Take a deep breath...the wait is finally over. Football is here!
Every season, each team earns a clean slate, and 2008 will be no different. However, whether a team likes it or not, everyone earns a reputation and a theme even before the season begins.
With that being said, I’ve pieced together a series of conference previews with a unique twist.
Call this one a Big Ten preview set to music, featuring all 11 teams presented in the order of standing at the end of the 2007 season—and the theme song they should be playing in the locker room this week.
BIG TEN PREVIEW
Ohio State Buckeyes: “Third Season” – AFI
“But I’ll wait...‘til the seasons change. I’ll wait...‘til the fall comes.”
The Buckeyes have made back-to-back National Championship appearances, but both led to painful and lopsided losses. Ohio State is back with most of its talent intact, featuring stars like Beanie Wells and James Laurinaitis.
It certainly looks like the Buckeyes are the favorite to win the Big Ten once again, but head coach Jim Tressel and the boys are hoping the third time is the charm when it comes to the BCS.
Top Returner: RB Beanie Wells (1,609 yds rushing, 15 TDs in ‘07)
Illinois Fighting Illini: “Lost!” – Coldplay
“Just because I’m losing, doesn’t mean I’m lost, doesn’t mean I’ll stop.”
Looking at the Illini, what’s most visible is what is lost, and that’s the 24 lettermen, headlined by first round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall (to the Pittsburgh Steelers). On top of that, Illinois has to face Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin on the road.
Still, with all this stacked against them, you really can’t count out head coach Ron Zook and the Illini, as they should scrap their way to a respectable season—just not matching their nine-win 2007 campaign.
Top Returner: WR Arrelious Benn (54 rec, 676 yds, two TDs in ’07)
Michigan Wolverines: “Free Fallin’” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
“I wanna free fall out into nothin’, gonna leave this world for a while.”
There are a lot of new faces in Ann Arbor, and while new head coach Rich Rodriguez is at the top of that list, the biggest hit the Wolverines have taken is on offense, where only three starters return. Among the list of the departed are Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Mario Manningham, and Ryan Mallett.
With that being said, it’s likely that the Wolverines, under a new system, will likely take a few steps backward before they take any forward.
Top Returner: DT Terrance Taylor (55 tackles, 3.5 sacks in ’07)
Wisconsin Badgers: “Almost There” – The Police
“In the end, there’s a silence, and the TV set doesn’t show the fall.”
The Badgers are a tough team to figure out every year—but then again, maybe not. There’s always so much talent, often centered around a power back on offense and a bunch of big bodies on both sides of the trenches.
Still, when push comes to shove, Wisconsin always ends up in the top tier of the Big Ten, but never quite at the top—instead “almost there.” This season looks like more of the same, but having Ohio State and Penn State at home could help the Badgers shake this recent trend.
Top Returner: TE Travis Beckum (75 rec, 982 yds, six TDs in ’07)
Penn State Nittany Lions: “Young Man, Old Man” – Black Crowes
“Young man crazy, old man wise...Some folks real, some just jive.”
This year’s Penn State team can be summed up by discussing two people: the young man, that being new starting QB Daryll Clark, and the old man, head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno is heading into the final year of his contract, and there is a lot of talk about possible retirement, even though you would never hear that from Paterno himself.
As for Clark, he isn’t crazy, but crazy talented, with a Michael Robinson-like skill set that will push Penn State to the spread-like offense that they ran in 2005—and ran quite successfully, I might add. If all the pieces fall into place, Penn State could surprise in 2008.
Top Returner: DE Maurice Evans (54 tackles, 12.5 sacks in ‘07)
Iowa Hawkeyes: “Bad Boys” – Inner Circle
“Watcha gonna do when they come for you?”
So many teams have been dealing with off-the-field problems, but Iowa seems to be near the top of the list, as 18 different players have been in trouble with the law one way or another. Whether a coach will admit it or not, these distractions do affect the team, and in a big way.
On the plus side, Iowa only lost 14 lettermen from last year’s team. More importantly, the two Big Ten teams the Hawkeyes do not face are Ohio State and Michigan. If they can avoid the off-field distractions, Iowa could return to a bowl game.
Top Returner: OG Seth Olson
Purdue Boilermakers: “Last Exit” – Pearl Jam
“For better or for worse...a best we began...”
This will be head coach Joe Tiller’s “last exit” at Purdue, as he retires after this season. Over the years, he’s seen a number of talented Boilermaker players, from current NFL great Drew Brees to senior starting QB Curtis Painter.
With that being said, Purdue does have some talent returning, and there’s no doubt that the Boilermakers will do their best to have Tiller go out in style. Personally, I foresee a bowl game, but not one on New Year’s Day.
Top Returner: QB Curtis Painter (3,846 passing yds, 29 TDs in ’07)
Indiana Hoosiers: “Outshined” – Soundgarden
“I’ve kept the movie rolling, but the story’s getting old now. I just looked in the mirror, things aren’t looking so good.”
Last season, the Hoosiers played in their first bowl game since 1993. Still, with the talented WR James Hardy headed to the NFL and flashy QB Kellen Lewis being suspended for spring practice, it certainly seems like Indiana will once again return to a level below mediocrity—not only being “outshined” by the rest of the Big Ten, but once again by their basketball program.
On the bright side, at least they don’t have to wear those candy-cane-colored pants.
Top Returner: DE Greg Middleton (50 tackles, 16 sacks in ’07)
Michigan State Spartans: “Forgotten” – Linkin Park
“Moving all around, screaming of the ups and downs…”
The Spartans are that team that always seems to get out to a decent start before imploding midway through the year. Call it coaching, call it lack of focus...I call it consistency.
Even so, that doesn’t dismiss the fact that this team has explosive talent, led by senior veterans Brian Hoyer and Javon Ringer. This is not a team you want to get into a shootout with—and not one you should forget about either.
Top Returner: RB Javon Ringer (1,447 rushing yds, six TDs in ’07)
Northwestern Wildcats: “Runnin’ With The Pack” – Bad Company
“You can’t hold me down, you can’t hold me back, goin’ my own way...”
Northwestern was a very quiet 6-6 last season—so quiet, in fact, that the Wildcats didn’t earn a bowl appearance. OK, so they lost to Duke and got blown out by 51 points to the Buckeyes. Still, the Wildcats return 15 starters, led by the talented one-two offensive combo of C.J. Bacher and Tyrell Sutton.
With Penn State and Wisconsin off the schedule, the Wildcats could sneak into their first bowl game since 2005.
Top Returner: QB C.J. Bacher (3,656 passing yds, 19 TDs in ’07)
Minnesota Golden Gophers: “The Only Way Is Up” – Yazz
“Things may be a little hard now, but we’ll find a brighter day.”
2007 was a long season for the Golden Gophers—very long. The only thing not long about it may have been the total yardage by the team’s offense. After a 1-11 season where the only win was in OT over Miami (OH), Minnesota can only go up from here.
The good news is this: Minnesota only lost 18 lettermen and managed to crack the top 30 on Scout.com’s Team Recruiting Rankings for 2008—not bad for a team that put up a goose egg in the Big Ten standings last year.
Top Returner: WR Eric Decker (67 rec, 909 yds, nine TDs in ’07)