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Big Ten preview, Part I

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Editor's note: Our friends at American Sports Analysts, based out of Big Ten country, are on top off all the Big-Ten action, all the time. Click here for ASA's season pack, featuring weekly Big Ten plays with expert analysis.

Click here to read Part II of ASA's Big Ten preview.

Illinois Football Notes:

**        QB Jon Beutjer petitioned the NCAA for a 6th year of eligibility and was successful.  He will be back under center for the Illini after starting each of the last two years.  He had a surgically repair back after the 2003 season but was back on the field last spring.  In fact, he threw for 296 yards and 3 TD’s in the spring game.  His back problem kept him on the sidelines for the final 5 games a year ago.  He threw for 1600 yards and 10 TD’s in just 7 games.  As a junior, Beutjer threw for 2500 yards.  He is being pushed by Chris Pazan, who started two games last year and Tim Brasic who also has experience under center.

 

**        The Illini’s leading receiver last year, Kelvin Hayden, was switched to defensive back in the spring.  Hayden who had 52 catches for just under 600 yards in 2003, was awarded the defensive most improved player last spring.  He is expected to start at corner for Illinois in the fall.

 

**        The Illini seemed to really like the new schemes brought in by new DC Mike Mallory.  Head coach Ron Turner said the new system is less complicated and simplified from a year ago.  It has allowed the players to play better and faster and not have to “think on their feet” as much.  Turner really liked the defensive aggressiveness he saw in the spring.  He was concerned, however with the number of big plays they gave up last year and during the spring.  That will be a point of emphasis going into the 2004 season.

 

ASA’s 2004 POTENTIAL POINTSPREAD PLAY INVOLVING ILLINOIS:  Go against the Illini on October 23rd when they travel to Minnesota.  This will be the end of a brutal stretch for Illinois.  This game marks their 3rd road game in four weeks.  On October 2nd they travel to Wisconsin, on October 9th they are at Michigan State and the Illini host Michigan the week before their match up against the Gophers.  For Minnesota, this will be their ONLY home game in a five week span so expect them to be geared up for this one.  Last year the Gophs were (-16) @ Illinois and won easily 36-10.  Not to mention the Illini have not fared well in the Humphrey Dome going just 1-5 ATS their last 6 visits to Minnesota.  If this line isn’t too terribly high, we’ll consider laying the wood with the Gophers powerful rushing attack.   


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Indiana Football Notes
:

**        RB Yamar Washington, who started as a freshman back in 2002, returned this spring from a knee injury.  He led the Hoosiers in rushing in 2002 with 688 yards but sat out last year due to the injury.  He will be battling both BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Chris Taylor for carries in 2004.  Green-Ellis led IU last year with 938 yards while Taylor had 464.  All three had very good springs and the Hoosier rushing attack looks to be in pretty good hand for this year.

 

**        Indiana returns their entire offensive line for the 2004 season.  The QB will be senior Matt LoVecchio who started all but one game a year ago.  The transfer from Notre Dame, looked good in spring drills.  Head coach Gerry DiNardo said that LoVecchio is more comfortable with the offense and should be seeing it is his second year in the system. 

 

**        One of DiNardo’s goals is for his 2004 offense to be more “explosive” and they at least looked the part during the spring.  With WR Courtney Roby (already the 7th all time leading receiver in IU history) and experience at QB, RB, and offensive line, the prospects are in place for an improved offense. 

 

**        Last year’s defensive line coach, Joe Cullen, is now IU’s defensive coordinator.  He returns his entire front seven from a year ago. 

 

ASA’s 2004 POTENTIAL POINTSPREAD PLAY INVOLVING INDIANA:  Go against the Hoosiers on November 6th when they travel to Illinois.  This was Indiana’s only Big Ten win last year leaving the Illini winless.  Illinois will be ready for this one as it is their final home game of the season.  They will also remember how they lost last year @ Indiana.  In that game, the Hoosiers scored with just 24 seconds remaining to come up with the 17-14 victory.  Indiana has also struggled big time away from Bloomington.  Coming into the 2004 season, the Hoosiers were just 6-15-1 ATS their last 22 road games.  IU played a whopping 22 freshman last year (8 were starters) and are one of the youngest teams in the country.  We feel Indiana will improve under Gerry DiNardo, however because they are still so young, they will struggle away from home.  If the Illini as a low home chalk (under -10) we’ll take them.  If the number comes in higher, we’ll have to consider the circumstances at that time.        


Iowa Football Notes:

**        The leading candidate to take over at QB for the Hawkeyes is sophomore Jason Manson but only by a slight margin.  Manson, a 6 foot 1, 200 pounder from Connecticut, had the most consistent spring.  He didn’t hurt his position during the annual spring game going 7 for 7 for 139 yards.  His main competition is sophomore Drew Tate who also had a good spring showing.  Neither has really any experience as Tate attempted 11 passes in 2003 while Manson had just one attempt.

 

**             Replacing RB Fred Russell will be another key to the 2004 Hawkeyes.  Russell is the school’s 4th all time leading rusher.  His heir apparent looks like it will be senior Jermelle Lewis.  He has be a key component the last two year’s as Russell’s back up.  Lewis has rushed for nearly 1,000 yards the last two years combined.  Now he gets his chance to be the main man.  Watch out for Nebraska transfer Marques Simmons.  He ran for 110 yards on just 6 carries in the spring game and was said to be very impressive during workouts.

 

**        The offensive line has been one of the mainstays in Iowa’s return to prominence the last few years.  This year it will be a question mark entering the season.  Only two players on the offensive front have starting experience.  They are Peter McMahon and Mike Jones.  David Walker, who had knee problems last year and underwent surgery during the spring, could be a wildcard.  If he is back and 100% ready, that would give the O-Line another guy with a lot of experience.  If not, there will be a lot of unknowns early in the season on the offensive front.

 

**             Defensive lineman Matt Neubauer left the team in the spring.  He was expected to battle for the starting spot at defensive end.  He started 3 games last year and had 25 tackles, including 3 sacks. 

 

ASA’s 2004 POTENTIAL POINTSPREAD PLAY INVOLVING IOWA:  Play on the Hawkeyes when they host Ohio State on October 16th .  This is an excellent spot for the Hawks.  They will have a full two weeks to prepare for this gigantic home game after hosting Michigan State back on October 2nd.  The Buckeyes, on the other hand, will be coming off a huge revenge game vs. Wisconsin.  The Badgers are the team that broke OSU’s 19 game winning streak and the Bucks have not forgotten.  They will be focusing big time on their game with Wisconsin.  It will be very tough for them to turn around and play at Iowa the following Saturday.  Iowa, on the other hand, has not forgotten how they lost @ OSU a year ago.  The Buckeyes won the game 19-10 but didn’t score an offensive TD.  They scored on a FG, a punt return, a blocked punt and a safety.  The Iowa players know they should have won that game and are chomping at the bit to get it back.  While OSU has covered 14 of the last 18 meetings, we like this spot with a very solid Iowa team.  Take the points with the home team.   

  
Michigan's Braylon Edwards is one of the nation's top WRs.   
 
Michigan's Braylon Edwards is one of the nation's top WRs. (Getty Images)  
Michigan
Football Notes
:

**        Head coach Lloyd Carr hired Mike DeBord to coach Michigan’s special teams.  DeBord, who has been the head coach at Central Michigan the last four years, takes over a unit that struggled mightily in 2003.  Last year the Wolverines had three punts blocked and averaged just 37 yards per punt.  DeBord was on Michigan’s staff in the 1990’s including a stint as offensive coordinator from 1997 to 1999 before taking over at CMU. 

 

**        One key injury for Michigan during the spring was to defensive lineman Jeremy Van Alstyne.  He injured his knee during one of the spring practices which required reconstructive surgery.  He will almost positively not be able to play in 2004.  Van Alstyne was a starter on the defensive front in 2003.

 

**            Michigan will be without QB John Navarre this season as he has exhausted his eligibility.  The leading candidate to replace Navarre, who was U of M’s all time leader in passing yardage, is Matt Gutierrez.  He had a very solid spring and impressed Carr with the way he ran the football team.  Carr likes the fact that he is a take charge kind of player.  Gutierrez has some experience after throwing 19 passes last year as Navarre’s back up.  Pushing him is sophomore Clayton Richard who improved greatly as the spring went on.  However, you can be pretty sure that Gutierrez will be under center when Michigan opens their 2004 schedule at home vs. Miami of Ohio.

 

**        The Wolves should be loaded at WR and DB this season.  Wideouts returning include All American candidate Braylon Edwards, along with regulars Jason Avant and Steve Breaston.  Those three combined for 170 catches, 2,354 yards and 19 TD’s in 2003.  At cornerback, Michigan returns Marlin Jackson, who has moved back to CB from safety and Markus Curry, both seniors.  Also strong safety Earnest Shazor returns.  Those three seniors give Michigan one of the best secondary units in the country. 

 

**        U of M must also replace All American RB Chris Perry.  Look for senior David Underwood to get first shot in the fall.  He had a very good spring and has experience carrying the ball as he has nearly 500 career yards.  Keep your eye on sophomore Jerome Jackson as he really impressed Carr during spring ball.  Jackson averaged over six yards per carry in limited action last year.

 

ASA’s 2004 POTENTIAL POINTSPREAD PLAY INVOLVING MICHIGAN:  Go against the Wolverines on September 11th if they are FAVORED @ Notre Dame.  As of this writing, albeit only June, we expect Michigan to be favored in their game @ Notre Dame.  Last year the Wolves whipped the Irish in the Big House 38-0.  However that was only the THIRD time in 18 years that the favorite has covered in this series.  We expect the results this year to get back to the norm, thus we like the home dog.  You think the Irish are viewing this as a key game?  Take a listen to this.  Notre Dame was scheduled to open their season on September 11th vs. Michigan.  However, they wanted to make sure they had a game under their belt before facing the Wolves, thus they rescheduled their game @ BYU to be the season opener on September 4th.  It was originally scheduled for October 30th.  Michigan hosts Miami of Ohio on September 4th.  We expect the Irish to be highly motivated for this one after being embarrassed last year.  Michigan will a lot of new players on offense so don’t expect them to be hitting on all cylinders this early in the season.  We like ND if they are getting points in this home game.   

 

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Michigan State
Football Notes
:

**        One of the biggest questions going into the 2004 season will be who is going to replace Jeff Smoker as the starting QB?  MSU does have an experienced QB in senior Damon Dowdell who only threw 12 passes a year ago, but started five games under center as a sophomore.  While he had a pretty good spring, he will not be battling for the starting QB spot until he improves academically.  Head coach John L. Smith is not happy with Dowdell’s work in the classroom and basically said that until he shows him something in the classroom, he won’t be considered for the starting job.  That leaves redshirt freshman Stephen Reaves as the front runner.  Reaves took the majority of snaps with the first teamers last spring.  The 6 foot 1, 200 pounder was 15 of 26 for 184 yards during MSU’s spring scrimmage.  Also keep an eye on sophomore Drew Stanton.  He was considered the top QB in MSU’s freshman class a year ago but only played on special teams.  Odd that a coach would play a potential prize QB on special teams as a true freshman, however that shows the kind of athlete Stanton is.  He actually injured his knee in the Alamo Bowl at the end of last year on a special team’s play.  If he can get back to full strength for this year, he will make a strong run at the starting job.

 

**        In John L. Smith’s previous three stops as a head coach at Idaho, Utah State and Louisville, his team’s won a conference championship by his third year as the head man.  This will be his second season at MSU and he feels the Spartans are on a similar course.  “I think it’s realistic,” said Smith, “but I hope to challenge now, too.  We have to come out of the blocks strong (in 2004).”  MSU opens the season @ Rutgers before coming home to face Central Michigan and Notre Dame in the non conference portion of the schedule. 

 

**        You don’t see this scenario very often (if ever).  Smith wanted to shore up his defensive backfield for the 2004 season and he did it by moving his TOP TWO running backs from last season to the stop unit.  Jaren Hayes (609 yards last year) and Tyrell Dortch (279 yard a year ago) have both been moved from RB to the defensive backfield (Dortch will also be tried at LB).  Despite returning all four starters in the defensive backfield, Smith sent a message that no position is safe by moving his top RB to corner.  He obviously knows that pass coverage was a weak point for the Spartans a year ago as they gave up 255 YPG through the air.  That leaves the RB position thin and inexperienced with senior DeAndra Cobb (192 yards last year) and freshman Jehuu Caulcrick to battle for the starting job in the fall. 

ASA’s 2004 POTENTIAL POINTSPREAD PLAY INVOLVING MICHIGAN STATE:  Play on the Spartans when they host Notre Dame on September 18th .  This will be MSU’s first really big game of the season.  Expect them to be “jacked” up as high as can be for this home game.  They are catching the Irish is a very good spot.  Notre Dame will be coming off their huge home game vs. Michigan and then traveling to less heralded MSU.  As we know, ND is putting huge emphasis on their home game with Michigan the week before (see Michigan’s pointspread play above).  There is no way they won’t have a letdown here.  The Irish have failed to cover the spread the game after playing Michigan in 4 of the last 5 years.  Add to that the fact that MSU has dominated ND as of late winning 6 of the last 8 and covering 7 of the last 8, and we have to side with the motivated home team here.

  
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