Those in the media who bashed the Big Ten in 2002 were silenced after last year’s 5-2 bowl record, and are now calling the conference nothing less than spectacular going into this season. We at the Daily feel no different, and to the tune of Sting’s past songs and new songs from “Sacred Love” we preview the remainder of this Big Ten season.
Michigan: The mighty
Team lyric: “Brothers are we, marching on the roads of time … Trusting in the knights’ noble vow; In the brotherhood that binds us.”
Explanation/outlook: For the first time since 1997, this looks like Michigan’s most complete team. With more depth at wide receiver and linebacker than in previous years, Michigan will have plenty of playmakers for close games down the stretch. Quarterback John Navarre enters his fourth season as a starter and will be attempting to break numerous Michigan passing records throughout. Youth will also be a factor for the Wolverines, as wide reciever Steve Breaston, linebacker-turned-defensive end LaMarr Woodley and safety Prescott Burgess all look to play considerable roles.
Ohio State: If I ever lose my faith in you
Team lyric: “You could say all of this and worst, but; If I ever lose my faith in you; There’d be nothing left for me to do.”
Explanation/outlook: Those who felt that John Cooper’s reign at Ohio State ruined the program for years to come did not know that Jim Tressel was no slouch in working miracles. With two straight wins against Michigan and a national title last year, Ohio State has once again become the perrenial power it once was under Woody Hayes. And Tressel has done it in a way that would make Hayes proud. Fueled by his defensive line – possibly the nation’s best – Tressel has made the Buckeye’s defense top in the conference and nearly unbeatable on the run.
Purdue: Nothing ’bout me
Team lyric: “Pick my brains, pick my pockets; Steal my eyeballs and come back for the sockets; Run every kind of test from A to Z; And you’ll still know nothing about me.”
Explanation/outlook: No matter how many teams try to emulate Joe Tiller’s spread offense, no one does it better than the originator. The reason why? Because even in an offense designed for the pass, Tiller opens up his running game and had a 1,000-yard back last season in Joey Harris. With nine returning starters on defense – including those who led in tackles, sacks and interceptions – the Boilermakers will be no factor in a brutal road schedule against Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Receiver John Standeford returns to a group that features four to five wideouts a play.
Wisconsin: Mad about you
Team lyric: “But every step I thought of you; Every footstep only you … Tell me how much longer?”
Explanation/outlook: Fans in Wisconsin are beaming over the fact that wide receiver Lee Evans has returned from a knee injury. Evans, projected by many to be ready for the NFL Draft after the 2001 season, stayed in school and blew out his knee last year. With Evans’ return, many have written in Wisconsin as a favorite to make its fourth Rose Bowl in 13 years – which would be the most for any Big Ten team. And with Ohio State coming to Madison and Michigan off the schedule all together, the Badgers’ schedule plays into their hands. One-thousand-five-hundred yard rusher Anthony Davis also returns.
Minnesota: De do do do, de da da da
Team lyric: “De do do do, de da da da; They’re meaningless and all that’s true.”
Explanation/outlook: For a second-straight season, the Golden Gophers have the easiest non-conference schedule in the conference. Given the lack of challenge that Minnesota is likely to receive from the likes of Louisiana-Lafayette, it is a wonder whether any of these games will do anything for the Gophers except give them a 4-0 record. Their first challenges will come the during their Big Ten opener at Penn State and Oct. 11 at home against the Wolverines. Minnesota does have 16 starters returning, but is breaking in a new kicker and punter – something to watch when games go down to the wire.
Penn State: A thousand years
Team lyric: “I may have lived a thousand lives, a thousand times; An endless turning stairway climbs.”
Explanation/outlook: Coach Joe Paterno hasn’t been at Happy Valley for 1,000 years, but seeing anyone else on that sideline would just be wrong. The fact he produces winners when everyone writes him off is an attribute to the program Paterno has built. With just 11 starters returning and no proven tailback, it can be expected that critics will write them off again.
Iowa: Brand new day
Team lyric: “How could it be that what you need the most; Can leave you feeling just like a ghost.”
Explanation/outlook: Aside from running back Fred Russell (1,264 yards), this is not last year’s Big Ten co-champion. With just one returning offensive lineman and a new quarterback, Iowa’s offense will be put to the test early and often. Safety Bob Sanders is a difference maker, though, who will help on roadtrips to Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin.
Team lyric: “Annihilate me, infiltrate me, incinerate me, accelerate me, mutilate me, devastate me.”
Explanation/outlook: Fans of the Illini don’t have a lot to look forward to in comparison to previous years. While Jon Beutjer returns at quarterback, he’ll be breaking in all new wide receivers and a new back behind him. Defensive end Derrick Strong (5 sacks) returns with six other starters.
Northwestern: Seven days
Team lyric: “The fact he’s over six feet ten; Might instill fear in other men; But not in me, the mighty flea (flee?)”
Explanation/outlook: Small only begins to describe Northwestern’s defense. Without a linebacker over 240 pounds, the Wildcats are attempting to go into the Big Ten season with another undersized crew. Northwestern does feature one of the best tailbacks in the league, though. Jason Wright was all-conference last season and rushed for the second-highest amount of yards of any back that went against Ohio State last year. Brett Basanez also averaged 220.4 yards a game throwing as a freshman. Unfortunately, Northwestern returns the worst scoring defense in the conference and just one starting defensive back.
Michigan State: After the rain has fallen
Team lyric: “After the lightning bolt’s been hurled; After the dream is broken, there’ll; Still be love in the world.”
Explanation/outlook: After a 2002 season that was filled with dreams and expectations of going to the Rose Bowl and possibly competing for a national title, the Spartans are trying to forget the 4-8 record and off-the-field problems that marred a very talented team. New coach John L. Smith has brought a feeling of cleansing to the program and has even brought back troubled quarterback Jeff Smoker as his starter. But even with a talented Smoker, there are just 13 players returning from last year’s team. While new faces might be a good way to forget last year, it means Michigan State will be rebuilding.
Indiana: Heavy cloud, no rain
Team lyric: “The sun won’t shine till the clouds are gone; The clouds won’t go till their work is done.”
Explanation/outlook: Gerry DiNardo’s rebuilding process is in progress, but talent-wise still a few years from reaching what former Louisiana State coach would deem successful. Matt LoVecchio, a transfer from Notre Dame, will lead the Hoosiers from behind center. Aside from that and the return of safety Joe Gonzales from injury, there is little to be happy with in Bloomington. Indiana’s offense was worst in the conference last year.