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One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.


Five fearless predictions

Five fearless predictions for the Big Ten season (don't forget, games start today):

1. Iowa and Ohio State will share the Big Ten title. Sorry Michigan fans, your Wolverines will be better but not quite good enough to earn a piece of the crown. Ohio State still has the most talent in the conference, and Iowa has a great schedule. Iowa wins when it hosts OSU Sept. 30, but loses three weeks later to Michigan. The Buckeyes then run the table and beat the Wolverines in November.

2. The Big Ten gets two teams in the BCS, again. The new BCS rules have made it more likely that a mid-major team like Utah or TCU sneaks into the five-game finale, but the Big Ten still has enough sway to send two teams for big paydays. Iowa wins the conference and gets the automatic bid, and OSU gets an at-large. Unfortunately, neither gets an invite to the championship game, which is reserved for USC and Miami.

3. Michigan will win 10 games this year. An early-season victory at Notre Dame should get folks off Lloyd Carr's back. The only thing keeping the Wolverines from the Big Ten title will be road losses to Penn State and Ohio State. That's still good enough for a trip to the Capital One Bowl, where the Wolverines will lose to Florida.

4. Michigan State will win eight games this year. OK, so I'm including a bowl victory, but that's good enough to get John L. Smith a three-year contract extension. With two Big Ten teams in the BCS and a jumbled mess in the middle, MSU's bowl suitors will include the Alamo, Champs Sports and Insight bowls. They wind up in Orlando, playing three days before Michigan, where they beat Steve Spurrier and South Carolina.

5. Joe Paterno finally steps down as Penn State coach. Paterno turns a sprightly 80 in December, and while he could conceivably coach another five or so years he decides to hand the reigns over to a successor of his choosing. Penn State closes the regular season with a home game (against MSU) and the Nittany Lions appear to be back atop the mountain with another fine season and plenty of young talent on the way. It's a big loss for college football, but the bright side is no other coach in the Big Ten loses his job after the season.


Henne poised for a bounce-back year

I spoke with Doug Dahms, the head coach at Chad Henne's old high school in West Lawn, Pa., Tuesday, and he's like me in believing that Henne is poised for a bounce-back year. Henne struggled at key times last year and was a big reason behind Michigan's mediocre season. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes in losses to Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska, and threw three interceptions in a 33-17 win over Northwestern.

"Everybody forgets that Jake Long was hurt and they lost (Mike) Hart," Dahms said. "You lose two guys like that and I think he tried to take on the role of the whole offense. He still had pretty good numbers, but everybody by Michigan standards, because they weren't winning, says Chad Henne, sophomore jinx."

Henne actually cut his interception rate in his second year as a starter, going from one every 33 attempts to one every 48, and threw for almost as many touchdowns and yards as he did his freshman year when he had Braylon Edwards to lean on. Assuming everyone stays healthy this year, Michigan's offense is almost on par with Ohio State's. Sure, Henne and Troy Smith are completely different quarterbacks, and Ted Ginn has turned into everything Steve Breaston is not, but the Wolverines will be one of the highest-scoring teams in the conference this year and Henne will be a big reason why.

"He's a tough kid to hold down," Dahms said. "He's a little bit stronger, he's a little bit slimmer. I think he's ready to go."

The season kicks off Thursday and I'll offer my Big Ten predictions then. But for now, here's a few more musings from around the league:

- Expect Purdue receiver Greg Orton to have a huge year. Coach Joe Tiller told the Lafayette Journal and Courier that "Orton had the best camp of any" Purdue receiver, which is saying a lot considering Dorien Bryant is still around. The 6-foot-4 Orton will supplant 6-9 Kyle Ingraham as Purdue's main red-zone threat.

- Michigan State fans can breath easy on field goals this year. Diminutive Brett Swenson (5-8, 151) has brought a big leg and big swagger to the Spartan kicking game. His laid-back personality is just what MSU needs after biffing on 11 of 16 kicks a year ago.

- Pat Fitzgerald is the right guy for the Northwestern job, but he's got his work cut out for him this year. He did the right thing in naming redshirt freshman Mike Kaftka starting quarterback, even if it increases the chance Northwestern starts 2-2 (non-conference games Thursday at Miami and Sept. 22 at Nevada could both be losses). The Wildcats will play hard and be competitive in the Big Ten, but they won't win a league game until they host Illinois in final week of the season if at all.


It's fantasy time

If you're reading this, there's a good chance you play fantasy football. An estimated 15 million Americans do. And if you're into fantasy you might be one of a growing number of people playing college fantasy football.

I am. A friend of mine in Atlanta started a league last year using only players from the Big Ten, MAC and Notre Dame (newly expanded this year). He put together his own website and keeps track of stats manually, but most of the large companies that offer fantasy gaming now offer college leagues as well. You can adapt the league to your tastes, use whatever players and schools you want, even speculate on what high schoolers will make it big one day and "recruit" them.

Frankly, I enjoy my college league more than any of the NFL ones I've been in off and on since high school. It's a fun way to broaden your college football knowledge, stay in touch with friends, and make that Wednesday night MAC game more appealing.

We drafted last week (I'll be pulling hard for Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe and Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn this year). If you're in a college league there's a good chance you're drafting today. In case you need a cheat sheet of which Big Ten players to take, here's mine. Remember, all leagues score differently so rank your players accordingly:

Top five quarterbacks: 1. Troy Smith, Ohio State; 2. Drew Stanton, MSU; 3. Chad Henne, Michigan; 4. Drew Tate, Iowa; 5. Curtis Painter, Purdue Breakdown: Smith and Stanton are strong in any format because of their running ability. Tate doesn't have great receivers, so beware of taking him too early, and I expect Painter to have a good season at Purdue.

Top five running backs: 1. Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern; 2. Albert Young, Iowa; 3. Michael Hart, Michigan; 4. Antonio Pittman, Ohio State; 5. Tony Hunt, Penn State Breakdown: Sutton is Northwestern's whole offense and the best receiver out of the bunch. The other four will be touchdown machines.

Top five receivers: 1. Dorien Bryant, Purdue; 2. Derrick Williams, Penn State; 3. Ted Ginn, Ohio State; 4. James Hardy, Indiana; 5. Mario Manningham, Michigan Breakdown: Bryant is great if you get points for receptions and return yards. Williams and Ginn are electric players who you can expect to touch the ball 10 times a game.

Five sleepers: 1. RB P.J. Hill, Wisconsin; 2. QB Bryan Cupito, Minnesota; 3. WR Paul Hubbard, Wisconsin, 4. WR Rasheed Ward, Northwestern; 5. RB Chris Wells, Ohio State Breakdown: Hill will be a stud if he stays healthy, Cupito and the Gophers should throw more this year, someone's got to catch the ball for Northwestern and Wisconsin, and Wells is great if you're in a long-term keeper league.


The rare air of college football

There was a great story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last weekend about Ohio State receiver Anthony Gonzalez and his training methods. The junior apparently dropped $5,000 on a 6-by-6-by-8-foot hypoxic altitude simulation training system last summer. For dopes like you and me, it's basically a plastic oxygen chamber that he puts over his bed and conducts his daily business in. He sleeps there, reads there, plays video games there. He spends upwards of 12 hours a day in the tent, which gives Gonzalez's body the impression it's living at 8,000 feet.

The idea is to increase the number of red blood cells and thus improve the body's ability to carry oxygen. Greater oxygen capacity makes for increased endurance, which allows Gonzalez to train for longer periods of time at more intense intervals and therefore get more out of his workouts. Now, training at altitude isn't exactly a novel idea - the U.S. Olympic Complex is in Colorado Springs, Col., for a reason - and there's some debate over Gonzalez's method, but it's still amazing how far some athletes will go to get their edge.

Even more amazing was the accompanying story in the Plain Dealer that suggested the World Anti-Doping Agency is considering adding oxygen chambers to its list of banned substances. Why? We crossed the border to normalcy long ago in our quest for greatness and there's no going back now. What Gonzalez and apparently others are doing is at its root no different than drinking a protein shake or lifting a barbell. Each is a foreign instrument in its own right, and each is used to help an athlete maximize his training potential.

The only thing that worries me is how these contraptions might become a part of football's out-of-control arm's race. When I mentioned Gonzalez's tent to a Buckeye buddy of mine, he suggested OSU coach Jim Tressel invest in them for the entire team. I asked if he was serious. "No," he said. "It's not like we need them to beat Michigan."


5 questions that'll shape the Big Ten race

Camp is over and double sessions are done for most football teams. With the start of the season less than two weeks away, let's tackle the five biggest questions that will shape the Big Ten race.

1. How good can Ohio State's defense be with nine new starters? The Buckeyes are ranked No. 1, so everyone believes pretty darn good. All nine of their departures are in the NFL, but there's still talent on that defense. David Patterson and Quinn Pitcock are the Big Ten's best tackle tandem, and linebackers Marcus Freeman, James Laurinaitis, Ross Homan and Co. are stocked with talent. Don't be surprised if the Buckeyes give up big plays early to Northern Illinois and Texas, but don't be surprised when they have the offense to compensate, either.

2. Was last year's 7-5 season a sign Michigan is slipping or just an aberration? History shows that every major program goes through its lean years, and to Michigan fans that's what six straight seasons of at least three losses is. I say look at the roster. The Wolverines have more offensive talent than every team but Ohio State (Michigan State is a close third), and defensively they have three NFL players in Leon Hall, LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch. I'm not predicting a Big Ten title, but 10 wins is definitely doable.

3. Is Penn State back for good? Now the Nittany Lions were in a freefall with four losing records in five seasons before last year's 11-1 turnaround. See what a couple out-of-this-world recruits can do? The premier program in a talent-rich state, Penn State is definitely back, though there might be a few bumps along the way this year with games at Notre Dame and Ohio State. The defense will still make plays, but I worry about the offense a little with 3 1/2 new starters on the line and a first-year quarterback in Anthony Morelli. The solution? Give the ball to Derrick Williams and get out of the way.

4. Who's schedule best sets up for a run at the title? Easy. Iowa. The Hawkeyes play two major-conference non-league foes in Iowa State and Syracuse, but should win both games. The miss Michigan State and Penn State altogether, and their road trips are all winnable games: at Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota. If Iowa can beat Ohio State at home and Michigan at the Big House, they just wind up in the BCS title game.

5. Who'll be this year's Penn State? I've wavered a lot on this. Michigan State has tons of offensive talent and really could win eight or nine games. The Spartans had a good camp with no injuries and seem to have solidified their major weakness from last year, the kicking game. But defensively, I'm not ready to say MSU has turned the corner so I'm going with Purdue. The Boilermakers play 13 games, so the chance for nine wins is there. Expectations are way down after a disappointing 2005, and offensively Purdue has less experience but almost as many weapons as MSU. Plus, they should start 4-0 and confidence is a dangerous thing.


Top 25 - Trojans start at the top

The first AP Top 25 poll was released Friday and the only consensus is there is no consensus No. 1. Personally, I was one of three voters who gave USC the nod, but in my mind there are at least 11 teams with a shot at winning the national title this year. I would have voted Oklahoma No. 1 if the Sooners hadn't lost starting quarterback Rhett Bomar to NCAA violations. Miami could make a case for No. 1 if its best running back and top receiver weren't suspended for the opener against Florida State. Florida has tons of talent but the nation's toughest schedule. West Virginia, Notre Dame and Ohio State all have obvious issues. And while I like Auburn a lot I figure the SEC is a much tougher haul than the Pac 10. So I voted USC No. 1 in the most wide-open year I can remember. The Trojans play lots of quality opponents (most of them at home) but only one top-10 caliber team (Notre Dame). Their talent at the skill positions is sick, even if some of it's a bit young. And Pete Carroll, for my money, is still the best coach around. Did you see him dress up as Ricky Bobby the other day to bring some life to camp? Not many other coaches in the country could pull that off. As for Michigan and Michigan State, I ranked the Wolverines No. 14 and didn't give the Spartans a vote. Both have big games in Week 3, Michigan at Notre Dame and MSU at Pitt, that will go a long way towards determining their season. Our college football preview section hits newsstands Sept. 1, and the rest of my top 25 will be in there. Check it out.


Senseless NCAA at it again

Example 4,865 the NCAA doesn't get it: Eric Butler. A Kansas defensive lineman who took the 2002 school year off to care for his family after the birth of his daughter, Butler was declared ineligible by the most heartless governing body in the world of sports earlier this fall. At issue is Butler's academic clock, which began ticking when he attended DeVry Institute in 2001. Student-athletes are given five academic years to complete four playing years, and Butler is entering his sixth season. But Butler petitioned the NCAA, saying a waiver that allows female athletes time off for "reasons of pregnancy" should apply to him, too. He's right. It's hypocritical of the NCAA to preach gender equity and then not allow male athletes the same child-rearing rights as their female counterparts. As all fathers can attest, being a parent is a full-time job and for the NCAA to penalize a 20-year-old with in-tact priorities is ludicrous. The NCAA denied Butler's appeal last week, and a judge upheld the ruling Tuesday. The judge had no choice, she was following the letter of the law. The heartless NCAA did. The decision won't affect the Big 12 race - Kansas was going to have a hard time making a bowl game with or without Butler. But it proves once again how arrogant and ignorant the NCAA can be.


Front and center: Cook the best choice for MSU

Reading between the lines after one week of Michigan State football practice, it appears the Spartans are ready to hand the center position over to Kyle Cook. Cook, a senior and the best lineman on MSU's underrated front, is competing for the starting job with junior John Masters. Masters played the position all spring while Cook, a starter at left guard last year, was nursing a shoulder injury. He's a hard worker and technically sound, but doesn't provide near the physical presence Cook does. That nastiness is important to a team that runs a one-back offense and often relies on quarterback Drew Stanton to get tough yards near the line of scrimmage. By shifting Cook to center - a decision that should become more apparent after today's scrimmage - the Spartans also will be able to get their five best linemen on the field. Junior Peter Clifford should take over at left guard where he and tackle Mike Gyetvai will work side-by-side the next two years. On the right side, sophomores Jesse Miller and Roland Martin could develop into one of the Big Ten�s best duos by the time they're seniors. With the offensive line all but settled - and with Ervin Baldwin a virtual lock to start at rush end � the only real position battle to watch leading up to MSU's Sept. 2 opener against Idaho is at kicker. That competition will carry over into the season, but I expect big-legged sophomore Todd Boleski to handle the kick-off duties and freshman Brett Swenson to take most of the field goals. Either way, the Spartans should be better on special teams than they were a year ago, when field-goal goofs cost MSU two games and a bowl bid. I don't know if the lack of competition is good or bad, but in Michigan State's case I think it says more about the backups than anything. The Spartans remain a thin bunch overall, one that could be decimated if a serious injury strikes anywhere but receiver.