Football
Big Ten Preview, Part Three
By Tony Gerdeman

2.   Michigan 9-2 (6-2) (predicted finish)

Two Cent Overview
Plenty of quality running backs and 80% of last year's offensive line should enable the Wolverines to keep the ball for long periods of time.  The running game should also allow Henne to continue to put up nice numbers in the passing game, despite losing Braylon Edwards.  The defense is in a bit of a transition, but they will be faster than they were last year.  Garrett Rivas is back placekicking.  He was Honorable Mention All Big Ten last year.  They will be breaking in a new punter, but they have a High School All American in Zoltan Mesko among the candidates.

Schedule
Sept. 3  Northern Illinois (W)
Sept. 10  Notre Dame (W)
Sept. 17  Eastern Michigan (W)
Sept. 24  at Wisconsin (W)
Oct. 1  at Michigan State (L)
Oct. 8  Minnesota (W)
Oct. 15  Penn State (W)
Oct. 22  at Iowa (W)
Oct. 29  at Northwestern (W)
Nov. 12  Indiana (W)
Nov. 19  Ohio State (L)

Five Questions Begging For Answers
1.  Who answers Henne's prayers this year?

2.  How many carries will Kevin Grady take from Michael Hart?

3.  Is the 3-4 still a good idea?

4.  Are you sure??

5.  Positive???

Something To Look For
Look for Michael Hart to struggle to repeat last year's numbers due to the emergence of Max Martin and the introduction of Kevin Grady.  And even though Braylon Edwards is gone, Chad Henne shouldn't have too much of a problem throwing for 2,700 yards again.

Returning Starters
Eight on offense, seven on defense, and the placekicker.

Best Player
Wide Receiver Steve Breaston.  The poor man's Teddy Ginn.  If he's healthy, he is one of the four most dangerous players in the conference.  If he's not healthy, he's still one of the eight most dangerous players in the conference.

Second Best Player
Quarterback Chad Henne.  Talk all you want about how the only thing Henne was good at was throwing the ball high enough in the air so that Braylon could get in position to come down with it.  Or go on about how 48% of Henne's passing yards went to Braylon Edwards.  Or ramble on about how 15 of Henne's 25 touchdowns went to Braylon Edwards.  Even given all of this, Henne is indeed their second best player.  Actually, this may be more of a vote against Michael Hart than a vote for Chad Henne.  Don't be mistaken though, Henne is the closest thing they've had to Drew Henson since Drew Henson.

Best Chance For a Big Loss
at Michigan State.  Drew Stanton did everything that he wanted to do against Michigan last year.  If he plays the entire game this time, he may do more of the same.  Michigan had no answer for Stanton last year--although they may think they do this year, since they hired the Spartans defensive line coach Steve Stripling.

Most Important Game
Ohio State.  If everything goes as planned, this game will once again be for the Rose Bowl.  If everything doesn't go as planned, Lloyd Carr sure doesn't want to be 1-2 against Jim Tressel at home.

Best Road Game to Pack Up The Family Truckster And Travel To
at Iowa.  Unfortunately I may miss this game as I'm planning on loading up the Family Truckster and heading to Bloomington on 10/22.  Still, Michigan at Iowa always has something memorable happen, and the past few games there have been tremendous.

Best Reason They Won't Be Undefeated
Here's three:  Drew Stanton; Drew Tate; Troy Smith.

Best Reason They Will Be Undefeated
They don't play on any ridiculously crowned fields this year, so the odds are with them.

Game They Shouldn't Lose But Could
at Wisconsin.  Wisconsin is down this year and these two teams haven't played since 2002.  The last three times they've played, however, Michigan has won by three points, three points and seven points.  If the Badgers get the running game going, they can control the game.

Player People Are Expecting Too Much From
Steve Breaston.  Yes, he's their best player, but he's not going to put up 1,300 yards like Braylon did.  He probably won't even put up 1,000 yards.  Receiving is only one facet of his game.  He'll make noise in other areas.

Player People Will Be Pleasantly Suprised By
Ryan Mundy.  A better free safety than Marlin Jackson was in 2003.  He will continue to improve and will need to as Michigan has no stars at cornerback--though fans of Leon Hall may disagree.   Also watch out for redshirt freshman Morgan Trent.  Lloyd Carr has said he may be playing both wide receiver and cornerback this year.  He will also be returning kicks with Breaston.  Per Carr, Trent may be the fastest player on the team.


Game On The Schedule That Glen Mason Is Jealous That He Didn't Schedule
September 17:  Eastern Michigan at home.

Something They Do Well
Assign #1.  Here is a history of the #1 jersey beginning with Anthony Carter:  Anthony Carter, 1979-82; Greg McMurtry, 1986-89; Derrick Alexander, 1990-93; Tyrone Butterfield, 1994-96; David Terrell, 1998-2000; Braylon Edwards, 2003-4; Mario Manningham, 2004 -.  Sure, they had a little hiccup there with Butterfield, and the jury is still very out on Mario Manningham, but everybody else stands out.  Of course the years that they don't assign #1 makes you wonder if the coaches feel that there isn't anybody good enough to wear it.  Obviously, it just depends on who you are.  They made Braylon Edwards work for it.  They made Mario Manningham commit for it.  And I assume Tyrone Butterfield rock paper scissored somebody for it.

Something They Don't Do So Well
Keep mobile quarterbacks under 100 yards rushing.  The Wolverines faced three running quarterbacks last year:  Drew Stanton, Troy Smith and Vince Young.  They averaged 139 yards rushing and two touchdowns.  They face Troy Smith and Drew Stanton again this year, as well as Michael Robinson at Penn State (assuming he's still at quarterback), so we'll see if they've learned anything. 

What's Improved?
The defensive line.  Part of the process of fixing a problem is recognizing it.  Lloyd Carr has recognized that they have a problem against mobile quarterbacks and they've taken measures to try to remedy it.  They brought in Michigan State's defensive line coach--a coach who had to go against the spread and a mobile quarterback every day in practice--to try and plug the leak.  However, they won't know if it worked until October 1 when Drew Stanton and the Spartans host the Wolverines.  Also, they did bring in several top-notch recruits on the defensive line, so depth has been addressed as well.

What's Gotten Worse?
Strong Safety.  They lost All-American Ernest Shazor who declared for the NFL as a Junior, but the NFL failed to need him enough to draft him.  Right now, it looks like Brandent Englemon will get that job.  He brings more speed to the position, but even Gabe Watson would bring more speed to the position compared to what they had there last year.

Player Most Likely To Own A Restaurant
Gabe Watson.  At 6'4" and 331 pounds, he could lend the same credibility to a restaurant that Jack Nicklaus would lend to your local golf course as the club pro.

 

1.   Ohio State  11-0 (8-0)

Two Cent Overview
Award candidates line the roster like the letter "A" in a Samoan surname.  There is skill around every corner.  Both the offense and the defense are capable of providing some comfortable wins this year.  The Buckeyes break in two new starters at placekicker and punter, however, both have been in the program for a while so they should be fine.

Schedule
Sept. 3  Miami Univ.(W)
Sept. 10  Texas (W)
Sept. 17  San Diego State (W)
Sept. 24  Iowa (W)
Oct. 8  at Penn State (W)
Oct. 15  Michigan State (W)
Oct. 22  at Indiana (W)
Oct. 29  at Minnesota (W)
Nov. 5  Illinois (W)
Nov. 12  Northwestern (W)
Nov. 19  at Michigan (W)

Five Questions Begging For Answers
1.  Can Ohio State contain Vince Young?

2.  Will Ohio State be able to concentrate on Miami University and San Diego State given who the Buckeyes play in each following week?

3.  What crazy thing is going to happen at night in Happy Valley on October 8?

4.  Can Ohio State win in Ann Arbor?

5.  Can I get Texas tickets?

Something To Look For
Jim Tressel doesn't need an astounding offense to field a championship contender--but it helps.  The offense, however, will be improved.  For the first time in a long time, there will be three running backs on scholarship that can score from anywhere on the field.  Although I don't think they will have to travel the field as much as they used to.  With Ohio State's defense and Ginn and Holmes frightening the special teams opponents, I'm thinking the offense will be working with shorter fields.

Returning Starters
Nine on offense, nine on defense.

Best Player
Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.  I'm not even going to bother using superlatives because I guarantee you that anybody that has written about Teddy Ginn has already used them all.  And unfortunately, I just checked my thesaurus and there's no synonym listed for "Holy crap!" or "slack-jawed silence".  He will be the player with the most highlights that get cut-in to other games.  For instance, say you're watching the TCU at Oklahoma game on September 3.  At some point during that game, you'll hear this:

Brad Nessler:  "Okay, let's go to John Saunders in the studio."

John Saunders:  "Thanks Brad.  Well, sit down for this one everybody, Teddy Ginn is at it again..."


Second Best Player
Linebacker A.J. Hawk.  47 is the new 36. 

Best Chance For a Big Loss
Texas.  Say what you want about Vince Young's passing "abilities", but it's a lot easier to pick up a first down on 3rd and 6 when you've got Vince Young back there, and I'm convinced it's going to be third down that wins this game.

Most Important Game
at Michigan.  There is no other answer to this question--and it's more important to Michigan this year.

Best Road Game to Pack Up The Family Truckster And Travel To
at Penn State.  Where else can you go to a game and on the way there learn about churning butter and making end tables.

Best Reason They Won't Be Undefeated
Quarterback uncertainty.  Of course this will eventually be sorted out, but not before Texas, and that's where the problem could manifest itself.

Best Reason They Will Be Undefeated
Head Coach Jim Tressel.  Coach Tressel got the Buckeyes to within one game of another possible shot at a National Championship in 2003 without a running game.  Can you even understand how simply amazing that is?  That's like being nominated for an Oscar for being in a Safe Auto commercial.

Game They Shouldn't Lose But Could
at Minnesota.  Sometimes the Gophers just run you down, over, around, and out--especially if you are Michigan.

Player People Are Expecting Too Much From
Quarterback Troy Smith.  He's not going to approach 400 yards of offense every week.  There will be some weeks where he doesn't even approach 200 yards. 

Player People Will Be Pleasantly Suprised By
Defensive end Mike Kudla.  Kudla led the Buckeyes with four sacks last year.  He was everywhere against Michigan, and--apparently--for the very reason I am saying people are expecting too much from Troy Smith, I am saying people should expect more from Mike Kudla.  I can't explain it either.  Don't be surprised if he doubles that sack total from last year.

Game On The Schedule That Glen Mason Is Jealous That He Didn't Schedule
November 5:  Illinois at home. 

Something They Do Well
Return punts.  Yes, Ted Ginn Jr. gets most of the credit, but if he were forced to fair catch the ball every time, he wouldn't have any touchdowns.  Everybody on that unit does their job, and if one guy screws up, it can mean a blocked kick or a fair catch.  And remember, anytime Ginn or Holmes is forced to fair catch a ball, that's a scoring opportunity lost.  Jim Tressel's call to put two return men back worked perfectly last year, and don't be surprised if there are more wrinkles this year.  Every team on the Ohio State schedule will have to gameplan around the Buckeyes' punt return unit.  Consider this unit the "Unsung Acid Reflux Inducer" in coaches around the conference.

Something They Don't Do So Well
Short yardage.  With no proven inside runner returning, Ohio State is trying to find somebody that they can count on to get the tough yards.  Brandon Schnittker looked like a promising candidate this Spring, but many a candidate reveals himself in the Spring, only to give way to the Fall.  Many are hoping that Erik Haw can be the "Big Back", however, he seems to be more of an east-west guy.  Antonio Pittman is more of the north-south guy, and now that he's up over 200 pounds, he could be the guy.  I don't know if either one of them can move a pile, though.  Whatever happened to running backs just jumping over the pile?  Are linebackers too athletic nowadays?

What's Improved?
The running game--short yardage not withstanding.  It's not just because of Antonio Pittman, Erik Haw and Maurice Wells.  It's also because of Ted Ginn and Troy Smith.  It's also because of the threat of Ted Ginn and Troy Smith.  Every misdirection may provide just the room that any of these players need to go the distance.  They all have the quickness to capitalize on a cautious defense.

What's Gotten Worse?
Experienced depth at safety.  Although this is just "worse on paper".  Any time you take a playmaker like Tyler Everett and move him, the position that he is leaving is going to be thinner.  However, no matter what position a defensive back is listed at Ohio State, be it corner or safety, Coach Tressel will have the four, five or six best defensive backs in the game.

Player Most Likely To Own A Restaurant

Anthony Schlegel.  Welcome to "Schlegel's Boar and Pour".  Imagine the sign out front:  "Hand-killed Boar, Ice Cold Natty".

Installment One - Teams 11 through seven.

Installement two - Teams six through three.

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