Big Ten Football Preview: Week 1

Sept. 2, 2010


(2-9, 1-7 CAA)

Towson at Indiana
Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010 • 7:30 p.m. ET • Bloomington, Ind. • Memorial Stadium (52,929)
Big Ten Network • Announcers: Matt Devlin, Derek Rackley, Stacy Paetz
Series: First Meeting

(4-8, 1-7 Big Ten)

For the second straight season, Indiana will kick off its football season at home on a Thursday night, and after a 19-13 opener win over Eastern Kentucky last year, the Hoosiers are hoping for the same success. Indiana, which was 4-8 in 2009, is 34-16 in home openers at Memorial Stadium and has won its last eight season kickoffs at The Rock.  As for Towson, opening the season on the road against a Big Ten opponent is nothing new to the Tigers.  Last year Towson fell 47-14 at Northwestern in the opener in route to a 2-9 record and a 1-7 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

Eight of the Hoosiers’ 14 returning starters coming on the offensive side of the ball, which means good things for IU after posting potent passing figures last year.  Redshirt senior Ben Chappell is the Big Ten’s top returner in total offense and passing after throwing for 268-of-428 for 2,941 yards, 17 TDs, and averaging 245.1 yards per game.  Chappell’s primary target, sophomore Tandon Doss, led the conference last season with 1,666 yards and an average of 138.8 yards per outing.  However, a groin injury will keep Doss on the sidelines in the opener, leaving classmate Damarlo Belcher and fifth-year senior Terrance Turner as the aerial targets.  Last year the Hoosier trio combined for 2,175 yards (sixth in nation for a returning trio), 184 receptions (fifth) and 11 touchdowns (18th).  Sophomore Darius Willis battled through injuries in his first season but paced the team with 607 yards on 12 attempts and six scores. Towson returns three starters on the defensive line, including preseason All-CAA selection Yaka Ibia. The defensive tackle led the team with 11.5 tackles for loss to go along with 52 tackles and 2.5 sacks last year. In the secondary, Jeremy Gardner (28 starts) and Ollie Thomas (27 starts) return for their fourth seasons as starters. The Tigers surrendered 364.2 yards per game last season, including 185.0 passing and 179.2 rushing.

The Tigers have held a quarterback battle during preseason camp after an injury-plagued 2009, which saw them average 146.5 yards through the air and 251.1 total yards of offense per game. Senior Hakeem Moore returns as the team's most experienced receiver, posting 28 receptions, 286 yards and one score a year ago.  Sophomores Tremayne Dameron and Dominique Booker led Towson's rushing attack at 104.6 per game. Dameron paced the squad with 588 yards on 177 carries (3.3 average) and eight touchdowns, while Booker averaged 4.0 yards per carry with 218 yards.  Indiana has holes to fill in a defense that ranked 10th in the conference in both total yards (401.0) and scoring (29.5).  The first attempt at a cure will be the switch to the 3-4 formation, which the Hoosiers will play exclusively with a stand-up defensive end.  The line will be controlled by sophomores Adam Replogle and Larry Black, Jr., while Replogle’s brother, Tyler, returns at linebacker after making 80 tackles last year.  The secondary will be led by Mitchell Evans, who switches back to the defensive side of the ball at safety – a position at which he recorded 13 tackles and two interceptions as a freshman.


(6-7, 3-5 Big Ten)

Minnesota at Middle Tennessee State
Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010 • 6:30 p.m. CT • Murfreesboro, Tenn. • Floyd Stadium (30,788)
ESPNU • Announcers: Anish Schroff, Jay Walker
Series: First Meeting

(10-3, 7-1 Sun Belt)

Looking to advance to its third consecutive bowl game, Minnesota opens the year on the road at Middle Tennessee State – a team that went 10-3 a year ago with a season-ending win against Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl.  In fact, the Blue Raiders became the first Sun Belt Conference team ever to win double-digit games.  In doing so, expectations are high and all this week the school as touted the “Big Ten” coming to the “Big Tenn.”  The Golden Gophers have won 13 of their last 15 season-openers and have won three straight when opening the season on the road, including last year’s 23-20 overtime thriller at Syracuse.  This is the first meeting between the two squads, although Minnesota holds an 11-1 advantage over current Sun Belt teams.

Minnesota’s offense has the good fortune of returning an experienced quarterback in Adam Weber, who has taken nearly every snap for the past three seasons, as well as its entire front line.  But the majority of Weber’s 2009 production, which averaged nearly 200 yards per game, was focused on departed wideout Eric Decker, who now hauls in passes for the Denver Broncos.  Midway through the season last year, Decker led the nation in receiving and after battling back from second-half of the season injuries, he shined in the Gophers’ bowl game catching eight passes for 149 yards and a score against Kansas.  Up to five Gophers will battle for ball carries behind the line this season, but Minnesota must improve its balanced attack from last year, having averaged 20.9 points and 306.5 yards per game in 2009, ranking 100th and 109th in the nation, respectively. Defensively, MTSU allowed 23.7 points and 354.9 yards per game in FBS play last year.  The Blue Raiders were forced to fill four holes in the front seven, but will be led by defensive end Jamari Lattimore, who was picked as one of the league’s defensive players of the year.  He had 5.5 sacks, 9.5 TFLs and three interceptions last year.  DE Omar McLendon and his four sacks as a freshman will also help the MTSU defense.

Offensively, Middle Tennessee State averaged 32 points and 421.7 yards per game last year, totals which ranked in the top 30 among FBS teams.  The Blue Raiders are paced by two very noteworthy players in quarterback Dwight Dasher and running back Phillip Tanner.  Dasher, who is on numerous national award watch lists, was the New Orleans Bowl MVP after rushing for an NCAA bowl record 201 yards.  He became just the fourth player in NCAA history last year to throw for more than 2,500 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.  Tanner, a candidate for the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the nation's top college running back, missed most of the 2009 campaign due to a knee injury, but was the Blue Raiders' leading rusher in 2008.  He also knows how to find the end zone, having set the school record with six touchdowns in a game.  The Gophers have only two starters from last year’s defense. Safeties Kim Royston and Kyle Theret return, but Royston and Theret both missed the majority of spring ball and are unlikely to play Saturday. The Gophers allowed 23.8 points and 369.2 yards per game, ranking 51st and 60th in the nation, respectively.


(7-6, 4-4 C-USA E)

Marshall at No. 2/2 Ohio State
Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010 • 7:30 p.m. ET • Columbus, Ohio • Ohio Stadium (102,329)
Big Ten Network • Announcers: Eric Collins, Chris Martin, Charissa Thompson  
Series: Ohio State leads, 1-0 • Last Meeting: Sept. 11, 2004: Ohio State 24, Marshall 21

(11-2, 7-1 Big Ten)

It wasn’t soon after Doc Holiday was hired as the new Marshall head coach that he realized who the Thundering Herd’s first opponent would be in his rookie season.  Not only is it on the road at Ohio State, but its No. 2 ranking makes the Buckeyes the second highest ranked team Marshall has ever played at the FBS level.  OSU and Marshall have met only once before on the gridiron, a 2004 thriller in Columbus which called for All-America kicker Mike Nugent to connect on a 55-yard field goal as time expired to lift the ninth-ranked Buckeyes to a 24-21 win over the Herd. Ohio State has an all-time opening day record of 104-12-4 and has not lost a home opener in 32 years. Marshall has faced 14 top 25 opponents since moving to the FBS level in 1997 and has an overall record of 2-12 in those games.

It seems as even if you have been living under a rock this summer you have managed to hear something about Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.  With much hype surrounding Pryor and the Buckeyes, it will be business as usual for OSU, which means just that:  business.  Coming off a Rose Bowl-winning 11-2 season, the Buckeyes’ offense returns 10 starters, including Pryor and wideouts DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher.  Pryor, the Rose Bowl MVP, posted a total of 25 TDs last year while passing for 2,094 yards and running for 779. Posey hauled in 60 catches for 828 yards and eight TDs last year while Sanzenbacher caught 36 balls for 570 yards and six TDs.  Also back are the team's leading four rushers.  Marshall’s defense brings back seven starters, including one of the nation’s top linebackers in senior Mario Harvey.  Last season Harvey was named first-team all-conference after leading the Herd with 117 tackles.  He enters 2010 with 277 career tackles, 19 career tackles for loss and 12.5 career sacks.  The Herd’s focus this fall has been in the secondary, so will we see Pryor put it in the air much more than on the ground?  Marshall gave up 24 points per game last year.

Unfortunately for the Herd, they only posted 21.8 points on offense last season.  The majority of the 349.1 yards per game was turned in by returning QB Brian Anderson, who tossed for 2,646 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 INTs in 2009.  Also back is preseason All-Conference USA selection and John Mackey Award Watch List candidate Lee Smith at tight end. Smith finished 2009 with 23 catches for 335 yards.  Ohio State returns half of one of the nation’s top defenses from a year ago, one which ranked in the top five nationally in scoring defense (12.5, 5th), total defense (262.3, 4th) and interceptions (24, 2nd).  Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward recorded a team-high 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss last year, and will be backed by top tacklers Ross Homan (8.3 tpg) and Brian Rolle (7.2).


(3-9, 2-6 Big Ten)

Illinois vs. Missouri
Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 • 11:30 a.m. CT • St. Louis, Mo. • Edward Jones Dome (66,965)
Fox Sports • Announcers: Joel Meyers, Dave Lapham, Jim Knox
Series: Missouri leads, 16-7 • Last Meeting: Sept. 5, 2009: Missouri 37, Illinois 9

(8-5, 4-4 Big 12 N)

Illinois and Missouri will meet for the 24th time when they tussle in Saturday’s State Farm Arch Rivalry contest, but it will mark the sixth and final time that the two border rivals will meet in St. Louis.  And in all honesty, that could be a promising thing for the Fighting Illini, who have dropped the last five meetings against the Tigers. MU holds a 16-7 edge in the series, based largely on the strength of taking 9 of 11 games between the rivals in a stretch spanning 1949 to 1983. The Illini have compiled an all-time record of 74-41-5 in season openers and are 23-8-1 when opening the season on the road, but 0-6 in neutral-site contests. Mizzou stands 75-39-5 in season openers, has won its last eight to start the year, and enters the 2010 campaign with a 17-game winning streak in non-conference play.

Certainly it can be tough looking back on a 3-9 season from a year ago, but the Illinois offense closed out the year posting impressive figures on the scoreboard.  In fact, over the final five games last season, the Illini averaged 35.4 points and 449.8 yards per game.  But gone are some offensive powers that become household names to the Illini and the Big Ten over the years, including QB Juice Williams and wideout Arrelious Benn.  And although senior Eddie McGee saw action at both QB and WR last season, and was the only FBS player with 300+ pass yards, 100+ rush yards and 100+ receiving yards, expect him to stay on the receiving end of things while the Illini usher in a new signal caller in redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase. The Kansas City, Mo., native will make his first start for the Orange and Blue Saturday, but not his first start in the Edward Jones Dome.  He guided his high school to the Missouri state title in 2007. The Fighting Illini averaged 200.4 yards per game on the ground last season, led by Mikel Leshoure and his 734 yards and 6.8 yards per attempt on 108 carries.  Jason Ford contributed 588 yards on 97 carries for a 6.1 per attempt average.  Defensively, Missouri has already stated one goal for the year:  force 35 turnovers.  It’s a stout number especially for a team that finished 11th in the Big 12 last season by allowing 251.5 passing yards per game. The Tigers return their top five defensive backs from 2009, including Carl Gettis, who is entering his fourth season as a starter.  Up front, the line is led by sophomore DE and preseason All-Big 12 selection Aldon Smith, who set the school's single-season sack record as a freshman.

Half of Missouri’s 18 returning starters come from the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Blaine Gabbert.  Having already faced the tough task of replacing Chase Daniel, Gabbert was inconsistent and injured throughout last season.  He soared through the non-conference schedule with 11 TDs and no interceptions, but threw only two scores and five picks while injuring his ankle over the course of the first three Big 12 contests.  Derrick Washington leads the backfield and already has one 1,000-yard rushing season under his belt, while Jerrell Jackson paces the wideouts.  The Illini defense returns three of its top four tacklers from 2009, led by Ian Thomas (95), Tavon Wilson (79) and Nate Bussey (43).  DE Clay Nurse totaled 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last year, while DT Corey Liuget followed with 8.0 TFLs.  Over the 2009 season, Illinois allowed 30.2 points and 403.2 total yards, both of which ranked 11th in the league.


(8-4, 6-2 Ohio Valley)

Eastern Illinois at No. 9/10 Iowa
Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 • 11 a.m. CT • Iowa City, Iowa • Kinnick Stadium (70,585)
Big Ten Network • Announcers: Tom Hart, Anthony Herron, Lisa Byington
Series: First Meeting

(11-2, 6-2 Big Ten)

On the heels of an exciting Orange Bowl victory, Iowa is set to open up what many believe will be a promising season for the Hawkeyes.  Eastern Illinois will be Iowa’s first opponent, with the Panthers opening the season on the road for the fourth time in the last six years.  While this will be the first time EIU has faced Iowa, it will be the fifth straight season the Panthers have played a Big Ten team with previous trips to Illinois (2006, 2008), Purdue (2007) and Penn State (2009).  Ranked No. 9/10 in the national polls, Iowa will be the highest ranked team that Eastern Illinois has ever played. The Hawkeyes have averaged 38.2 points and a winning margin of 31.5 in its last nine season-opening victories, but many Iowa fans have yet to forget last year’s opener when the Hawkeyes had to block Northern Iowa field-goal attempts on the final two plays of the game to hold on to the win.

Iowa’s offense enters the season under the guidance of senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who threw for 2,417 yards and 17 TDs last year.  At times, however, Stanzi’s accuracy was in doubt as he tossed a conference-high 15 interceptions. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt will be Stanzi’s leading targets this season. Expect Adam Robinson to be the primary back on Saturday having set an Iowa freshman record with 834 yards and rushed for five TDs in 2009.  While the Hawkeyes will likely win with defense this year, they must improve with putting points on the board.  Iowa was second-to-last in the Big Ten in points per game (23.2) and yards from scrimmage (4,372) last season.  On defense, Eastern Illinois was led in 2009 by starting linebackers Nick Nasti, Cory Leman and Gordy Kickels, all of whom combined for 208 tackles and return this year.  CJ James returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season, which was tied for first nationally, to go along with 152 interception return yards.

What’s ironic about the Iowa opener is that EIU enters the season looking to replace its quarterback, former Hawkeye transfer Jake Christensen.  The snaps will go to rookie redshirt sophomore Brandon Large who will look to guide the Panthers back to the FCS playoffs. EIU currently does not have an active quarterback with a Division I snap to their credit.  Mon Williams was slated for the start in the backfield after 926 rushing yards last year, but a strained knee leaves him doubtful for the opener, which leaves the door open for senior Jimmy Potempa.  Iowa returns a group of eight starters on the defensive side of the ball and the Hawkeyes will look to regain the dominance it displayed last year, ranking eighth in the nation with 15.4 points allowed per game.  The Iowa unit earned another top-10 ranking with 276.5 yards allowed and guarding that front line yet again this season will be Orange Bowl MVP Adrian Clayborn.  The senior end posted 11.5 sacks in 2009 and will be a dominant figure in Iowa’s success this year.  Expect senior Jeremiha Hunter to pace the linebackers and strong safety Tyler Sash and free safety Brett Greenwood to lead the secondary.


(8-5, 3-4 Big East)

Connecticut at Michigan
Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 • 3:30 p.m. ET • Ann Arbor, Mich. • Michigan Stadium (109,901)
ABC • Announcers: Sean McDonough, Matt Millen, Heather Cox
Series: First Meeting

(5-7, 1-7 Big Ten)

Saturday marks the rededication game for historic Michigan Stadium – now the nation’s largest stadium with a capacity of 109,901.  Saturday also marks the hopeful turnaround of the historic Michigan football program, which has battled through 5-7 and 3-9 seasons during head coach Rich Rodriguez’s first two campaigns in Ann Arbor.  The promising news for Wolverine fans is that Connecticut is coming to town – a team Rodriguez has a 4-0 mark against while he was at West Virginia.  In fact, his WVU teams outscored the Huskies by a 179-64 margin, and scored 30 or more points in all four contests.  Remarkably, this will be the first time that Michigan faces a Big East school in 11 seasons, with the last being an 18-13 win at Syracuse in 1999.  UConn showed last year it was not to be flustered by competing in one of college football’s greatest venues, shocking Notre Dame in South Bend with a 33-30 double-overtime thriller.  Head coach Randy Edsall has been impressive with the Huskies and has guided his team to consistent 9-4, 8-5, and 8-5 campaigns the past three years, including a win over South Carolina in last year’s Bowl.  Michigan is 107-20-3 in season openers, including 91-15-2 at home.

The Wolverines will be forced once again to make a game-time decision on a starting quarterback as Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson have done just enough to earn starting roles on Saturday.  As a freshman last season, Forcier tossed 13 touchdowns and amassed 2,050 yards, but Robinson provided to be a dual threat, which Rodriguez needs in his offensive approach.  Also look for freshman Devin Gardner to get some snaps as well.  What hurt Michigan last season was self-inflicted wounds and if these QBs can take care of the ball, the Wolverines will have a productive day on offense.  Center David Molk is a giant on the line and is back from missing most of the 2009 season with an injury.  The Wolverines will also use the season opener to determine who will be their “go to” wideouts and backs for the year, which might be Michael Shaw.  UConn has eight defensive starters returning to a unit that allowed 25 points, 132.8 rushing yards and 382 total yards per game last year.  The Huskies will look to All-Big East linebackers Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus to lead the unit.  The secondary is headed up by corners Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, and safeties Jerome Junior and Kijuan Dabney.

UConn posted 32 points and 398 yards of total offense last year and brings back nine starters from that group.  Edsall implements several different offensive schemes while keeping his attack fairly balanced, having thrown for 2,703 yards and rushed for 2,073 last year.  The unit will be led by senior quarterback Zach Frazer and junior running back Jordan Todman, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry and rushed for 1,188 yards while splitting time with standout Andre Dixon.  Like Michigan’s QBs, Frazer will need to find some better consistency after throwing for just 1,461 yards last year with 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.  The receiving targets will be plentiful, led by Kashif Moore (370 yards, 3 TDs in 2009), Isiah Moore, Dwayne Difton and Michael Smith.  Defensively, Michigan allowed 27.5 points, 221.4 passing yards, 171.9 rushing yards, and 393.3 total yards last year. The Wolverines “D” took a hit when DB Troy Woolfolk suffered a dislocated ankle and broken bone in his leg in practice and is out for the year.  Linebacker Jonas Mouton will need to captain this defensive unit as the Butkus Award candidate started all 11 games last year and was fourth on the team with 66 tackles. 


(5-7, 4-4 MAC West)

Western Michigan at Michigan State
Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 • Noon ET • East Lansing, Mich. • Spartan Stadium (75,005)
ESPN2 • Announcers: Bob Wischusen, Brian Griese
Series: Michigan State leads, 9-2 • Last Meeting: Sept. 29, 2009: Michigan State 49, Western Michigan 14

(6-7, 4-4 Big Ten)

Michigan State welcomes intrastate opponent Western Michigan to East Lansing this weekend for the Spartans’ first of seven consecutive games to be played within the state boundaries.  The Spartans own a 9-2 advantage over the Broncos, including a 49-14 win last season.  Western Michigan has not defeated MSU since 1919 and is 12-23 overall when opening the season on the road.  Big Ten opponents are common for the Broncos as they opened against Indiana in 2006 and Michigan in 2009.

The Spartans’ offense enters the 2010 season with Kirk Cousins under center.  As a sophomore he threw for 2,680 yards and 19 touchdowns with 9 interceptions.  Cousins will be looking for another impressive outing against the Broncos, having completed 22-of-25 passes for 353 yards in the win last year.  MSU ranked second in the conference last year with 29.7 points and 269.4 passing yards per game and was third in total offense with an average of 406.2 yards per game.  Junior Keith Nichol, who battled Cousins for the QB job last year, has been converted to a wide receiver this season and should be ready to go after a nagging hamstring pull kept him out of the first few fall practices.  Western Michigan’s defense returns most of its starters from last year and will be led by safety Jamail Berry, who had five interceptions in 2009, marking the most by a Bronco since 2006.  Despite the number of returnees, WMU still had to replace All-MAC linebacker Austin Pritchard, as well as two other front-line players, DE Justin Braska and DT Cody Cielenski.

Speaking of replacing star players, Western Michigan was charged with replacing four-year starting quarterback Tim Hiller and all-purpose running back Brandon West.  Despite appearing in nine games during his redshirt freshman campaign last year, Alex Carder will get his first career start under center on Saturday.  He has thrown only seven passes in his college career. Carder will have the support of a deep offensive line and three solid wide receivers, Robert Arnheim, Jordan White, and Juan Nunez.  Michigan State’s defense is anchored by All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones at linebacker. As a junior, Jones led the Big Ten and ranked third in the nation with 11.8 tackles per game and was fifth in the conference with nine sacks for 53 yards. His 154 tackles last season marked the seventh-highest total in program history.  Fans are likely to stay focused on true freshman William Gholston, a Detroit native that picked the Spartans over Alabama, USC and many others.  The Big Ten’s highest-ranked recruit hits the defensive end position at an eye-opening 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds.


(8-5, 5-3 Big Ten)

Northwestern at Vanderbilt
Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 • 6:30 p.m. CT • Nashville, Tenn. • Vanderbilt Stadium (39,773) Sports Southeast • Announcers: Matt Stewart, Chris Doering, Allison Williams
Series: Vanderbilt leads, 1-0-1 • Last Meeting: Oct. 4, 1952: Northwestern 20, Vanderbilt 20

(2-10, 0-8 SEC East)

Northwestern opens the 2010 season by hitting the road to SEC country, facing a Vanderbilt team that is still reeling from a 2-10 season last year and the sudden retirement of head coach Bobby Johnson in July after posting a bowl-winning 7-6 season in 2008.  The Wildcats are 74-44-4 in season-opening contests, winners of their last five, and eagerly looking to get back to their winning ways after concluding last year with a 38-35 heartbreaker to Auburn in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.  Northwestern (12th in the latest U.S. News college rankings) and Vanderbilt (17th), widely recognized as the top academic institutions in the Big Ten and SEC, respectively, are meeting on the gridiron for the first time in 58 years. NU and Vandy last met on Oct. 4, 1952 in Evanston, and played to a 20-20 tie. Vanderbilt won the only other meeting, a 3-0 decision in 1947, which also was played in Evanston.

Northwestern returns eight of 16 starters on the offensive side of the ball, but one of those eight is not the Wildcats’ quarterback.  Despite playing in 21 career games and having earned significant game minutes against Penn State and Iowa last year, Saturday marks the first collegiate start for QB Dan Persa.  Pardon the pun, but Persa will need to hurry up and get comfortable in NU’s hurry-up offense, one which set an NCAA record with 115 offensive plays vs. Auburn in the 2010 Outback Bowl. Senior Stephen Simmons, who is one of three Wildcats who could start at running back Saturday night, is Northwestern’s leading active
career rusher with 408 yards.  Senior Sidney Stewart is Northwestern’s leading active career receiver with 59 catches, while superback Drake Dunsmore leads all current players with 664 receiving yards.  Only five starters return to the Vanderbilt defensive unit, but the Commodores should be equipped on each front.  The line is led by junior defensive end Tim Fugger and senior defensive tackle Adam Smotherman, while junior linebacker Chris Marve anchors the middle.  Marve led the Commodores with 121 tackles last season, including 5.5 that went for a loss.  DB Casey Hayward and safety Sean Richardson return to the secondary, which will be forced to shut down an always pass-happy NU offense.  We’ll see if the Commodores' unit, which ranked No. 9 nationally in 2009 allowing just 164.2 passing yards a game, can contain the Wildcats' four-and five-receiver spread offense, which was the NCAA's 13th best pass attack last year.

Speaking of passing attacks, Vanderbilt’s is a work in progress.  QB Larry Smith is expected to retain his starting position, but he threw for only 1,126 yards last year, completed 47 percent of his passes, and tossed seven interceptions to only four touchdowns.  Warren Norman and Zac Stacy return in the backfield, but questions remain about the status of Norman, who is a 2010 preseason first-team All-SEC selection after leading the league with 1,951 all-purpose yards in 2009, breaking Herschel Walker's SEC freshman record.  Having undergone arthroscopic surgery last week, it remains to be seen if head coach Robbie Caldwell will give him the nod.  Stacy posted three scores and racked up 478 yards last season in a backup role.  Northwestern returns an experienced defensive unit, that ranked in the nation’s top 20 last season for interceptions (17) and turnovers gained (30). Northwestern’s leading active career tackler is senior linebacker Quentin Davie, who has racked up 172 tackles thus far in his career. Fellow linebacker Nate Williams ranks second on the squad with 158 career hits.  Davie (8.5), along with defensive end Vince Browne (9), are the Wildcats’ top career sack leaders.


(6-5, 4-4 MVC)

Youngstown State at No. 19/14 Penn State
Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 • Noon ET • University Park, Pa. • Beaver Stadium (107,282)
Big Ten Network • Announcers: Eric Collins, Chris Martin, Charissa Thompson
Series: Penn State leads, 1-0 • Last Meeting: Sept. 16, 2006: Penn State 37, Youngstown State 3

(11-2, 6-2 Big Ten)

Saturday might be a great day to be in Happy Valley, but for the Youngstown State Penguins, history says it will be a mountain, not a valley, they will encounter.  Consider this… the last time the Guins won a season opener on the road was 1993 (at Western Michigan) and the last time the team scored a touchdown against an FBS school was in 2003 at Kent State. Three years later YSU faced Penn State for the first time, and despite playing the first 15 minutes to a scoreless tie, the Nittany Lions scored 20 points in the second quarter and went on to win 37-3.  In the teams’ second meeting Saturday, Penn State’s Joe Paterno will be make his 527th start as a head coach.  YSU head coach Eric Wolford will be making his first.

One thing is for sure, JoePa seems to be taking all the time he can get in figuring out a replacement for graduated quarterback star Daryll Clark. Sophomores Matt McGloin and Kevin Newsome and freshman Robert Bolden are all listed with the first team on the depth chart.  Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, they don’t have the same predicament with the running back situation.  Enter Evan Royster, who starts the season just 481 yards shy of Curt Warner’s school rushing mark of 3,398 career yards.  Last year Royster finished with runner-up rushing marks in the conference after earning 1,169 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. YSU allowed 137.5 yards per game and 18 touchdowns in 2009, while giving up 184 yards in the air with 11 TDs.  However, there is reason to believe the defense is heading in the right direction.  After giving up 382.7 yards and 29.2 points a contest in 2008, YSU improved those marks last season to 321.0 and 22.1, respectively. Senior DB Brandian Ross and senior free safety Andre Elliott are expected to lead the Guins’ defensive efforts.

Much like Penn State. YSU does face some unknowns on the offensive side of the ball, but it involves both the rushing and passing games.  The five tailbacks and lone healthy fullback have a combined total of 20 career rushing attempts, while the four quarterbacks on the roster have a combined four passing attempts and three completions. Outside of Dominique Barnes, the remaining wide receivers have a combined 10 career receptions, including four by sophomore Jelani Berassa, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman quarterback Kurt Hess has earned the starting spot Saturday, marking his first game in
a YSU uniform after not playing a year ago. Barnes, who has caught a pass in 23 consecutive games, has 101 career receptions for 1,151 yards and 11 touchdowns. Sophomore Jamaine Cook had 20 carries for 111 rushing yards last year.  The Guins threw for 2,378 yards while rushing for 1,313 last season.  Defense has always been a standard at Penn State and last year was no different.  The Nittany Lions’ scoring defense (12.2 ppg) ranked third in the country last year and returns defensive linemen Ollie Ogbu and Jack Crawford to the unit. Ogbu had two sacks and three forced fumbles last season, while Crawford was second on the team with 5 1/2 sacks and 14 1/2 tackles for a loss.


(5-7, 4-4 Big Ten)

Purdue at Notre Dame
Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 • 3:30 p.m. ET • South Bend, Ind. • Notre Dame Stadium (80,795)
NBC • Announcers: Tom Hammond, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan
Series: Notre Dame leads, 45-27-1 • Last Meeting: Sept. 26, 2009: Notre Dame 24, Purdue 21

(6-6, Independent)

The Shillelagh Trophy will be up for grabs as Purdue and Notre Dame take to the field Saturday for the 82nd meeting between the non-conference rivals. Notre Dame has opened its season with Purdue on seven previous occasions with the Irish holding a 6-1 record in those meetings.  UND also boasts the series lead at 53-26-2 and has won seven of the last 10 overall and 15 of its last 16 against the Boilermakers in South Bend. Purdue is 72-44-6 in openers and has claimed its last six season intros by a winning margin of 306-124.

A rebuilding effort is underway with the Purdue offense as major moves have been made at both the quarterback and tailback positions.  New under center this year is Miami (FL) transfer Robert Marve, who tossed nine touchdowns to 13 INTs as a starter for the Hurricanes in 2008.  Keith Smith returns to a receiving unit that hauled in 23 touchdowns last season, six of which belonged to Smith – the Big Ten’s leader in receptions (7.58) and receiving yards (91.7) per game.  Tight end Kyle Adams is the only other returning player to average more than two catches a game last year.  Boilermaker fans had hopes that Ralph Bolden would turn ina nother impressive season on the ground but an ACL tear during spring ball as Purdue looking elsewhere for a rusher.  Enter Al-Terek McBurse and Keith Carlos, although it is noted that Marve ran from center 59 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns while at Miami.  New Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has introduced the 3-4 formation on defense and ends Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore are expected to shine in the new scheme.  Pressure will be required up front for a young Irish defense that boasts only four DBs on scholarship this season.

Stepping into the new offensive scheme for ND will be quarterback Dayne Crist, who struggled with a knee injury last season and according to Kelly this week, “will see his first tackle and first hit against Purdue.”  That means it has been hands off the Irish quarterback throughout practice, which isn’t all that uncommon, but shows that Crist is the best and perhaps the only option Notre Dame has right now under center.  Luckily for the youngster, he has experienced wideouts returning in Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph. “Do Everything” Armando Allen is in his fourth season in the starting backfield and will be charged with mentoring Robert Hughes, Jonas Gray, and Cierre Wood throughout the year.  Allen has not only rushed for 1,630 yards in his career, but hauled in 102 receptions for 695 yards, added 1,247 yards on kickoff returns and added another 66 yards on punt returns.  On defense, all eyes will be locked on Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, who led the Big Ten in sacks last season (13) and enters the 2010 campaign tied for fifth on the school’s career sacks list (21.0). Last year he led the nation in fumbles forced per game (.58).  The Boilermakers also welcome back six members of their front seven, however the unit will be charged with limiting the opposition’s rushing yards this year after allowing 173 yards on the ground each game last season.  Linebackers Joe Holland, Chris Carlino, and Jason Werner combined for 229 tackles in 2009, while Werner added 14.5 tackles for loss.


(10-3, 5-3 Big Ten)

No. 12/12 Wisconsin at UNLV
Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 • 8 p.m. PT • Las Vegas, Nev. • Sam Boyd Stadium (36,800)
Versus • Announcers: Joe Benina, Kelly Stouffer, Lindsay Soto
Series: Wisconsin leads, 6-2 • Last Meeting: Sept. 8, 2007: Wisconsin 20, UNLV 13

(5-7, 3-5 MWC)

Wisconsin heads west to open the 2010 campaign against UNLV – a team that is more than happy to welcome the Badgers to Las Vegas.  Despite UW leading the all-time series against the Rebels 6-2, including three wins in four meetings in the desert, UNLV’s three highest-attended home games in school history have all come against the Badgers.  This is the ninth meeting between the two teams, including the seventh in the last 15 years.  In three of the last six contests in the series, Wisconsin has held UNLV to seven points or less.  The Badgers are looking to extend their non-conference regular-season winning streak to 25 games with a win on Saturday.  Ironically, its last regular season loss outside the Big Ten came at home to UNLV on Sept. 13, 2003.

There are certainly some Big Ten teams that are still trying to find that right fit at quarterback, but not the Badgers.  For the first time in five years, Wisconsin opens with an experience QB in Scott Tolzien.  En route to a 10-3 record, Tolzien threw for 2,705 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency at 143.0, the third-best mark in school history.  Wide receiver Nick Toon led the Badgers with 54 catches and 805 yards.  UW posted the conference’s top scoring mark of 31.8 points per outing, as well as the top rushing average at 203.8 yards per game.  That total had a lot to do with John Clay, the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2009. Clay ended last season with six straight 100-yard games and amassed 1,517 yards with 18 touchdowns.  That could pose a real threat to a UNLV defense that gave up 32.4 points per game last season and ranked 112th with 220.6 rushing yards allowed per game.  Ramsey Feagai and Isaako Aaitui will anchor the line that hopes to improve on that mark and keep Clay in check.  Senior linebackers Starr Fuimaono (67 tackles) and Ronny Paulo (59 tackles) are also expected to lead the Rebels’ defense.

UNLV enters the season with a new offensive attack under new head coach Bobby Hauck, whose Montana teams did nothing but produce and put points on the board.  The Rebels will have two experienced quarterbacks hit the field on Saturday. Senior Omar Clayton (2,230 yards, 13 TDs, 12 INT in 2009) has two years under his belt, as does junior Mike Clausen (1,230 yards, 9 TDs, 4 INT). Tailbacks Channing Trotter (541 yards, 9 TDs) and C.J. Cox (173 yards, 1 TD, injuries) should combine with Clayton and Claussen to provide a solid attack on the ground. Junior wideouts Phillip Payne (58 catches, 661 yards, 7 TDs) and Michael Johnson (43 catches, 484 yards, 1 TD) will anchor the aerial attack.  Wisconsin allowed 305.7 yards per game lat year, which ranked 17th in the nation, but five starters are gone from that unit, including the “always there” end O'Brien Schofield, who totaled 12.0 sacks and 24.5 TFLs.  In addition, the Badgers will look to continue their dominance defending the run, as they led the Big Ten and ranked fifth in the country in rushing defense last year, allowing just 88.2 yards per game on the ground.  Stepping up on defense will be returnees J.J. Watt and Chris Borland – the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year – who combined for 26.0 TFLs and 9.5 sacks. Borland also tied for the conference lead with three fumble recoveries after forcing five, which tied for second in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation.

All team records listed are from the 2009 season