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Football
Big Ten Football: 2010 Primer
By Tony Gerdeman

It’s that time of year again--time to start thinking about next year.

And while there will be some out there who will complain and say they need a break from college football, the rest of us will look at you with disdain and fury.

So with last season clearly in the rearview mirror by a few days, let’s start talking about 2010.

After all, there are new awards to be won. New games to be lost. And new coaches to take fake leaves of absences.

Here’s a quick team-by-team rundown of what the Big Ten has coming back…and what they don’t.

(Listed in order of finish in 2009)

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Outlook for 2010

Pretty good. The Buckeyes return 98% of their rushing yards and 85% of their receiving yards. But of more concern for Jim Tressel is the fact that the Buckeyes only return 7% of their punting yards. Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward opting to put the NFL on hold for another year sets this defense up to be the most disruptive and versatile unit in the Big Ten. They will likely open the season ranked in the top three next year as most everybody is expecting continued elevation from quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Who's coming back?

Nine starters on offense and seven on defense. The Buckeyes will have to break in two new kicking specialists, however. Ross Homan has a great shot at being the next All-American linebacker for the Buckeyes

Who's not?

Defensive end Thaddeus Gibson will take his soul consumption to the next level, but the loss of Doug Worthington will probably be felt more heavily for all that he was able to provide the Buckeyes. Retaining safety Jermale Hines allows the Buckeyes to not run screaming into the street at the thought of losing both safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell without anybody else to turn to.

Better or Worse?

Better. Come get your whoopin’, Purdue.

What’s the story?

Does Terrelle Pryor start next season like he finished this one? Or will there be another build up that frustrates fans like nothing you’ve ever seen before? (Except for every prior Tressel season ever, of course.)

Anything interesting about the schedule?

Once the Big Ten season starts, the Buckeyes will alternate home and away games for the first time since 1994. The best non-conference game on the schedule will be Miami (FL) coming to town in week two. They could bring a top ten ranking with them as well.

2. Iowa Hawkeyes

Outlook for 2010

The Hawkeyes will be the “Gotcha!” pick from the experts who want to show you that they’re just a little bit smarter than they should be. Iowa fans will get their hopes up for a national championship, but as is usually the case, they should worry more about winning the state championship.

Who's coming back?

Six starters on offense, nine on defense and both specialists. But most importantly, Second Half Ricky Stanzi will once again be taking snaps for two quarters per game. Who knows, maybe he can stretch it out to three.

Who's not?

Nearly four-fifths of the offensive line--including early entrant left tackle Bryan Bulaga, and tight end Tony Moeaki. Even though the running back stable returns, including intended starter Jewel Hampton, there may be some struggles early on as Kirk Ferentz searches for an offensive line that works for him.

Better or Worse?

Worse. When was the last time Iowa was as good as they were supposed to be--especially following a season where they were much better than they should have been? The defense should be great, but are they really going to do better than two losses in 2010? Even with a nearly ideal schedule (their toughest road game in conference is either Michigan or Northwestern, and they get Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State all at home), I just feel like we’ve been down this road before.

What’s the story?

Can the Hawkeyes take the next step and become one of the “Big Three” with Ohio State and Penn State. It seems this question keeps getting asked now that Michigan has taken an involuntary leave of absence from relevance.

Anything interesting about the schedule?

Iowa travels to Arizona in week three. They have a bye week prior to traveling to Ann Arbor, which is like taking a vacation prior to retiring to a life of vacationing.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions

Outlook for 2010

A bit of rebuilding, but not so much that they shouldn’t be hopeful of another New Year’s bowl appearance. New quarterback Kevin Newsome played in ten games as a true freshman in 2009, but only threw eleven passes. He inherits a fairly veteran offense, with his top three wide receivers returning, as well as running backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green. The defense, however, has been decimated and will have to find an entirely new linebacking corps.

Who's coming back?

Seven on offense, four on defense and the place-kicker. As mentioned above, running back Evan Royster returns after toying with early entry into the NFL. He rushed for 1,169 yards this year, but it will be interesting to see how his numbers fluctuate with a new quarterback. Defensive end Jack Crawford returns for his junior season, and it might be his last. After recording 14.5 tackles for loss as a true sophomore (after only playing two years of high school football), his potential appears to be immense. He will likely be the next first round draft pick at defensive end for the Nittany Lions.

Who's not?

Two-year starting quarterback Darryl Clark is finally gone, as are his tendencies towards regression. Of equal impact, however, is the loss of 295 tackles from linebackers Sean Lee, Josh Hull and Navorro Bowman. Since this is Linebacker U, however, Joe Pa should just be able to sneeze and find two Butkus Award candidates. And the loss of Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick isn’t going to help the interior of the Penn State defense any either.

Better or Worse?

Worse. There is too much lost on defense to overcome. The new quarterback may be a positive or a negative, but it’s just too soon to tell. Though to think it would be a positive right off the bat is probably on the hopeful side of optimistic.

What’s the story?

Until Joe Paterno retires, the story is always going to be “When is Joe Paterno retiring?” I think once the questions stop, he’ll retire. How‘s the old saying go? “A watched coach never retires.”

Anything interesting about the schedule?

Quite. After opening the season with Youngstown State, the Nittany Lions will travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the defending National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide. Sadly for them, they also have road games at Iowa and Ohio State. And interestingly, they are playing the Hoosiers at FedEx field in D.C. next season.

4. Wisconsin Badgers

Outlook for 2010

Great. The top scoring offense in the Big Ten returns everybody except for tight end Garrett Graham. Of course, with the losses on defense, they may need all of the offense they can get. The Badgers will also be a popular sleeper pick, especially considering they get to host the Buckeyes in 2010.

Who's coming back?

Ten on offense, five on defense and both kicking specialists. Quarterback Scott Tolzien led the Big Ten in passing efficiency in 2009, and will look to continue his stellar competence in 2010. Fortunately for him, all 65 starts on the offensive line return next season, as well as four of his top five receiving targets. Oh, and so does Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year running back John Clay. Almost forgot about him.

Who's not?

Three-fourths of the defensive line is gone, including ultra-disruptive defensive end O’Brien Schofield and his 24.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Good riddance. You will not be missed.

Better or Worse?

Better. The Badgers are going to be in the hunt for a BCS bid and possibly more next year.

What’s the story?

How will the Badgers handle assumed success? They’re always expected to be good, but rarely are they expected to be THIS good, especially right out of the gate.

Anything interesting about the schedule?

It’s a Bret Bielema schedule, so of course not. They do have Arizona State in week three, and then follow that up with Austin Peay. They also have the Buckeyes at home, which could be the Big Ten game of the year. They have to travel to Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan. And once again they avoid Penn State.

5. Northwestern Wildcats

Outlook for 2010

The same as it always is. Though maybe just a tad less optimistic. For the second year in a row, the Wildcats will have to break in a quarterback who is more accustomed to running the ball than throwing it. Of course, it worked pretty well with Mike Kafka this past year, but a continued inability to run the ball will hamper any New Year’s hopes for Northwestern. Arby Fields led the team in 2009 with just 302 yards rushing. That has to change in 2010 for Northwestern to get where they want to be.

Who's coming back?

Seven on offense, six on defense and kicker/punter Stefan Demos. The Wildcats return four offensive linemen and a few receivers on offense. As well as half of the defensive line, including defensive end Vince Browne, who led the team in sacks with five. The linebacking corps returns as well. And perhaps unfortunately, so does placekicker Stefan Demos, who missed about seven kicks in the bowl game against Auburn.

Who's not?

Quarterback Mike Kafka leaves after leading the Big Ten in passing and total yardage. The Wildcats also lose their top two receivers, Andrew Brewer (57-925-9) and Zeke Markshausen (91-858-3). Though this being Northwestern, they’ll just find two more guys who get open and make catches. It’s what they do. Defensive end Corey Wootton is finally gone, having dealt with numerous injuries in his career. Safeties Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith are finished as well, but fortunately for Northwestern, they have two other safeties who have each started five games in 2009.

Better or Worse?

Worse? If there is no running game, they can’t possibly be better. Though quarterback Dan Persa is more of a runner than a thrower. Of course, at this time last year, so was Mike Kafka.

What’s the story?

How much longer is head coach Pat Fitzgerald going to stick around. Eventually he will need to cash in on his success or risk losing it.

Anything interesting about the schedule?

Not really. The top out of conference opponent is Vanderbilt. The Wildcats avoid Michigan and Ohio State once again, though I’m guessing they’re only 50% happy about that. They get Iowa at home, and after upsetting the Hawkeyes in Iowa City this past season, you have to think there will be revenge on somebody’s mind.

6. Michigan State Spartans

Outlook for 2010

Last year, I made the mistake of having faith in Michigan State. As did most everybody else. It’s likely that expectations will now relax, which means that the Spartans might actually be good. Or not.

Who's coming back?

Seven on offense, eight on defense and the punter. Though the local district attorney may have something more to say about that. The Spartans do return both of their quarterbacks, as well as two promising young running backs in Edwin Baker and Larry Caper. Three-fourths of the defensive line returns, as do three-thirds of the linebacking corps. Though middle linebacker Greg Jones may yet decide to forego his senior season.

Who's not?

Wide receiver Blair White has been about the only consistent thing in East Lansing this side of Tom Izzo, and he will obviously be missed. Defensive end Trevor Anderson is also gone, but he was never quite as productive as they needed him to be.

Better or Worse?

Better by default? Maybe.

What’s the story?

The question of “Can Mark Dantonio turn this Michigan State program around?” is probably going to be answered in the next year or two, and 2010 is going to be one giant step towards tipping his hand.

Anything interesting about the schedule?

Not really. Aside from the annual game against Notre Dame, which is in East Lansing next year, the Spartans will also be playing Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic and Northern Colorado. They should open 3-1 or 4-0. They miss the Buckeyes and the Hoosiers, and get Wisconsin at home.

7. Purdue Boilermakers

Outlook for 2010

Purdue showed promise in Year One of the Danny Hope Era, so it’s safe to assume they’ll show promise again in 2010. Of course, he’ll have to do it with a new quarterback and nearly an entirely new back seven. Obviously, the Boilers showed themselves capable of minor miracles last season, but they need to turn the miraculous into the norm if they want to take the next step in 2010.

Who's coming back?

Six starters on offense, five on defense and the place-kicker. Only two starters return on the offensive line, but they’ll be blocking for the team’s leading rusher Ralph Bolden (935 yards rushing). Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who single-handedly debacled the Ohio State offense, brings his 18.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks back for a final season.

Who's not?

Quarterback Joey Elliott is gone and it looks like rising sophomore Caleb TerBush will get the nod. Though he only threw ten passes in 2009, so it’s not like he’s a shoo-in. Purdue loses their entire secondary as well, so don’t expect too many coverage sacks in 2010.

Better or Worse?

Better. Record-wise, anyway. I’m just basing this off of what Danny Hope showed in 2009 and what wee sprouting bean of faith I have in him.

What’s the story?

It’s Purdue, there really isn’t one. I guess the story will be whether or not the Boilermakers can find some consistency in 2010, since they couldn‘t in 2009.

Anything interesting about the schedule?

The most interesting non-conference opponent is Notre Dame, which they’ll play in South Bend. Western Illinois, Ball State and Toledo follow, which should allow Purdue to start 3-1 on the season. There is no Iowa or Penn State on the schedule, but a road game in Columbus will likely be marked on the calendar by the Buckeyes.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Outlook for 2010

Incautious optimism. Tim Brewster won’t sugarcoat his goals for the Gophers, and yet it seems he is given credit for his goals despite constantly falling far short of them. But Brewster has the university’s support and now it’s time to move forward.

Who's coming back?

Nine on offense, two on defense and the place-kicker. The Gophers bring back the bulk of their offense, but lose their top two pass catchers. It’s much tougher, however, to find anybody who is returning on defense. Safeties Kim Royston and Kyle Theret are the only two starters returning. Fortunately for Minnesota, they are two of the top five tacklers on the team and will be looked at to bring an entirely new defense together.

Who's not?

Wide receiver Eric Decker will be missed, but it’s not like the Gophers were very good even before he was lost for the season later in 2009. Along with Decker, the entire front seven and the Gophers’ two starting cornerbacks are gone. It’s a good thing Minnesota returns their offense, because they’re going to need it.

Better or Worse?

Worse. This is looking like a six-win team at best.

What’s the story?

Will Adam Weber be permitted a fourth season as the Minnesota starting quarterback despite diminishing returns every single season? Or will Tim Brewster go to 2009’s exciting freshman MarQueis Gray and move the offense in yet another direction? Coaches hate replacing incumbents, even when the ceiling of the incumbent is known and no longer attainable. So we should expect Weber to continue as the starter, yet cede some snaps to Gray, but it will be the same old Gopher offense that we’ve seen the last few years. And Weber will add to his career total of 42 interceptions weekly.

Anything interesting about the schedule?

USC comes to TCF Bank Stadium in week three, and provided Tim Brewster isn’t coaching USC at that point, this will be the first great thing he’s done for the University of Minnesota that Glen Mason refused to do--which is play an adequate schedule. This will probably be the best home ticket in Gopher history as they will also host Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa.

9. Illinois Fighting Illini

Outlook for 2010

With quarterback Juice Williams no longer holding the Illini hostage, Ron Zook went out and got some guys who can coach the forward pass, namely Paul Petrino and Jeff Brohm. It would appear that the zone read may be on its way out. The defense returns some promise, but it will be up to the players not to give up on the season as they have in the past.

Who's coming back?

Five starters on offense, seven on defense and both kicking specialists. Back-up quarterbacks Eddie McGee and Jacob Cherest both return, and both got snaps last year as Zook looked for anybody who was capable of moving the ball (when they weren’t playing Michigan). The committee of running backs returns as well, though it’s unlikely somebody will emerge as a 1,000-yard rusher. An athletic interior defense also looks to continue improving, and the four returning linebackers behind them need it to happen. Budding star Terry Hawthorne came in last season as a freshman expecting to be catching passes from Juice Williams, but instead he was moved to the secondary and ended up starting and excelling in the last four games of the year. Expect continued success from Hawthorne, who looks to have found a home in the Illini defensive backfield.

Who's not?

Quarterback Juice Williams is gone. As is the most under-utilized offensive player in recent human history, Arrelious Benn. Benn scored just eleven times in his three-year career. For as talented as he was, eleven touchdowns should have been his yearly average.

Better or Worse?

Better. It’s not hard to win more than three games (even though Ron Zook has only done it twice in his five seasons), so why not expect a slight improvement in 2010. Especially with actual competent coaches being brought in and other incompetent players being removed.

What’s the story?

The story will be the move towards a Petrino passing offense that we’ve seen in the past at Louisville and more recently at Arkansas. The question will be whether it will involve a drop-back passer like Cherest (who isn’t a statue), or the more athletic Eddie McGee. With McGee a rising senior, it would probably be smarter to opt for the younger quarterback, but with 2010 perhaps being Ron Zook’s last gasp, I’m guessing he’d prefer to go with the quarterback who has the most snaps under his belt. However, with the new offense, the job is probably completely up for grabs, and the coaches may not have much say in who gets it.

Anything interesting about the schedule?

Not really. Missouri is on the schedule again. And the Illini end the season at Fresno State, which may very well be their bowl game. Congratulations on your season, Illinois, you get a free trip to the Lima of California.

10. Michigan Wolverines

Outlook for 2010

Bowl game or bust. It’s not often you’re hoping to end your season in Detroit, but for the Wolverines, that would actually be an improvement. If Rich Rodriguez does not have a winning record in 2010, there will be no 2011 for him.

Who's coming back?

Seven starters on offense, eight on defense. Tate Forcier comes back for year two of Courage Under Fire. At times in 2009 he was superb; and at others, he was benched for a guy who can’t tie his shoes. Also, most of the defense returns, but whether that’s actually a good thing or not is debatable.

Who's not?

Defensive end Brandon Graham is the biggest loss for this defense. His 26.0 tackles for loss led the conference and, for the most part, will go unreplaced in 2010. Cornerback Donovan Warren left for the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining. No doubt he left early so that he could appear on Sunday Night Football and declare himself from “Rich Rodriguez’s University of Michigan”.

Better or Worse?

Better. But I don’t really know how.

What’s the story?

The story I’m looking forward to most of all is to see how incoming freshman quarterback Devin Gardner is implemented in the offense. Ideally, he should redshirt and give himself two years of separation from Tate Forcier, but it’s interesting to hear the fans clamor for Gardner or Denard Robinson to get the nod. Rich Rodriguez has always claimed his offense didn’t need a runner at quarterback to work, so I just don’t understand why so many of his own fans don’t believe him. Mark this down: If Gardner doesn’t redshirt, every week in Ann Arbor will be a soap opera. I suggest you start following the Forcier family’s twitter feed around August.

Anything interesting about the schedule?

They open the season at home against Connecticut before traveling to South Bend. Haters will probably expect the Wolverines to open at 0-2 (and they could put up quite a valid argument for it). They also have Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin at home, but have to travel to Columbus and Happy Valley.

11. Indiana

Outlook for 2010

The Hoosiers should have a fairly productive offense in 2010 as they continue to merge the passing of their pistol offense with the ground game of running back Darius Willis, who rushed for over 100 yards in three of his nine games in 2009. The defense won’t be as good as they were in 2009, which is a scary thought because the defense allowed 29.5 points per game this past year.

Who's coming back?

Eight starters on offense, four on defense and both kicking specialists. All of the key offensive skill returns for the Hoosiers, and after combining for 138 receptions and 1,732 yards, receivers Tandon Doss and Demarlo Belcher could be the best duo in the conference. Defensively, there isn’t much, however defensive tackles Adam Replogle and Larry Black both started every game last season as freshmen, so they should only be better in 2010.

Who's not?

Defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton are gone, and their reign of above averageness is finally over. The Hoosiers also lose safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk, as well as their two best linebackers Matt Mayberry and Will Patterson.

Better or Worse?

Better, but the record may not reflect it. Yes, the defense will need to be almost entirely replaced, but 2009’s veteran defense gave up nearly 30 points per game--could the new guys really do much worse?

What’s the story?

The story has been the same for the last few years: can Indiana make it to a bowl game? If you want, we can flip the pages and go straight to the end of the story and see that, no, they cannot make it to a bowl game in 2010.

Anything interesting about the schedule?
Indiana only has five home games in 2010 because they are supposed to be traveling to both Central Michigan and Western Kentucky this coming season. And in an even more ridiculous and damnable move, Indiana sold their home game against Penn State for $3 million and got it relocated to FedEx Field. This may be one step back in order to take two steps forward, but in my opinion, if you’re a BCS school, there should be no need for stepping back in order to move forward. Indiana deserves the pounding they will get for this--but their players do not.

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