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Friday, May 18, 2007
Can't wait to see these things this fall

By Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach

Three Things I Can't Wait To See This Fall In The Big Ten
Ivan Maisel
Mark Schlabach
1. Beanie Wells of Ohio State proved last season, as an alternative to Antonio Pittman, that he can carry the ball. This season, now that the Buckeyes have lost a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, two wide receivers in the first round and Pittman, too, Wells has to prove he can carry the offense.

Chad Henne2. Doesn't it seem as if quarterback Chad Henne has been at Michigan so long that he played for Bo? There's no reason that Henne shouldn't have a great year. He's got outstanding receivers, a top tailback, and a Great Lake-sized tackle in Jake Long to protect him. Henne doesn't have the luxury of easing into the season. The Wolverines play Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn State on consecutive Saturdays in September. The good news is all three games are at the Big House.

3. Iowa promises that the lapses of last season were not because of a lack of talent but because of a lack of concentration and a lack of, well, effort. Those deficiencies can be rectified more easily than insufficient talent. If coach Kirk Ferentz made the necessary corrections, then the Hawkeyes will return to the Big Ten championship race. If not, it won't matter how much talent the Hawkeyes have.
1. Wisconsin was very, very good under former coach Barry Alvarez. In his 16 seasons, the Badgers claimed three Big Ten titles and won three Rose Bowls. But under Alvarez's watch, Wisconsin never seemed to be a true national championship contender. Thanks to Alvarez and many of the players he recruited, the Badgers are on the cusp of becoming one of the country's truly elite teams in coach Bret Bielema's second season. The Badgers return nine starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that finished 12-1 and beat Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl. How good were the Badgers last season? Since they didn't have to play Ohio State and won only one game against a team that won its bowl game, no one exactly knows. With home games against Washington State and Michigan and road games at Penn State and Ohio State, the Badgers will earn their ranking in 2007.

2. During Michigan's 11-2 season in 2006, which ended with disappointing losses to Ohio State and against USC in the Rose Bowl, defensive coordinator Ron English was given much of the credit for the Wolverines' turnaround. Michigan allowed 13 points or fewer in seven of its first 11 games, before allowing 42 by the Buckeyes and 32 by the Trojans. With defensive stars Rondell Biggs, Alan Branch, Leon Hall, David Harris and LaMarr Woodley gone to the NFL, English has his hands full this coming season. Will every game this year look like last season's Ohio State contest?

Juice Williams3. Can Illinois win in the Big Ten? The Illini have won only four games the last two years and have lost 20 of their last 21 conference games. But with quarterback Juice Williams returning, and a highly touted recruiting class joining an already-improved roster, Ron Zook has his team on the way up. If Zook finishes .500, or pulls off an improbable upset of say, Michigan or Ohio State, two myths will be broken: Illinois can't win and Zook can't coach.