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Tom Stryker's Big 10 Preview, Part 2

   by Tom Stryker - 08/26/2005

Recently we ran Part 1 of a Big 10 preview.


Today's installment of the stronger-in-2005 Big 10 looks at Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin. Be sure to look at the “Investing Tipsâ€쳌 at the bottom of each preview. There are some tremendous money-making opportunities hidden in there including one team trend that is an amazing 58-29 ATS since 1980!


MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS

Minnesota won its first bowl game in 17 years last season, but lost five of its last six games to tarnish what could have been a banner year. Veteran Gophers head coach Glen Mason knows that he has some huge holes to fill if his team is to be a factor in the Big 10 or to reach another bowl game.


Minnesota will do fine - when it has the ball. But the Gophers need major surgery defensively. Junior quarterback Bryan Cupito is back -- with a full season at the helm under his belt. A year ago he threw for more than 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. Joining him is powerful junior running back Laurence Maroney, who as a sophomore ran for more than 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns. There is veteran talent on hand at the receiver post, too. Senior Jared Ellerson and sophomore Ernest Wheelwright grabbed a combined 67 passes for nearly 1,200 yards in 2004.


Three of last year's offensive linemen were named to the Big 10 first team -- but graduation has hurt that unit a bit. A probable NFL player a year from now, center Greg Eslinger, does return, along with two other starters to help protect Cupito and open holes for Maroney & Co. While giving up more than 3,000 yards passing last season (the worst in the league), Minnesota knows it can't repeat that during the new campaign.


A pair of veterans, junior cornerback Trumaine Banks and senior free safety John Pawwielski will be counted on to improve that 2004 pass defense, and veterans Mark Losli, Anthony Montgomery and Eric Clark will be mainstays in the defensive front. But the Gophers need major surgery at linebacker, with the exception of rugged Kyle McKenzie, who returns.


The Gophers non-league opening tests are at Tulsa, then home with Colorado State and Florida Atlanta. The Big 10 season opens at home against Purdue, but includes solid road challenges at Michigan and at Iowa.


Minnesota Investing Tips

20-9 ATS – Play ON Minnesota at home versus a non-conference opponent

12-2 ATS – Play AGAINST UM off back-to-back SU and ATS wins versus a foe off a SU loss

11-2 ATS – Play AGAINST the Gophers as a guest battling a foe that is off back-to-back SU and ATS wins


NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

After two straight six-win seasons, Coach Randy Walker, now in his seventh season in Evanston, knows there is a lot of work to do in order to match those totals. Only 12 starters return to Northwestern, and there are plenty of holes to fill on both sides of the ball.


One sure thing is senior quarterback Brett Basanez, who has been starting since he was a freshman. Last year he threw for more than 2,800 yards and 12 touchdowns. He will have at least equal those numbers for Northwestern to have a shot in most games. Basanez' running also produced more than 250 yards, but the only truly experienced running back still on hand is Terrell Jordan, who averaged nearly five yards a carry last season.

Three veteran receivers lend some optimism to the offensive attack. The best of the three may be Mark Philmore and Jonathan Fields, who made a combined 102 catches for nearly 1,200 yards and six TDs. Seven of the top 10 down offensive linemen return, but oversized offensive tackle Zach Strief (335 pounds) will have be a star at his post to keep the Wildcat offense humming.


Registering only six sacks a year ago, and losing three defensive line starters (including NFL's Luis Castillo), the defensive line must improve. Both Loren Howard and Barry Cofield are back to put their stamp on the D line. Maybe the most valuable player on the Northwestern defensive side of the line is middle linebacker Tim McGarigle, who registered a whopping 151 tackles one year ago. Improvement also is needed by the pass defense that gave up more than 250 yards a game and ranked 98th out of 117 Division 1 teams. Six of the first eight defensive backs return - and they will get help from speedy Marquice Cole (who was injured last year).


Northwestern opens with three reasonably tough non-conference teams - at home against Ohio and Northern Illinois, then on the road at Arizona State. The Wildcats open Big 10 play at home against Penn State.


Northwestern Investing Tips

58-29 ATS – Play ON Northwestern versus a foe coming off a SU and ATS win

13-6 ATS – Play AGAINST the Cats priced as a double-digit favorite

24-7 ATS – Play ON Northwestern as a guest versus a foe that enters off a SU and ATS loss


OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

Four losses last year did not sit well with Ohio State fans. But rest well, Coach Jim Tressel (fifth year, 40-11) thinks his Buckeyes will contend again for the Big 10 crown. The biggest reason for optimism is a veteran and tough defense that should be able to keep the Buckeyes in all of their contests.


A.J. Hawk may be among the best linebackers in the nation. He returns, along with fellow linebackers Anthony Schlegel and Bobby Carpenter. Hawk, a candidate for many postseason honors, registered more than 140 tackles in 2004. There is plenty to choose from in the secondary for Ohio State. Dustin Fox is gone, but speedy cornerback Ashton Youboty and Done Whitner, now playing corner, both return. Three more solid down linemen add fuel to the optimism on defense. Quinn Pitcock and Marcus Green return at tackle, and defensive end Mike Kudla could even build on some impressive numbers he posted a year ago.


One major hole in the Buckeye game comes from the loss of Mike Nugent, who may have been the best kicker in America last year.


So the big question mark is on the offensive side, where quarterback Troy Smith returns as starter (after sitting out suspended for the first game after some offseason problems). Smith completed 68 passes for nearly 900 yards and eight touchdowns after assuming the starting role last fall. Antonio Pittman is one dependable running back. He averaged more than 5 yards a carry in 2004 and will be relied upon to pile some rushing numbers up this season. Ted Ginn gives Ohio State a breakway threat at receiver or returning punts. He scored four touchdowns last fall on punt returns and averaged nearly 15 yards per reception. The key factor might be the offensive line that has holes to fill. Yet two-year starters Rob Sims and Nick Mangold return to anchor that part of the Buckeyes' game.


Ohio State's three non-conference games are all at home against Miami, Ohio, Texas and San Diego State. The Bucks open Bit 10 play a week later by hosting fellow title favorite Iowa. The Buckeyes play their usual season finale against Michigan - this year at the Big House.


Ohio State Investing Tips

9-4 ATS – Play ON OSU as a home underdog

20-10 ATS – Play ON State as a guest facing a foe off back-to-back SU losses

26-12 ATS – Play AGAINST Ohio State as a Big 10 guest versus a foe that enters off a SU and ATS win


PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS

The amazing Joe Paterno is ready for year No. 40 in his sideline prowl at Happy Valley. Problem is, many aren't happy with Paterno and Penn State's recent seasons. They have missed bowl games four of the last five years and simply haven't been any factor on the national or Big 10 scene - in complete contrast to most of Jo Pa's many decades. Thing is, at least on paper, the Nittany Lions should have enough weapons to turn things around this fall. A total of 17 starters return - and 13 of those are seniors - probably the highest experience level of any of the Big 10 clubs.


At quarterback, Zack Mills is gone, and the team leader will come from Michael Robinson or Anthony Morelli. Robinson is a decent runner, but only completed some 35 percent of his passes when he was in and Mills was out. Probably the premier runner for Penn State, one without true breakaway speed, is veteran Tony Hunt, who accounted for almost 800 yards last season.


Despite a dominant defense a year ago, PSU couldn't put many points on the board in a 4-7 campaign. So Paterno has been tinkering - and the results of that tinkering could hold the key to the season.


Three quick defensive backs, Jim Kanuch, Ethan Kilmer and Deon Butler have been moved from defense to wide receiver. It's hard to imagine true freshmen being impact players for Paterno, but running back Lydell Sargeant and wide receiver Derrick Williams both may get real serious looks for the Lions. Penn State's defensive line only allowed three rushing touchdowns a year ago, and most of that line returns to spark plenty of hope that the Nittany Lions D may rank first or second in the conference. Tamba Hali, a defensive end, is back, along with Matthew Rice, Scott Paxson and Jay Alford. In fact, the defensive line's entire two-deep from last year is back again. Five veteran defensive backs will have plenty to say about the success of rival quarterbacks this fall. Safety Chris Harrell and cornerback Alan Zemaitis likely are the best of the bunch.


Penn State's three non-conference tests are all at home. They include South Florida, Cincinnati and Central Michigan. The Lions open league play at Northwestern. They host Ohio State and Purdue later, but must travel to Michigan.


Penn State Investing Tips

19-11 ATS- Play ON PSU versus a foe coming off a SU underdog win

11-6 ATS – Play AGAINST Penn State as a road favorite versus a foe entering off back-to-back SU and ATS wins

23-13 ATS – Play AGAINST PSU priced as a home favorite of -15 or less provided its foe enters off a double-digit win


PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

It's amazing when one analyzes the 7-5 2004 Purdue University football record. A half-dozen plays stood between the Boilers and a perfect season. Purdue lost four regular season games by a TOTAL of 10 points. Then, after an amazing comeback in their bowl game, Purdue lost on a touchdown with 34 seconds to play.


Now, consider this: All 11 defensive starters return for veteran coach Joe Tiller, who has taken Purdue to eight straight bowl games. And, consider this: Purdue this season does not play Michigan or Ohio State. The toughest road game may be at Minnesota. And Purdue gets Notre Dame at home. That is why many pundits are looking for Purdue to be this year's sleepers. The Boilers could run the table.


Sure, Kyle Orton is now with the Chicago Bears. But veteran quarterback Brandon Kirsch knows the system, runs well and can throw the ball, too. Kirsch completed 58 passes for more than 700 yards and 7 TDs a year ago. Record holding wide receiver Taylor Stubblefield has graduated, but there is plenty of experience to take over control of Tiller's wide open offense. Dorien Bryant and Kyle Ingraham (6-foot-9), for instance, grabbed a combined 89 passes for more than 1,200 yards in 2004. The running backs are experienced and talented. Jerod Void and Brandon Jones, last season's top two running backs both return. In 2004, they combined for more than 1,100 rushing yards on a pass-oriented team. The right side of the offensive line must be rebuilt, but center Matt Turner is a mainstay of a line that will be counted on to keep Kirsch healthy.


Like we said earlier, all 11 defensive starters are back. Stalwarts include defensive ends Ray Edwards and Anthony Spencer, along with middle linebacker George Hall. Strong safety Bernard Pollard returns at strong safety for a unit that could be the league's best.


Purdue opens with Akron, then must travel to Arizona and Minnesota before hosting Notre Dame. If the Boilers are 4-0 at that point, they will host Iowa in game that could make early season noise in deciding the Big 10 crown.


Purdue Investing Tips

16-7 ATS – Play ON Purdue priced as a home favorite of -2.5 or more provided the Boilers enter off back-to-back SU losses

29-15 ATS – Play AGAINST Purdue as a road dog versus a foe off a SU win

20-11 ATS – Play ON Purdue priced as a home favorite coming off a SU win


WISCONSIN BADGERS

Under Barry Alvarez' guidance for the last 15 years, Wisconsin has fashioned an impressive record of 108-70-4, including a pair of Rose Bowl victories in the late '90s. But some things are changing in Madison. Alvarez has declared this season his last as the Badgers' top guy, after which he will devote full time to his athletic director duties. And, though the cupboard is not bare, this does not look on paper to be a banner season for Wisconsin. The schedule could help - Wisconsin gets Michigan, Purdue and Iowa - all at home. And, the Badgers do not play Ohio State.


Only nine starters are back at Wisconsin, but they can count on John Stocco at quarterback. A bit inconsistent a year ago, Stocco nonetheless threw for nearly 2,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Three running backs will be heavily counted on, especially returning fullback Matt Bernstein and backup tailback Booker Stanley. A pair of return receivers, both sophomores, should help the passing game. Last year Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr caught nearly 100 passes for 11 touchdowns. An Alvarez trademark has been the play of the offensive line. This year, C Donovan Raiola and Joe Thomas may be the best of the bunch.


Severe losses on the defensive line will hurt Wisconsin, but linebackers Mark Zalewski and Andy Crooks return. At least four starters are gone in the secondary - making work on that front a priority during preseason. The return of a pair of talented injured players could make a big difference in Wisconsin's season. Linebacker Dontez Sanders missed spring ball with a shoulder, but should be ready to go. And cornerback Brett Bell tore a right ACL during the offseason. Early reports show him healthy as well.


The Badgers host Bowling Green and Temple, and then travel to North Carolina in non-conference openers. The Big 10 opener at home against Michigan could be huge.


Wisconsin Investing Tips

31-17 ATS – Play ON Wisconsin as an underdog versus a for off a SU loss

18-8 ATS – Play ON the Badgers coming off back-to-back SU and ATS losses

10-4 ATS – Play ON Wisky at home after allowing 35 points or more

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