Moving along with an early look at the PSU schedule we take a look at the middle or Oreo Cream filling part. Again here's a look at the schedule in full. Part 1 here.
09/05/09 vs. Akron
09/12/09 vs. Syracuse
09/19/09 vs. Temple
09/26/09 vs. Iowa
10/03/09 at Illinois
10/10/09 vs. Eastern Illinois
10/17/09 vs. Minnesota
10/24/09 at Michigan
10/31/09 at Northwestern
11/07/09 vs. Ohio State
11/14/09 vs. Indiana
11/21/09 at Michigan State
The Zooker's defense lost an All-American cornerback (Vontae Davis) to the 1st round of the NFL draft, a team and Big Ten leading tackler (Brit Miller) and the best returning defensive lineman (Josh Brent) to "legal complications."* Considering Davis was the NFL's 25th pick and the fighting [non-offensive-mascots] defense was dead last in the conference in interceptions, it's not a leap of faith to believe Illini's defense will be slightly worse than last year's version which wasn't great.
The offensive side of the ball looks much more promising returning all but one skill position player from an offense that led the conference in passing and total yardage. The combination of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn will terrorize opposing defenses (Benn led the conference in receiving yards in conference play despite double teams). Zooker used a running back by committee approach last season with mixed results but the entire committee returns. Most of the mistakes at the running back position were of the fumbly kind. That's all the good, now for the bad news: Juice led the league in sacks last season and although some of that could be blamed on his propensity to hold onto the ball way too long, take sacks, and deposit the ball to the opposing defense, much of the blame could be levied on the offensive line. To make matters worse the Illini loose two All-American linemen. Oh, they'll be prolific once again but it's going to be a Chinese fire drill in the backfield.
Probability of loss: 40%
Impact of loss: crushing, but understandable if not forgivable, considering it's the first road game.
Apparently the schedule makers decided October was Illinois month as Penn State hosts Eastern Illinois right after visiting Illinois. The Panthers return 7 starters on offense and six starters on defense from a team that went 5-7 in the Ohio Valley conference in 2008. The returners on offense are mostly offensive lineman including 1st team All-Ohio Valley Conference guard Chaz Millard, but they do return quarterback Bodie Reeder who threw for 1,931 yards, 13 TD's and 7 INT's last season. The defense returns no one of note (the combined sack total of all key returning defenders is 3 – Aaron Maybin laughs at your sack total).
Probability of loss: No Freakin' way
Impact of loss: I start looking forward to Wrestling and Hockey season
Blog(s) of note: NONE – It's Eastern freakin' Illinois: here's their official site.
The wheels fell off Tim Brewster's Gophers last season after starting out 7-1 they lost the last four games. Still, it was an impressive turnaround from the 1-11 debacle a year earlier. Even bigger things are expected of the 2009 version of Minnesota. 19 starters return in total including 10 on offense. All-Big Ten QB Adam Weber and All-Big Ten Wr Eric Decker create a formidable 1-2 punch and the entire offensive line is back with several backups that saw significant playing time. The defense lacks star playmakers but is a very veteran group (8 of the 9 returning starters are seniors) led by All-Big Ten CB Traye Simmons. This is officially TNL's trap game of the season, with so many returning veterans on both sides of the ball if Penn State is not playing well they will lose. This game has me feeling the same way I felt about Iowa last season and we all know how that turned out.
Probability of loss: 50%
Impact of loss: See Iowa 2008
Blog(s) of note: The Daily Gopher
The DickRod regime moves on to year two and Rodriguez's fingerprints are starting to show by way of a Top 10 recruiting class. Last year's starting signal caller Steven Threet left Michigan after seeing the writing on the wall which leaves the reigns to incoming freshman Tate Forcier. The offense returns 6 starters with the strength being the offensive line a group that gave up only 22 sacks last season which is impressive considering how awful the Wolverines were and how clubfooted Threet was. Forcier will bring an elusiveness that defenses could ignore last season and there will be an influx of young talent at the receiver position. But… before Wolverine fans start dreaming of complete turnarounds, Forcier is just a true freshman and there will be plenty of growing pains. Forcier will be able to get himself out of trouble with his feet but the good defenses on the schedule will force him into freshman mistakes.
The defense was horrible last season and only returns one starter on the line and one in the secondary. The new defensive coordinator is erstwhile Syracuse coach Greg Robinson who, while failing miserably as a head coach, has a very decent resume as a defensive coordinator. They won't be great but they will probably be better. Wolverine fans should be very worried about Western Michigan a team that upset Illinois last season. That could be a tough game for a very green team to start out with.
Probability of loss: 40% - would be less but it's on the road, 8 games into the schedule when all the young guys will have experience under their belts
Impact of loss: All of PSU Nation moans "here we go again!"
*Any blog that fits a reference to beer into their title is tops in my book