle commemorating the 2000 Big Ten champions. If it's ever going to happen, this is the year. QB Drew Brees, considered the Heisman front-runner, will be protected by four returning starters on the offensive line. The defense is adequate, all of which should put the Boilermakers in position to win a title. Purdue has won 25 games in the past three seasons, but it is 1-7 against Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State.

        Who is Kurt Kittner, and why do many people think he's the best quarterback in the league not named Brees? Kittner passed for 2,702 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore. It was so sudden, even Illinois fans are wondering if Kittner is for real. If the Fighting Illini somehow win at Penn State and Michigan State, everybody will know who Kittner is.

Ohio State
        Who says there was no Y2K meltdown? The Buckeyes went 6-6 in 1999. The Buckeyes say they are humbled and ready to make amends. It would help if QB Steve Bellisari improves on his .451 completion percentage. He has stud receivers in Ken-Yon Rambo and Reggie Germany. The Buckeyes lost top rusher Michael Wiley, but they think Derek Combs can do the job. The schedule is brutal.

        Glen Mason, who turned around Kent, Kansas and now Minnesota, took the Golden Gophers to their first bowl in 13 seasons last year. They will have a hard time matching their eight victories. The backfield is promising but untested with freshman quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq. The defense returns eight starters. Mason has a reputation for getting the most out of his teams. He's also smart enough to schedule nonconference gimmes such as Ohio, Louisiana-Monroe and Baylor.

Penn State
        Joe Paterno needs seven wins to break Bear Bryant's record of 323 Division I victories. Strange as it may sound, he may struggle to get them. No program lost more players or respect since last season than the Nittany Lions. Gone to the NFL are DL Courtney Brown and LB LaVar Arrington. Gone with the wind went a lot of Paterno's respect after he decided to allow QB Rashard Casey to play despite being arrested for allegedly attacking a police officer. Besides nine starters, the Nittany Lions' big loss on defense was coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who retired after 23 years.

Michigan State
        There will be no Plaxico Burress at wide receiver or Bill Burke at quarterback. New QB Ryan Van Dyke will rely heavily on TB T.J. Duckett, a 250-pound Frankenstein who runs like Bambi. The problem could be if defenses dare the Spartans to throw because there are no proven wideouts. The defense proved itself last year and should be solid again. But there are road games at Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.

        It wasn't that long ago Northwestern was threatening to become a Big Ten power. It only seems that way. The Wildcats went 3-8 last season under former Miami coach Randy Walker and will be doing well to win four or five this year. The good news is they return nine starters on defense.

        This is Cam Cameron's fourth season as coach, and the Hoosiers are still a work in progress. At least it's an entertaining piece of work. QB Antwaan Randle El is the most dangerous running/passing combination outside of Michael Vick. Cameron's big concern now is his defense. It gave opponents an average of 35.1 points last season.

        Once-proud Iowa won one game last year under first-year coach Kirk Ferentz. WR Kahlil Hill showed star potential and should develop further in Iowa's three-receiver sets. Iowa lost three games on the final play last season. That means it should at least double last year's win total.


Other college football previews
Mount St. Joseph
Ohio State
Thomas More
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