College Football Big 10 Preview
They’re ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll, have a tested quarterback and a veteran defense returning nine starters. But for the Ohio State Buckeyes to win a national title, they must first conquer the Big Ten.
That means beating Michigan, something the Buckeyes have done just once in the last decade.
Circle Nov. 21 _ the Buckeyes already have. That’s when they play host to Michigan, which is 8-1-1 in the last 10 games against Ohio State, including three straight victories.
``We need to win that game. We need to do a better job, we need to make plays, coach better, play harder or whatever,″ Ohio State coach John Cooper said.
Ohio State defensive back Ahmed Plummer said the Buckeyes don’t believe in jinxes or mental blocks when it comes to playing their biggest rival.
``I don’t want to blame it on psychological things,″ Plummer said. ``It’s something we have to get over, we have to believe in ourselves. When we do get to Michigan, hopefully we’ll be at the top of our game.″
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, whose team won the national title last season, said the Wolverines’ domination of the Buckeyes is the result of several factors, including luck.
``It’s the greatest rivalry in college sports,″ Carr said. ``The last few years both schools have had a lot on the line. The more meaning it has, the better.
``They all come down to a guy making a play or getting a break.″
The Buckeyes have one of their toughest openers in years _ on the road at West Virginia on Sept. 5. The Wolverines, ranked fifth in the preseason, go to Notre Dame.
``It’s not like all of a sudden we’re No. 1 and people are going to be up for us,″ Cooper said. ``I don’t know if we’ve ever caught anybody on an off day when we’ve played them. Everybody we play I’m sure has us underlined. If there is a big game on their schedule, I’m sure we’re it.″
Ohio State has 17 returning starters overall, although Butkus Award winner Andy Katzenmoyer had to attend summer school to be eligible along with safety Damon Moore and guard Rob Murphy.
Joe Germane, who shared the starting role with Stanley Jackson for two years, is now the No. 1 quarterback. He completed 61 percent of his passes last season and has thrown for 3,040 yards and 31 career touchdowns. He’s got two top receivers in Dee Miller and David Boston, and a quick running back in Michael Wiley.
Michigan returns 15 starters from its national championship team, but Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson and quarterback Brian Griese are gone.
Tom Brady, Scott Dreisbach or freshman Drew Henson will replace Griese. Dreisbach has the most experience. He started all 11 regular-season games in 1996, but lost the job to Griese. Based on a strong showing in spring drills, however, Brady should be the top man this fall even though he attempted just 15 passes in a backup role last season.
Penn State, meanwhile, lost its final two games last season and the Nittany Lions face a brutal schedule that includes seven bowl participants from last season and trips to Columbus and Ann Arbor.
Troubled running back Curtis Enis left for the NFL and the Nittany Lions are inexperienced on offense, especially at quarterback.
Coach Joe Paterno, two wins shy of 300, will rely on a defense led by end Courtney Brown, linebacker Brandon Short and defensive backs Shawn Lee and David Macklin.
Iowa lost running back Tavian Banks and kick returner extraordinaire Tim Dwight. The Hawkeyes’ defense features defensive end Jared DeVries, a three-year starter.
``When we’re not supposed to have a shot we’re usually at our best,″ coach Hayden Fry said.
Michigan State is playing a 12-game schedule for the first time in school history. The Spartans lost key offensive performers in quarterback Todd Schultz, tackle Flozell Adams and guard Scott Shaw.
They do return tailback Sedrick Irvin, who gained 1,270 yards last season, and defensive end Robaire Smith, who had 11 1/2 sacks.
Purdue was the surprise team of the Big Ten last season with an offense that averaged 460 yards per game. The Boilermakers, winners in the Alamo Bowl, return just four offensive starters and Drew Brees must make the jump from backup to starting quarterback.
``Big″ is the word at Wisconsin, where the Badgers have 260-pound Ron Dayne back for another season, running behind an offensive line that includes 370-pound Aaron Gibson and 311-pound Chris McIntosh, both 6-foot-7.
Dayne was slowed by injuries last season but still managed to gain 1,457 yards, one season after he picked up 2,109 as a freshman. The Badgers also have an experienced quarterback in Mike Samuel and a soft early-season schedule.
For the first time in years, there’s no Autry in Northwestern’s backfield. Adrian Autry, a 1,000-yard-rusher is gone, but the Wildcats hope to be bolstered by the return of wide receiver D’Wayne Bates, who broke his leg in the season opener last year.
Sophomore quarterback Gavin Hoffman, who is 6-6, is the starter. Linebacker Barry Gardner, the Big Ten’s leading tackler a year ago, heads the defense.
Minnesota must replace receiver Tutu Atwell and count on linebacker Parc Williams to lead a defense that was one of the most improved last year under coach Glen Mason, entering his second season.
Cam Cameron is also in his second season at Indiana. Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who has 18 1/2 sacks in two seasons, and quarterback Jay Rodgers, who completed 58 percent of his passes last season, are keys for the Hoosiers if they want to improve on a 2-9 record.
Illinois coach Ron Turner suffered through an 0-11 season in his first year. And now the Illini, with a school-record 17 straight losses, have lost Robert Holcombe, the leading rusher in school history.
Turner wants to find a quarterback and stick with him, something he didn’t do last year. He hopes Mark Hoekstra, who started five games last season but was inconsistent, will be the answer.