Big Ten: Troy Trojans

A look back at the Week 4 picks

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
10:16
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Much like the Big Ten itself, the picks continue to avoid a bad week. The score predictions were way off once again, but with a 7-1 record and the lone blemish a 1-point decision, I'll take it. The Big Ten is turning into a defense-oriented league -- at least outside of State College, where Penn State continues to roll -- so expect some lower scores this week as conference play begins.

Time to review the picks:

OHIO-NORTHWESTERN

  • My pick: Northwestern 30, Ohio 24
  • Game result: Northwestern 16, Ohio 8
  • 20-20 hindsight: I've come to accept bizarre games from the Wildcats, but this one set a new standard. Suddenly the defense is dominant and the offense stinks? That was certainly the case against Ohio. Quarterback Boo Jackson didn't provide the test I thought he would, as Northwestern forced him into repeated mistakes and generated four takeaways. The Wildcats' superb defensive effort rescued quarterback C.J. Bacher, who threw four interceptions.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC-MINNESOTA
  • My pick: Minnesota 42, Florida Atlantic 39
  • Game result: Minnesota 37, Florida Atlantic 3
  • 20-20 hindsight: I thought I'd have some fun and pick Minnesota to win by the same score in which it lost last year's meeting against FAU. Guess the Gophers didn't see the humor. They absolutely destroyed the defending Sun Belt champs, as a much-improved defense forced turnovers and quarterback Adam Weber continued to surge. After committing seven giveaways last year, Minnesota won the turnover margin, 4-1. My apologies to Gopher Nation for underestimating your team.

TROY-OHIO STATE

  • My pick: Ohio State 42, Troy 10
  • Game result: Ohio State 28, Troy 10
  • 20-20 hindsight: This ended up being one of the closer score predictions, though Ohio State's ability to underwhelm still seems stunning. Credit freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor for a very impressive debut, but Ohio State entered the fourth quarter leading by just four points. I'm sure most will predict a lopsided result when Ohio State opens Big Ten play against Minnesota, but I've learned my lesson.
TEMPLE-PENN STATE
  • My pick: Penn State 41, Temple 17
  • Game result: Penn State 45, Temple 3
  • 20-20 hindsight: I keep waiting for Penn State's defense to falter, but it keeps coming up big. Linebacker Navorro Bowman (5 TFLs, 3 sacks) led the charge in his first career start as the Lions defense picked up an offense that started a bit slow. It was Stephfon Green, not Derrick Williams, who had the big offensive day for Penn State, and Temple QB Adam DiMichele ended up being knocked out of the game in the first quarter.
IOWA-PITT
  • My pick: Iowa 24, Pitt 20
  • Game result: Pitt 21, Iowa 20
  • 20-20 hindsight: The closest pick of the week turned out to be my only misdiagnosis, as Pitt outlasted Iowa at Heinz Field. Panthers running back LeSean McCoy got the best of Iowa's defense when it mattered most with a 27-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. But the Hawkeyes still aren't getting enough production from their quarterback position, and it might be time to scrap the rotation and settle on a leader.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN-PURDUE

  • My pick: Purdue 45, Central Michigan 41
  • Game result: Purdue 32, Central Michigan 25
  • 20-20 hindsight: It wasn't the offensive surge I predicted, but the game still provided plenty of entertainment value. Purdue's secondary is better than many forecasted, and the Boilers finally came through in the clutch after Central Michigan appeared poised to steal a road win. Curtis Painter had a solid performance, but the Chippewas' seemingly vulnerable defense limited Purdue to just 16 first downs and 344 yards of offense.

NOTRE DAME-MICHIGAN STATE

  • My pick: Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 28
  • Game result: Michigan State 23, Notre Dame 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: It was wishful thinking to call this "the best game of the day," as Michigan State grinded out a win behind a physical defense and superstar running back Javon Ringer. The Spartans' defense held Jimmy Clausen and Notre Dame's long-range passing attack in check for most of the game, keeping the Fighting Irish off the scoreboard for three quarters. Once again, Ringer was fabulous, becoming the first Spartans player to record back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances.

BALL STATE-INDIANA

  • My pick: Ball State 45, Indiana 42 (OT)
  • Game result: Ball State 42, Indiana 20
  • 20-20 hindsight: Indiana came into the game untested, and it showed. The Ball State offense tore through Indiana's defense despite losing star wideout Dante Love to a tragic and terrifying injury in the first quarter. The Hoosiers didn't hold up their end of the bargain, as quarterback Kellen Lewis threw two inte
    rceptions and the offense shut down in the fourth quarter.

Byes: Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois

Season record: 35-4

Big Ten: What to watch in Week 4

September, 19, 2008
9/19/08
10:14
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Only eight games on the slate this week, but there's no shortage of subplots, especially on the defensive side.

Let's take a look:

1. Ringer vs. the world: Notre Dame will do all it can to stop Michigan State's Javon Ringer on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Ringer likely can expect to see eight or nine men in the box, as the Fighting Irish dare Brian Hoyer to beat them. The overloading still might not be enough, as Ringer has racked up 417 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in his last two games.

2. Pryor's coronation in Columbus: Terrelle Pryor and Todd Boeckman will split snaps for Ohio State against Troy, but this game is a chance for the freshman to take control of the offense. If Pryor continues to show good poise and playmaking ability, he'll continue to be featured when the Buckeyes enter Big Ten play. Boeckman will get his opportunities as well, but with the top goal off the table for the Buckeyes, they have to look toward the future.

3. Iowa D takes on real McCoy: The Hawkeyes have already collected eight takeaways without allowing a touchdown this season, but they face their first major test in Pitt running back LeSean McCoy. Expect McCoy to run away from Iowa star tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, which will put pressure on less proven players to step up.

4. Indiana on the defensive: I've already heard from several furious Hoosiers fans about my upset pick of Ball State against their unproven team. Let's see if an improved Hoosiers defense proves me a fool when it faces dynamic quarterback Nate Davis and FBS receiving leader Dante Love. There's no doubt Kellen Lewis will make plays for Indiana, but the team's fate, as usual, rests with the defense.

5. Northwestern chases history: Nonconference losses have been Northwestern's biggest bugaboo, even during the program's renaissance in the mid-1990s. The Wildcats can sweep their nonleague slate for the first time since 1963 by beating Ohio at home. It won't be easy, as the Bobcats are much better than their record indicates and athletic quarterback Boo Jackson spells trouble for an improved Northwestern defense.

6. Tiller gets record: Joe Tiller already should be Purdue's all-time winningest coach, but his team lost another winnable big game last Saturday against Oregon. Tiller sets the record this week as Curtis Painter and the Boilermakers pick apart a Central Michigan defense that looks overmatched against BCS foes. Dan LeFevour makes the game interesting for a while, but Purdue beats the Chippewas for the third straight time.

7. Gophers secondary tested: No one would mistake Minnesota's nonleague schedule for, say, Washington's, but the Gophers deserve a ton of credit if they go 4-0 after winning one game all of last season. Standing in their path is Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith, who will perform much better than he did in the rain last week in East Lansing. Minnesota's new-look secondary of Tramaine Brock, Traye Simmons, Marcus Sherels and Kyle Theret have shown good playmaking skills so far and need continued progress against the Owls.

8. Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen: Coach Kirk Ferentz seems to be telling Christensen, "Take the job already, will ya?" The junior gets a great chance to do so on the road against a desperate Pitt team already knocked off its preseason perch. Christensen steadied the offense in the clutch last week against Iowa State but will need to make more pressure plays against the Panthers.

9. Penn State's defensive line: Coach Joe Paterno admits his team hasn't faced any adversity so far this season, at least on the field. Temple quarterback Adam DiMichele should be a good challenge for Penn State's defensive linemen, who have held together nicely despite injuries, dismissals and suspensions. Paterno also should address the status of linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma after the game.

10. Michigan State safety Otis Wiley: Wiley once again looks like the guy who led the team in tackles (94) and pass breakups (10) as a sophomore in 2006. The Spartans need him at his peak against Notre Dame because of lingering personnel issues in the secondary. Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen will look to stretch the field with Golden Tate, and it's up to Wiley to limit the damage.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Raise your hand if before the season, you thought Ohio State would enter Week 4 without Chris "Beanie" Wells or a starting quarterback.

That's the grim reality facing the Buckeyes after coach Jim Tressel announced Thursday that Wells will miss his third consecutive game with a right big toe injury that seems increasingly more serious as the weeks go by. Tressel also didn't name a starting quarterback for Saturday's game against Troy, reiterating that Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor will split snaps evenly.

Wells practiced for the second straight day but continues to have lingering soreness in the toe/foot. Tressel isn't even sure Wells will be back for next week's Big Ten opener against Minnesota.

At this point, there's no point in rushing Wells. The toe injury clearly is more severe than originally anticipated (turf toe?). Ohio State doesn't need him to beat Troy and Minnesota. I'm no doctor, but it'd be wise to shut Wells down for at least a week and then do whatever possible to get the big back ready for an Oct. 4 trip to No. 8 Wisconsin. Ohio State needs a viable rushing threat to beat the Badgers. Tressel said Tuesday the injury doesn't require surgery, but it's alarming enough to require a little more rest.

As for the quarterbacks, all signs points toward Pryor taking over. The freshman took 60 percent of the snaps this week in practice. Ohio State likely will use a rotation a few more weeks, but if Pryor continues to show good poise and an ability to limit mistakes, expect him to take over for Boeckman. We all knew Pryor was the future of the team, but he's looking like the present, too.

Another nugget of bad news for the Buckeyes: Starting left guard Steve Rehring could miss several weeks with an injury. That means heralded freshmen J.B. Shugarts or Michael Brewster could get a start.

Big Ten picks for Week 4

September, 18, 2008
9/18/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Things are about to get tough. The cupcake games (read: easy picks) are evaporating, so it's time to get serious. I'm coming off a solid week record-wise but need to do a bit better with the scores. Fortunately, Saturday's weather forecast looks good in Big Ten territory, so the offenses should be back to normal.

A lot of nail-biters this week.

Northwestern 30, Ohio 24 -- This has the makings of a trap game for the Wildcats, who haven't swept their nonconference games since 1963 and face a winless Ohio team that could easily be 2-1. Elusive quarterback Boo Jackson will test an improved Northwestern defense, but he'll make some mistakes down the stretch. Northwestern might start slow on offense and fall behind, but C.J. Bacher is at his best with his back to the wall and makes enough plays to win.

Minnesota 42, Florida Atlantic 39 -- Those who watched last year's game will understand the significance of the score. Don't expect the same Florida Atlantic team that got shut out in the rain last week at Michigan State. Quarterback Rusty Smith and the Owls surge in the Metrodome. But this is a different Minnesota team, one that deserves a little more faith from me. Adam Weber and Eric Decker hook up for a touchdown in the final minute as the Gophers go 4-0.

Ohio State 42, Troy 10 -- Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells will be limited if he plays at all, and the Buckeyes' offense could start slowly. All eyes will be on the quarterbacks as Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor split snaps for the second straight game. Both quarterbacks will make some plays and the competition will continue into Big Ten play. Troy's athletic quarterback Jamie Hampton could provide some initial trouble for the Buckeyes defense before it locks down.

Penn State 41, Temple 17 -- Joe Paterno is talking up Temple, and the Owls could make Penn State's starters work a little longer than a quarter or two this week. But there's no way Temple can contain all of Penn State's weapons. Wideout Derrick Williams takes his turn at putting up big numbers as the Spread HD offense ignites in the third quarter. Temple quarterback Adam DiMichele will be a good test for a patchwork Lions defensive line.

Iowa 24, Pitt 20 -- I made the mistake of putting Pitt in my preseason Top 25 poll, so I'm not going to let Wanny burn me again. This one could go either way, as Iowa really hasn't been tested yet. The key matchup features Panthers star running back LeSean McCoy against Iowa's defensive line, led by tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Iowa could use two quarterbacks again, but junior Jake Christensen makes a big play late to secure the win.

Purdue 45, Central Michigan 41 -- The teams' third meeting in just over a year will be just as entertaining as the previous matchup at the 2007 Motor City Bowl. Purdue still doesn't know how to win big games and could have a hangover from last week's missed opportunity against Oregon, but Central Michigan really struggles to stop BCS teams. The Chippewas have allowed an average of 51.4 points in their last seven games against BCS foes. That bodes well for Curtis Painter.

Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 28 -- This could be the best game of the day, and I hope it is since I'll be there. Michigan State tries to control the clock with running back Javon Ringer and puts pressure on a questionable Notre Dame defensive line. Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen counters by stretching the field against a suspect Spartans defense. The slight edge goes to Michigan State, which becomes the first team to win at home in the series since 2000.

Ball State 45, Indiana 42 (OT) -- The Cardinals will be pumped for this one, and star quarterback Nate Davis and FBS receiving leader Dante Love fluster a Hoosiers secondary that could be without standout safety Austin Thomas. No Big Ten team has been tested less than Indiana so far, and though Kellen Lewis will move the ball against Ball State, a late-game miscue will prove costly.

Byes: Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois

Season record: 28-3

Big Ten internal affairs

September, 17, 2008
9/17/08
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to take a look inside five Big Ten teams:

Indiana -- After two cakewalk victories, the Hoosiers face their first test of the season Saturday against Ball State and need a solid effort from their secondary, which might be without a big piece. Strong safety Austin Thomas is questionable for the game with a lower leg injury sustained last week at practice. Coach Bill Lynch said Thomas, the team's leading tackler last fall, won't practice much this week leading up to the game. If Thomas can't go, heralded Florida transfer Jerimy Finch would get the nod. The matchup with Nate Davis and the Cardinals would give the Hoosiers a great chance to evaluate Finch, considered arguably the nation's best safety coming out of high school.

Iowa -- The Hawkeyes still don't have a definitive starting quarterback, but coach Kirk Ferentz reiterates that the situation under center looks much more stable than it did a year ago because the team boasts two players (Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi) capable of running the offense. Stanzi started the last two games, but Ferentz is leaning toward Christensen for Saturday's game at Pitt (ESPN2, noon ET). Throughout the competition Ferentz has given Christensen every chance to cement himself as the starter. If the junior steps up against the Panthers, Iowa could finally decide to stick with him.

Minnesota -- There could be some shuffling on the offensive line after tackle Dom Alford sprained his ankle last week. Coach Tim Brewster is holding out hope Alford can return Saturday against Florida Atlantic, but junior Ryan Ruckdashel or backup right tackle Jason Meinke likely will get the nod. Redshirt freshman Trey Davis will start at center, but Brewster thinks there's a chance Jeff Tow-Arnett can return from a knee injury. Ned Tavale should return after an ankle injury and is expected to share time with Chris Bunders at right guard.

Ohio State -- Freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor will continue to see increased playing time Saturday against Troy and could split snaps 50-50 with senior Todd Boeckman for the second straight game. Pryor impressed coach Jim Tressel with the way he handled the spotlight last week against USC and made no major mistakes, while Boeckman threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Tressel won't name a starter until later in the week. Though the coach is usually partial to seniors, he doesn't tolerate turnovers and admits he's surprised at how quickly Pryor has grasped the system after getting far fewer reps than Boeckman during the preseason.

Penn State -- A rapidly evaporating group of defensive linemen forced Joe Paterno to move Mike Lucian from offensive guard to defensive tackle last week against Syracuse. The switch might have backfired as Lucian sustained an ankle injury, but Paterno expects the senior to be ready for Saturday's game against Temple. Paterno remains "very concerned" about the depth on the defensive line, and more moves could be on the way if Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma remain suspended. Jack Crawford, a 248-pound true freshman, is in the mix at tackle. The Lions can't afford injuries to reserve tackles Tom McEowen and Chima Okoli.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
 Ohio State may be without injured  back Chris Wells for a third game.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said starting running back Chris "Beanie" Wells heads into practice this week questionable for Saturday's game against Troy. As was the case last week, Wells' response to drills in practice will ultimately determine his availability.

The toe injury clearly is more serious than originally thought, and if Wells has much lingering soreness after testing things out this afternoon, Ohio State won't push him to play. Making cutbacks seemed to aggravate the toe last week.

Ohio State's main goal at this point is winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1997. Getting Wells to 100 percent by the league opener next week against Minnesota or, at the very latest, for an Oct. 4 trip to Wisconsin, should be the team's top priority.

Wells and Daniel Herron are listed as co-starters on this week's depth chart.

Tressel also weighed in on his quarterbacks earlier today. After rotating senior Todd Boeckman and freshman Terrelle Pryor against USC, the two quarterbacks will compete in practice this week.

"Terrelle has shown he's got an unusual moxie about him," Tressel said. "He didn't seem to be out of place in that football game [USC]. He seemed to have a good presence about him. The thing Todd will tell you first and foremost is he can't throw the ball to the other team, especially when the team is as good as USC. ... We'll have some good lively competition. How much playing time will be based in large part on how practice goes."

Sounds like Boeckman has something to prove this week after getting picked off twice against USC.

Tressel also mentioned Pryor when discussing Ohio State players who could match USC's quickness. The coach said USC's defensive front had more speed than the Buckeyes' offensive line and likened Trojans running back Joe McKnight's quickness to that of former Buckeyes star Ted Ginn Jr. Tressel added that Ohio State's speed matched up in most areas.

"We feel as if we could have made a better performance for ourselves and on behalf of Big Ten," Tressel said. "We made errors you can't afford to make against a team as good as Southern California."

A look ahead at Week 4

September, 16, 2008
9/16/08
10:46
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Conference play kicks off next week with several exciting matchups, but five Big Ten teams are trying to round out the non-league slate on a good note. For the second straight year the league is shaping up to have more bowl-eligible teams that available slots, so winning these early games is paramount for squads like Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota. The Hoosiers get back into action after a week off, and Ohio State returns to the field, hoping to turn the page on the USC flop.

Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday.

Ohio at Northwestern (noon ET)

Don't be fooled by Ohio's 0-3 record. The Bobcats built leads against Ohio State and Central Michigan the last two weeks and could be Northwestern's toughest non-league test. The Wildcats are fighting some history, as they haven't had a perfect nonconference season since 1963. Non-league stumbles kept Northwestern out of bowl games in 2004 and 2007, so a win here would be huge. The Wildcats' improved defense will have to contain Bobcats quarterback Boo Jackson, who set a school record with 413 total yards last week.

Florida Atlantic at Minnesota (noon ET)

The Gophers should have plenty of motivation in this one after losing to the Owls last fall in Miami. After going 1-11 in 2007, Minnesota would be two-thirds of the way to bowl eligibility with a victory. But it won't be easy, and the Gophers shouldn't expect to see the same Rusty Smith who completed just 8 of 34 passes in a downpour last week at Michigan State. Smith will challenge a Gophers defense that missed tackles against Montana State and allowed 463 passing yards in last year's contest with the Owls.

Troy at No. 13 Ohio State (noon ET)

It will be an interesting day along the banks of the Olentangy River. How will Ohio State be received after crumbling at the L.A. Coliseum? Will there be a hangover or a new fire with this team? The Buckeyes might take out their frustration on Troy, a solid Sun Belt team that is 2-0 despite losing its star quarterback (Omar Haugabook) and its star offensive coordinator (Tony Franklin). Regardless of who plays running back, it's important for the offensive line and quarterback Todd Boeckman to settle into a good rhythm. Terrelle Pryor likely will continue to see more playing time as Ohio State tries to build momentum before league play.

Temple at No. 16 Penn State (noon ET)

It's been a tough two weeks for Temple, which lost on a Hail Mary against Buffalo and an overtime touchdown against Connecticut. The Owls won't get much sympathy from a Penn State team that has won three games by an average of 43 points. At least the Lions should be tested by a solid Temple offense led by quarterback Adam DiMichele, who leads the team in both passing (204.7 ypg) and rushing (39 ppg). Former Penn State captain Al Golden will make his first appearance at Beaver Stadium as Temple's coach.

Iowa at Pitt (ESPN2, noon ET)

The Hawkeyes have looked fabulous at home, particularly on defense. Their first voyage away from Kinnick Stadium brings new challenges, namely a Pitt team that desperately needs a win to avoid being branded a bust and putting coach Dave Wannstedt on the hot seat. The game's key matchup pairs Pitt star running back LeSean McCoy against an Iowa defensive line anchored by four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul. The Hawkeyes remain unsettled at quarterback and should get some answers -- good or bad -- at that position against the Panthers.

Central Michigan at Purdue (noon ET)

These teams have to be sick of one another. Saturday marks their third meeting since Sept. 15, 2007, with Purdue winning both previous contests. The Boilers' big-game blues continued last week against Oregon, but another matchup with a quality team provides a chance for redemption. Central Michigan's defense struggles against BCS foes, so Curtis Painter should be able to get on track. The key will be whether Purdue's defense continues to make plays in the red zone against Dan LeFevour. A victory makes Joe Tiller Purdue's all-time winningest coach.

Notre Dame at Michigan State (ABC, 3:30 ET)

The Spartans look like the better team, but in this series it rarely matters. The road team has won the last seven meetings, stretching back to 2001, and Michigan State must only remember its 2006 collapse in the rain to recognize that anything can happen. Notre Dame's improved offense will challenge the Spartans, who shut out Florida Atlantic but will need a strong performance from a patchwork secondary to stop Fighting Irish deep threat Golden Tate. Expect another big game from Spartans running back Javon Ringer, but quarterback Brian Hoyer will have to make a few big plays as well.

Ball State at Indiana (7 p.m. ET)

This should be one of the day's most exciting games, as Indiana gets tested for the first time this season. Ball State quarterback Nate Davis ranks sixth nationally in passer rating (189.4) and will look for Dante Love, the nation's leading receiver (144.3 ypg). Indiana counters with Kellen Lewis, who has been terrific so far, averaging 248 yards of total offense per game. Add in the subplot of Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch facing the team that fired him in 2002, and this is a game you don't want to miss.

Byes: Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois

Big Ten mailbag

August, 27, 2008
8/27/08
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

This will be a regular feature Tuesday and Friday, so send in your e-mails. I'll pick things up as the countdown to the opener reaches four days.

Kyle from Louisville writes: I give all due respect to Rashard Mendenhall because he was a horse last year for Illinois, but looking back it seems to me that the Illini offense could be just as good or better this year. In Illinois' five biggest games of the regular season last year - Missouri, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State - Mendenhall only went over 100 yards once, and twice (against Missouri and Ohio State), returning sophomore Daniel Dufrene outrushed him. Otherwise, Rashard put up huge numbers against less-talented teams. Am I completely off-base here or could Illinois be just as good this year on the offensive side of the ball?

Adam Rittenberg: You can't underestimate what Mendenhall did last season. He wasn't just a workhorse, but a breakaway threat. He helped Juice Williams, he helped Rejus Benn, he helped everybody, even when he didn't rush for 100 yards. But I agree that the Illini offense should be strong this fall. Dufrene looks like a solid back and he's picked up his play in preseason camp after a poor spring, but the only reason he outrushed Rashard against Ohio State was the 80-yard run that should have resulted in a fumble. Where Illinois should be much better is the wide receiver position. Benn will be dominant this season as he's fully healthy, and I've heard great things about Chris Duvalt's emergence this summer. When Jeff Cumberland returns from a foot injury, he gives that group size and tremendous leaping ability. Chris James and three freshmen also will contribute. So Illinois could certainly match last year's numbers on offense with a better passing attack. 


Matthew from Toledo, Ohio, writes: Adam, you've got to further explain your reasoning behind ranking Purdue as having the toughest schedule. I just don't see how that works out. OSU and Purdue go to Michigan State; there's no way Oregon is even in the same difficulty ball park as the USC game, even if Oregon's quarterback wasn't sidelined with injury. Yes, Purdue goes to Columbus, but the Buckeyes go to Camp Randall, and given the Buckeye lack of success there, and given that Bielema is undefeated in Madison...sorry, but I just think you're wrong on this one.

Adam Rittenberg writes: I struggled with those two, Matthew, and it could go either way. Nonconference schedule was the deciding factor. The USC game is by far the hardest non-league test for any Big Ten team, but other than that, Ohio State plays Youngstown State, Ohio and Troy, all at home. Pretty weak, especially since Troy should have a down year. Purdue not only plays Oregon but Central Michigan, the back-to-back MAC champion that boasts one of the nation's best unsung quarterbacks [Dan LeFevour]. The Boilers also have to go to Notre Dame, a team that, like it or not, will be much improved this fall. Ohio State has a slightly tougher league slate, Purdue has a slightly tougher non-league slate with a trip to Columbus. Again, it was very close, but Purdue got the nod. 


Bobak in Minneapolis writes: Minnesota question: While I understand Gophers Head Coach Tim Brewster's desire to field a more competitive team this season --especially after allowing 36 points a game in 2007-- I am puzzled by the choice of Ted Roof who, as head coach of Duke from 2003-07, saw his teams allow an average of over 32 points a game during his 6-45 tenure. How was this a wise hire? Yes he ran a college football program, but Duke convinced a court of law this year that they're as bad as bad gets.

Adam Rittenberg writes: You can debate Roof as a head coach, and you can also debate whether anyone will ever win at Duke [David Cutcliffe will find out soon enough]. But the guy is a good defensive mind with a track record of turning things around on that side of the ball [Georgia Tech, early on at Duke]. Roof has a lot more talent to work with in Minneapolis, especially with all the junior-college transfers joining the mix this season. I like this hire because Roof loves major challenges and after last season, Minnesota certainly fits under that category. I really don't know how Everett Withers possibly got another coordinator job after last season, but Roof will be fine. He reemphasized fundamentals this offseason and should get that unit back to respectability.  


Kenny from State College, Pa., writes: I was somewhat surprised to see PSU @ OSU or @WIsconsin not in your top big 10 games this year. I really think those games could decide the big 10 champion.

Adam Rittenberg writes: You know, I was really close to cheating on that list and adding an 11th game in my top 10. It would have been Penn State at Ohio State. The series is usually very intriguing and it will be interesting to see how Daryll Clark fares in a raucous road setting like Ohio Stadium. If the Nittany Lions start strong, and the opportunity is there with their schedule, they could head to Columbus playing for first place in the league. But they'll first have to get by Illinois, Wisconsin and a Michigan team that always gives them problems. 


Michael from Springfield, Mo., writes: Adam, What does the depth chart at running back look like for Michigan? From what I've been reading the two-deep could include any combination of Brown, Minor, McGuffie, and Shaw. Are these freshmen really that talented, or are there other factors coming into play? Basically, I want to know if I should be concerned about the fact that Brown and Minor are in danger of being beat out for the starting spot by two true freshman.

Adam Rittenberg writes: True freshmen Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw are listed as co-starters on the Week 1 depth chart, ahead of both Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor. But Rich Rodriguez says all four backs will play Saturday and I believe him. He's got to see everything he has in a game situation, especially since so many guys are unproven. It is telling, though, that McGuffie and Shaw are listed first. They are smaller, quicker backs, the types that Rich has used in the past with his system. He's always willing to sacrifice size for speed, and those two freshmen fit the mold. I can't imagine Brown and Minor won't get a good chunk of carries as well, but if McGuffie and/or Shaw perform, they'll be the future at that position.


Kyle from Utica, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, Great coverage this offseason. Based on what you've seen out of the quarterbacks, if you were Rich Rodriguez, who would you start at QB against Utah?

Adam Rittenberg writes: Thanks, Kyle. I think Rich will start Steven Threet on Saturday, but I believe him when he says that more than one guy will play. It's highly unlikely Threet or Nick Sheridan will go out, totally grasp the system and dominate, so even though winning is paramount, Michigan has to see what it has at that position. It seems as though Sheridan has come on strong in preseason camp, and though he lacks Threet's size, teammates describe him as the more relaxed -- and potentially more confident -- quarterback. We'll see if it plays out on Saturday.

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