BigTen.org takes an in-depth look at each of the conference teams in action this weekend
Sept. 2, 2009
(8-4, 7-1 OVC)
Eastern Kentucky at Indiana Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009 • 8 p.m. ET • Bloomington, Ind. • Memorial Stadium (52,692) Big Ten Network • Announcers: Ari Wolfe, Charles Davis, Larra Overton
Series: First Meeting
(3-9, 1-7 Big Ten)
It will be “all things new” as the Indiana football team kicks off the 2009 season on Thursday. The Hoosiers will be playing in their first-ever Thursday night game and will be doing so in the newly renovated Memorial Stadium. IU is hoping the lights come on for its new pistol offense as well, which will led by junior quarterback and new team leader, Ben Chappell. The Hoosiers also open with a new opponent in Eastern Kentucky – a team that finished the 2008 campaign 8-4 overall and with a first-place 7-1 record in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Gone from the IU offense is the all-out, no-huddle spread attack that helped utilize the playmaking skills of former quarterback Kellen Lewis, who was dismissed from the team following spring practice. In the pistol formation, Chappell will find comfort in the pocket with a tailback directly behind him ready to run straight downhill. Looking for that ball will be Bryan Payton or Demetrius McCray, but Hoosier fans will be waiting to see another “new” addition at Memorial Stadium in heralded freshman running back Darius Willis. And while IU returns 16 starters, including nine on defense, head coach Bill Lynch is just hoping for both a successful and healthy start to the 2009 season. Last season 17 Hoosiers missed a total of 42 starts. Injuries plagued the Hoosier defense in past years, but this year’s unit will be anchored by a healthy and hungry pair of seniors in Jammie Kerlew and Greg Middleton, regarded as one of the best pair of defensive ends in the Big Ten. Indiana is also looking to find a steady leg to replace the graduated Austin Starr.
While IU has struggled to find consistency on the gridiron throughout the years, the same cannot be said for Eastern Kentucky, owners of 31 consecutive winning seasons in the Football Championship Subdivision. Like Indiana, EKU will look to a new quarterback in junior Cody Woods, who caught five touchdowns as a wideout last year. Woods enters the season just 2-of-2 passing for 12 yards. Defensively, the Colonels swarm to the ball and create turnovers, having boasted a plus-14 turnover margin in 2008, which ranked sixth in FCS. EKU defensive leaders include Jordan Dalrymple (68 tackles), Chris Hall (6.0 sacks-37 yards) and Jeremy Caldwell (3 INT-68 yards, 1 TD).
(5-7, 3-5 Big Ten)
Illinois vs. Missouri Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 • 2:40 p.m. CT • St. Louis, Mo. • Edward Jones Dome (66,000) ESPN • Announcers: Ron Franklin, Ed Cunningham
Series: Missouri leads 15-7 • Last Meeting: Aug. 30, 2008: Missouri 52, Illinois 42
(10-4, 5-3 Big 12 N)
Saturday’s neutral-site opener between Illinois and Missouri will come down to one simple question: Who wants it more? That is because the annual Arch Rivalry game will conclude this year, leaving Illinois thirsty to win at least one of the five games in this series. The Tigers have won five of the six games between the two teams at a neutral site and Illinois’ lone win came back in 1896.
The comforting fact for the Illini is that they know exactly what their offense will look like. With the offensive unit led by dual-threat QB Juice Wiliiams and wideout sensation Arrellious Benn, Illinois will hope once again to storm out of the gates just as it did against Missouri last year. Williams posted 451 passing yards and five TDs against the Tigers and then went to claim the Big Ten passing title with 3,173 yards, while adding a team-leading 719 rushing yards as well. Benn turned in a season last year that had several critics comparing him to Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin. Without Maclin, or standout quarterback Chase Daniel this year, Missouri will look to Blaine Gabbert to lead the Tigers’ passing attack in 2009. There is a comfort level in the backfield for Mizzou as junior Derrick Washington returns after rushing for 1,036 yards and 17 TDs as a sophomore.
On the defensive side of the ball, Missouri is led by senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who picked off Williams twice last year and returned one of them for a score. Illinois was held to just 81 yards rushing in last season’s contest, but attacked a depleted secondary by throwing for four touchdowns of 20 yards or more. The Illini must stop the run and Martez Wilson is back to do just that, having made 73 tackles and 3.0 sacks last year at linebacker. The primary concern for Illinois will be in the secondary as it looks to fill the void left by Vontae Davis, a first-round draft choice by the Miami Dolphins.
(12-3, 7-1 MVC)
Northern Iowa at No. 22/21 Iowa Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 • 11 a.m. CT • Iowa City, Iowa. • Kinnick Stadium (70,585) Big Ten Network • Announcers: Tom Werme, Anthony Herron, Elizabeth Moreau
Northern Iowa struck first in the series with Big Ten opponent Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have captured the last 13 games in the all-time series. UNI’s win came way back in the 1898 series opener and it has been all Hawkeyes ever since, including a 45-21 triumph in their last meeting back in 2005. That’s good news for Iowa fans, who took a punch to the gut this week when they learned that running back Jewel Hampton – the heir apparent to 2008 Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene – will miss the entire season due to a knee injury he suffered in the spring.
Hampton rushed for 463 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman last year and with his absence, the Hawkeyes turn to Paki O’Meara, a junior who owns 62 career rushing yards to his name. Leadership for Iowa is found under center in junior QB Ricky Stanzi, who helped the team to six wins in their final seven games, including a win over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl last year. Stanzi threw for nearly 2,000 yards and posted 14 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Junior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos returns as the leading receiver having hauled in 44 passes for 639 yards in 2008. Northern Iowa boasts a strong passing game as well. Senior Pat Grace returns for a second year at QB having thrown for 2,041 yards and 14 touchdowns last season while helping UNI to its second straight Missouri Valley Conference championship. Currently the Panthers are fourth among FCS teams in the Sporting News preseason rankings.
Defensively, Iowa returns a solid core from a unit that allowed just 13.0 points per game last year – an average that ranked fifth-best in the country. Gone are tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, but linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds will help provide the needed leadership on defense. Pacing the Panthers’ defense will be Josh Mahoney (139 tackles) James Ruﬃn (10.0 sacks-57 yards) and Jamar Thompson (4 INT-60 yards).
(9-4, 6-2 MAC)
Western Michigan at Michigan Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 • 3:30 p.m. ET • Ann Arbor, Mich. • Michigan Stadium (106,201) ABC • Announcers: Mike Patrick, Craig James, Quint Kessenich
Series: Michigan leads 4-0 • Last Meeting: Sept. 7, 2002: Michigan 35, Western Michigan 12
(3-9, 2-6 Big Ten)
Ahhhhhhh, the beginning of a new year… Michigan looks to extend its all-time series record to 5-0 over the Western Michigan Broncos in ABC’s popular 3:30 timeslot Saturday. History bodes well for the Wolverines as they are 24-1 against teams currently in the Mid-American Conference and have outscored those schools by an 838-226 margin. And although Michigan stumbled in last year’s season opener to Utah, the Wolverines have a 106-18-2 record all-time in home openers, including a 13-3 record at the Big House in the last 16 games.
Rich Rodriguez is back for Year Two, using the spread attack at a place that has historically not been too familiar with the offensive scheme. But history also tells us that the second year has been a good one for Rodriguez. After a 3-8 showing in his first year at West Virginia, he turned his team around to a 9-4 ballclub the following year. Michigan was 3-9 in his rookie season last year. And now the second-year head coach has three quarterbacks whom he believes are perfect fits in the system. All three of them – junior starter Nick Sheridan and freshmen Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson – are expected to see the field on Saturday.
Western Michigan has no controversy whatsoever at quarterback as Tim Hiller threw for 3,725 yards and 36 TDs last year and has 76 scores all-time – just 25 TD passes shy of Chad Pennington's MAC career record. Hiller boasts a 65% completion rate and often finds Jamarko Simmons (104 rec., 1276 yds), Schneider Julien (59 rec., 712 yds) and Juan Nunez (57 rec., 701 yds) in the open field. Michigan end Brandon Graham, who has been named to the watch list for five national awards, will lead the charge on defense and look for another double-digit-sack season. The Wolverines defense will be tested right off the bat, after yielding a school record 347 points and allowing opponents 40 points or more four times just one year ago.
(7-5, 5-3 Big Sky)
Montana State at Michigan State Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 • Noon ET • East Lansing, Mich. • Spartan Stadium (75,005) Big Ten Network • Announcers: Dan Gutowsky, Ron Johnson, Lisa Byington
Series: First Meeting
(9-4, 6-2 Big Ten)
In recent years, Big Ten teams have taken advantage of the opportunity to schedule teams from the Football Championship Subdivision, but not Michigan State. Until now. The Spartans are opening their 2009 campaign against their first-ever FCS opponent in Montana State, which finished 7-5 last year and fell 35-23 to Minnesota.
Good vibes can be felt through East Lansing this fall as the Spartans ballclub has begun to gain a lot of respect nationally for the turnaround job of third-year head coach Mark Dantonio. Yet 2009 still presents several questions and MSU faces a big one at quarterback. Sophomores Keith Nichol and Kirk Cousins have been battling throughout the spring and fall camp for the starting role and Dantonio says both are likely to see time in the opener. Returning at wideout is Blair White, who led the team in receptions (43) and was second in receiving yards (659) a year ago. Last season’s per-game receiving average of 71.0 ranked second in the conference, which helped him earn Preseason All-Big Ten honors last month. Sophomore Keshawn Martin will also contend for catches this season as well. Montana State defensive end Dane Fletcher, who posted 6.5 sacks last year, will anchor a line that will face a Spartan backfield consisting of three freshmen whom have yet to record one carry in a college game. Jeff Price led the Bobcats with 67 tackles in 2008, while Cory Nicol had four interceptions.
Michigan State has quite the defensive leader as well. Linebacker Greg Jones enters as the Big Ten’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year after recording a team-high 127 tackles, including 80 solos, which ranked 17th nationally in 2008. Johnny Adams, Danny Fortener and Chris Rucker all had a pair of interceptions last season, which does not bode well for the Bobcats. QB Cody Kempt threw 19 picks in 2008 and has been replaced by junior-college transfer Mark Iddins, who started one game for Montana State last year.
(7-6, 3-5 Big Ten)
Minnesota at Syracuse Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 • Noon ET • Syracuse, N.Y. • Carrier Dome (49,262) ESPN2 • Announcers: Pam Ward, Ray Bentley
Series: Tied at 1-1 • Last Meeting: Sept. 21, 1996: Minnesota 35, Syracuse 33
(3-9, 1-6 Big East)
We mentioned at the start of the preview that Indiana opens the season this week at home in its newly-renovated stadium. All Minnesota has been looking forward to is getting into its new outdoor on-campus stadium that is certain to attract top recruits from across the country. But first the Golden Gophers must play one last game in a dome, albeit on the road at Syracuse – an opponent that struggled to a 3-9 record last year and is now under the watchful eye of first-year head coach Doug Marrone.
Pardon the Vikings reference, but Minnesota followers feel the ship has been righted with a team that nearly went winless two years ago only to rebound for a seven-win season in 2008. Now the Gophers return 18 starters – more than any other team in the Big Ten – and 10 on the offensive side of the ball. Minnesota simply got it done in the air last year and quarterback Adam Weber (2,761 yds, 15 TDs, 8 INTs) and his favorite target Adam Decker (177 rec., 2,361 yds, 19 TDs) both return in 2009. The Gophers’ No. 1 objective will be to turn around a rushing attack that averaged only 3.1 yards per carry in 2008 and ranked last in the Big Ten. After rushing for 92 and 100 yards in his first two games before suffering a season-ending ACL injury last year, sophomore Duane Bennett returns to the backfield with classmate DeLeon Eskridge, who led the team with 678 yards rushing. In 2008, the Syracuse defense ranked 101st in total defense and has only forced 30 turnovers in its last 24 games. Derrell Smith returns to the Orange after a team-high 73 tackles last season.
Perhaps Minnesota’s Tim Brewster should consult Gopher counterpart Tubby Smith as to how to defend Syracuse QB Greg Paulus. The senior “rookie” quarterback hasn’t played the position in four years because he was too busy knocking down 3-pointers on Duke’s basketball team. Now the new Orange leader will be charged with improving an offense that has been no better than 110th in the country in each of the past four seasons. The Gophers are also getting used to change – their fourth defensive coordinator in four years. Minnesota did tie for the league lead in sacks (34) last year, but lost defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg and his 10.5 sacks to graduation. At linebacker, Nate Triplett will be joining returning starters Simoni Lawrence and Lee Campbell. Lawrence posted 10.5 tackles for loss while Campbell led the team with 80 tackles last year. Seniors Traye Simmons, who led the team with four interceptions, and Marcus Sherels return on the corners.
(3-9, 1-7 CAA South)
Towson at Northwestern Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 • 11 a.m. CT • Evanston, Ill. • Ryan Field (47,130) Big Ten Network • Announcers: Matt Rosen, Mark Campbell, Tony McGee
Series: First Meeting
(9-4, 5-3 Big Ten)
Coming off a 9-4 campaign and an Alamo Bowl appearance, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald is confident he has the ingredients to put the Wildcats in back-to-back bowl games since he was a Hall of Fame linebacker in 1995-96. Northwestern, which is returning 47 letterwinners for a second straight year, has 10 seniors in its starting lineup – five on each side of the football. Football Championship Subdivision program Towson comes to Evanston with a new coach in Rob Ambrose, who last year served as Connecticut’s offensive coordinator and helped Donald Brown become the nation’s top rusher.
Quarterback is a unique position for these two teams. Northwestern has one signal caller who has earned off-and-on experience throughout his career, while Towson comes into the 2009 campaign with three QBs and not one of them has taken a snap in a college game. NU’s Mike Kafka started the first four games at quarterback as a redshirt freshman before injuring his hamstring and then spent the next two-plus seasons as C.J. Bacher's backup. He filled in for Bacher for two starts in 2008, rushing for a Big Ten quarterback record 217 yards against Minnesota, but now he must prove he can pass as well as he can run. Kafka will have new targets to find as the Wildcats lost all of its top wideouts and its top two tailbacks in Tyrell Sutton (3,886 career rushing yards, 37 TDs) and backup Omar Conteh.
Similar to Northwestern’s situation, Towson’s Ambrose has also had to reload this season. Gone is standout quarterback Sean Schaefer, the Tigers’ top running back, two of the team’s top three receivers from 2008 and the top two tacklers from last year’s squad. QB Blair Peterson enters the season having thrown just 4-of-7 for 27 yards. Giving him fits will be Playboy Preseason All-American Corey Wootton at defensive end. Despite being slowed by an ACL injury, the Wildcats’ standout turned in 16 tackles for loss last season.
Navy at No. 6/6 Ohio State Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 • Noon ET • Columbus, Ohio • Ohio Stadium (102,239) ESPN • Announcers: Dave Pasch, Chris Spielman, Bob Griese
Series: Ohio State leads 3-0 • Last Meeting: Dec. 30, 1981: Ohio State 31, Navy 28
(10-3, 7-1 Big Ten)
A season-opening contest against Navy has Ohio State Buckeye remembering the days of that thrilling 31-28 victory over the Midshipmen in the 1981 Liberty Bowl. Well, maybe not, since BCS bowl contests have become the norm in Columbus in recent years. But that postseason contest is the last time Navy and Ohio State have taken to the field and all eyes will be on the sixth-ranked Buckeyes Saturday as they vie for yet another banner season.
All eyes will also be on sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor, as he is one of the few key starters returning to the OSU offense in 2009. Gone are running back Beanie Wells, wideouts Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, and four other offensive starters. Last year Pryor led the Big Ten in passing efficiency (146.5), but the Buckeyes only ranked 105th nationally in passing. The Buckeyes must find both a rush-pass balance with Pryor and have new leaders emerge. A significant loss has also been felt on the defensive side of the ball, although seven starters return to the unit. There is no more James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, or first-round draft pick Malcolm Jenkins. Kurt Coleman is both the Buckeyes’ leading returner in tackles (78) and interceptions (4).
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo brought the unique triple-option offense to Navy last year and the Midshipmen responded by continuing its dominance on the ground. Navy led the country in 2008 for the fourth-straight year with 298.3 rushing yards per game, but has also lost its top rushers and quarterback to graduation. Junior Ricky Dobbs will be under center in 2009, but is expected to guide the team on the ground as well. Dobbs rushed for 505 yards and eight touchdowns last season. On defense, a much-improved unit brings back seven starters looking to continue its trend of allowing fewer points than the year before. Last year the defense allowed 21.4 points per game, compared to 36 in 2007.
(5-7, 3-5 MAC East)
Akron at No. T9/8 Penn State Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 • Noon ET • University Park, Pa. • Beaver Stadium (107,282) Big Ten Network • Announcers: Matt Devlin, Glen Mason, Kenny Jackson
Series: Penn State leads 3-0 • Last Meeting: Sept. 2, 2006: Penn State 34, Akron 16
(11-2, 7-1 Big Ten)
Joe Pa is back once again and his Nittany Lions of Penn State just might have a shot of being back on top of the Big Ten once again as well. Ranked ninth in the country, the conference’s defending co-champion opens its 2009 campaign at home against Akron. Paterno and Penn State are an impressive 39-1 against Mid-American Conference teams and will look to extend its record against Akron to 4-0.
Despite losing its first, third and fourth-best receivers in school history, Penn State still returns one of the Big Ten’s top signal callers in Daryll Clark and standout rusher Evan Royster in the backfield. Yes, the Nittany Lions will need to replace wideouts Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood, who teamed up for 1,900 yards and 17 TDs last year, but there doesn’t seem to be any concern when you return a QB that threw for 2,592 yards and 19 scores while leading the team to the Rose Bowl. Add Royster’s 6.5-yard-per-rush average to the mix, which helped Penn State to the nation's 17th-best rushing attack (205.8 ypg) last year, and the Nittany Lions might be able to light up the scoreboard just as they did in 2008 with 39 points per game. Akron’s offense returns eight starters from a team that was in bowl contention before dropping its final three games to finish 5-7. QB Chris Jacquemain tossed for nearly 2,800 yards last year and totaled 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Deryn Bowser (64 rec., 785 yds, 4 TDs) returns as Jacquemain’s primary target.
On defense, Penn State will once again field a strong unit led by All-Big Ten linebacker Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee, who missed all of last year with an ACL injury. The Nittany Lions allowed only 14.4 points per game last year – an average that ranked eighth in the country. Seven starters return to Akron’s defense, including Mike Thomas, who posted 81 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2008.
(3-9, 2-6 MAC West)
Toledo at Purdue Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 • Noon ET • West Lafayette, Ind. • Ross-Ade Stadium (62,500) Big Ten Network • Announcers: Craig Coshun, Rod Woodson, Larra Overton
Series: Tied at 2-2 • Last Meeting: Sept. 1, 2007: Purdue 52, Toledo 24
(4-8, 2-6 Big Ten)
There is reason for hope in West Lafayette as first-year head coach Danny Hope has excited the Purdue football fan base and is ready to lead his Boilermakers on the field. Hopefully for Hope, Toledo does not rain on his parade as the Rockets did to Joe Tiller in his Purdue debut back in 1997, winning 36-22. There is also a renewed sense of enthusiasm for Toledo as well, with Tim Beckman preparing for his first game as the Rockets’ head coach. The all-time series is tied 2-2, but Purdue owned Toledo last time out with a convincing 52-24 win in 2007.
Throughout the Joe Tiller era, Purdue was predominantly a passing football team. What will the Danny Hope era look like? Joey Elliott returns at quarterback, but he only completed 8 of 15 passes for 81 yards last year before he was sidelined with a season-ending injury. Kory Sheets has graduated from the backfield leaving sophomore Ralph Bolden and senior Jaycen Taylor to battle for the starting role, which Bolden recently secured. Who will be the next go-to receiver in West Lafayette? All three starting wideouts from the 2008 season are gone. Junior Keith Smith has the ability to step into that role, but it remains to be seen what this offense will look like and how it will respond to having only four starters return. The Rockets have 10 starters returning to their defensive unit, led by Donald Archie, who posted 119 tackles last year as well as two interceptions. Daris Quinn ranked fourth on the team with 77 tackles.
Toledo’s offense also returns several starters, many of whom were a part of a passing attack that ranked 11th in the conference last year in total offense. QB Aaron Opelt threw for nearly 2,200 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Rockets graduated their top receiver in Nick Moore and will be looking for a new primary target to step up in 2009. Last year’s rushing offense was 60th in the nation at 146 yards per game and returnees Morgan Williams and DaJuane Collins teamed up to rush for 1,710 yards and 11 scores. Defensively the Boilermakers return seven starters, but lost two of their starting defensive lineman. Purdue’s strength is expected to be in the secondary where it allowed a Big Ten-best 183.2 passing yards per game last season. Look for Torri Williams (83 tackles, 2 INT) and Dwight Mclean (2 INT) to anchor the Boilermaker secondary on Saturday.
(6-7, 5-3 MAC West)
Northern Illinois at Wisconsin Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 • 6 p.m. CT • Madison, Wis. • Camp Randall Stadium (80,321) Big Ten Network • Announcers: Wayne Larrivee, Chris Martin, Charissa Thompson
Wisconsin opens the season in prime time Saturday, hosting a Northern Illinois ballclub that fell to the Badgers 44-3 in the last meeting between the two teams back in 2007. UW holds a 10-1 advantage all-time against the Huskies and has taken its last 11 season openers. This game was originally scheduled to be played at NIU in DeKalb, Ill. Instead, the return game in the series will be held in 2011 at Chicago's Soldier Field -- 65 miles east of DeKalb and 150 miles southeast of Madison, Wis.
The Badgers remain young this season, following a 7-6 campaign in 2008, and may have gotten younger this week with the promotion of fourth-year junior Scott Tolzien to starting QB. Tolzien, who appeared in just three games and threw eight passes last year, beat out senior Dustin Sherer, who was under center for the Badgers’ final seven games. Garrett Graham is expected to be Tolzien’s primary target having hauled in 40 passes for 540 yards and five touchdowns in 2008. Tolzien won’t be forced to carry the entire load on offense as Wisconsin’s dominant backfield returns in Zach Brown and John Clay. Last year the Badgers led the conference with 211.2 rushing yards per game and ranked third in total offense with just under 400 yards each time out. NIU is still a work in progress under third-year coach Jerry Kill. Last year the Huskies made it into the Independence Bowl after a 6-6 regular season and saw its defense allow just 18 points per game compared to its average of 30.8 in 2007. Free safety David Bryant and his 83 tackles from a year ago will anchor the secondary, while Brandon Bice is known for swarming to the ball. Bice has 64 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks and seven pass break-ups on his career resume.
NIU sophomore quarterback Chandler Harnish led the team in both passing (1,528 yds) and rushing (539 yds) last year and will look to pace an offense that scored 24 points and averaged more than 335 yards per game in 2008. Harnish was shaky last season as a freshman, throwing nine interceptions and only eight touchdowns. That bodes well for Wisconsin’s Niles Brinkley, who snatched four picks last year for 66 return yards. Jaevery McFadden also returns to the Badger defense with his team-high 84 tackles from a year ago.