Let’s start with what happened last season. The Buckeyes were head and shoulders over every other Big 10 team in 2007. In conference play, they gained the 5th most yards and had the best defense by a mile. In Big 10 play, they allowed 236 yards per game. The team with the second best defense,
As stated earlier, the Buckeyes finished a rather mediocre 5th in the Big 10 in yards per game in conference play. That could be cause for concern if the Buckeyes did not return nearly their entire starting lineup in 2008. Quarterback Todd Boeckman, the 12th rated passer in the nation last season, returns along with all the other key skill position players—running back Chris Wells, the receiving Brians (Robiskie and Hartline) and 4/5ths of the offensive line. The Buckeye offense should improve substantially on the 394 yards per game they averaged last season (62nd in the nation).
Prediction: The Buckeyes have no negative indicators for 2008. They were 1-1 in one-score games, meaning they didn’t squeak by a lot of teams. Their turnover margin was actually -3, so that is likely to improve. Picking the Buckeyes not to win the Big 10 is an exercise in contrarian existentialism. They probably won’t win the MNC, not with a road test at Southern Cal and perhaps one loss coming in Big 10 play, but a Big 10 title is all but assured.
From 2000-2004, the Nittany Lions won only 26 games and Joe Paterno’s historical standing in college football was somewhat diminished. He set the Division IA record for all-time wins by a head coach, but was soon passed by Bobby Bowden. The past 3 seasons, the Lions have won 29 games, and Paterno is just one victory behind Bobby Bowden. In all likelihood, he will pass the
Even when they were struggling to qualify for bowl games, the Nittany Lions could still hang their hat on their defense. In their 4 losing seasons this decade, the defense allowed 24.4, 25.5, 21.3, and 15.3 points per game. It was always the offense’s inability to supply average production that was the team’s undoing. They never averaged more than 22.5 points per game in any of those seasons. Now, 2 of the past 3 seasons, the Lions have averaged over 30 points per game. 2007 was one of those years. The only starters lost from the 2007 offensive unit are the quarterback, Anthony Morelli, and running back Rodney Kinlaw. Morelli was an enigma during his two years starting at
The defense should once again be fantastic. The Lions finished 11th in the nation in total defense in 2007, and return 8 starters in 2008. They do lose their top-2 tacklers in linebackers Dan Connor (graduation) and Sean Lee (ACL injury), and their top corner, Justin King. However, the entire front 4, including Maurice Evans (team-leading 12.5 sacks) returns intact.
Prediction: The Lions should breeze through the non-conference slate unscathed, with the only possible concern being a home game against
If you just looked at the payoff stats—wins and losses, the Spartans 2007 season was pretty much indicative of their performance the past half-decade. But if you looked a little closer, you saw a team that was far superior than their 7-6 record. With that in mind, look out for the Spartans in 2008.
In Big 10 play,
Defense prevented the Spartans from being a Big 10 contender in 2007. While the unit ranked 32nd in total defense (better than the 42nd ranking of the offense), in Big 10 play, they finished 7th in yards allowed. 4 of their 8 opponents topped 400 yards, and Northwestern obliterated them by gaining 611 yards and averaging a robust 7.4 yards per play. 5 of their 8 conference opponents scored over 30 points. If the unit can be more stingy in 2008, the Spartans should climb in the standings. That may be a dicey proposition as the Spartans lose their best defensive players, linemen Jonal Saint-Dic and Ervin Baldwin. Those two combined for nearly half (18.5) of the Spartans 39 sacks in 2007. The pass-rush may not be as intense in 2008, and that could cause problems for the linebackers and secondary.
Prediction: Even if
Believe it or not, Northwestern has been bowl-eligible in 4 of the last 5 seasons. Spin that a different way, and the Wildcats have had but one winning season in those 5 years. Of course, at a place like
In 2007, Northwestern featured a very prolific offense. They finished 32nd in the nation in total offense and were particularly adept at throwing the football, finishing 11th in passing offense. They were even very good in Big 10 play. Only 2 teams (
The defensive side is where Northwestern has not been able to consistently excel since their Rose Bowl season in 1995. That season they held opponents to 15.1 points per game. In the ensuing 12 seasons, they have not held opponents below 23.2 points per game in any one season. Even in their 3 bowl seasons in the new decade, they allowed 33.3 (2000), 25.1 (2003), and 33.9 (2005) points per game. If the defense can keep teams in the 26-28 range, 2008 could be a special season in
Prediction: Northwestern has 4 very winnable non-conference games (
When a down year means you finish with 9 wins, 6 of them in conference play, you know you’re a player/fan/alum/coach of a college football power. Was last year a harbinger of things to come in the near future? Will things get worse before they get better? Relatively, yes. However,
As you may have heard,
Even with the offensive questions,
Prediction: Outside of conference road games at
By all accounts, Bret Bielema has had a pretty good start to his head-coaching career. In two seasons he’s gone 21-5 and led the Badgers to 2 New Year’s Day bowl games with players recruited by Barry Alvarez. Like an impoverished parent who finally ‘makes it’ Alvarez has ensured his scion has access to all the things he never did growing up. By comparison, it took Alvarez 4 seasons to reach 21 wins, and he did not have 16 more victories than losses until his 9th season. Entering his 3rd season, Bielema may finally endure some of the hardships Alvarez had to deal with at the outset of his coaching career.
On offense, the Badgers bring back 8 starters, but do lose their signal-caller, Tyler Donovan. Donovan posted a passer rating of 133.96 (41st in the nation) in 2007 and gives way to senior Allan Evridge. Evridge transferred from
The Badger defense returns 9 starters from the 2007 unit that was not quite as good as the final stats might lead you to believe. The Badgers finished a very solid 38th in total defense, but in Big 10 play, they were actually a little below average (6th in yards allowed). 5 of the top 6 tacklers return and every player save one who recorded a sack is also back. If everyone stays healthy the Badgers defense should be on par with last season’s unit.
Prediction: The non-conference slate has 3 sure wins (
Joe Tiller begins his 12th and final season as the head coach at Purdue in 2008. While many Purdue faithful have been calling for a change, in reality, a statue of Tiller should be erected in
While the Purdue offense is usually the reason the team wins ballgames, it didn’t really do its part in 2007. While the Boilers finished 27th in the nation in total offense, averaging 436 yards per game, they accumulated most of those yards against inferior competition. In Big 10 play, that yardage total ranks only 7th. Against the best defenses in the Big 10, those numbers are even more pronounced. Against
Meanwhile, the Purdue defense also returns 6 starters. The defense was decidedly mediocre in 2007, ranking 63rd nationally in total defense. Like the offense, there should not be a distinct change in the performance by the defense in 2008. The Boilers do lose their top-6 tacklers!, and the defense will likely be a shade worse, but there are far worse defenses in the Big 10 (
Prediction: Purdue’s non-conference schedule is actually pretty challenging in 2008. They open with an easy win over Northern Colorado, but then must host
After 2 seasons of paying their dues under Ron Zook, the Illini seemingly came from out of nowhere to win 9 games and play in the Rose Bowl. One of those 9 wins was a victory over then top-ranked
The major revelation for fans who couldn’t be less concerned with a team that had won 8 games over the previous 4 seasons was the play of running back Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall rushed for nearly 1700 yards and averaged 6.42 yards per rush. Of course, in limited action, Mendenhall averaged over 8 yards per rush in 2006 (640 yards), so maybe Zook should have gotten his stud into more games as an underclassmen. Unfortunately, Mendenhall will never carry the ball again for the Illini as he will now ply his trade in the NFL. He leaves behind 7 starters, including enigmatic quarterback Juice Williams. Williams is still much more dangerous as a runner, but he did improve his completion percentage from a piss-poor 39.5% in 2006 to a solid 57.3% in 2007. Still, his passer rating of 119.22 ranked only 81st in the nation. As long as Williams is the quarterback, the Illini will have trouble throwing the football. And without their home run hitter, Mendenhall, the offense as a whole will decline somewhat in 2008.
The Illini defense improved as well in 2007, going from allowing 26.8 points per game (91st in the nation) to 21.8 (26th). However, while the pay off stat (points) improved, the actual down-to-down performance actually declined. The Illini finished 33rd in total defense in 2006, allowing 310 yards per game. They allowed 377 yards per game in 2007 (55th in the nation). So how did the Illini improve so much despite an actual decline in yards allowed? Ah the fickleness of turnovers. In 2006, the Illini had a turnover margin of -15. That margin improved to -2 in 2007. Fewer turnovers by the offense that put the defense behind the 8-ball, and more turnovers forced by the defense equate to an improvement in points allowed. The defense returns 6 starters in 2008, but loses 4 of its top-5 tacklers. The defense will likely decline much thanks to their somewhat unsustainable (yards to points) performance in 2007.
Remember when Kirk Ferentz was the most sought after coach on the planet? From 2002-2004, the Hawkeyes were 31-7 (20-4 against Big 10 foes) with a pair of Big 10 co-championships. The past 3 seasons, the Hawkeyes have gone a very mediocre 19-18 (11-13 in Big 10 play) and have not won more than 7 games in any season. Last year, the Hawkeyes posted a solid 4-4 record in Big 10 play (tied with
The Hawkeyes had a real problem protecting quarterback Jake Christensen last season. As a team, the Hawkeyes allowed 46 sacks (114th in the nation). With all 5 starters on the offensive line and Christensen back for another season, the pass protection has to be better. When he wasn’t getting put on his back, Christensen was busy not completing passes. His 53.5% completion percentage was not even in the top 100 last season. The one thing Christensen did do well last season was avoid turning the ball over. He had only 6 interceptions on the season. However, if his completion percentage does not significantly improve, it’s likely a lot of those incompletes will turn into interceptions. Elsewhere on offense, the Hawkeyes lose their top 3-rushers and the likely starter is juco transfer Nate Gullory. With the entire offensive line back, the offense will likely improve, but expect the offense to have more than the 13 turnovers (3rd in the nation) they had last season.
On defense, the Hawkeyes bring back only 5 starters and lose 4 of their top-6 tacklers, including defensive end Bryan Mattison (team leading 9 sacks in 2007). The defensive line, linebacking corps, and secondary each lose 2 starters apiece, so the unit will be somewhat patched together. Last season, the Hawkeyes ranked a solid 36th in total defense, but that was mostly due to their work in non-conference play. Against their 4 non-conference opponents they allowed 282 yards per game. Against their more talented Big 10 opponents, that number vaulted over 100 yards per game to 385. Realistically, the Hawkeyes defense should remain towards the nether regions of the Big 10 in 2008.
Prediction: The non-conference slate has two guaranteed wins (
Glen Mason never got the Gophers to the Promised Land, but he also never had a season quite as deplorable as the one
The Gophers actually had a decent offense in 2007. They ranked 48th nationally in total offense, but in Big 10 play, they were 6th in yards gained among the league’s 11 teams. That unit returns 8 starters in 2008, including dual-threat quarterback Adam Weber. As a freshman in 2007, Weber passed for nearly 2900 yards and threw 24 touchdowns. He was also the Gophers leader on the ground, gaining over 600 yards. Unfortunately, he also threw 19 interceptions and posted a passer rating of only 120.80 (77th in the nation). If he can cut his interceptions, Weber can be one of the better quarterbacks in the conference. Come 2009 and 2010, the Gophers will certainly be glad they started him as a freshman. Joining Weber on offense are 3 of 5 starting offensive linemen and his leading receiver Eric Decker. The
Defensively, the Gophers were a lost cause in 2007. They allowed 519 yards per game (dead last in the nation). There is no way to sugarcoat how bad they were. Only
After nearly a decade and a half of staying in
Alas, if only the Hoosiers had a defense that could keep them in games. The Hoosiers defense has been a sieve for a long time not. Last season marked the first time the Hoosiers did not allow an average of at least 30 points per game since 2001. They barely beat the mark, allowing teams to score 28.5 points per game. Still, they were pretty bad. Based on yards allowed, only 2 teams were worse in Big 10 play (Northwestern and
Prediction: The non-conference slate has 4 very winnable games (Western Kentucky,