BigTen.org takes an in-depth look at each of the conference teams in action this weekend
Aug. 28, 2008
(9-4, 6-2 Big Ten)
No. 20/19 ILLINOIS vs. No. 6/7 Missouri Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Mo. 7:30 p.m. CDT - ESPN
Inside the Series: Missouri leads 14-7 | Last Time Out: Sept. 1, 2007 - Missouri, 40-34
(12-2, 7-1 Big 12 N)
What a better way to start off the 2008 college football campaign than with a top-20 matchup in the season opener. No. 19/20 Illinois meets No. 6/7 Missouri in the fourth annual State Farm Arch Rivalry in St. Louis. The Tigers have won four of the five games between the two teams at a neutral site and Illinois’ lone win came back in 1896. Last year, however, the Illini nearly rebounded from a second-half 24-point deficit and eventually fell to Missouri, 40-34. They also ended up in the Rose Bowl.
Missouri opens the season after a school-record 12 wins and its first-ever No. 1 national ranking in 2007. The Tigers finished fourth overall after an impressive 38-7 win over Arkansas in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Senior quarterback Chase Daniel, who placed fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last year, finished the year with 4,306 yards and 33 TDs and threw for at least 300 yards in eight of 13 games. The 2007 second-team AP All-American enters the season with a school-record 143.80 QB rating. The Tigers are also paced by senior running back Tony Temple, who posted a Cotton Bowl-record 281 yards and 4 TDs in last year’s finale, and sophomore wideout Jeremy Maclin, whose 2,776 all-purpose yards broke the NCAA single-season record for freshmen. Senior FS William Moore is a threat on defense after posting eight interceptions last year.
Illinois junior quarterback Juice Williams, who was injured in the first half of last year’s opener, needs just 295 passing yards and 211 rushing yards to move into seventh and 20th all-time in school history, respectively. He will not only be responsible for guiding the Illini through the air, but on the ground as well, as Illinois has led the league in Big Ten the past two years. The Illini also boast an outstanding sophomore receiver in Arrelious Benn, the 2007 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Junior DB Vontae Davis should get the role of defending Maclin, while senior Will Davis will be targeting Daniel, as the Illini end boasted 9.5 sacks and 12.5 TFLs in 2007.
Western Kentucky at INDIANA Memorial Stadium , Bloomington, Ind. Noon EDT - Big Ten Network
Inside the Series: First Meeting
(7-6, 3-5 Big Ten)
Indiana enters the 2008 season with six straight season-opening wins at Memorial Stadium. The Hoosiers boast eight home games on the schedule this year and are a season removed from going 5-2 on their home turf and earning a bid to the Insight Bowl. Now IU is looking for back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since the 1990-91 seasons.
Western Kentucky is the Hoosiers' first opponent and the Hilltoppers are in just their second year of participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The 2007 campaign ended with WKU posting a 7-5 record, its 12th straight winning season. Sophomore quarterback K.J. Black was 88-of-134 (65.7 percent) for 1,007 yards passing last year and his main target, junior Jake Gaebler, hauled in 35 receptions for 426 yards and three scores. Junior Tyrell Hayden averaged nearly 95 yards rushing per game year. Senior cornerback Marcus Minor led the team with 61 tackles and helped WKU record 24 sacks, 20 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. As a unit, the Hilltoppers gave up 20.8 points and 319.6 yards per game in 2007.
Indiana's defense suffered both a loss and a gain this past week. Sophomore safety Jerimy Finch, a transfer from Florida, was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA and will take the field Saturday. However, junior end Greg Middleton, the nation's leader in sacks last year, will not play due to team violations. Getting the nod at quarterback is junior Kellen Lewis. A year after being one of only three QBs in the country to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 700 yards, Lewis found himself out of spring practice and then battling for his spot with Ben Chappell, who should also see snaps on Saturday. After losing 6-7 wideout James Hardy to the NFL, look for IU to quickly establish its running game with Lewis, Marcus Thigpen and Bryan Payton. Lou Groza Award finalist and All-American kicker Austin Starr, the hero in the 2007 regular season finale, returns for his final season as well.
(4-7, 3-5 CAA)
Maine at IOWA Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa 11 a.m. CDT - Big Ten Network
Inside the Series: First Meeting
(6-6, 4-4 Big Ten)
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is bringing it back to where it all began. This Saturday marks the first meeting between Iowa and Maine, but it will also be a meeting with the team that gave Ferentz his collegiate coaching debut in 1990. Ferentz coached the Black Bears for three seasons, going 12-21 before doing a stint in the NFL and then returning to coach Iowa in 1999.
The Hawkeyes' Jake Christensen is an experienced quarterback who will look to steady the offense this year. He had an efficiency rating of 116.9 and tossed 17 touchdowns to only six interceptions and was 198-of-370 passing for 2,269 yards last year. Iowa has already suffered setbacks this week as tight ends Tony Moeaki and Michael Sabers, wide receiver Trey Stross and offensive lineman Dan Doering will not see the field Saturday due to injuries. Linemen Mitch King and Matt Kroul will anchor the Hawkeye defense, which will look to limit a Maine offense that resembled Iowa's last year. The Black Bears racked up 305.7 total yards per game compared to Iowa's 316.3 and scored 16.9 points each outing, while the Hawkeyes averaged 18.5.
Leading the way for Maine is senior tailback Jhamal Fluellen, who rushed for 1,052 yards and five touchdowns in 2007. Sophomore quarterback Adam Farkes started six games last year and passed for 836 yards and seven scores. His main target is junior Landis Williams, who led Maine in receptions (38), receiving yards (481), average yards per catch (12.7), and touchdowns (6) last season. Senior defensive lineman Jovan Belcher was named the 2008 CAA Football Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and was a second-team AP All-American last year. As a unit, Maine has finished in the top 15 nationally in sacks each of the past two seasons and has finished in the top third nationally in total defense each of the past three campaigns.
(9-4, 5-3 MWC)
Utah at No. -/24 MICHIGAN Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich. 3:30 p.m. EDT - ABC (regional); ESPN2 (outer-market)
Inside the Series: Michigan leads 1-0 | Last Time Out: Aug. 30, 2003 - Michigan, 10-7
(9-4, 6-2 Big Ten)
Michigan opens the Rich Rodriguez-era with a formidable opponent in Utah, which won eight of its last nine games last year and won its third straight bowl game. Wolverine fans have tried to forget about last year's home opener, a shocking defeat to Appalachian State, and focus on everything that is new in Ann Arbor.
While Rodriguez has hinted his starting quarterback and running back will be game-time decisions, Georgia Tech freshman transfer Steven Threet has experience running the spread offense, which has been implemented at Michigan this year. Juniors Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are expected to get looks at running back. Regardless of who starts and who plays, Michigan must be prepared for a quality Utah defense. The Utes led the nation in pass efficiency defense a year ago, was fifth in scoring defense and 13th in turnover margin, while leading the Mountain West in all three categories. In fact, strong safety is the only position in the defensive backfield that does not return a starter and 2007 Poinsettia Bowl Defensive MVP Joe Dale will be filling that role.
Utah quarterback Brian Johnson has suffered through injuries throughout his career, but he has also found success as well. He led the MWC and finished fourth in the nation in total offense in 2005. Running back Darrell Mack, whose 1,204 rushing yards a year ago ranked third in school history, will start on Saturday. Wide receiver Brent Casteel suffered a knee injury last year, but will pose a threat to Michigan on offense and as a special teams return man Saturday. Michigan senior cornerback Morgan Trent will most likely draw Casteel, while senior tackle Terrence Taylor will try to stop the Utes up front. Keep your eyes on Utah punter/kicker Louie Sakoda. The first-team All-American averaged 44.3 yards per punt and made 86.4 percent of his field goals (19-of-22) last year.
(7-6, 3-5 Big Ten)
MICHIGAN STATE at California California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif. 8 p.m. EDT - ABC
Inside the Series: Michigan State leads 2-1 | Last Time Out: Sept. 14, 2002 - California, 46-22
(7-6, 3-6 Pac-10)
Like its in-state rival Michigan, Michigan State will face a tough opponent to open the season, but it will do so on the road. The Spartans travel to Berkeley, Calif., to battle a California team that went 7-6 last season. Cal has the second-most overall and league wins in the Pac-10 in the last six years and is also one of just three Pac-10 teams to have advanced to bowl games in each of the last five campaigns. Additionally, the Golden Bears are looking for their first seven-season winning streak since 1918-25.
But Cal is undergoing several changes this season as its top running back, top tight end, top three receivers and two offensive linemen all departed for the NFL. Senior Nate Longshore and sophomore Kevin Riley have been battling at the quarterback position and Riley is expected to start Saturday. Granted Michigan State has also had to replace its NFL picks in wideout Devin Thomas and pass rusher Jonal Saint Dic, but the Spartans do have the comfort of returning quarterback Brian Hoyer, who threw for nearly 2,300 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2007, and second-team All-Conference running back Javon Ringer. MSU's defense should also be well-prepared for Cal's fresh-look offense as sophomore linebacker Greg Jones (78 tackles in 2007) and senior strong safety Otis Wiley and his four INTs from a year ago return.
Cal has inserted sophomore speedster Jahvid Best at tailback and is looking for its seventh consecutive season with a 1,000-yard rusher. Michigan State was fourth in the Big Ten last year in rush defense, allowing 125.8 yards per game. The MSU offense will look to counter with an attack on the new-look Cal defense. Seven starters return for the Golden Bears, but they will be playing their first game in a 3-4 scheme. Senior linebackers Anthony Felder (101) and Worrell Williams (105) both eclipsed the 100-tackle mark last year.
(2-10, 1-6 MAC W)
Northern Illinois at MINNESOTA HHH Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minn. 6 p.m. CDT - Big Ten Network
Inside the Series: Minnesota leads 1-0 | Last Time Out: Sept. 24, 1988 - Minnesota, 31-20
(1-11, 0-8 Big Ten)
The Golden Gophers return 16 starters from a very young team last year that struggled in the wins column. Second-year head coach Tim Brewster will actually be the more seasoned coach heading into Saturday's contest with Northern Illinois, as the Huskies are set to open a new era under Jerry Kill.
Minnesota sophomore quarterback Adam Weber got a load of experience last season after nearly taking every snap. He set new Minnesota single-season records for passing yardage (2,895 yards), passing touchdowns (24), completions (258) and attempts (449). Weber was also the team's leading rusher last year with 617 yards on the ground and five touchdowns. Another season under his belt should help limit the mistakes in the air as he also threw for 19 interceptions a year ago. Eric Decker, Weber's main target, returns for his junior season and sophomore running back Duane Bennett expects to see more touches in the backfield. NIU's defense is led by sophomore linebacker Alex Kube, who made 111 stops as a freshman, and defensive end Larry English, who recorded 10.5 sacks last year.
Northern Illinois went 2-10 in 2007 and will look to its veterans to try to capitalize on a Gopher defense that allowed 247 yards rushing and 496 total yards per game last season. The Huskies return 20 starters, including tailback Justin Anderson, who went for 1,245 yards last year to become the team's ninth straight 1,000-yard rusher. QB Dan Nicholson is back after completing more than 60 percent of his passes for 1,633 yards in 2007. Gopher linebacker Deon Hightower, who posted 70 tackles last year, will team up with junior college transfers Tramaine Brock and Traye Simmons and second-team All-Big Ten selection Willie VanDeSteeg to fend off NIU's offensive attack, that was outscored 370-229 last season.
(2-10, 1-6 Big East)
Syracuse at NORTHWESTERN Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill. 11 a.m. CDT - ESPN2
Inside the Series: Syracuse leads 4-3 | Last Time Out: Sept. 15, 1984 - Syracuse, 13-12
(6-6, 3-5 Big Ten)
Northwestern is set to open up the 2008 season against a major conference opponent in Syracuse. The Big East's Orange finished a disappointing 2-10 last year and now face a Wildcat squad that returns a bundle of players from their 6-6 team a year ago. A total of 49 letterwinners return to Evanston, including 19 starters. NU is 9-4 in opening games since 1995 and will be looking for its fourth straight season-opening win come Saturday.
The Wildcats will continue to attack both on the ground and in the air. After leading the conference with 307.9 passing yards last year, Northwestern returns the majority of its air attack. Quarterback C.J. Bachér will have his three top receivers to look to in Tyrell Sutton, Eric Peterman and Ross Lane. SU fields sophomores in its two cornerback positions as well, so look for NU to pass the pigskin effectively. Sutton enters the 2008 campaign just four yards shy of 3,000 for his career and expect him to get those and more since SU allowed 207.8 yards on the ground each game last year. Orange senior linebacker Jake Flaherty will do his best to stop Sutton as he totaled 95 tackles in 2007.
Like Northwestern, Syracuse also boasts an impressive running game. Senior Curtis Brinkley and sophomores Delone Carter and Doug Hogue have all been fighting for the starting role. Brinkley was the starter last year before breaking his leg in the eighth game and Carter rushed for 713 yards as a true freshman, but missed all of last year due to injury. Junior Andrew Robinson returns under center after throwing for 2,192 yards and averaging 199.3 yards per game in 2007. The SU offense managed just 16.4 points per outing in 2007 and was outscored 418-197. In total yards, the Orange were outgained by more than 175 yards each contest (468.8-291.9). Keeping the SU offense in check will be Northwestern senior tackle John Gill, who boasted 50 tackles and 8.5 TFLs last year. He anchors the NU defensive line that features all four starters from a year ago.
(7-4, 3-3 Gateway)
Youngstown State at No. 2/3 OHIO STATE Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio Noon EDT - Big Ten Network
Inside the Series: Ohio State leads 1-0 | Last Time Out: Sept. 1, 2007 - Ohio State, 38-6
(11-2, 7-1 Big Ten)
Much like the connection Kirk Ferentz has to the Iowa-Maine matchup on Saturday, Jim Tressel will again welcome back his former team as he preps the Buckeyes for another run at the BCS National Championship. Tressel has won five national titles, four of which came during his time as coach of Youngstown State from 1986-2000. He won the BCS title at Ohio State during the 2002 season and has finished runner-up the past two seasons. Saturday marks the start of yet another determined campaign.
Offensively the Buckeyes boast some of the nation's top performers. Senior quarterback Todd Boeckman led the Big Ten in passing efficiency with a 148.94 rating and was honored with first-team All-Conference accolades in 2007 after throwing for 2,379 yards on 191-of-299 passing. Chris "Beanie" Wells is a reigning second-team All-American in the backfield after rushing for 140.2 yards per game last year. Unfortunately for the Penguins, their offense is not so experienced. Tom Zetts graduated as a four-year starting quarterback and in his place now is junior Todd Rowan, who has thrown exactly one pass in his YSU career. Senior Kevin Smith returns to the backfield, but his 123 carries for 618 yards last year marked the fewest attempts by a YSU rusher since 1988.
Here is the good news for the Penguins: they have won 11 of their last 12 season openers. That lone loss, however, was a 38-6 defeat to Ohio State last year. The Penguins' defense also ranked in the top 20 of the FCS in both scoring defense (18.5) and total defense (318.2). Unfortunately, the Buckeyes scoring defense (12.8) and total defense (233.0) both ranked first nationally in the FBS last year. That unit is led by All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, as well as senior All-American DB Malcolm Jenkins.
(5-6, 2-1 Big South)
Coastal Carolina at No. 22/22 PENN STATE Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa. Noon EDT- Big Ten Network
Inside the Series: First Meeting
(9-4, 4-4 Big Ten)
Penn State welcomes Coastal Carolina to Beaver Stadium on Saturday, which begins Nittany Lion head coach Joe Paterno's 43rd season in State College. PSU has won six straight season openers and is looking for a steady and balanced offensive and defensive effort to lead to its seventh. Awaiting the Nittany Lions is Coastal Carolina, a 5-6 team in 2007, but also one that finished the season winning three of its last four games.
Paterno has gone back and forth this preseason as to which quarterback will get the starting nod in place of the graduated Anthony Morelli. Senior Darryl Clark has been appointed Saturday's starter, but expect redshirt sophomore Pat Devlin to also see time under center. The Nittany Lions boast a new spread offense, which is good for their top three receivers in Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. All three have recorded 40 or more receptions in each of the past two seasons. First-team All-Conference honoree A.G. Shipley (C) anchors the line of three returning starters and will help make gaps for tailbacks Evan Royster and Stephfon Green. Coastal Carolina returns eight starters to a defense that allowed 26.1 points and 360.3 yards per game in 2007. Look for senior defensive back Marrio Norman to disrupt the PSU aerial attack as he ranks second all-time in the Big South with 10 interceptions.
Like Penn State, the Chanticleers have two promising quarterbacks that will most likely split time Saturday. Senior Will Richardson started 10 games last year and threw for 1,596 yards and 13 touchdowns, but has seen competition in practice from Wake Forest sophomore transfer Zach MacDowall. Both will be aiming for junior tight end Scott Fambrough, who posted 11 receptions for 151 yards in 10 games last year. Coastal Carolina is a fairly young team and is still feeling the sting of losing a nation-high 36 seniors in 2006. With Penn State linebacker Sean Lee sidelined this year with a knee injury, expect junior defensive end Maurice Evans and senior safety Anthony Scirrotto to lead the way on defense. The Nittany Lions ranked among the nation's best in scoring defense (17.6 ppg) and total defense (306.6 ypg) in 2007 and returns all but one starter.
(4-8, 3-5 MAC E)
Akron at No. 13/12 WISCONSIN Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis. 11 a.m. CDT - Big Ten Network
Inside the Series: Wisconsin leads 1-0 | Last Time Out: Sept. 6, 2003 - Wisconsin, 48-31
(9-4, 5-3 Big Ten)
It's all about the numbers come Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin has won 10 straight season openers and is 25-1 at home since 2004, a record which is second-best in the nation. UW has taken the last 16 games against non-conference opponents, the same amount of Big Ten games Akron has played in its program history. After going 4-8 last year and 1-6 on the road, the Zips have one number that is a focus for them come Saturday: 1894. That is the last time Akron defeated a Big Ten team, which came in a 12-6 win over Ohio State.
Wisconsin enters its season opener still with a bit of a question at quarterback. Senior Allan Evridge, a Kansas State transfer, played in seven games last year, but threw only 12 times with five completions for 66 yards. Look for the Badgers to rely on their running game as junior P.J. Hill returns following an impressive sophomore campaign where he became one of just three Badgers in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of their first two seasons. He enters his junior season with 2,805 rushing yards and 31 total touchdowns, which could mean trouble for Akron as it allowed 183.8 rushing yards per game last year. Badger senior tight end Travis Beckum captured first-team All-Conference accolades last year after 75 catches for 982 yards. Beckum could pose a problem for the Zips as they lost all five starters in the 3-3-5 secondary from a year ago. Senior linebacker Kevin Grant leads the team with 234 career tackles.
Akron has stability at quarterback as it welcomes back junior Chris Jacquemain at starter. He completed 56 percent of his passes in 2007, but threw 10 interceptions to his 11 touchdowns. The Zips are deep at running back, led by 2006 All-MAC selection Dennis Kennedy and his 914 yards. UW senior linebacker Jonathan Casillas led the team with 96 tackles last season, followed by fellow senior linebacker DeAndre Levy with 70 and junior linebacker Elijah Hodge with 67.