OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
"In his first year as a starter, [senior] C.J. Beathard surprised last season when he opened with 12 straight wins. He's a pretty accurate passer who makes his receivers better. He's also got an unreal ability to keep plays alive with his feet. He's just dangerous enough to scare you. I saw recently that offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Beathard could be the best quarterback he's ever coached. That's something, considering Davis had Vince Young and Colt McCoy at Texas.
As usual, they'll have one of the nation's best offensive lines. It doesn't matter who they lose there, because they just plug in guys. The same applies to running back because of their run-first scheme and how good they are up-front.
I like their linebackers—they were a little young last year, but they've got good length and are more athletic than you think. They also do a good job rerouting receivers and are sure tacklers. They're very fortunate Desmond King didn't leave after last season for the NFL. He's a real playmaker, not just in coverage but also as a returner.
They're tough because they'll shorten the game and just beat you up physically. You've got to force their offense into passing situations. That gets them out of their rhythm. And you better attack their defense in space to see if you've got any advantages speedwise—that's how Stanford routed them in the Rose Bowl. I just don't know if anyone in the Big Ten West can do that."
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5 YEAR TREND
Interceptions by now senior cornerback Desmond King, who also had 72 tackles to earn the '15 Thorpe Award.
Consecutive passes—over five games—without a pick by C.J. Beathard, who threw for 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Passing offense accounted for by receiver Matt VandeBerg, who caught 65 balls for 703 yards as a junior in 2015.
Tackles per game for outside linebacker Josey Jewell as a sophomore, tied for 35th in the country.
Rushing yards allowed per game last season, 15th best in the nation.
C.J. BEATHARD'S health. He played most of last season at half speed because of a hernia—which required surgery last January—and still showed he's an NFL-caliber QB. His vast trick-shot arsenal lets him get the ball off in tough situations.
NORTH DAKOTA STATE
AT MINNESOTA [KEY MATCHUP]
WISCONSIN [BIGGEST GAME]
AT PENN STATE
NEBRASKA [KEY MATCHUP]