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College Football Preview -- Big Ten

By United Press International   |   Aug. 17, 2002 at 5:50 PM   |   Comments

Big Ten Conference Preview

ILLINOIS

2001 Record: 10-2 (Lost to Louisiana State in Sugar Bowl)

Coach: Ron Turner

Outlook: Illinois was a surprise Big 10 champion last season, its first title since 1993, and it was led by QB Kurt Kittner. He finished his stellar career fifth on the conference's all-time passing yardage list. Either Jon Beutjer, who played for Iowa in 2000, or Dustin Ward will inherit coach Ron Turner's pro-style offense, but the team will greatly miss Kittner's leadership. Two welcome sights for the QB will be WR Brandon Lloyd, who made 65 receptions for 1,062 yards last season, and receiving mate Walter Young, who finished the season with three consecutive 100-yard games. As on offense, the Illini will have seven defensive starters returning, including standout CB Christian Morton and LB Jerry Schumacher, who made 125 tackles in 2001.

Noteworthy: The Chicago Bears will be playing their home games at Memorial Stadium on Sundays this fall while Soldier Field undergoes renovations

Schedule: The Illini will be hosting perennial powers Michigan, Purdue and Ohio State, and if they do not win all of those, they will have little chance of repeating as conference champions.

INDIANA

2001 Record: 5-6

Coach: Gary DiNardo

Outlook: Not good. Indiana will greatly miss option QB Antwaan Randle El, a one-man wrecking crew who finished fifth all time on the NCAA list in total offense. Either Tommy Jones, who started last season's opener (with Randle El at WR), or Gibran Hamdan will lead DiNardo's newly installed spread offense. SS Joe Gonzalez is the leading returning tackler from a mediocre defense that allowed nearly 400 yards per game last season. He had 65 tackles in 2001.

Noteworthy: Paced by Randle El, Indiana outgained Big 10 opponents by 66.6 yards per game last season -- the second-best mark in the conference.

Schedule: Just about the only good news for Indiana in this rebuilding year is that it will avoid Michigan. The Hoosiers will not play Minnesota for a second straight year.

IOWA

2001 Record: 7-5 (Beat Texas Tech in Alamo Bowl)

Coach: Kirk Ferentz

Outlook: Brad Banks outdueled 6-foot-7 junior college transfer Nathan Chandler for the job at quarterback, but Ferentz may alternate the duo to confuse defenses. DT Colin Cole had the

third-most tackles for losses (14.5) among returning Big 10 defensive players. CB Bob Sanders averaged 11.1 tackles per game last season, the second-most among returning players in the conference. LB Fred Barr (9.7) is fourth.

Noteworthy: The only game the Hawkeyes will play on artificial turf this season is their final contest, at Minnesota on Nov. 16.

Schedule: Iowa, which finished in a four-way tie for fourth in the conference in 2001, will avoid both Ohio State and Illinois for a second consecutive season.

MICHIGAN

2001 Record: 8-4 (Lost to Tennessee in Citrus Bowl)

Coach: Lloyd Carr

Outlook: As in 1997, when Michigan won a share of the national title, the Wolverines will go as far as their defense takes them. The entire front four and four other defensive starters return from a unit that allowed just 90.6 rushing yards per game -- easily the best in the conference and the eighth-best nationally. DEs Dan Rumishek and Shantee Orr are the top two returning sack artists in the Big 10, and super sophomore Marlin Jackson is a lockdown CB in the Charles Woodson mold. But the Wolverines -- and new offensive coordinator Terry Malone -- have big questions to answer on the other side of the ball. After fading down the stretch last season, QB John Navarre had a poor spring game and will be challenged by southpaw Spencer Brinton. Neither FB B.J. Askew nor RB Chris Perry adequately filled the shoes of Anthony Thomas last year, while leading returning WR Ronald Bellamy gained less than one-quarter the yardage of since-departed receiving mate Marquise Walker.

Noteworthy: Last season was the first since 1984 that the Wolverines ended the season with losses to Ohio State and a bowl game opponent (Tennessee).

Schedule: Extremely difficult. The Wolverines hope to begin their season by avenging a fourth-quarter collapse at Washington in 2001 -- this time at home -- before traveling to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. Once Big 10 play arrives, Michigan misses only Indiana and Northwestern. The Wolverines face Ohio State in Columbus on Nov. 23.

MICHIGAN STATE

2001 Record: 7-5 (Beat Fresno State in Silicon Valley Bowl)

Coach: Bobby Williams

Outlook: Optimistic. Despite losing RB T.J. Duckett to the NFL, the Spartans possess arguably the best offense in the conference. Five offensive lineman return, as does QB Jeff Smoker, who had the Big 10's highest QB rating in 2001, and superstar WR Charles Rogers, who caught touchdowns in 11 of the team's 12 games last season. But the leading returning rusher is RB Dawan Moss, who gained just 93 yards last season. The Spartans have seven defensive starters back from last season, including three members of the stingiest secondary in the Big 10, but the squad ranked ninth in the conference with just 19 sacks.

Noteworthy: After switching to grass at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State will be the only Big 10 team to play no contests on artificial turf this year. The Spartans are just 1-7 on the road in conference play in two seasons under Williams.

Schedule: Extremely favorable. Michigan State begins the season with five straight home contests and seven of eight before traveling to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan, which feels it was robbed by a scoreboard operator in a last-second loss in East Lansing in 2001. The Spartans also avoid Ohio State and Illinois this season.

MINNESOTA

2001 Record: 4-7

Coach: Glen Mason

Outlook: After splitting QB duties the last two years, Asad Abdul-Khaliq has the job to himself this season. He finished the 2001 campaign by throwing for nearly 600 yards and six touchdowns over the final two games. Abdul-Khaliq will be aided on offense by the RB duo of Thomas Tapeh and Marion Barber III, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry as a true freshman last season, and TE Ben Utecht, a bulked-up former WR. The Golden Gophers return eight starters on defense, but the unit ranked ninth in the conference last year and 90th nationally after giving up nearly 425 yards per game.

Noteworthy: Despite a 4-7 mark last season, Minnesota outscored its opponents, 308-299.

Schedule: Minnesota should improve on its league-worst record in 2001, but it has four tough conference road games -- at Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. It has lost its last six Big 10 contests away from the Metrodome. The non-conference schedule is relatively easy, with Toledo the best of a four-game lot.

NORTHWESTERN

2001 Record: 4-7

Coach: Randy Walker

Outlook: Picked by the media to win the Big 10 last season, Northwestern tied for last with Minnesota at 2-6. Unfortunately for fans of the Wildcats, they will be returning a conference-low 10 starters and they will have to replace all-time leading rusher Damien Anderson and two-year starting QB Zak Kustok. Look for sophomore Tony Strauss to take over for Kustok and for a committee to fill in for Anderson. LB Pat Durr is the fifth-leading returning tackler in the conference. He averaged 9.2 tackles per game last season. Greg Colby, formerly of Kent State, is the new defensive coordinator after the unit gave up a league-worst 467.6 yards per game in 2001.

Noteworthy: Northwestern is tied with Michigan for the most Big 10 titles over the past seven years. Both teams have either won outright or tied for the league title three times over that span.

Schedule: An easy out-of-conference slate, including contests with woeful Duke and Navy, means Northwestern likely will need only one victory in Big 10 play to surpass its four-win total of last season.

OHIO STATE

2001 Record: 7-5 (Lost to South Carolina in Outback Bowl)

Coach: Jim Tressell

Outlook: Excellent, despite an inexperienced offensive backfield. Craig Krenzel, who led Ohio State to a rare win at Michigan in Tressell's debut season, likely will get the QB nod, but Scott McMullen and highly touted true freshman Justin Zwick may get some snaps. After losing 1,300-yard rusher Jonathan Wells, talented sophomores Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall will try and hold off true frosh Maurice Clarett. Tall and fast Chris Vance and Michael Jenkins will lead an experienced receiving unit, while OLs Shane Olivea, Adrien Clarke and Bryce Bishop anchor an enormous line. Eight starters return on defense, including the entire front four. All-American SS Mike Doss, the team's leading tackler in 2001, is back, but the team will start two new cornerbacks. P Andy Groom ranked fourth in the country last season with an average of 45 yards per kick.

Noteworthy: The Buckeyes have finished outside the Top 25 in the final media poll the last three years.

Schedule: The season opener against Texas Tech is no pushover and one of the more intriguing non-conference games of the season is on Sept. 14, when Washington State comes to Columbus. Michigan also travels to Columbus on Nov. 23 to try to pay back the Buckeyes for a 26-20 defeat in Ann Arbor last year. The Buckeyes avoid Michigan State.

PENN STATE

2001 Record: 5-6

Coach: Joe Paterno

Outlook: The Nittany Lions began last season with a stunning four straight losses, but finished 5-2 to climb into a four-way tie for fourth in the Big 10. QB Zach Mills returns, as do three offensive linemen and TB Larry Johnson, who saw limited action but gained nearly five yards per carry. On defense, three of the front four are back, including 6-foot-5, 330-pound T Jimmy Kennedy. But the team is inexperienced at, of all places, linebacker. Penn State is known for turning out superstar linebackers. CB Bryan Scott, who led the team with 62 solo tackles in 2001, and FS Shawn Mayer are the only returning starters in the secondary.

Noteworthy: At one point during the 1999 season, Penn State was 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country. Beginning with a 24-23 home loss to Minnesota, the Nittany Lions have gone 10-16 since. Paterno has a record 327 career victories but is just four ahead of Florida State's Bobby Bowden.

Schedule: Still tough despite eight home games. The Nittany Lions host powerhouse Nebraska in September before nasty road contests at Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State in a four-week stretch in October. The season ends with three of four at home, including a season-ending contest against Michigan State.

PURDUE

2001 Record: 6-6

Coach: Joe Tiller

Outlook: Look for QB Kyle Orton, who attempted 188 passes starting the final three games as a true freshman last season, to improve last year's 105th-ranked offense, which struggled under since-departed QB Brandon Hance. Four of the five offensive linemen return, but the unit last year allowed for only 98 rushing yards per game. Like on offense, eight defensive starters from last season are back, including junior FS Stuart Schweigert, who has 11 interceptions and needs only one pick to set the school mark. The best unit may be the LBs, a swarming group that is paced by fleet-footed senior Joe Odom.

Noteworthy: Purdue began its 2001 campaign 5-1 before finishing the season 1-5. The Boilermakers were outgained last year despite having a defense that ranked 26th nationally.

Schedule: The Boilermakers lost at home to Notre Dame last year and try to return the favor at South Bend after a season-opening warmup against Illinois State. Purdue gets Michigan and Ohio State at home and avoids Penn State and Wisconsin.

WISCONSIN

2001 Record: 5-7

Coach: Barry Alvarez

Outlook: The Badgers are expected to be without WR Lee Evans for at least the first five games after he tore ligaments in his left knee in April. Evans, who set a Big 10 single-season record last year with 1,545 receiving yards, hopes to be back for the team's first conference matchup, against Penn State on Oct. 5. Even without Evans, the Wisconsin offense will be potent, with all five linemen, QBs Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi, and last year's Big 10 Freshman of the Year, RB Anthony Davis, returning. Davis set an NCAA freshman record with 10 100-yard rushing games and used his 4.3 speed to average 5.0 yards per carry. Wisconsin is shaky on defense, however, with only three starters back from a side that allowed more than 370 yards per game last season. LB Jeff Mack is the only member of the front seven back.

Noteworthy: Alvarez has three new assistants -- Paul Chryst (tight ends), Brian Murphy (special teams/outside linebackers) and Ron Cooper (defensive backs).

Schedule: Wisconsin begins with Fresno State, which upset the Badgers last season. West Virginia and Arizona also come to Madison. In conference, Wisconsin plays Penn State and Ohio State at home and Michigan State and Michigan away. The Badgers do not play Purdue and Northwestern.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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