Ohio State the class of the Big Ten

by Murali Balaji

A capsule look at the Big Ten conference, with teams listed in order of The Minnesota Daily’s projected order of finish:

1997 Record: 10-3 (6-2 Big Ten)
Coach: John Cooper (11th season)

Team Breakdown: The Buckeyes enter the season as the No. 1 team in the country — and with good reason. The team lost only five starters from last year’s squad and returns one of the most potent offenses in the nation. Ohio State’s skill position players, year-in and year-out, are arguably the best in the Big Ten. OSU should have no problems putting points on the board this season. The defensive unit is underrated, but loaded with talent.
Player to watch: Andy Katzenmoyer, linebacker. The “Big Kat” is the real deal and is the odds-on-favorite to be the Butkus Award Winner, as well as the number one pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound junior had 13 tackles-for-loss last year and was the primary reason why opposing teams were wary of running against the Buckeyes. However, Katzenmoyer has been saddled with academic problems this summer, and may have to scramble in order to get his grades high enough to play this year.
Predicted record: 10-1 (assuming the annual loss to Michigan)

1997 Record: 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Coach: Nick Saban (4th season)

Team Breakdown: With a little luck, the Spartans could be the darkhorse to win the Big Ten after coming off a disappointing season. The team started off 4-1, but lost four of their last seven games, fueling speculation on whether Nick Saban would return as coach. Saban is back, and this veteran squad should be able to make its way up the polls with a less-than-imposing schedule.
Player to watch: Sedrick Irvin, running back. Irvin is arguably the most complete offensive weapon in the Big Ten, and is coming off a 1,270-yards, nine TD campaign. Look for the 6-foot, 217-pound senior to put up even more impressive numbers this season.
Predicted record: 9-2

1997 Record: 12-0 (8-0 Big Ten)
AP National Champions
Coach: Lloyd Carr (4th season)

Team Breakdown: The 1997 Wolverines may have been one of the Big Ten’s best ever, and their defense might be remembered as one of the most dominant in college football history. That said, the team must replace QB Brian Griese and Heisman Award-winning CB Charles Woodson, the hearts of the offense and defense, respectively. The defense will probably be ranked first in the conference again, but many questions remain on the offensive side of the ball.
Player to watch: Sam Sword, linebacker. If Katzenmoyer was not in the Big Ten, Sword would arguably be the best linebacker in the conference. The 6-foot-2, 242-pound senior will be one of the main reasons why Michigan’s defense will still strike fear into opposing offenses this year.
Predicted record: 8-3

1997 Record: 8-5 (5-3 Big Ten)
Coach: Barry Alvarez (9th season)

Team Breakdown: The Badgers will enter the season with more talent than any other squad in Barry Alvarez’s tenure. The offense, which ranked third in the conference in rushing last year, will return nine starters and defense looks to finally come together. However, with the loss of two starting receivers, Wisconsin may not have the offensive firepower — aside from running back Ron Dayne — to keep up with the other conference contenders.
Player to watch: Dayne. The record-setting junior’s ankle and shoulder problems hampered him for much of last year, but he still was second in the Big Ten with 1,457 yards rushing and 15 TDs. If he stays healthy and the offensive line is up to snuff, the 5-foot-10, 260-pounder will be a force to be reckoned with this year.
Predicted record: 7-4

1997 Record: 9-3 (6-2 Big Ten)
Coach: Joe Paterno (33rd season)

Team Breakdown: The Lions lost five starters from one of the conference’s most high-powered offenses, and will be hard-pressed to replace the likes of All-America RB Curtis Enis and QB Mike McQueary. However, Joe Paterno always manages to get his team prepared to play hard every game, so don’t expect a major slip this season.
Player to watch: Aaron Harris, fullback. The Lions offensive production slipped last year when Harris suffered a season-ending knee inury against the Gophers. The 5-11, 225-pound bruiser is healthy now and could stake his claim to being among the conference’s top big backs.
Predicted record: 7-4

1997 Record: 9-3 (6-2 Big Ten)
Coach: Joe Tiller (2nd season)

Team Breakdown: In his first season as coach, Joe Tiller instilled confidence in a squad that had been known as a perennial underachiever. The Boilermakers run a west coast-style offense, relying more on their short passing game than a power running game. However, the loss of QB Billy Dicken (3,136 yards, 21 TDs) will hurt.
Player to watch: Roosevelt Colvin, defensive end. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior was a force to be reckoned with last year, collecting 12.5 sacks and 22 tackles-for-loss. Colvin is one of the most devastating pass-rushers in the Big Ten and could put up numbers similar to those of ex-Gopher All-American Lamanzer Williams (18.5 sacks in 1997).
Predicted record: 6-5
1997 Record: 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Coach: Hayden Fry (20th season)

Team Breakdown: After a fast start, the team faded back into the middle of the Big Ten pack. This year, the Hawkeyes must try to replace leading rusher Tavian Banks, who is now in the NFL. The defense, ranked second in the conference last year, will still be imposing despite the loss of five starters.
Player to watch: Jared DeVries, defensive end. DeVries is arguably one of the most dominating defensive linemen in the country, having collected 33 sacks in his first three years of play. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound senior will be hard to contain and should earn All-America honors again this year.
Predicted record: 5-6

1997 Record: 3-9 (1-7 Big Ten)
Coach: Glen Mason (2nd season)
Predicted record: 5-6

1997 Record: 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten)
Coach: Gary Barnett (6th season)

Team Breakdown: It was only three years ago that the Wildcats were in the Rose Bowl, and now they are struggling again to stay out of the Big Ten cellar. Gary Barnett will have his hands full trying to establish a running game while trying to hold opponents defensively.
Player to watch: D’Wayne Bates, wide receiver. Bates will be one reason why the Wildcats will not fall in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior broke his leg in the season opener and was lost for the rest of 1997. He is back at full strength and should be one of the conference’s top receivers.
Predicted record: 5-7
1997 Record: 2-9 (1-7)
Coach: Cam Cameron (2nd season)

Team Breakdown: If last year was any indication of things to come, then the Hoosiers will probably not contend for a Big Ten title until 2010. With gaping holes on both sides of the ball, the team must hope that its younger players can provide a semblance of hope for the future.
Player to watch: Adewale Ogunleye, defensive end. An All-Big Ten selection in 1997, Ogunleye was the lone bright spot for the Hoosiers, collecting 92 tackles and 10 sacks.
Predicted record: 3-8
1997 Record: 0-11 (0-8 Big Ten)
Coach: Ron Turner (2nd season)

Team Breakdown: It can’t get any worse than last year for Ron Turner, but it won’t get much better, either. The team lost running back Robert Holcombe (1,253 yards, four TDs) to the NFL, which means an offense that was bad last season could be even worse.
Player to watch: Danny Clark, linebacker. Clark will be counted on to lead a defense that did not stop too many people last year. The 6-2, 230-pound junior is coming off a five sack campaign, and should benefit from one more year of experience.
Predicted record: 1-10