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Talented Wolverines still face tests

8/19/2004

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit predicts the Big Ten conference champion, award winners and more:

And the winner is ...
Michigan

The Wolverines have the best offensive line and most experienced defense in the Big Ten to go with the best receiving corps in the nation. All three will help the process of breaking in a new quarterback and tailback. The
schedule is favorable as well, with Iowa and Minnesota coming to Ann Arbor and Michigan not playing Wisconsin or Penn State.

But I wouldn't be surprised ...
If Minnesota won
People seem to forget the Golden Gophers won 10 games last year and return 15 starters, including the bulk of the defense, and they also have the best 1-2 punch in the conference in running backs Marion Barber III and Lawrence Maroney. The big concern is whether Minnesota can find a capable replacement for graduated quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq, and road games at Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin will be big tests. Don't forget about Ohio State, either, even though a lot of people are counting the Buckeyes out after losing 14 players to the NFL draft.

Most Valuable Player ...
Anthony Davis, RB, Wisconsin
Davis missed five full games and parts of four others last season with an ankle injury, but if he remains healthy this year 2,000 yards is a realistic goal behind five returning starters on the offensive line and the best blocking fullback in the league in Matt Bernstein.

Most Important Player(s) ...
Justin Zwick/Troy Smith, QBs, Ohio State
The most glaring question mark for the Buckeyes is the play of their sophomore quarterbacks, who are bidding to replace Craig Krenzel and his 24-3 career record as a starter. Ohio State gets Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan in Columbus this season, but the consistency of the quarterback position will determine whether or not the Buckeyes can win the Big Ten.

Coach of the Year ...
Lloyd Carr, Michigan
How can you not pick the coach who wins the conference title? Carr has plenty of success in big games (14-3 against top-10 competition) and that experience will come in handy as the Wolverines face plenty of stiff tests this year. The team Michigan puts on the field has a chance to do big things, and a league championship means Coach of the Year honors.

Assistant You Should Know ...
Galen Hall, Penn State
Hall, the former Florida head coach, replaces 34-year Penn State veteran Fran Ganter as the Nittany Lions' offensive coordinator and will try to liven up an offense that has become one-dimensional in recent year. Hall's main task will be to incorporate more vertical passing into the attack to go with the running of sophomore back Austin Scott.

Player I'd pay to watch ...
Matt Roth, DE, Iowa
An all-conference performer last season, Roth has 22 sacks over the last two years and at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds is one of the most athletic defensive ends in college football. Opposing quarterbacks must be aware of Roth every time they drop back.

Toughest Place(s) to play ...
Ohio Stadium, Ohio State/Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin
When either of these two teams is having a good year you can always expect opposing quarterbacks to need to use hand signals to check off at the line of scrimmage, especially in big games.

Game of the Year ...
Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 20
Need you even ask? Although I picked Michigan to win the Big Ten, if this game decides which team heads to the Rose Bowl you have to like the Buckeyes at home.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit co-hosts College GameDay and is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.