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"Life in the UK"
• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
• Sideline: Time For The Talking To Stop
• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
• Sideline: Will Goodell Hand Out Hard Time?
• Sideline: Marshall's Not Joshing
• NFL Draft: No Rush To Judgment
• NFL Draft Analysis 2009 (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts
• Sideline: Will Play For Food
• Sideline: Wonderlic Scores
• Sideline: Manning and Sanchez
• Sideline: 2010 Leagues Sci–fi, or Fantasy? / March Madness
• Sideline: Break Out The Brackets
• Sideline: LaDainian Tomlinson On The Record
• Sideline: The Incredible Sulk Continues
• Sideline: Guildford Heat Fired Up
• Sideline: Super Bowl thoughts from the Valley of the Sun
• Sideline: I know I came in here for something
• Sideline: College Football National Signing Day
• Sideline: 27 Points — 27 Super Bowl thoughts
• Sideline: An Epic QB Matchup?
• Sideline: Appreciating Arizona for What They Were
• Sideline: NFL Divisional Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Bowl Season Hangover
• Sideline: Six weeks Later
• Sideline: Wildcard Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Santa's Sackings
• Sideline: A Weis Decision ...for Now
• Sideline: Eye on the Ticker
• Sideline: Lions — An Anagram of Losin
• Sideline: Ready for the Turkey
• Sideline: Making it to the Big Dance
• Sideline: Brighter Days Ahead for Chargers?
• Sideline: Unnecessary Hits To The Pocket / Upset: BYU
• Sideline: Romo's Pause / Seattle Seahawks
• Sideline: Weekend Prep: Red River and More
• Sideline: College Football's 'Crossroads' Weekend
• Sideline: Gramatical Error
• Sideline: Turning The Page
• Sideline: So Cal 'Quizzed
• Sideline: 3rd Tuesday Panic / Forté Yard Dash
• Sideline: Two and Oh; Oh and Two
• Sideline: No More NCAAffeine
• Sideline: Week 1 College Football
• Sideline: How To Spell Heisman / Chad Ocho Cinco
• Sideline: A Second Slice
• Sideline: The Favre story STILL won't go away
• Sideline: Olympic Notes / Ricky's Still Relevant
• Sideline: Committee Meetings
• Sideline: Let the QB Battles Begin
• Sideline: Slinging The Slinger — More Favre
• Interview: Clint Dempsey
• Sideline: Welcome to the 2008 season
• Sideline: Plus One
• 2008 NFL Draft Review
• Sideline: Draft: The Morning After
• Sideline: Draft: Thinking the Unthinkable
• Sideline: Draft: Ready For The Long Haul
• Sideline: Sofa–bound Sport
• Sideline: Post–Winter Wonderland
• Sideline: Six Impossible Things
• Sideline: Brady's Misdirection Play
• Sideline: Colorful Language
• Sideline: Let the Romo–bashing begin
• Sideline: Bowl Bites: The Wrap
• Sideline: All About The Coaches
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 3
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 2
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 1
• Sideline: Coach Situations Vacant
• Sideline: For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
• Sideline: A Certain Lack Of Welcome
• Sideline: Unrelated Notes
• Sideline: Two Thanksgiving thoughts
• Sideline: Halftime: NFC
• Sideline: Halftime: AFC
• Sideline: London / A Tale of Two Chads / Intimidation
• Sideline: Damp Squib / Other London Notes
• Sideline: Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em / Dolphins – The Aftermath
• Sideline: The Dolphins Did What?
• Sideline: Notes on the Defenses
• Sideline: Habits to be Broken
• Sideline: Overtime
• Sideline: This Week's Starters
• Sideline: USF: Covering The Spread / Fantastic Football
• Sideline: Grossman: The Final Act? / McNabb, the Epilogue
• Sideline: Eagles QB in Slight Controversy
• Sideline: Leftwich's Parting Gift / Boos cruise
• Sideline: Notre Dame M.I.A.
• Sideline: Looking Beyond NFL Wk. 1
• Sideline: Best Hope For Heisman
• Sideline: Coaching Hot Seats / AP Poll Feeling ’Appy
• Sideline: The NFL’s Prime Cuts
• Sideline: Michigan Falls to Killer Apps
• Sideline: Look Out Couch / The Taint's On You, Bud
NCAA Preview 2009
Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale
Richard L Gale finds two imperfect juggernauts vying for national attention. Whoever wins their November 7 meeting should win the conference.
A cursory glance at Ohio State's offense suggests that with only four starters returning, quarterback Terrelle Pryor will become the main weapon now that 'Beanie' Wells has departed. That might sell tickets, but it's misrepresentation. Pryor may be a potentially deadly dual–threat, but he's not Tim Tebow yet. In fact he's not even Darryl Clark yet. Pryor was responsible for less than 2000 yards of offense, and only 18 scores last season, but he runs well, and he was astonishingly careful with the ball, surrendering only four interceptions. Two of Pryor's top receivers from last season — Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline — are now in the NFL, but Dane Sanzenbacher and Ray Small will fill in adequately, and could easily tally more catches.
Chris 'Beanie' Wells, still bothered by injury, contributed 1200 yards last season and replacement Daniel Herron should be able to replicate those figures (and better Wells' 8 scores) behind a line that returns only center Michael Brewster to the same position as last year. How? Jim Cordle and Bryant Browning are only shuffling along the line, and if Michigan transfer Justin Boren returns okay from a sprained knee incurred earlier this month, he will be a force. That's most of a really good line. Mix in a few of Ohio State's talented youngsters, and this offense has little reason to rely solely on Pryor's potential.
There are plenty of departures on defense too — all of last year's starters at LB are gone, including James Laurinaitis, and with Tyler Moeller (216lbs) playing the middle, this will look more like a 4–2–5 than a 4–3 scheme. However, the talent depth is considerable as ever, and the line is deep at end and big at tackle, giving them a natural advantage over many of the Big Ten also–rans.
The kicking game loses both kicker Ryan Pretorius and jumbotron–troubling punter AJ Trepasso, and if Ray Small plays a bigger role in the offense this season, a punt return strength may slip back. Special teams may let the side down.
And then there's the schedule: USC in week 2 while the fresh line–ups are still trying to gel, and a late season sequence away to Penn State, away to Michigan, and home to Iowa in between (how's that for a trap game?!). Even if they upset the Trojans, the Buckeyes better not listen to National Championship hype until November's out of the way.
It's a tough job, choosing between Penn State and Ohio State. The Buckeyes may have the better roster, but neither are slam dunks for the conference, and there are parallels between them: mobile QBs; lines with personnel changeover; defenses with new faces at most positions. Penn State may top the wins column, Ohio State the conference record.
Nittany Lions quarterback Darryl Clark is further along as a passer. Like Terrelle Pryor, he's not prone to picks (6 last year) and his 19 touchdown passes in '08 were supplemented by 10 on the ground. He amassed almost 2600 yards through the air to one tenth that on the ground; Clark prefers to pass, but given a goal line to aim for, his legs are weapons.
RB Evan Royster ran for more yards and more touchdowns last season than Beanie Wells, but while Stefen Wisniewski (nephew of former all–pro Steve) remains at center, and Dennis Landolt at RT, the rest of the line is new. Pro–built sophomore left tackle DeOntae Pannell saw a little action last season. With the top three WRs from last year gone, the non–RB target with most '08 production is Graham Zug, with 11 catches. If the Nittany Lions have an offensive advantage over Ohio State, it's negligible other than at quarterback.
Defensively, they lack the deep talent of Ohio State's front seven, but the line will be almost as good — tackle looks a particular strength with 300lb seniors Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu — and two starting LBs return, though beyond Navarro Bowman, 'Linebacker U' will shuffle it's talent around, especially with Michael Mauti's outside spot vacated through season–ending injury. MLB Sean Lee's ascendancy identifies Josh Hull for a possible outside slide.
The secondary is the place where everybody is fresh, but even there four upperclassmen could start, and by the time they play anybody of note, Penn State will have broken them in just fine, and in the ground–bound Big Ten, they'll be good enough most weeks.
The schedule is massively in the Nittany Lions' favor. A blancmange–soft start of Akron, Syracuse and Temple, and when it comes to the tough stuff, Iowa and Ohio State both visit. With only four road games and no conference title game, talk of making it unbeaten to the National Championship game is not out of place. Of course, this being Paterno's team, making it unbeaten to a No.3 ranking isn't impossible.
You can hardly move for dual threat quarterbacks in the Big Ten, but Iowa's 6–4 218lb quarterback rushed over 50 times last season for a total of 20 yards — a somewhat statuesque statistic you would think. Strangely, he was once considered a dual–threat type, having rushed for 1100 yards over his final two years of high school. Last season he looked like a pure passer, throwing for almost 2000 yards in 9 starts, while logging 14 scores; he was hardly the centerpiece of the offense, only once reaching 30 attempts in a single game. All in all it seemed a slightly starchy introduction. If Stanzi can both break his feet out of the shackles, and take the next step as a passer — he has the receivers — Iowa might deserve their top 25 billing after all.
Part of the reason Stanzi wasn't part of the show last year was because Shonn Greene was the show — but his 1,850 yards and 20 scores are gone. RB Jewel Hampton may not be Greene, but he's dangerous enough to pair well with Stanzi if the passing game moves forward. However, both rely on the interior offensive line being up to the task, and with a little over a week before season kickoff, it is still a picture of injury recovery and suspensions.
Last year, the Hawkeyes won three, lost three, then went 6–1 the rest of the way. If they are to improve on 9–4, their top–15 defense will have to repeat their unyielding ways. The front seven returns five starters, with just the tackles new. The likely starting DTs seem undersized, and though they have an impressive linebacker set of AJ Edds, Pat Angerer and Jeremiha Hunter (Angerer and Hunter, now there's LB names for you!), some opponents may call for the bigger tackles to come off the bench. The secondary is patchy, but some patches (CB Amari Spievey) are good enough to shut down the best options of lesser teams.
This is a team that soaks up opponents. On defense, everybody gets to the ball carrier, and on offense, Iowa have seemed happy to let the passing game complement the rush rather than being the main feature. This is a 'good' team. However, they need to conjure up an extra offensive spark if they are to make a title charge — they face Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State away from home.
100–Word Dash: Michigan State
Without Javon Ringer, last season's conference 3rd place will be hard to better. At press time, it's the run–first philosophy heading the depth chart in a crowded backfield, while competing QBs Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol throw at a capable receiving corps. While the offense lacks headliners, the defense returns LB Greg Jones, DE Trevor Anderson, and six other starters. Big–time depth boosts special teams beyond its kicking prowess, and the schedule is helpful (hosting Penn State, Iowa, and no Buckeyes). The Spartans may lack the killer punch to be Big Ten champs, but they could help decide the issue.
100–Word Dash: Illinois
Spartans aside, the Big Ten separates into those with star QBs and those without. For the latter, see those below, but in Illinois they have Juice Williams, whose arm broke clear of the 'dual–threat' tag and delivered 3,175 yards, 22 TDs last season. The right side of the line and all runners return, so offense is more than fine. However, in the rough'n'tough Big Ten, where bruising defenses are common, the Illini return almost nobody from last year's front seven. Considering the company they keep amongst the conference contenders, Illinois need to prove they're more than a Juice Williams poster.
100–Word Dash: Michigan
I'm not convinced Michigan have earned this no.6 spot. It assumes Coach Rodriquez' spread is finally assimilated; it assumes RB Brandon Minor doubles his production behind a line that must make a leap; and it assumes true freshman Tate Forcier can quarterback the Wolverines to five more wins than last season. But I am also assuming new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will make grand use of a wealth of talent (raw up front, but experienced where it counts). The September 12 clash with Notre Dame should tell us a lot about who is climbing out of their hole the quickest.
100–Word Dash: Northwestern
Northwestern has a lot of new starters on offense, and while the line is nearly untouched, and the next batch of receivers played some in 2008, QB Mike Kafka has yet to show his talents as a passer. Northwestern easily could get jostled back to the lower half of the conference, despite a defense that returns all of a good secondary. Senior DE Corey Wootton will be looking to make his case for a high NFL pick, but last week's scrimmages suggested the linebackers could be the under–reported story. Or might that be the offense making them look that way?
100–Word Dash: Minnesota
Minnesota went from 1–11 to 7–6 last season, and they're not looking back. Most of those breakout starters remain, including QB Adam Weber (over 3000 yards of offense), and WR Eric Decker (84 balls for almost 1100 yards). There was no 1000–yard back, but DeLeon Eskridge could become that this season. Special teams should be a positive factor, but the secondary was a little leaky last season. Another advance in the win column looks tough: the whole conference seems to be on the up, and the three schools at the head of this preview all host the Gophers.
100–Word Dash: Wisconsin
Wisconsin will survive without RB PJ Hill — new starter John Clay was snapping at Hill's heels last season — but half the starters are gone from last season's 7–6 team, and most of those are receivers (four of the top five return), but at press time the Badgers had two co–starters at QB …and you know what they say about two starting QBs. In the run–oriented Big Ten, hard defensive line play is essential, but that's the least part of a D that returns just four starters. The Badgers should coast to bowl qualification, but it won't be a late one.
100–Word Dash: Indiana
Coming 11th in the Big 10 isn't a result Indiana needs to repeat. Last year was a blur of serious injuries, but on the plus side, it allowed some of this year's starters to get early experience. Bryan Payton and redshirt freshman Darius Willis may share duty at running back, and QB Ben Chappell gets the QB gig all to himself, and his receiving corps have all seen action, though they're stepping up. With Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew highlighting a largely battle–tested front seven, a bounce back from 3 to 5 wins is possible, but a 6th might be elusive.
100–Word Dash: Purdue
Has the Boilermaker tradition of a strong passing game run out of steam? Joey Elliott is the default starter after Curtis Painter graduated and Justin Siller left the team. Siller was also the second–leading rusher after Kory Sheets, also now a pro. Probably starting RB Ralph Bolden carried just 16 times last season. The most storied receiver remaining only had 11 receptions. The offensive line is nearly intact, but the success of what happens around it is anyone's guess. The Boilermakers will rely on a potentially good D–line and fine secondary to stay in games, but the schedule's not friendly.