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Darren Baileys All-Big Ten predictions

All students are taught from fourth grade on that the key to good writing and good speeches is a killer opening. An attention-grabber.
So, as to not disappoint Ms. McCloud (formerly of Jonesboro Elementary School), I set an outstanding opening as my goal for this week’s column.
Twenty fruitless minutes later I decided, “Oh, screw it. These guys just care about the sports anyway.” So, without any further ado, I present to you my 2004 Preseason All-Big Ten team (subject to change as to save my hide).
Quarterback Jon Beutjer senior Illinois
Ah, what a way to start this one out. You’re already thinking, “This kid—raised on orange-and-blue kool-aid with his O&B shades always at the ready.”
The obvious choice is Purdue’s Kyle Orton, I just think he might be the most overrated QB, maybe player, in the Big Ten. Obviously I could be wrong about this one—but that’s my prediction. After Orton, no QB has the talent of JB.
Whoever steps up for Michigan will have the weapons, but which one of the three is it going to be? Penn State is poised for a big year, so that could bode well for the Nittany Lions’ Zach Mills.
Runner-up—Kyle Orton, Purdue
Sleeper—Brett Basanez, Northwestern
Running back Laurence Maroney sophomore Minnesota
Yeah, maybe going out on a bit of a limb on this one, picking him as my number one back. However, I guarantee you that Illinois’ linebackers, as well as every other line he ran against, is still having nightmares about the freak of a freshman who tore each and every one of them up.
Maroney combined good vision and a growing repertoire of moves with a ridiculous combination of speed and power to rush for 1121 yards (at an astounding 6.9 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns in the conference’s deepest backfield, while being the most impressive back I saw in the Big Ten last year. Now, with Thomas Tapeh graduated and Terry Jackson transferred, there are more carries to go around. Will be the top RB taken in the NFL Draft in couple of years—I would have taken him last year.
Runner-up—Anthony Davis, Wisconsin
Hard not to put him in the top two, but with his history of injuries, I’m just a little wary. But, he’s supposed to be 100% healthy, now, and with Dwayne Smith in trouble and no lead QB in site, the Wisconsin offense will be on him this year.
Sleeper—Jerrod Void, Purdue
Running back Marion Barber III junior Minnesota
Yes, I’m picking both Gopher backs to the team. Crazy? Maybe. Surprising? Nah. Barber ran for 1196 yards (5.8 ypc) and 17 TD’s last year, and again, will have more carries this time around. Yes, he’s splitting time with Maroney, but Minnesota will be breaking in a new QB, and they know the RB depth they have—he’ll get his carries. Barber will remain the lead guy for the Gophers, and should have another big year. He’s another big back with great speed, and with Minnesota’s line, could run for over a mile this year.
Runner-up—E.B. Halsey, Illinois
Illinois’ Mr. Everything just misses out this time. He’s the most versatile offensive player in the conference, but with questions on the left side of his line and a target on his back, how effective will he be? Plenty… but have you seen those Gopher backs??
Sleeper—Austin Scott, Penn State
Wide receiver Taylor Stubblefield senior Purdue
Easy choice, here. I almost didn’t pick Taylor at first, however, because I thought that there was no way he was still at Purdue. Must have Cardinal-Settles Syndrome. Stubblefield has been Mr. Productivity for three years, now, leading the Boilers in receptions every year he’s been there. Needs just 73 receptions to become the NCAA record-holder in that category. Only 6-foot-1, but has superior speed and runs precise routes. May never be an NFL star, but there’s none better in college.
Runner-up—Santonio Holmes Ohio State
Big play threat will have to be big time for the Buckeyes this year.
Sleeper—Brandon Williams, Wisconsin
Wide receiver Braylon Edwards senior Michigan
Will be the first Big Ten receiver taken in next year’s NFL draft, he almost went this past year. Big possession receiver type who still maintains good speed. Best part of his game is leaping ability, 6-3 height, and confidence. Thinks he is big time, but sometimes needs more production to back that up. Drops a few balls, but is a very difficult receiver to cover.
Runner-up—Jason Avant, Michigan
Really almost chose Avant as the starter. I think he has a little better speed than Edwards, and has really shown lots of promise in games. Maybe just not quite on Edwards’ level, yet, though.
Sleeper—Kyle Ingraham, Purdue
Tim Massaquoi junior Michigan
Michigan always seems to have a top tight end. Massaquoi is this year’s version. Came in as an over-sized receiver, basically, but has filled-out and kept the speed. Caught only 15 passes for 199 yards last year, but look for that to increase. Very good athlete with ever-improving blocking skills.
Runner-up—Matt Spaeth, Minnesota
Sleeper—Melvin Bryant, Illinois
Left tackle Adam Stenavich junior Michigan
Third Wolverine in a row. Hard finding a top left tackle this year with Gallery and Bubin leaving, among others. Stenavich is big, athletic, and has the usual nasty Michigan lineman edge. Was on the All-Freshman Big Ten team two years ago as well as 2nd team Freshman All-American on two different groups.
Left guard Mark Setterstrom sophomore Minnesota
Started as a true freshman last year and was very impressive. A big part of a line that opens up the holes for the best running team in the conference.
Center Donovan Raiola junior Wisconsin
Part of the most impressive line I saw in person last year. Very quick, very strong, and very good football intelligence. Also has a definite swagger to him. Knows he’s better than the tackles across from him. Much more solid body than one would think by looking at him. Gets the nod over Eslinger from Minnesota, because after personal experience, I’d be afraid for my life if I didn’t.
Right guard Dan Buenning senior Wisconsin
I just feel like I owe it to the Badger line to pick more than one. They had just an outstanding game against Illinois. Opened-up holes big enough to drive Mack trucks through. Illinois never recovered from that. Buenning is the leader of that line, should play in the NFL.
Right tackle Bucky Babcock senior Illinois
Didn’t have the greatest year in 2003, but I pick him anyway? Yeah—I do. Right tackle isn’t the conference’s strong point this year, and I expect big things from Bucky this year. He’s a senior and ready to go out a winner. Will be more comfortable with another year under his belt on the outside. I’m looking for a good year on the right side of Illinois’ line, and Babcock is a big reason why.
Kicker Ben Jones junior Purdue
The former walk-on from Butler has become one of the better kickers in college football. Tied a single-season Big Ten record with 25 field goals made last year. Has range out past 50 yards and was 9-9 in kicks between 40-49 yards. If things don’t fall the right way, might be the most important Purdue offensive weapon.
Runner-up—Mike Nugent, Ohio State and Garret Rivas, Michigan. These two have the talent, but maybe not he consistency, to be great kickers.
Kick returner DeAndra Cobb senior Michigan State
Surprised myself with this pick. I was all set to go with Jim Leonhard from Wisconsin (because I couldn’t put him at punt returner) until I checked the stats. Cobb led the conference with a 27.2 yards per return average and three touchdowns. Can’t argue with those numbers. Congratulations, DeAndra.
Runner-up—Laurence Maroney, Minnesota
Was going to be E.B. Halsey as runner-up, but I don’t know how many kicks he’ll actually get to return this year. So, I went with the stats again.
Was my offense 'right’? We’ll see. Are you ready for the defense? I don’t care—because it’s here, anyway. Let’s start up front with some big uglies:
Defensive end Matt Roth senior Iowa
Is there any doubt about this one? I’m having trouble remembering a defensive end that has been as disruptive as Mr. Roth. I have no hard feelings, but man would he look good in Orange and Blue. He’s got good size (though, I think I doubt the 6-foot-4, 270-pounds that he’s listed at by Iowa) and very impressive speed for an end.
However, what separates him from other athletes is his approach to the game. He plays with reckless abandon. With absolutely no concern for bodily injury (to himself or inflicted upon others), Roth comes off the line like a tornado, tearing up everything in his path.
Runner-up: Jonathan Welsch, Wisconsin
Sleeper: LaMarr Woodley, Michigan
Defensive end Simon Fraser senior Ohio State
Last year he teamed with Will Smith to form one of the most imposing set of book-ends in the Big Ten. Fraser isn’t going to blow you away with his speed or athletic ability, but his 6-foot-6, 280-pound frame and strength helps him hold the point of attack and lock down his side. The Ohio State defense is always one of the tops in the league, and Fraser will help insure that again this year.
Runner-up: Loren Howard, Northwestern
Sleeper: Ray Edwards, Purdue
Defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne senior Wisconsin
Again, a no-brainer. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Connecticut native is arguably the best defensive player in the Big Ten, and also the conference’s top NFL prospect. It’s widely thought that Hawthorne will declare for the draft following the season, and expect him to be one of the first, if not the first, tackles taken. Very good athleticism for his size added with a drive to completely destroy opposing offenses makes Hawthorne the best in the Big Ten.
Runner-up: Tamba Hali, Penn State
Sleeper: Gabriel Watson, Michigan
Defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock sophomore Ohio State
Another cog in the Ohio State defense, Pitcock was highly rated coming out of high school. Moves well for a big guy, and plays the tough, hard-nosed style that the Buckeye defenders are known for. Had a productive freshman season, and should just get better with age.
Runner-up: Brent Grover, Purdue
Linebacker Abdul Hodge junior Iowa
Really hard to argue putting Hodge in here. As a sophomore he led the conference in tackles with 141 (83 solo). He’s got good size (6-foot-2, 232-pounds) and superior athletic ability. The Iowa front seven will be really tough with Matt Roth chasing quarterbacks and Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway racking up the tackles. Greenway and Hodge might make up the best linebacking duo in the nation.
Runner-up: Matt Sinclair senior Illinois
Sinclair was right there in the top three in my original version. Then, with the bar incident coming up, he’s been moved off. He’ll have to miss at least one game, maybe more. How will he respond? How will the team respond to him? What Sinclair will show up? The aggressive one that fans have been hearing of recently, or the one that gets run over by a quarterback on the goal line of a close game? One things for sure, though—he has the talent to be the best in the conference.
Sleeper: Tim McGarigle, Northwestern
Linebacker A.J. Hawk junior Ohio State
The leader of another great linebacking corps. Ohio State has a nice trio going with Hawk, Bobby Carpernter, and former Air Force star Anthony Schlegel—it was tough to pick one to put on here. Hawk is the smallest of the three, but perhaps the most athletic. A physical head-hunter, Hawk was one of the top ten tacklers in the Big Ten last year.
Runner-up: Pierre Woods, Michigan
Sleeper: Anthony Schlegel, Ohio State
Linebacker Chad Greenway junior Iowa
The other half of the Hawkeye linebacking duo. It’s tough to put two guys from the same corps on this list, but Greenway deserves it. Greenway was the third leading tackler in the conference last year with 132 (77 solo). Hodge is the better athlete, scraping from is middle linebacker position, but Greenway is your Midwestern, Big Ten, meat and potatoes guy. Could be tough going running the ball in Iowa City this year.
Runner-up: Lawrence Reid, Michigan
Safety Ernest Shazor sophomore Michigan
I could have chosen a more productive safety, here, but I really believe that with the graduations of Bob Sanders and Stu Schweigart, Shazor will be the most feared safety in the conference this year. First, you take a look at his size. At 6-foot-4, 226-pounds, Shazor is as big as most starting Big Ten linebackers. Then, you take into account his speed which allowed him to temporarily switch to receiver as a true freshman in an attempt to get this kid on the field. Finally, you run like hell once you get a scent of his vicious hitting. Shazor is a playmaker—exactly what Michigan haters love to see in the Wolverine secondary.
Runner-up: Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin
Sleeper: Sean Considine, Iowa
Safety Herana-Daze Jones senior Indiana
A bit of a surprise, here, I’d say. But, I have my reasons. First of all, I said I went with potential with Shazor. Well, I went with production with Jones. He had 96 tackles (70 solo) last season, putting him in the top 10. That leads me to my next point—is anyone really scared of anybody else on the Hoosier defense? His production may be down this year for Jones, but only because teams may really start to run away from him. But, I still say he’ll have a very productive year from his ‘rover’ safety position.
Runner-up: Travis Williams, Illinois
Sleeper: Torri Stuckey, Northwestern
Cornerback Marlin Jackson senior Michigan
Surprised with Jones? Don’t be surprised with Jackson. Jackson was the bluest of blue-chippers coming out of Pennsylvania. Four years later—same story. He’ll be a first day draft pick next year, and will have a nice NFL career. After his first season, Jackson was named to the All-Big Ten freshmen team as well as Freshman All-American. He was then first team All-American after his sophomore year. Then, he was named the pre-season Defensive Player of the Year for the Big Ten last season. He missed four games last year, but still had 50 tackles. Expect big things from Jackson this season.
Runner-up: Scott Starks, Wisconsin
Sleeper: Kelvin Hayden, Illinois
Cornerback Alan Zemaitis junior Penn State
Who? Most people probably don’t really know the name Alan Zemaitis. All he did last year, though was have 49 tackles and three interceptions. Oh, and he led the conference in both passes defended and breakups (22 and 18, respectively). Zemaitis probably isn’t an athlete in the category of a Marlin Jackson or Ernest Shazor, but he’s a bring your lunch-pail, hard-hat, bring it every play cornerback. I like it.
Runner-up: Markus Curry, Michigan
Sleeper: Ted Ginn, Jr, Ohio State
Punter Steve Weatherford junior Illinois
Maybe I should have gone with Brandon Fields here, but—this is an Illinois site. And it’s not like Weatherford isn’t deserving. He’s got a leg that can go as far as 70 yards, all that’s really missing is the consistency. He was getting better and better as the season continued last year, and I expect big things from him again. The only thing that could really mess with this pick is tiring of the leg from also taking over the place kicking duties. The final reason why he gets the pick? Should have been the Illini defensive MVP last year—hopefully it won’t be that way again.
Runner-up: Brandon Fields, Michigan State
Punt returner Steve Breaston sophomore Michigan
No question whatsoever. Is reason enough by himself to turn on a Michigan game. (Did I just say that?) He’s the most fun to watch as a punt returner in the game today, with exception only to the Kansas City's Dante Hall. Sometimes it seems like you’re watching a video game and some mildly obsessed, girlfriendless, mid-puberty junkie is going crazy with the joystick. The cliché fits here, guys, ‘he’s a threat to take it all the way every time.’ Just watch.
Runner-up: Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin
Questions? Comments? Let Darren know what you think at dmbaile1@uiuc.edu