August 16, 2007

Preseason breakdown: Big Ten

RIVALS.COM BIG TEN PREVIEW:
Overview | Preseason All-Big First Team | Preseason All-Ten Second Team

HOW THEY WILL FINISH
Best offensive player: Offensive linemen are so easily overlooked, but not Michigan's Jake Long. The Wolverines standout is the best player on a unit that features great talent at the skill positions. A returning All-American, Long is a top Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award candidate. He could be a possible top-five pick in next year's NFL Draft.

Best defensive player: James Laurinaitis made a great first impression. Laurinaitis stepped in for the departed A.J. Hawk and earned All-American honors. Laurinaitis won the Nagurski Award after leading the Buckeyes in tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles. This year he's heavier and stronger than he was in 2006.

Best player you don't know yet: In his first two seasons, Ohio State's Lawrence Wilson has posted only 14 tackles. That total should rise dramatically this season. Even though he's still overshadowed by teammate Vernon Gholston, the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Wilson has amazing physical ability. The Buckeyes expect to emerge as a powerful pass rusher.

Impact newcomer: In 2006, Illinois finished last among Big Ten offenses. The arrival of Rivals.com five-star wide receiver prospect Arrelious Benn figures to pay off immediately. Benn enrolled early and gave Illini fans a preview of things to come by catching five passes for 145 yards in the spring game.

Sleeper recruit: Three-star cornerback prospect Ryan Collado made a quick impression and is already running with Minnesota's first team. The Gophers need immediate help after finishing last in the Big Ten in pass defense.

THE BIG TEN'S BEST ...

Quarterbacks: Michigan

Running backs: Michigan

Wide receivers: Michigan

Tight ends: Wisconsin

Offensive line: Michigan

Defensive line: Iowa

Linebackers: Penn State

Defensive backs: Penn State

Kickers/punters: Wisconsin

Special teams: Indiana

Assistant coach on the rise: As a first-year defensive coordinator, Michigan's Ron English introduced a "fast and physical'' approach. The Wolverines finished 10th nationally in total defense and 15th in scoring defense. If English can construct a unit that even approaches that success again this year, he should be a head coaching candidate in the offseason.

Assistant coach on the hot seat: Northwestern's Garrick McGee was promoted to offensive coordinator last year and endured the trials of a season in which the Wildcats were last in the Big Ten in total offense and scoring offense. Early injuries to quarterback C.J. Bacher were surely a factor, but this year Bacher is healthy.

Best position battle: The Ohio State quarterback competition between Todd Boeckman and Rob Schoenhoft may continue throughout the year. Boeckman has a strong arm and more experience. Schoenhoft has a stronger arm and great leadership skills. If either falters, the other will be ready.

Boom or bust player: Penn State senior Austin Scott has rushed for 1,021 yards in his college career. He takes over for departed Tony Hunt, who rushed for 1,386 last season. Scott has shown flashes - he rushed for 110 yards against Florida State in the 2006 Orange Bowl - but must prove he can be effective a whole year.

BEST BY POSITION
Quarterback

1. Chad Henne, Michigan

2. Curtis Painter, Purdue

3. Anthony Morelli, Penn State

4. Kellen Lewis, Indiana

5. Tyler Donovan, Wisconsin

Receiver

1. Mario Manningham, Michigan

2. Dorien Bryant, Purdue

3. James Hardy, Indiana

4. Adrian Arrington, Michigan

5. Deon Butler, Penn State

Tight End

1. Travis Beckum, Wisconsin

2. Dustin Keller, Purdue

3. Andrew Quarless, Penn State

4. Kellen Davis, Michigan State

5. Jeff Cumberland, Illinois

Linebacker

1. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State

2. Dan Connor, Penn State

3. J Leman, Illinois

4. Mike Klinkenborg, Iowa

5. Sean Lee, Penn State

Kicker

1. Taylor Mehlhaff, Wisconsin

2. Aaron Pettrey, Ohio State

3. Austin Starr, Indiana

4. Kevin Kelly, Penn State

5. Brett Swenson, Michigan State

Running back

1. Mike Hart, Michigan

2. P.J. Hill, Wisconsin

3. Chris Wells, Ohio State

4. Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern

5. Javon Ringer, Michigan State

Offensive line

1. Jake Long, Michigan

2. Kirk Barton, Ohio State

3. Jordan Grimes, Purdue

4. Adam Kraus, Michigan

5. Marcus Coleman, Wisconsin

Defensive line

1. Vernon Gholston, Ohio State

2. Kenny Iwebema, Iowa

3. Nick Hayden, Wisconsin

4. Terrance Taylor, Michigan

5. Lawrence Wilson, Ohio State

Defensive back

1. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State

2. Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin

3. Justin King, Penn State

4. Otis Wiley, Michigan State

5. Jamar Adams, Michigan

Punter

1. Ken DeBauche, Wisconsin

2. A.J. Trapasso, Ohio State

3. Jared Armstrong, Purdue

4. Zoltan Mesko, Michigan

5. Justin Kucek, Minnesota

RIVALS.COM BIG TEN PREVIEW:
Overview | Preseason All-Big First Team | Preseason All-Ten Second Team

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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