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SPORTS EXTRA / COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2000 | BIG TEN PREVIEW

In Predicted Order Of Finish

August 26, 2000|JIM HODGES

1. WISCONSIN

Coach: Barry Alvarez, 11th season

1999 record: 10-2, 7-1

Case for: Throw the ball at your own peril when Jamar Fletcher is on the field. He might be the country's best cover cornerback and has run back five interceptions for touchdowns, a Big Ten record. And, if linebackers Bryson Thompson and Nick Greisen can step into big shoes (Thompson's belonged to his brother Donnell), the defense is solid. No, make that spectacular.

Case against: Saying a team might be better without Dayne might be a reach, but the Badgers should be more fun to watch. At least Bollinger will have more to do than just hand the ball off, which he did often. Wisconsin ran for 3,305 yards, passed for only 1,701 last season. But lest you think Bollinger is going to have carte blanche, know that the Badgers will still be a running/option team, just with new faces and the Heisman a memory.

If it all breaks right: Wisconsin beats Michigan for only the second time in Ann Arbor since 1962, then somehow gets past Ohio State the next week, skips the Rose Bowl and goes on to Miami, where bigger things await.

2. MICHIGAN

Coach: Lloyd Carr, 6th season

1999 record: 9-2, 6-2

Case for: OK, Drew Henson has the arm for the out pattern. It's just a third-to-first throw, and Henson made plenty of those this season with double-A Norwich and, after he was traded by the Yankees to Cincinnati, Chattanooga. And Henson can operate behind an offensive line that includes probable first-round NFL picks in Steve Hutchinson, Maurice Williams and Jeff Backus; hand to Anthony Thomas, the best returning running back in the Big Ten; and throw to wideout David Terrell, who is almost as good as he says he is, and he says, "I can do everything."

Case against: Three of the four starters in the defensive secondary are back, a good-news-bad-news situation. James Whitley, Todd Howard and DeWayne Patmon have experience, but they were called "The Suspects." The caller? Coach Lloyd Carr, and the 2,546 passing yards the Wolverines gave up last season is Exhibit A for anybody's offense.

If it all breaks right: Michigan uses its Big House advantage to win the Big Ten showdown against Wisconsin on Sept. 30, then doesn't let down the next week at Purdue.

3. PENN STATE

Coach: Joe Paterno, 35th season

1999 record: 10-3, 5-3

Case for: Paterno needs only seven victories to catch Bear Bryant as the winningest coach in Division I history, and you have to figure there are more than seven wins in the Nittany Lion schedule. You also have to figure there is a 31st bowl game for him too, because bowl time is when Paterno is at his best. No, not just because he has won 20. It's because it offers a whole new group of reporters to hear his stories.

Case against: It's the one being prosecuted by the Hoboken, N.J., police against quarterback Rashard Casey for his May 14 arrest on charges of joining two friends in beating an off-duty cop unconscious. Casey says the charges are "nonsense" but can't say anything else because Penn State officials are limiting reporters' questions of him to "football and related matters."

If it all breaks right: Penn State replaces nine defensive starters and adapts to the scheme of Tom Bradley, who replaced Jerry Sandusky. Not that it will be all that different. Bradley has coached the secondary for 22 years under Sandusky, who retired after 32 years as defensive coordinator.

4. OHIO STATE

Coach: John Cooper, 13th season

1999 record: 6-6, 3-5

Case for: Ken Yon Rambo, once a troubled freshman from Long Beach, now is a mature senior looking for leadership responsibility and ways to show he is the real deal at wideout. He has even spent the last couple of weeks campaigning to be the Buckeyes' captain, a lousy job if their chemistry is no better than last season. But a captaincy won't get him more touchdown passes than the six he caught last season. It's something new offensive coordinator Chuck Stobart is there to do.

Case against: Quarterback Steve Bellisari spent last season's first two games playing behind Austin Moherman, then ran Moherman out of town. But Bellisari, now a junior, completed only 45.1% of his passes, lowest for a Buckeye starting quarterback since 1973. And he was only a combined 14 of 37 in defeats by Penn State and Michigan State.

If it all breaks right: Bellisari runs the new offense well enough to keep Ohio State from being beaten, well enough to save Cooper's job (he is the Big Ten coach on the hottest seat after a breakeven, no-bowl season) and well enough to beat Michigan.

5. ILLINOIS

Coach: Ron Turner, fourth season

1999 record: 8-4, 4-4

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