Big Ten football isn’t perfect.
But take a look around – it’s true. Look at Jon Gosselin’s love life, Lindsay Lohan’s driving record, or Kevin Federline’s waistline.
The Big Ten is no different as the 2009 football season steadily approaches. On one end, there’s a Buckeyes team that owns a share of the Big Ten title over the last four seasons. On the other, an Indiana team, who according to head coach Bill Lynch, spent time traveling to sororities and fraternities attempting to find ways to get more students to attend football games.
But as a whole, each team in the Big Ten is similar. Each has its Achilles’ heel – some more than others. Here’s what could end up hurting each team’s chances in 2009:
Achilles’ Heel of Each Big Ten Football Team Entering 2009
Indiana – Offensive Line
Coach Lynch has mentioned returning 84 total starts on the offensive line – but it’s still a group that allowed 2.33 sacks per game last season. That will need to improve – and that’s also likely why Lynch is switching to a pistol offense, which will allow QB Ben Chappell to get the ball out of his hands much quicker.
Michigan – Inexperience at Quarterback
The coaching staff loves freshman Tate Forcier, but hey, Notre Dame loved Jimmy Clausen when he showed up in a stretch limo to announce he was going to run the Irish offense. Forcier will face growing pains and adversity, similar to what Clausen faced as a true freshman – especially when playing in a bruising Big Ten that will send countless big bodies at him play after play.
Purdue – Recruiting/New Staff
The Boilermakers have a number of holes as the team attempts to rebuild under a new coaching staff that has to deal with the stress of replacing arguably the most successful coach in school history. When Danny Hope was asked about replacing Joe Tiller he simply said, “You have to be your own man.” True, but the departure of Tiller has also put a hit on recruiting, as per Rivals.com, the Boilermakers only have one four-star recruit (or higher) in each of the last two recruiting seasons.
Illinois – Defensive Line
The Illini lost their two top sack leaders from last season in Brit Miller and Derek Walker. Last year’s team was in enough shootouts as it is, and with an inexperienced d-line, Illinois could find themselves struggling to get pressure on opponent QB’s, thereby leading to – you guessed it – more shootouts.
Wisconsin – Linebackers
Jaevery McFadden is the only member of the Badgers to return with significant starting experience at the linebacker position. Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen, the other two projected starters, only have a handful of starts between them. On top of that, the Badgers lost three D-linemen (all starters) from last year’s team.
Minnesota – Strength of Schedule
The Golden Gophers will be proud to open the new TCF Bank Stadium, but don’t be surprised if there will be adjustments playing outdoors in the cold as opposed to indoors on the turf. On top of that, Minnesota has one of the toughest schedules in the country (#5 according to Phil Steele), which is an even bigger roadblock. Included in the list of opponents are Cal and Air Force as non-conference foes, plus back-to-back road games against Penn State and Ohio State.
Northwestern – Offensive Inexperience
New QB Mike Kafka set a Northwestern record by rushing for 212 yards in a game last year. However, this Wildcats team, fresh off its nine-win season, returns just five starters on offense. Among the departed include QB C.J. Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton, and there are sure to be some growing pains heading into the season. Having Michigan and Ohio State off the schedule may help to some degree, but matching last year’s record could be a tough feat.
Iowa – Road Schedule
The Hawkeyes are going to miss workhorse back Shonn Greene, who put last year’s team on his back before leaving for the NFL. But the departure of Greene won’t be Iowa’s biggest roadblock – the Hawkeye road schedule will be, featuring away games against in-state rival Iowa State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Ouch.
Michigan State – Running Back Position
The Spartans lost Javon Ringer’s 1,600+ rushing yards and 22 TD’s. Dantonio reported that true freshman Edwin Baker (four-star recruit with 4.4 speed – Rivals.com) will play. Baker may be talented, but he has a history of knee injuries. Andre Anderson is the individual on the roster with the most returning yards on the ground from last year – a measly 97 over 26 carries.
Ohio State – Inexperience of Wide Receivers
Everyone knows that the Buckeyes have retooled with new weapons on both sides of the ball, but it still takes time for players to adjust to the college game. With the departure of Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline to the NFL, Ohio State should feel some growing pains at the receiver position. Senior Ray Small (18 catches in ’08) was the slated returnee with the most experience, but there have been issues with him, as he was suspended late last season. DeVier Posey and Lamaar Thomas will have to step up their game quick with USC on the schedule a few weeks in.
Penn State – Non-Conference Schedule
Yes, losing the talented receiving trio of Williams, Butler, and Norwood stings. Losing most of the secondary will cause growing pains, too. But this is a reloaded Penn State team that many expect to challenge for another Big Ten title. What really could bite this team is its non-conference schedule, featuring home games against Akron, Syracuse, Temple, and Eastern Illinois. When BCS time rolls around – if the Nittany Lions are in the picture, this schedule could be what keeps them from a dream.