TheGopherReport - Week 1: Big Ten Preview
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Week 1: Big Ten Preview

Northwestern (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten) at TCU (0-0, 0-0 CUSA)
Thursday Sept. 2
8:30 p.m. CDT - ESPN2
Daily Line: Northwestern plus 6
Northwestern player to watch: Quarterback Brett Basanez enters the 2004 season as one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Basanez completed 54% of his passes for nearly 2000 yards last season, but was only able to throw for a surprisingly low four touchdowns on the year.
TCU player to watch: Quarterback Tye Gunn emerged as the Frogs starter, a position he held entering the 2003 season, but a separated shoulder early in the season never allowed Gunn to get on track. When Gunn is healthy he has been lethal, taking down opponents at the clip of 118 completions out of 201 attempts with eight touchdowns.
The inside scoop: Purple will be the predominant color in Ft. Worth for this game. The Cats will be solid up front on offense, anchored by Lombardi candidate Zach Strief. If Northwestern can control the line of scrimmage, Noah Herron should put up some good numbers against a very young TCU front seven. The Horned Frogs will have the same thing in mind when they hand the ball off to running backs Lonta Hobbs and Robert Merrill, and the absence of Loren Howard up front on the defensive line may be too much to overcome for the Northwestern defense in shutting down the TCU running game.
Northwestern will win if: it can establish the run and keep the pressure off of Basanez, and keep the Horned Frogs defense guessing.
TCU will win if: it can get up on Northwestern early, and turn the game into a track meet.
Notes: TCU leads the series 2-1, winning the last contest in 2002 by a score of 48-24.
The pick: TCU 28, Northwestern 24
Kent State (0-0, 0-0 MAC) at Iowa (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Saturday, Sept. 4
11 a.m. CDT – ESPN Plus
Daily Line: Iowa minus 30
Kent State player to watch: Linebacker Eric Mahl put together a stellar junior campaign with 126 tackles, including 9.5 for loss. If Kent State is going to move into the upper division of the MAC, Mahl is going to have to step up again this season with a young defensive line in front of him.
Iowa player to watch: Quarterback Drew Tate will be making his first start at quarterback for the Hawkeyes. He set nearly every passing record in the state of Texas in high school and served as Nathan Chandler's backup last year and saw limited duty as a true freshman. Now the team is his and he will be the player most people have their eyes on.
The inside scoop: Iowa is 13-1 against opponents from the MAC (the lone loss to Western Michigan in the 2000 season) and the trend should continue for the Hawkeyes in this one. The Golden Flashes return an amazing 19 starters from last year, but it won’t be enough with starting quarterback Joshua Cribbs sitting the game out due to suspension. The Hawkeyes will be without a pair of stars as well with running backs Jermelle Lewis and Marques Simmons both out after violating team rules.
Kent State will win if: Iowa does not show up. The only way Kent State stays close is if Iowa puts the ball on the ground a lot. Even then it will be an uphill battle
Iowa will win if: They simply take care of business. The Iowa defense will be dominant in this match-up and if Kent State reaches double figures it will be considered a moral victory for them.
Notes: This game has been dubbed the “Throwback Game” in commemoration of 1939 Heisman trophy winner Nile Kinnick. Both teams will be dressed in circa 1939 uniforms, along with the cheerleaders, band and game officials getting into the spirit of the event.
The pick: Iowa 45, Kent State 6
Central Florida (0-0, 0-0 MAC) at Wisconsin (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Saturday, Sept. 4
11 a.m. CDT – ESPN Plus
Daily Line: Wisconsin minus 23
Central Florida player to watch: Strong safety Atari Bigby has been a monster for the Golden Knights, leading the team with 80 solo tackles and 2nd on the team with 112 total tackles. He’s a big hitter with his sights set on a 3rd consecutive all-conference selection.
Wisconsin player to watch: Running back Anthony Davis has shown all the potential of being one of the elite backs in all of NCAA football, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to achieve that status. The problem is compounded by the lack of depth at the running back position after number two back-up Dwayne Smith left the team with a heart condition.
The inside scoop: The Golden Knights are going to get a huge dose of “Big Ten” football when Wisconsin exploits a relatively soft run defense for UCF. Wisconsin is going to have to work really hard not to look ahead on the schedule for a rematch with UNLV, who embarrassed the Badgers 23-5 last season.
Central Florida will win if: it buys into George O’Leary’s “tough as nails” style, plays a flawless game, and catches a flat Badgers team.
Wisconsin will win if: it runs the ball, and then runs it some more. Wisconsin rushed for 223 yards in their opener last season, and should easily repeat those kind of numbers this year.
Notes: Central Florida head coach George O'Leary will not be on the sidelines for this game, he will be attending the funeral of his mother who passed away earlier this week.
The pick: Wisconsin 31, Central Florida 10
Miami-Ohio (0-0, 0-0 MAC) at Michigan (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Saturday, Sept. 4
12 p.m. EDT – ABC
Daily Line: Michigan minus 13
Miami-Ohio player to watch: Quarterback Jason Betts was impressive in his first start for the RedHawks, passing for three touchdowns and running one in against Indiana State in the season opener. Betts will find out though that the only thing more difficult than replacing Ben Roethlisberger, will be going to the Big House and facing an extremely talented Michigan defense.
Michigan player to watch: Quarterback Matt Gutierrez held off a late charge by true freshman Chad Henne to be named opening day starter. Gutierrez will have a wealth of targets with one of the nation’s best receiving corps, but will Gutierrez be supported by a ground game remains to be seen.
The inside scoop: Michigan usually starts sluggish in games like these. Last year CMU ran the ball well against them before U-M pulled away. The defense is going to have to get it done while the offense finds its wings. Watch for Gutierrez to throw shorter passes to his receivers and get the ball in the hands of the playmakers.
Miami-Ohio will win if: it executes a flawless game plan and Michigan makes a couple careless turnovers resulting in cheap points for the RedHawks.
Michigan will win if: they aren’t looking ahead to their next game against Notre Dame.
Notes: Michigan has never lost to Miami-Ohio, including a 31-13 win in 2001 (Ben Rothlisberger started that game as a true freshman).
The pick: Michigan 31, Miami-Ohio 10
Cincinnati (0-0, 0-0 C-USA) at Ohio State (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Saturday, Sept. 4
12 p.m. EDT – ESPN Plus
Daily Line: Ohio State minus 14.5
Cincinnati player to watch: Quarterback Gino Guidugli gets another shot to hand Ohio State their first loss to an in-state team in more than a century. Guidugli passed for over 2,700 yards last season, but threw nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns en route to a 5-7 season.
Ohio State player to watch: Quarterback Justin Zwick edged out fellow redshirt sophomore Troy Smith to be named the starter which means more than 100,000 armchair quarterbacks will be seconding guessing every move Zwick makes. There is no question about Zwick’s talent, but will the young quarterback be able to lead his team the way his predecessor, Craig Krenzel was able to?
The inside scoop: This Ohio State team is built to compete for a national championship, next year. That was also said about the 2002 Buckeye squad, and we see where that got them. Last year the Ohio State offense was “mediocre” at best, but this season running back Lydell Ross is in the best shape of his career, and is primed for a break-out season. The Bearcats only have nine returning starters coming back this season, but the one most Ohio State fans will remember the most is former Buckeye Richard Hall, who transferred to Cincinnati and rushed for nearly 800 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Cincinnati will win if: it can not only shut down the Ohio State ground game, but also wear down the talented Buckeye defense on long sustained drives and take the crowd out of the game.
Ohio State will win if: it continue playing the same brand of defense as in past season. As the offense goes through growing pains, the emphasis will be put on the defense to clamp down and allow the offense to catch up.
Notes: Bearcats Head Coach Mark Dantonio knows the Ohio State team very well, serving as the defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes from 2001-2003.
The pick: Ohio State 31, Cincinnati 13
Michigan State (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten) at Rutgers (0-0, 0-0 Big East)
Saturday, Sept. 4
3:30 p.m. EDT – ABC
Daily Line: Michigan State minus 5.5
Michigan State player to watch: Running back Jason Teague battled his way to the starting position after playing a back-up role last season. Teague’s best game last year was against Rutgers, and he is looking to have continued success against the Scarlet Knight defense.
Rutgers player to watch: Quarterback Ryan Hart has been maturing at the position for the Scarlet Knights. He has to work on making better decisions after throwing 19 interceptions along with 15 touchdowns in 2003.
The inside scoop: Rutgers will be getting Michigan State at the perfect time this season. The Spartans still have a lot of questions on offense and defense and are ripe for an opening day upset. The Scarlet Knights have finally turned the corner in their recruiting, but it may still take another year for them to be competing for a bowl berth.
Michigan State will win if: it can move the ball on the ground successfully, and buy some time for quarterback Damon Dowdell.
Rutgers will win if: it can keep the Spartans out of any rhythm on the offensive side of the ball.
Notes: Michigan State rolled over Rutgers in East Lansing last season 44-28, Jeff Smoker started off hot passing for over 350 yards in the win.
The pick: Michigan State 27, Rutgers 17
Akron (0-0, 0-0 MAC) at Penn State (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Saturday, Sept. 4
3:30 p.m. EDT – ESPN Plus
Daily Line: Penn State minus 15
Akron player to watch: Quarterback Charlie Frye could be the starter at most, if not all, the Big Ten schools right now. The Zips scored over 36 points a game along with averaging 470 yards of total offense, and it all started with Frye.
Penn State player to watch: Quarterback Zack Mills has something to prove this season, and this game will be monumental in silencing any of the critics that stepped up in the off-season.
The inside scoop: Akron will have a tremendous offense behind Frye, they will make some big play against the Nittany Lions defense, but the Zips lack of defense will ultimately cost them the game. Penn State will look to get their ground game going with running back Austin Scott, who should have a big day.
Akron will win if: it turns this game into a track meet, and the Penn State offense can’t keep up.
Penn State will win if: it can control the clock and keep Charlie Frye on the bench for long sustained drives.
Notes: These teams have met 1 time previously when PSU dominated the Zips, 70-24.
The pick: Penn State 28, Akron 17
Central Michigan (0-0, 0-0 MAC) at Indiana (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Saturday, Sept. 4
6 p.m. EDT – No TV
Daily Line: Indiana minus 13
Central Michigan player to watch: Former safety James King has been moved to drop linebacker after finishing tenth in the country in tackles last season with 143. At 6-foot-1, 210-pounds King has the speed and strength to harass ball-carriers sideline-to-sideline and he is the unquestioned leader on the Chippewa defense. He’ll be responsible for slowing down the Hoosier ground game
Indiana player to watch: Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis enjoyed a breakthrough freshman campaign last year finishing with 938 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. This off-season he was pushed hard by the other Hoosier tailbacks and looks ready to pick up where he left off. His race towards 1,000 yards could get a huge push from this game due to the Chippewa’s dismal rush defense
The inside scoop: The IU gameplan is simple; run the ball and then run the ball some more. Last season. the Chippewas were the worst team against the run in Division-I football, giving up over 245 yards per game on the ground. The Hoosiers veteran offensive line and the hard-charging Green-Ellis will test them early and often. Meanwhile, new Chippewa head coach Brian Kelly brings a wide open passing attack to Bloomington and is thinking those same thoughts of exploitation about the IU secondary, who will be breaking in two new starting cornerbacks this season after allowing over 237 yards per game through the air last year.
Central Michigan will win if: the Chippewas can protect their quarterback and keep the Hoosier secondary guessing.
Indiana will win if: if they don’t turn the ball over and continue to pound the ball down the field with the running game while chewing up clock.
Notes: These two teams met two seasons ago in Coach Gerry DiNardo’s first-year at IU and the Hoosiers came out on top 39-29 in a close game. The Hoosiers have won 13 of their last 15 home season-openers.
The pick: Indiana 27, Central Michigan 10
Florida A&M (0-0, 0-0 MEAC) at Illinois (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Saturday, Sept. 4
5 p.m. CDT - No TV
Daily Line: No Line
Florida A&M player to watch: Quarterback Ben Dougherty will look to air it out against the Illini. The 24-year old quarterback originally signed with Iowa State and completed his Mormon mission before ending up with the Rattlers. Dougherty accounted for over 3,000 yards of total offense last season for Florida A&M.
Illinois player to watch: Quarterback Jon Beutjer needs to come out and have a good showing against FAMU. If he can work the ball to several receivers and start to build the timing under game conditions, it will carry over into the conference season.
The inside scoop: This game is a mismatch, plain and simple. Illinois will use this game to build confidence and try and erase the memories of a less than stellar 2003 campaign. Florida A&M will try and run a spread offense, and will put some points up on the board, but just won’t have the athletes to compete with a major conference team.
Florida A&M will win if: The Illini don’t show up, physically. The Rattlers have been a powerhouse in the MEAC, but are not ready to step up against a team from the Big Ten.
Illinois will win if: it shows up. The Fighting Illini will get a chance to play a lot of players in their first game, and get ready for UCLA next week.
Notes: Florida A&M was supposed to make the jump from Division I-AA to Division I-A, but the board of trustees decided to delay the move for up to three years.
The pick: Illinois 42, Florida A&M 17
Syracuse (0-0, 0-0 Big East) at Purdue (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Sunday, Sept. 5
12:30 p.m. CDT – ABC
Daily Line: Purdue minus 12
Syracuse player to watch: Running back Walter Reyes is the catalyst of the Orange offense rushing for over 1,300 yards last season. Reyes is also a dangerous threat coming out of the back field with 375 receiving yards as well.
Purdue player to watch: Wide receiver Kyle Ingraham has been extremely impressive in fall camp. He is nearly impossible to cover (6-foot-9) and has the distinction of catching the first touchdown pass of the 2003 season.
The inside scoop: Syracuse is still undecided who will be the starting quarterback which is going to put even more pressure on Reyes to perform against the Boilermakers. Purdue Quarterback Kyle Orton should be able to feast off the “average” Syracuse secondary. The game will not be a blow-out, but Reyes will get his yards and keep the Orange around until the second half.
Syracuse will win if: Reyes is able to get off to a quick start and Syracuse is able to open a double-digit lead early.
Purdue will win if: it can contain Reyes and establish their own ground game with Jerod Void.
Notes: This is the first meeting between Syracuse and Purdue.
The pick: Purdue 34, Syracuse 21