Ohio State Buckeyes
(12-0, Big Ten Champs)
Key returnees: LB James Laurinaitis, CB Malcolm Jenkins, RB Chris Wells, T Kirk Barton, T Alex Boone.
Player to watch: QB Todd Boeckman. The redshirt junior has Heisman Trophy shoes to fill, and as he goes, so do the Buckeyes.
(6-7, 8th in the Big Ten)
Key returnees: DE Ken Iwebema, RB Albert Young, LB Mike Klinkenborg
Player to watch: Yet another QB in this spot, but it seems that no contender other than Michigan in the conference is completely confident in its quarterback. Hawkeye Jake Christensen replaces Tate at the helm of the offense, and his ability to get the job done will determine where Iowa finishes.
BY JACK HERMAN
College football historians will eventually decide where Michigan's 34-32 loss to Appalachian State ranks among the sport's all-time greatest upsets. But there's no debate over part of the fallout.
Ranked fifth to start the season, the Wolverines fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll released yesterday. Since the poll expanded to 25 teams in 1989, no team has ever fallen further.
Michigan placed 33rd in the poll, tallying 39 points. Southern Cal took the top spot with 1,619 points.
(8-5, 5th in the Big Ten)
Key returnees: WR Dorien Bryant, DE Cliff Avril
Player to watch: Quarterback Curtis Painter. With receivers like Dorien Bryant, Painter has the weapons he needs to lead the offense. But although he led the Big Ten in passing by more than 1,000 yards, he'll have to improve upon last year's 129.12 QB rating if he wants to command what could be among the Big Ten's most potent offenses.
Reason for optimism: The Boilermakers return 20 starters from last year's bowl team.
Illinois Fighting Illini
(2-11, 11th in the Big Ten)
Key returnees: QB Juice Williams, MLB J. Lehman
Player to watch: Williams. Last season, Williams was erratic at best with his passing accuracy, and coach Ron Zook would like to see the sophomore grow into the leader of the Fighting Illini.
Reason for optimism: Zook boasts an explosive and fast defensive unit that should keep games close.
(5-7, 7th in Big Ten)
Key returners: QB Kellen Lewis, CB Tracy Porter
Player to watch: James Hardy. The wide receiver will be the key to stretching the field and giving Indiana an aerial weapon.
Reason for optimism: Lewis, running back Marcus Thigpen and wide receiver James Hardy form an offensive core that could be tough to stop.
Michigan State Spartans
(4-8, T-9th in the Big Ten)
Key returnees: RB Javon Ringer, LB SirDarean Adams
Player to watch: Ringer. First-year coach Mark Dantonio uses a conservative offensive gameplan relying on a strong running game. Ringer wasn't happy with his inconsistent touches last season, and he'll have his chance to shine under Dantonio.
Reason for optimism: Dantonio is a straight shooter. Spartan fans won't have to sit through monumental collapses and face slaps of the John L. Smith teams.
(4-8, 8th in Big Ten)
Key returnees: RB Tyrell Sutton, S Reggie McPherson
Player to watch: C.J. Bacher. The junior signal caller will have to step up higher than the tune of the six touchdowns and eight interceptions he threw last season. Sutton needs Bacher to stretch the field.
Reason for optimism: Coach Pat Fitzpatrick brought the fire he played with on the field to the sideline, and his squad has bought into the message. Northwestern will play hard.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
(6-7, 6th in Big Ten)
Key returnees: RB Amir Pinnix, S Dominique Barber
Player to watch: Junior punter Justin Kucek. He'll be on the field a lot, and field position may be the one battle the Golden Gophers could win.
Reason for optimism: Only two more years until TCF Bank Stadium opens.
Reason for pessimism: Coach Tim Brewster's a Big Ten guy, but his team's not a Big Ten team. The talent level is equivalent to a Mid American Conference squad.
BY SCOTT BELL
After three seasons of coming up short, Mike Hart, Chad Henne and Jake Long were supposed to redeem the class of '08. But three years of anticipation led up to one major disappointment. Now Michigan's top leaders must look ahead.
The storybook ending wasn't supposed to come 12 chapters early - and the celebration wasn't supposed to be in the visitors' locker room.
A trio of players that put its childhood dream of playing in the NFL on hold for a year wasn't supposed to be immediately punished for it.