Big Ten 2010 Conference Preview

By: T.J. Zuppe

  • Illinois Fighting Illini – 2009: 3-9 (Ron Zook)

Overview: After a disappointing year for the Illini in 2009, the team looks to rebound after only losing 16 lettermen in the off-season. Even more in their favor, is a schedule that does not feature Wisconsin or Iowa, two teams that figure into the Top-25 in college football. However, they did lose their quarterback in Juice Williams and taking over the reigns will be freshman Nathan Schellhaase. He will battle sophomore Jacon Charest, who saw some action last year, after Williams was ineffective and injured at the end of the season. They should improve over last season, but could still finish in the bottom half of the Big-Ten, barring major surprise.

Players to Watch:

Cornerback: Terry Hawthorne – Sophomore 6’0” 185 lbs.

Running back: Mikel Leshoure – Junior 6’0″ 230 lbs.

Dates to Watch: September 4th vs. Missouri / November 20th vs. Northwestern (at Wrigley Field in Chicago)

  • Indiana Hoosiers – 2009: 4-8 (Bill Lynch)

Overview: The Hoosiers were hit hard when it comes to losing impact players, and starters on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, the 22 lettermen they lost ties Minnesota for third in the conference. However, Indiana had some real close losses last season and could surprise this year, maybe even with a shot at bowl eligibility if all goes well. Wide receiver Tandon Doss leads the Hoosier offense, and after a 962 yard season in 2009, even more is expected of the 6’3″ wideout. He should be one of the top receivers in the conference.

Players to Watch:

Wide Receiver: Tandon Doss – Senior 6’3″ 195 lbs.

Quarterback: Ben Chappell – Senior 6’3″ 239 lbs.

Dates to Watch: October 2nd vs. Michigan / November 20th at Penn State

  • Iowa Hawkeyes – 2009: 11-2 (Kirk Ferentz)

Overview: There is no question that Iowa is in the top three when it comes to being the class of the conference. They feature one of the best defenses, not only in the conference, but in the country period. Also, returning to lead the Hawkeyes for his senior season is quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who was very good in his junior year before an injury late in the season put an end to their undefeated hopes. To round out, what could possibly be a perfect storm to the Big-Ten conference title, they face Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State on the friendly confines of their home turf. Once again, Iowa will challenge the Buckeyes for the best team in the conference, and have an outside shot of an undefeated regular season.

Players to Watch:

Defensive Line: Adrian Clayborn – 6’4″ 285 lbs.

Strong Safety: Tyler Sash – 6’1″ 210 lbs.

Dates to Watch: October 23rd at Wisconsin / November 20th vs. Ohio State

  • Michigan Wolverines – 2009:5-7 (Rich Rodriguez)

Overview: After roaring out to a great start in 2009, the Wolverines came back to earth and finished the season horribly, losing their last five games. This season could be a different story for the team up north, and could easily be one of the most improved teams in the Big-Ten conference this fall. The Maze and Blue are stabilized on the offensive line by two of the best in the conference, in guard Stephen Schilling, and center David Molk. They could easily be one of the most improved teams in the Big-Ten, and should figure into the top half. Coach Rich Rodriguez needs a great season, as he figures to be on one of the hottest seats in college football.

Players to Watch:

Linebacker: Craig Roh – Sophomore 6’5″ 249 lbs.

Strong safety: Jordan Kovacs – Sophomore 6’0″ 200 lbs.

Dates to Watch: October 30th at Penn State / November 27th at Ohio Stat

  • Michigan State Spartans – 2009: 6-7 (Mark Dantonio)

Overview: Just like their in-state counterpart, the Spartans should figure to be vastly improved this season, and should challenge for the upper half of the Big-Ten. They do not possess the fire power of other conference foes, but should battle and finish as a bowl eligible contender. Unfortunately, for Michigan State, they have to travel to Iowa, Penn State and Michigan on the road, but do avoid Ohio State all together. Middle-linebacker Greg Jones leads the Spartan defense, and is one of the best backers in the conference.

Players to Watch:

Linebackers: Greg Jones – Senior 6’1″ 235 lbs.

Quarterback: Kirk Cousins – Junior 6’3″ 202 lbs.

Dates to Watch: October 9th at Michigan / October 30th at Iowa

  • Minnesota Golden Gophers- 2009: 6-7 (Tim Brewster)

Overview: Someone has to finish last every year, and in 2010 Minnesota could very well be competing for the cellar of the Big-Ten. Their schedule is brutal, facing Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State and USC at home, and journey on the road to Wisconsin and Illinois. Quarterback Adam Weber is back for his senior season, but gone is his favorite targets in wide receivers Eric Decker and Nick Tow-Arnett. Despite finishing in a bowl in seven of the last eight years, it does not look positive for Minnesota to return to one in 2010.

Players to Watch:

Guard: Matt Carufel – Senior 6’5″ 302 lbs.

Running back: Duane Bennett – Junior 5’9″ 203 lbs.

Dates to Watch: September 18th vs. USC / November 13th at Illinois

  • Northwestern Wildcats – 2009: 8-5 (Pat Fitzgerald)

Overview: The Wildcats are poised for another decent season, sitting in the middle of the Big-Ten at year’s end. They should tear through the non-conference schedule quite easily, and a 6-0 start is within reason for Northwestern. Quarterback Dan Persa will be the new signal caller for the Cats, taking over for Mike Kafka, and will have large shoes to fill. Luckily, his offensive line is one of the strong suits of the team, behind tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett. Look for Northwestern to get a bowl bid in 2010, and be vastly underrated.

Players to Watch:

Wide Receiver: Drake Dunsmore – Junior 6’3″ 235 lbs.

Left Tackle: Al Netter – Junior 6’6″ 300 lbs.

Dates to Watch: November 6th at Penn State / November 20th vs. Illinois at Wrigley Field

  • Ohio State Buckeyes- 2009: 11-2 (Jim Tressel)

Overview: The Buckeyes will be contenders at the top of the Big-Ten, and have dreams and aspirations of a national championship in January. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor has hopes of a Heisman Trophy in 2010, and the Bucks will need his X-Factor to even the odds with teams that are looked at as faster, or possibly more talented. They are one of the most veteran teams in all of college football, and the defense looks to make opposing offenses pay once again, behind the likes of defensive end Cameron Heyward, linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, and defensive back Chimdi Chekwa. Anything less than playing in the national championship will be a disappointment in Columbus.

Players to Watch:

Quarterback: Terrelle Pryor – Junior 6’6″ 233 lbs.

Wide Receiver: DeVier Posey – Junior 6’2″ 213 lbs.

Dates to Watch: September 11th vs. Miami / November 27th vs. Michigan

  • Penn State Nittany Lions- 2009: 11-2 (Joe Paterno)

Overview: No question, Penn State will compete in the top third of the Big-Ten this year, but the loss of Daryll Clark at quarterback will leave a big hole in the offense. Kevin Newsome will take over as the signal caller, and will get some help from running back Evan Royster. Royster finished just five yards shy of 1,200 in 2009, and should have another outstanding season out of the Nittany Lion backfield. Even so, Penn State returns only 13 starters from last year, and it could prove to be too much to overcome. Despite the turnover, the Nittany Lions should challenge for the third or fourth spot in the conference, and could impress once again.

Players to Watch:

Running back: Evan Royster – Senior 6’1″ 213 lbs.

Wide Receiver: Derek Moye – Junior 6’5″ 198 lbs.

Dates to Watch: September 11th at Alabama / November 13th at Ohio State

  • Purdue Boilermakers- 2009: 5-7 (Danny Hope)

Overview: Purdue always finds a way to compete in the Big-Ten, but the loss of running back Ralph Bolden to an ACL will prove very costly to the Boilermaker offense. They could shock with a few key upsets, but the likelihood of Purdue finding postseason play this year is very slim.

Players to Watch:

Defensive Line: Ryan Kerrigan – Senior 6’4″ 263 lbs.

Guard: Ken Plue – Junior 6’7″ 340 lbs.

Dates to Watch: September 4th at Notre Dame / November 13th vs. Michigan

  • Wisconsin Badgers- 2009: 10-3 (Bret Bielema)

Overview: The Badgers return 16 starters to their unit, and possess a very good defense and even better offense. In some cases, they could be better than Penn State, or Iowa, but face a killer schedule. They play Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan on the road this season, but do get a bit of a break by facing the Buckeyes at home (if you call that a break at all). Running back John Clay (2009: 1548 yards) is possibly the best back in the Big-Ten, and tight end Lance Kendricks (2009: 356 yards) provides a great security blanket to quarterback Scott Tolzien. Defensive lineman J.J. Watt and linebacker Chris Borland are some of the best in the Big-Ten. The Badgers could finish anywhere between 3-6 in the conference.

Players to Watch:

Running Back: John Clay – Junior 6’1″ 248 lbs.

Cornerback: Devin Smith – Junior 5’11” 186 lbs.

Dates to Watch: September 18th vs. Arizona State / October 16th vs. Ohio State

Follow T.J. Zuppe on Twitter @TJZuppe


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