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The Buckeyes rebounded from a somewhat disappointing 2004 season to win 10 games and claim a conference co-championship last fall, though the tiebreaker went to PSU. However, just nine starters are back for the 2006 campaign, including only two on defense. Many of the squad's big-time playmakers on offense do return though. Among those back is QB Troy Smith. The senior threw for nearly 2300 yards and 16 TDs last year while running for 600 more yards and 11 more scores. Also back are RB Antonio Pittman (1300 yards, 7 TD), WR Ted Ginn Jr. (800 yards, 4 TD), and WR Anthony Gonzalez (400 yards, 3 TD).
The home opener against Northern Illinois won't be easy, as the Huskies are our favorite in the MAC this fall. A road trip to defending national champ Texas follows. Another road trip, this one to Iowa in late September, will set the tone for conference play early on, though the league title is likely to come down to the showdown with Michigan in the season finale. OSU's September results are likely to decide if that game has national title implications.
Projected Wins: NIU, CIN, PSU, BGSU, at MSU, IND, MINN, at ILL, at NW
Much like Ohio State in 2004, the Wolverines had a disappointing 2005 season but are hoping to rebound this fall in search of a conference title. With fourteen starters back on campus, it appears many of the pieces are in place to do just that. QB Chad Henne returns for his junior season after throwing for over 2500 yards and 23 scores a sesaon ago. Also back are RBs Mike Hart (700 yards, 4 TD) and Kevin Grady (500 yards, 5 TD), as well as WRs Mario Manningham (400 yards, 6 TD) and Steve Breaston (300 yards, 2 TD). The latter is also a huge threat on special teams.
A 2-0 start should get UM ready for a mid-September road trip to Notre Dame, which will have a huge effect on the early-season BCS picture. A two-game swing in mid-October at Penn State and at home against Iowa will be the Wolves' next big challenge before the season-ending trip to Columbus. Though they may not win in South Bend, it's very likely that Lloyd Carr's squad could be unbeaten in Big Ten play heading into that final game of the regular season.
Projected Wins: VAN, CMU, WISC, at MINN, MSU, at PSU, NW, BALL, at IND
The Hawkeyes have become a mainstay near the top of the Big Ten standings in recent years, and with fourteen starters back for the 2006 campaign, don't expect that to change this season. The offensive leader is senior QB Drew Tate, who threw for over 2800 yards and 22 TDs last fall. Also back is star RB Albert Young. The junior dashed for more than 1300 yards and 8 TDs a season ago. One of Iowa's biggest challenges will be replacing the receiving prowess of both Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel. That pair combined for more than 1300 yards and 14 scores a season ago.
Like UM, the Hawks should start 2-0 before the schedule gets a bit tougher. They'll host in-state rival Iowa State in mid-September before closing out the month at home against Ohio State. A 5-0 start could get this team in the BCS talk heading into the month of October. A road trip to Michigan comes around later in October, and a home matchup with MAC favorite Northern Illinois follows the next week. After that, though, they should find the schedule a bit easier, hoping they've put themselves in contention for a Big Ten title.
Projected Wins: MONT, at SYR, at ILL, at IND, NW, WISC, at MINN
A magical run to a Big Ten championship quieted all of the Paterno critics for at least one year, but matching that success in 2006 won't be easy. Just nine starters return from a season ago, and QB Michael Robinson is one of those who has left campus after accumulating over 3000 yards of total offense and 28 TDs in 2005. Back, though, is star RB Tony Hunt, who dashed for over 1000 yards and 6 scores himself last fall. Five of the team's top six wideouts also return, which should help the new signal-caller transition into the starting position.
A season-opening home game with Akron can't be overlooked before a week two trip to Notre Dame. Another road trip, this one to Ohio State, comes two weeks later, which means a 2-2 start to the season is a very real possibility. Michigan comes to town in mid-October before a two-game road swing to Purdue and Wisconsin later in the season. Though a winning record and good bowl should be expected, another BCS run like last year is likely out of the question in 2006.
Projected Wins: Akron, YTownSt, NW, ILL, TEMP, MSU
A disappointing 2005 season left the Boilers just 5-6 and out of postseason play for the first time in quite a while. A dozen starters are back this fall, including seven on offense. Though top RB Jerod Void will have to be replaced, sophomore Kory Sheets looks to step in after a freshman campaign that saw him run for nearly 600 yards and 10 TDs. Another rookie, QB Curtis Painter, stepped in late last season and looks to take over under center full time this year. The team's top two targets, WRs Dorien Bryant (950 yards, 4 TD) and Kyle Ingraham (500 yards), both return, which should help him adapt that much faster.
A 4-0 start to the season should be expected before a brutal three-game road swing at Notre Dame, Iowa, and Northwestern. Winning just one of those games would be acceptable and still leave the team in good Big Ten position. That's because Purdue avoids both Michigan and Ohio State on the schedule this fall and therefore could stay in the running most of the season if they handle their business on the field. A return to bowl activity should be expected in 2006.
Projected Wins: IndSt, MiaOH, BALL, MINN, at ILL, IND
Coach John L. Smith has had just one winning season since arriving in East Lansing, and to make matters worse, he's won just 10 times over the past two seasons. Thirteen starters return this fall, though, including QB Drew Stanton. The senior threw for over 3000 yards and 22 TDs last season. Also back is the RB duo of Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick. That tandem combined for about 1300 yards and a dozen scores in 2005. Top wideouts Jerramy Scott and Matt Trannon (also a star on the hardwood) also return, as do six starters on defense.
The Spartans should start 2-0 before a tough two-week stretch at Pittsburgh and at home against Notre Dame. A win at home against Illinois should follow before another difficult two-game set, this one at Michigan and at home against Ohio State. If MSU can have three wins following that matchup with the Buckeyes in mid-October, the schedule eases up a bit from that point forward, and a six-win season is definitely within grasp. Pull an upset or two in the first half of the schedule, and much bigger things could be in store for 2006.
Projected Wins: Idaho, EMU, ILL, at IND
The Badgers have won 19 games over the past two seasons, but a fall back towards the middle of the pack in the Big Ten could be in store for 2006. That's because top RBs Brian Calhoun (1600 yards, 22 TD) and Booker Stanley (350 yards, 3 TD) are both gone, as is basically every WR that caught a pass last fall. QB John Stocco is one of just three starters returning on offense this fall for first-year head coach Bret Bielema, though the defensive unit does return 8 of their own. The senior signal-caller, who threw for almost 3000 yards and 21 TDs in '05, will have his hands full this season.
A road trip to Bowling Green to open the season can't be overlooked, nor can mid-September's home matchup with San Diego State, a team we expect to be much-improved in the MWC this season. Road trips to Michigan and Iowa later in the schedule are sure to be losses, though UW does avoid Ohio State this year. Seven games are at home, which alone makes a winning season a possibility. If they take care of business in Madison, a bowl trip looks to be well within reach.
Projected Wins: at BGSU, W.ILL, at IND, ILL, BUF
The Gophers have been one of the Big Ten's most consistent teams over the past 8 years. During that time, they've won an average of 7 games per season while making a half-dozen postseason appearances. Though a dozen starters are returning this fall, six on each side of the ball, winning 7 games in 2006 could be a real challenge. Gone are top RBs Laurence Maroney (1500 yards, 10 TD) and Gary Russell (1100 yards, 18 TD), as well as steady WR Jared Ellerson. However, QB Bryan Cupito is back, as are his top two targets, Ernie Wheelwright and Logan Payne.
The schedule opens in brutal fashion. A season-opening road trip to Kent State won't be easy, nor will a road game at Cal the next weekend. A road trip to Purdue and a home game with Michigan later in the month could easily be losses as well. Also consider that UM visits Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State while hosting Penn State and Iowa, and you can see that this schedule is not favorable for a great season in Minneapolis. Still, this team has proven they can find a way to win enough games to go bowling most every season, and I expect that to (barely) be the case again this fall.
Projected Wins: at KENT, TEMP, NDSt, IND
The death of head coach Randy Walker this summer left everyone stunned. Not just Northwestern fans, but college football fans in general. He had guided the Wildcats for the past 7 seasons, taking them to bowl games three different times. RB Tyrell Sutton, who ran for nearly 1500 yards and 16 TDs as a freshman last season, is an emerging star and will try to continue his prowess under new head man Pat Fitzgerald. Also back are 6 other offensive starters, as well as a half-dozen more on defense. Gone, though, is QB Brett Basanez, as well as two of his top three targets from 2005.
Ironically, the season opens on the road at Miami (Ohio), where Walker played and later coached. That is sure to be an emotional evening, not to mention a tough matchup on the field for NU. A couple of wins should follow before a brutal three-game road swing at Nevada, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Another tough three-game stretch at Michigan, at Iowa, and at home against Ohio State follows later in the season. Though the schedule is tough, this team will play for their fallen head coach in 2006, and I expect them to scratch out enough victories to become bowl eligible this fall.
Projected Wins: NH, EMU, ILL
Ron Zook's tenure at Illinois began promisingly with a 2-0 start last fall, but nine straight losses, including all eight in Big Ten play, followed. However, most every starter returns this fall, including QB Tim Brasic. The senior is a threat both through the air and on the ground but must improve his turnover numbers in 2006. Leading rusher Pierre Thomas is also back, as are four of Brasic's top five targets from a season ago. Ten starters from the defensive side return as well, including 8 of the team's top 9 tacklers from 2005.
The first three games on the schedule will decide how this season plays out in Champaign. A season-opening game vs Eastern Illinois should be a win before the Illini visit Rutgers and host Syracuse. The team should have as many wins by mid-September as they did all last season, and they'll still have winnable home games against the likes of Indiana and Ohio left on the schedule later in the year. Illinois should be expected to double their win total from 2005, but nearing the six win mark would require at least one upset.
Projected Wins: E.ILL, IND
The Hoosiers won more games last fall than they had in any season since 2001. Coach Terry Hoeppner enters his second season in Bloomington hoping to build upon that progress he began in 2005. Fourteen starters are back this fall, including QB Blake Powers and his favorite target, WR James Hardy. The wideout had nearly 900 yards and 10 scores during his freshman campaign a season ago. The team will have to replace its top two backs, however. Chris Taylor and Yamar Washington combined for about 1200 yards and 5 scores in '05.
Much like Illinois, Indiana's success will be determined early in the schedule. They open at home against Western Michigan before traveling to Ball State. IU then returns home to face Southern Illinois, Connecticut, and Wisconsin in consecutive weeks, meaning the team should already have at least 3 wins by the end of September. The schedule gets a bit more difficult from that point forward, however, and even if the Hoosiers get rolling early, approaching the six win mark this fall should not be expected.
Projected Wins: WMU, SIU
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