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Big Ten Football Preview

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Sep 2, 2005 3:56PM

The college football season kicks off this weekend, and Chicagoist can't wait! This is Big Ten country, so we thought we'd take a look at the conference and make our predictions.

While the Big Ten is shaping up to be a major football powerhouse this season, the two Illinois schools don't figure to draw much attention. Illinois went 3-8 (1-7 conf.) last year, costing Ron Turner his job. Ron Zook, who lost his job at Florida, takes over the Illini program. Will they be any better this year? Probably not, with a new coaching staff coaching players they didn't recruit and a tough schedule. We forsee a 2-9 record.

Northwestern came within 8 points of a bowl game last season, going 6-6 after a season-ending 49-41 loss to Hawaii. With QB Brett Basanez returning for a 4th season as a starter, Northwestern's offense looks to be respectable again. Their defense needs to step up after allowing almost 30 points a game last year. Even if Northwestern improves, however, they play seven teams that went to bowl games last year. That makes their goal of a bowl appearance pretty ambitious, but not impossible.

At the top of the Big Ten are three teams who enter the season ranked in the Top 10 -- Ohio St., Michigan and Iowa. OSU went 8-4 last year and only 4-4 in the Big Ten, but with 18 returning starters and depth at nearly every position, many see them as the team to beat. Chicagoist isn't quite so convinced.

We see the battle for the Big Ten as one between last year's co-champions -- Michigan and Iowa. The Wolverine's Chad Henne had perhapse the best season ever for a Michigan freshman QB last year, and looks to build upon that. While he's lost favorite target Braylon Edwards to the NFL, Michigan does return a total of 8 offensive starters and continues to develop its receiving talent.

Iowa, after three seasons in a row finishing in the Top 10, finally sees itself ranked there to start a season. Iowa went 10-2 (7-1 conf.) last season in spite of losing four starting running backs to injury and while starting a non-senior QB for the first time in five years. That QB was freshman Drew Tate, who won the Big Ten's rookie of the year award while leading his team to a Capital One Bowl victory and 10-win season. He enters 2005 as perhaps the best player in the Big Ten. On the other side of the ball, the Hawkeyes sport one of the nation's best linebacking corp. Many consider this the year the Hawkeyes have the opportunity to cement their place as one of the elite programs, and that looks like a real possibility.

With three teams fighting for the Big Ten title and BCS bowl bids, the middle of the Big Ten is nearly as tough. Purdue is a Top 25 team and could probably knock off even the top teams in the conference. Wisconsin, who went 9-3 last year, wants to send coach Barry Alverez out on a high note. Might we also be embarking on the final campaign for Penn State's Joe Patero? He might want to ride off into the sunset a winner if his team plays as well as predicted. No Rose Bowl victory for Joe Pa, but perhaps a bowl win of some sort. Minnesota started hot last season, before stumbling. They are poised to play touch all season. Michigan St. also could be a contender for a bowl bid. Really, only Illinois and Indiana look to be entirely out of bowl consideration.

Minnesota kicked off their season on Thursday, beating Tulsa 41-10 last night. Indiana plays Central Michigan tonight. The rest of the Big Ten kick off their seasons tomorrow.