Quick links:
 Latest Team Rankings
 Free Rivals Alerts
 Member Services
ShopMobileRadio RSSRivals.com Yahoo! Sports

August 6, 2008

Buckeyes headline Big Ten unit rankings

MORE: 2008 Big Ten Conference Preview

Rich Rodriguez's arrival at Michigan has made things interesting on offense in Ann Arbor.

Every position unit on the Wolverines' offense will be scrutinized this fall as the players try to adjust to a vastly different scheme.

Michigan is going from a traditional pro-set attack to Rodriguez's version of the spread, which places a great deal of pressure on the quarterback to make plays.

In a way, you can consider this a throwback season of sorts for the Wolverines. It's up to the defense to lead the way as the offense finds its legs.

At least Rodriguez knows the players on that side of the ball are experienced, led by a secondary that should be the best in the Big Ten and one of the best in the nation.

Here are our Big Ten unit rankings entering the 2008 season:

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD
1. OHIO STATE
This is the Rolls-Royce of backfields, the envy of every Big Ten team. It's headed by running back Chris Wells. Todd Boeckman is an all-league quarterback, but the world waits for Terrelle Pryor.
2. WISCONSIN
If there were a proven quarterback, this might be the top backfield in the league. There are three quality tailbacks: P.J. Hill, Zach Brown and John Clay.
3. PURDUE
Curtis Painter is the best passer in the league. Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor form an underrated and explosive tailback tandem.
4. MICHIGAN STATE
Brian Hoyer may be the most underrated quarterback in America. And don't be shocked if Javon Ringer emerges as the Big Ten's second-best running back.
5. NORTHWESTERN
C.J. Bacher is primed for a huge season, much like Brett Basanez enjoyed in 2005. Running back Tyrell Sutton is healthy and ready to regain the form he flashed earlier in this career. Omar Conteh is a good backup.
6. ILLINOIS
This is quarterback Juice Williams' team now that running back Rashard Mendenhall is off early to the NFL. Can Williams take the next step as a passer? It may take four backs to replace Mendenhall.
7. PENN STATE
There are unknowns, but we love the potential of quarterbacks Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin. Evan Royster is a decent back, but youngster Stephfon Green may take over for the Lions.
8. MICHIGAN
Running back Mike Hart will be difficult to replace. However, there's a nice collection of tailbacks - headed by Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor. The veteran quarterbacks are square pegs for this offense.
9. INDIANA
Quarterback Kellen Lewis is the quintessential one-man gang. The staff likes its options at tailback. There are three to choose from, headed by mighty-mite Marcus Thigpen.
10. MINNESOTA
The staff found an answer at quarterback last year in Adam Weber, who has a deft touch for running Mike Dunbar's spread attack. Duane Bennett is a tough running back.
11. IOWA
Cover your eyes because this may be ugly. Quarterback Jake Christensen has struggled. The tailback corps is littered with questions with Albert Young and Damian Sims gone. Who will carry the load? Shonn Greene is back from academic exile.

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
1. PENN STATE
The Nittany Lions have to find ways to get the ball to a veteran-laden and talented wide receiver corps paced by Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood. Butler and Williams each could break the school career record for catches.
2. OHIO STATE
There are Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline and Ray Small at wide receiver, as well as a collection of capable tight ends. In short, there is a lot of talent. That's right: Same story, different year.
3. NORTHWESTERN
This is the most underrated corps of receivers in the Big Ten, led by Ross Lane, Eric Peterman and former quarterback Andrew Brewer.
4. ILLINOIS
Insiders say this is the best collection of receiving talent in Champaign in years, led by Arrelious Benn. Receiver Jeff Cumberland, who is 6-5 and almost 250 pounds, is a mismatch waiting to happen. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is ready to emerge.
5. INDIANA
Yes, James Hardy will be missed after leaving for the NFL a season early. But there's plenty of depth and potential with Ray Fisher, Andrew Means and Terrance Turner. Tight end Max Dedmond could break out this season.
6. PURDUE
Myriad questions and unknowns with Dorien Bryant and tight end Dustin Keller gone. It's time for Greg Orton to step up as the go-to guy. Converted defensive back Keith Smith is an intriguing option.
7. MICHIGAN
Wide receiver Greg Mathews must emerge with the departures of Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Look for increased use of the tight ends.
8. WISCONSIN
The tight end duo of Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham is without peer. The wide receivers? Let's just say they have a lot to prove with Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard gone.
9. IOWA
There is ample room for improvement. Tight end Tony Moeaki and receivers Andy Brodell and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos need to take the next step for an offense that's desperate for playmakers.
10. MICHIGAN STATE
Devin Thomas left a year early, and that hurts. Youngsters such as Mark Dell need to step up. Sparty also is starting over at tight end.
11. MINNESOTA
There still is a dearth of viable targets in an offense that's craving for more. Tim Brewster swears Eric Decker is one of the Big Ten's top wide receivers. Jack Simmons is a blue-collar tight end.

OFFENSIVE LINES
1. PENN STATE
A group that returns five starters and is big, tough and nasty has many pundits comparing this group to some of JoePa's best. Center A.Q. Shipley is a squatty star.
2. OHIO STATE
This will be one of the Buckeyes' best front walls this decade. All hail tackle Alex Boone. Guard Steve Rehring also is special and is destined to play on Sundays.
3. WISCONSIN
Same story, different season. The Badgers have a big, physical, mauling line loaded with veterans. They must break in just one starter: a new center. Guard Kraig Urbik is the leader.
4. IOWA
The group was banged-up in '07 and hasn't been effective in several seasons. Look at the big guys now, all healthy and ready to go. There's lot to like, starting with guard Seth Olsen, center Rafael Eubanks and guard Dan Doering. It's too bad the career of tackle Dace Richardson is over because of injury.
5. ILLINOIS
There will be growing pains for a group that's in transition. Tackle Xavier Fulton has to take a leading role. Center Ryan McDonald is a cut above.
6. MICHIGAN STATE
This group is worrisome for a Spartans attack that teems with potential. Guard Roland Martin and tackle Jesse Miller need to pave the way for a group that has struggled to stay healthy.
7. MICHIGAN
There's one returning starter and whole heck of a lot of questions. Tackle Stephen Schilling is a mauler who needs help. The linemen also must learn a new blocking scheme.
8. INDIANA
There is size and experience with three starters back. Guard Pete Saxon and tackle Rodger Saffold have NFL potential. Still, the run-blocking has been substandard.
9. PURDUE
A sore spot most of this decade again could leave the Boilermakers hurting. And the spring was an unmitigated disaster for the group. Tackle Sean Sester is the one shining star.
10. NORTHWESTERN
With three starters gone, there is work to do for a unit that could be the weak link in an otherwise solid Wildcats offense. A redshirt freshman may start at left tackle. Gulp.
11. MINNESOTA
There is a lack of experience, but holdovers such as Dominic Alford and Ned Tavale are adapting well to the new blocking schemes. More depth is needed.

DEFENSIVE LINES
1. OHIO STATE
Vernon Gholston is gone. No problem. Say "hello" to end Lawrence Wilson. Four big, strong and steady tackles anchor the interior. Sophomore end Cameron Heyward, Ironhead's son, is a future star.
2. PENN STATE
The unit easily goes two-deep and is paced by terrorizing end Maurice Evans, a future first-round pick. There is good depth and ability at tackle, but having tackles Phil Taylor and Chris Baker booted from the team hurts.
3. MICHIGAN
It all begins with tackle Terrance Taylor for a unit that's deep and talented. Look for end Tim Jamison finally to put it all together and be a star. Tackle Will Johnson is a work-hard guy.
4. WISCONSIN
Aside from tackle Nick Hayden, this front returns intact. And it will be special. End Matt Shaughnessy is a wrecking ball. Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk are fifth-year seniors inside.
5. ILLINOIS
This group is why the Illini will have one of the Big Ten's best defenses. Watch end Will Davis become an All-American. There is lots of depth and talent at tackle, paced by David Lindquist and Josh Brent.
6. IOWA
The tackle tandem of Mitch King and Matt Kroul is active and good. All eyes will be on the ends, where some pass rushers are needed. Ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard look promising.
7. PURDUE
There's talent and depth at tackle, and Keyon Brown looks like the next star at end. Tackle Ryan Baker refuses to be outworked or outhustled.
8. MICHIGAN STATE
Things look good inside for a unit that returns five players with starting experience, but pass rushers are needed. Cincinnati transfer Trevor Anderson has star potential at tackle.
9. NORTHWESTERN
This isn't your usual pushover Wildcats line. The tackle duo of John Gill and Adam Hahn is downright nasty. End Corey Wootton is ready to be a star.
10. INDIANA
It all begins with end Greg Middleton, who's one of the nation's top pass rushers after leading the nation with 16 sacks in 2007. Tackle Greg Brown is a bull.
11. MINNESOTA
There are six vets with starting experience. It's vital that end William VanDeSteeg regain the pass-rushing form he displayed earlier in his career. The tackles must get tougher vs. the run.

LINEBACKERS
1. OHIO STATE
This is a dangerous group with James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman and Russ Homan.
2. WISCONSIN
This unit, paced by Jonathan Casillas, has more speed and athletic ability than almost every Badgers linebacker corps in recent history. DeAndre Levy is a playmaker.
3. MICHIGAN STATE
There is little size but lots of speed. Youth was served last year, and the Spartans will reap the benefit of force-feeding talents such as Greg Jones and Eric Gordon.
4. ILLINOIS
The athletic ability is as good as it has been in almost 20 years, with guys such as Martez Wilson, Rodney Pittman and Brit Miller.
5. PENN STATE
Dan Connor is gone to the NFL and Sean Lee will miss the season with a knee injury. That means it's Chris Colasanti's time to become a star. "Linebacker U" went six drafts without having one picked until Paul Posluszny was selected in 2007.
6. MICHIGAN
Long on ability but short on star power is the storyline for a group that will break in two new starters. Obi Ezeh must be an anchor inside.
7. IOWA
The biggest concern on the Hawkeyes' defense? This is it. But don't discount the program's ability to develop solid linebackers. A.J. Edds is ready to be one of the Big Ten's best.
8. INDIANA
There is one hole to fill for a unit that's long on speed but short on size. Look for new starter Matt Mayberry to be solid inside lined up next to playmaker William Patterson.
9. PURDUE
There's Anthony Heygood and well uh, did I mention Anthony Heygood, the one-time running back? Jason Werner is poised to be a playmaker on the outside. Otherwise, everyone's fingers are crossed.
10. NORTHWESTERN
Adam Kadela will be missed, but four players with starting experience return. Keep an eye on Prince Kwateng and Malcolm Arrington for a group that has decent athletic ability.
11. MINNESOTA
This remains a work in progress, as new coordinator Ted Roof looks to inject more speed. Converted defensive end Steve Davis is a keeper. Newcomers will be on the field.

SECONDARIES
1. MICHIGAN
The cornerback tandem of Donovan Warren and Morgan Trent may be without peer. Look for free safety Steve Brown to emerge as a star.
2. OHIO STATE
Malcolm Jenkins is the league's gold standard at cornerback. But the safety duo of Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell is salty and underrated.
3. PENN STATE
Five key players are back from a group that underperformed in 2007. Free safety Anthony Scirrotto is the epitome of this unit long on experience but not overly athletic. Cornerback A.J. Wallace is one of the Big Ten's best.
4. ILLINOIS
There's a lot to like, starting with corner Vontae Davis. There will be two new safeties, but everyone loves the potential of Bo Flowers, Donsay Hardeman and Nate Bussey.
5. MICHIGAN STATE
Long a sore spot, the group has six of last season's top eight players back. Cornerbacks Kendell Davis-Clark and Chris L. Rucker are formidable.
6. WISCONSIN
The safeties are back but need to be more consistent. The biggest worry is replacing star cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu, who left early for the NFL.
7. IOWA
Solidifying the cornerback spots is job one. The new starters will be supported by veteran safety duo Harold Dalton and Brett Greenwood.
8. PURDUE
David Pender and Royce Adams head a promising corps of cornerbacks, but there could be problems at safety. Brandon King figures to fill a key role at corner or safety for an improving unit.
9. NORTHWESTERN
Cornerback Sherrick McManis is a keeper, and strong safety Brendan Smith, who was hurt most of last season, is a quarterback in the secondary. But there isn't an abundance of athletic ability or speed for a group that's usually a liability.
10. INDIANA
Start worrying, because standouts Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors are gone. Safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk have to lead the way. Expect plenty of leaks.
11. MINNESOTA
Start dialing 9-1-1. This unit was an unmitigated disaster in 2007. Aside from an inability to cover or tackle, this was a great secondary. Look for myriad newcomers to comprise a unit that remains a work-in-progress.

SPECIAL TEAMS
1. PENN STATE
I dare you to find a weakness. You can't, so quit looking. Well, kicker Kevin Kelly could be better from long distance, but punter Jeremy Boone is a star and the return game is stocked with guys like Derrick Williams.
2. OHIO STATE
What's not to like about the booming legs of kicker Ryan Pretorius and punter A.J. Trapasso? It's time to amp up the kick-return game, though.
3. MICHIGAN
Zoltan Mesko is one of the league's top punters, and the kicking is steady with K.C. Lopata. But the return teams need juice.
4. MICHIGAN STATE
There never is a shortage of quality athletes in the return game. The kicking is primo with Brett Swenson (kicker) and Aaron Bates (punter).
5. INDIANA
Is there a better kicker in the Big Ten than Austin Starr? No. Marcus Thigpen is one of the nation's most electrifying return men.
6. PURDUE
Chris Summers is poised to be one of the Big Ten's best kickers after enjoying a breakout 2007, but he may be forced to pull double-duty. Is there a return man on campus?
7. ILLINOIS
Punter Anthony Santella is a keeper, but kicker Jason Reda will be missed. A true freshman may take over. Arrelious Benn is a big-time return man.
8. WISCONSIN
No Big Ten team has bigger holes to fill at kicker (Taylor Mehlhaff) and punter (Ken DeBauche). This could cost the Badgers a game. At least standout return man David Gilreath is back this season.
9. IOWA
Special teams have been a sore spot in Iowa City in recent seasons. Just sloppy. And it's driving Kirk Ferentz nuts. The kicker (Daniel Murray) and punter (Ryan Donahue) should be solid.
10. NORTHWESTERN
Sherrick McManis is a threat in the return game, and there are weapons at kicker (Amado Villarreal) and punter (Stefan Demos). A lack of athletic ability hurts the coverage units.
11. MINNESOTA
There are decent options at kicker in Joel Monroe and punter in Justin Kucek. Some of the speed Tim Brewster is bringing to town needs to emerge in the return game.

COACHING
1. OHIO STATE
Jim Tressel is on the Mount Rushmore of great Big Ten coaches. The defensive staff shines, headed by Jim Heacock and Luke Fickell - who will be a head coach one day.
2. PENN STATE
JoePa takes a licking and keeps on ticking. The guy is indomitable and determined to be college football's win king. A tremendous staff helps his cause. Get this: Since 1966, Paterno's first year, there have been 817 Division I-A head-coaching changes. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is one of the best in the biz.
3. MICHIGAN
There will be growing pains, but there are few better (or more demanding) coaches than Rich Rodriguez. Adding defensive coordinator Scott Shafer from Stanford was key. It's also a good thing offensive coordinator Calvin Magee moved to Ann Arbor with Rich Rod.
4. WISCONSIN
Bret Bielema is young, smart and good. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is among the best.
5. IOWA
The bloom officially is off Kirk Ferentz after three sub-par efforts. Was last year's 6-6 stinker rock bottom? Ferentz and his stable staff are too good for this to continue. Norm Parker is a great defensive coordinator. Receivers coach Erik Campbell was an excellent addition.
6. PURDUE
Everyone is motivated to send out Joe Tiller as a winner in his swan song before Danny Hope takes over the team. Defensive coordinator Brock Spack and assistant head coach Mark Hagen are special. Turnover has been the norm in West Lafayette, hindering any chance at continuity.
7. ILLINOIS
Let's hear it for the Zooker, who delivered a Rose Bowl in just three years. Guess the guy can coach, huh? He has a solid staff paced by star offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. Reggie Mitchell is a recruiting dynamo.
8. MICHIGAN STATE
In one season, Mark Dantonio has restored order and pride in East Lansing with his hard-nosed style. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is a rising star on this hard-working staff.
9. NORTHWESTERN
The youngest head coach in the I-A ranks, 33-year-old Pat Fitzgerald, still is learning on the job. This staff got better with the hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Mick McCall was hired from Bowling Green to run the offense.
10. INDIANA
Bill Lynch did a yeoman job last season delivering on Terry Hoeppner's dream of "playing 13."
11. MINNESOTA
Tim Brewster still is cutting his teeth leading a program, and the growing pains are obvious. He made a great hire in landing former Duke coach Ted Roof to rehab what was the worst defense in America.

MORE: 2008 Big Ten Conference Preview

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



Florida State NEWS

[More]

Latest Headlines:


 

Rivals.com is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
Site-specific editorial/photos Warchant.com. All rights reserved. This website is an officially and independently operated source of news and information not affiliated with any school or team.
About | Advertise with Us | Contact | Privacy Policy | About our Ads | Terms of Service | Copyright/IP policy | Yahoo! Sports - NBC Sports Network

Statistical information 2014 STATS LLC All Rights Reserved.