Each season, a team earns a clean slate, and 2009 will be no different. Whether a program likes it or not, everyone earns a reputation and a theme even before the season begins.
Call it a Big Ten preview set to music (featuring all 11 schools) and the theme song each should have blasting over the loudspeakers in the locker room this week.
BIG TEN PREVIEW
Penn State Nittany Lions
“Secondary” – Brand New
“Secondary… And it comes down to you.”
The Nittany Lions have an extremely talented team in place for 2009, yet suffered major losses from last season on the o-line, at the wide receiver position, and in the secondary.
The offensive line has two anchors in place to help the others grow (Landolt and Wisniewski), while experienced QB Daryll Clark combined with a solid running game led by Evan Royster should help a group of talented receivers.
That leaves the inexperienced secondary, which enters the season with zero starters from 2008. This new bunch is going to have to grow fast, especially with an explosive offense like Illinois on the schedule fairly early in the Big Ten season.
Top Returnee: QB Daryll Clark (2,592 yds passing, 29 total TD’s, 6 INT’s in 2008)
Ohio State Buckeyes
“Five On The Five” – The Raconteurs
“…and I guess we’re doing fine, but I’m scared of something more that is on the line.”
For the Buckeyes, it’s now four straight years of at least having a share of the Big Ten Championship, and this season would make it five. There are significant losses at positions such as linebacker and wide receiver, but Ohio State has significant talent waiting in the wings, and a gifted player under center in Terrelle Pryor.
If one were to talk to Jim Tressel, he would state to take it “one game at a time,” but after some recent BCS struggles, everyone knows that there’s “something more that is on the line”.
Top Returnee: QB Terrelle Pryor (1,942 total yards, 18 total TD’s, 4 INT’s in 2008)
Michigan State Spartans
“Big Crash” – Less Than Jake
“Just hold your ground, and don’t give up, in what you believe.”
Mark Dantonio has done some special things at Michigan State in his first two seasons. For this year, there are high expectations, because even with the loss of star Javon Ringer, the Spartans return 15 starters.
The focus this year for Michigan State is going to be on the big games, as last year, Ohio State and Penn State won in blowouts.
In 2009, the Buckeyes are off the schedule, and Dantonio needs to find a way for the boys in green to win the big games, instead of taking a “big crash”.
Top Returnee: LB Greg Jones (127 tackles, 12 tackles for loss in 2008)
“Roadblock” – Rancid
“When the roadblock’s in the way, we’re gonna run around it.”
2008 was a successful season for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes, tallying nine wins, including the Big Ten’s only bowl victory. Heading into 2009, RB Shonn Greene (off to the NFL) will be missed, but losing his talent isn’t the biggest issue for Iowa.
It’s instead the road schedule, which is brutal, featuring rival Iowa State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State. With plenty of talent returning to Iowa City, the question remains instead, how many times the Hawkeyes can avoid a “roadblock.”
Top Returnee: LB Pat Angerer (107 tackles, 5 ½ tackles for loss, 5 INT’s in 2008)
“The Beast In Me” – Johnny Cash
“The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars…Restless by day and by night”
Northwestern returns only five starters on offense in 2009, featuring a number of questions led by the multi-talented QB Mike Kafka. The real story (and strength) for this year’s Wildcats squad is the defense, led by a beast in DE Corey Wootton, who decided to return for a fifth and final season (after getting injured in last year’s bowl).
With seven other starters returning on defense, coupled with a schedule free of Ohio State and Michigan, it could be an interesting and rewarding year for the Wildcats.
Top Returnee: DE Corey Wootton (10 sacks in 2008)
Minnesota Golden Gophers
“Long Road To Ruin” – Foo Fighters
“Long road to ruin there in your eyes, under the cold streetlights, no tomorrow, no dead end in sight…”
There are a lot of reasons to be positive in Minnesota… brand new stadium, a team returning 17 starters, plus an above .500 season and bowl appearance after winning only game during the previous year.
Combine that with some powerful weapons on offense including Adam Weber and Eric Decker, and there’s a lot to anticipate.
Then there’s the schedule. Give the Gophers credit for scheduling tough opponents such as Cal, but with a schedule that ranks as one of the toughest in the country, the season, with all its positives, could still wind up as a “long road to ruin.”
This is especially true in a month-long stretch that includes road games against Penn State and Ohio State, plus home games vs. Michigan State and Illinois.
Top Returnee: WR Eric Decker (84 rec.1074 yds, 7 TD’s in 2008)
“Run” – Collective Soul
“Have I got a long way to run… Have I got a long way to run…”
One figure is true, the Badgers under Bret Bielema have been under a slight decline over the last few seasons, falling from 12 wins, to 9 wins, to just 7-6 last season. But that won’t change a thing with the way Wisconsin runs its offense in 2009.
It’s going to be a steady diet of the same, that being the running game, this time led solely by the talented John Clay, who combined with P.J. Hill in 2008 to run for over 2,000 yards.
On his own, Clay ran for 884 yards, adding nine touchdowns, and this season the Badgers will be expecting much more out of him.
Top Returnee: RB John Clay (884 yards rushing, 9 TD’s, 5.7 yds per carry in 2008)
Illinois Fighting Illini
“When The Levee Breaks” – Led Zeppelin
“…prayin’ won’t do you no good, when the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.”
Illinois had a bit of a down year in 2008, going 5-7 and missing out on a bowl after playing in the Rose Bowl in 2007. 2009 should be interesting, as the Illini have a potent and experienced offense, led by QB Juice Williams and WR Arrelious Benn.
On defense, the team is still somewhat inexperienced, and will need to improve after last year’s unit fell victim in a number of shootouts.
One could say that with this year’s team, it’s all about “when the levee breaks, whether it be the offense breaking loose against an opponent, or the defense caving in and faltering against another conference opponent.
If Illinois can minimize the latter, they could be a pleasant surprise in the Big Ten.
Top Returnee: WR Arrelious Benn (67 rec., 1055 yds., 3 TD’s in 2008)
“New Kid In Town” – The Eagles
“Johnny come lately, the new kid in town, everybody loves you, so don’t let them down.”
The Boilermakers have a younger team that many feel should finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, but don’t say that to new head coach Danny Hope, who thinks this squad could surprise in 2009.
Hope himself is the story for this team, and all eyes are on him. He certainly has big shoes that he has to fill as Joe Tiller departs, and with players returning such as talented RB Jaycen Taylor, who knows, stranger things have happened.
Top Returnee: FS Torri Williams (83 tackles, 2 INT’s, 6 passes broken up in 2008)
“Come Back” – Pearl Jam
“Under this broken roof, it’s only rain that I feel, been wishing out the days, come back.”
2008 was rough for the Wolverines, but for Michigan fans that haven’t seen such a tumultuous year in decades, there’s plenty to hope for leading into 2009. After all, look back to Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, where year one was a similar disaster, followed by significant improvement.
Rodriguez has a number of new recruits that will fit his system and combined with the current roster adding experience, there could be a similar turnaround in Ann Arbor this year. Don’t expect an elite finish just yet, but definitely look for a “come back.”
Top Returnee: DE Brandon Graham (10 sacks, 10 tackles for loss in 2008)
“Lost!” – Coldplay
“Just because I’m losing, doesn’t mean I’m lost, doesn’t mean I’ll stop.”
Give Bill Lynch credit, as the Hoosiers are trying to find ways to improve and win games. This season, Indiana is switching to the Pistol offense, in an attempt to assist QB Ben Chappell and the offense.
On the defense, the Hoosiers have a very talented line, led by Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. But all in all, the Hoosiers still have a way to go.
Where they lack in talent, they are trying to replace in creativity...give the staff credit. As Chris Martin’s lyrics go, “just because I’m losing, doesn’t mean I’m lost”… and the Hoosiers won’t stop trying to improve, either.
Top Returnee: DE Jammie Kirlew (74 tackles, 10 ½ sacks in 2008)
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