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Big Ten preview: Trying to regain national credibility
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Team that'll surpriseNorthwestern: The defense will be up to Pat Fitzgerald's high standards, the offensive line should be among the Big Ten's best, and the backfield will crank out rushing yards in chunks. Missing Ohio State is a major plus, and not getting Michigan, even in its mediocre rebuilding phase, isn't a bad thing. The record should be excellent, at least early on, before dealing with a tough finishing kick.
Team that'll disappointWisconsin: The running game will be fantastic as always, the defense will be better and there will be another trip to a bowl. But it's not going to be the major bounce-back season Badger fans are hoping for. The quarterback play needs to be far better, while the defensive front has to prove it can handle good running games along with the spread. It won't be an awful campaign, but it won't be special, either.
Game of the year
One bold predictionTerrelle Pryor will look every bit the superstar prospect everyone's been waiting for. He was terrific last season despite being handcuffed by a vanilla passing game (put in to limit the true freshman's mistakes), but now he has improved his passing and his effectiveness enough (at least in practices) to start pushing the ball down the field more. He could be the type of player who puts the entire team on his back. Can he pull off a win over USC? If he does, the Heisman talk will kick in full force.
Five big-time players who deserve a bigger spotlight1. LB Greg Jones, Michigan State
2. OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
3. TE Garrett Graham, Wisconsin
4. LB Martez Wilson, Illinois
5. LB Pat Angerer, Iowa
Coach on the hot seatBret Bielema, Wisconsin: Rich Rodriguez has to have Michigan pointed in the right direction, but he'd likely be able to survive another bad season if there appears to be hope for 2010. Bielema is the Big Ten coach who has to win right now or else. The expectations were sky high going into last year, but a bad collapse against Michigan, a heart-ripping, last-minute defeat to Ohio State and horrific performances against Iowa and Florida State got the fan base grumbling. Hand picked by Barry Alvarez and considered to be one of the hot coaching prospects when he was locked up a few years ago, Bielema has to come through with a big year and his team has to stop the slide into mediocrity.
Five non-conference games the Big Ten had better take very seriously1. Northern Illinois at Wisconsin, Sept. 5
2. Central Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 12
3. Arkansas State at Iowa, Oct. 3
4. Indiana at Akron, Sept. 19
5. South Dakota State at Minnesota, Nov. 14
Five best pro prospects1. WR Arrelious Benn, Illinois
2. QB Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State (not eligible until 2010)
3. RB Evan Royster, Penn State
4. DE Brandon Graham, Michigan
5. LB Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Five biggest shoes to fill1. Jewel Hampton for RB Shonn Greene, Iowa
2. Andre Anderson for RB Javon Ringer, Michigan State
3. Karl Klug for DT Mitch King, Michigan State
4. Dan Herron for RB Beanie Wells, Ohio State
5. Jack Crawford for DE Aaron Maybin, Penn State
To take a deeper look into the Big Ten's recent struggles, read State of the Big Ten