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September 08, 2005 - Image 25

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The Michigan Daily - Kickoff 200

8B - The Michigan Daily - Kickoff 2005 - Thursday, September 8, 2005


Michigan has won two straight Big Ten Championships. But repeating this
year looks to be a bit more challenging. After years of being deemed 'weak,'
the Big Ten is shaping up as one of the nation's toughest conferences, with
four teams in the top-15. Here's The Daily's look at the competition:

Rolling with the Punches
With a little faith and a lot of laughter, Gabe Watson has learned to I
By Stephanie Wright Daily Sports Editor

Ohio State
What everyone's talking
about: With his blazing
speed and elusive style,
Ted Ginn Jr. is a Heisman
candidate. But redshirt junior Santonio
'Holmes and some of the other wideouts
are the guys that will make the real dif-
ference. And everyone wants to know
which quarterback will start against
Texas. Troy Smith went 5-1 last year
when he got an opportunity to play at
the end of the season, but Justin Zwick
(4-3) was the opening day signal-caller
because of Smith's suspension for ille
gaily receiving money from a booster.
What they should be saying: The
Buckeyes' defense returns nine starters
from last year. The squad is led by A.J.
Hawk, who averaged 12 tackles per game
in 2004. Hawk was voted preseason
defensive player of the year in August.
Our thoughts: The real question
with this squad has nothing to do with
its talent. The Buckeyes don't have an
adequate running game, but the first
a "three weeks of the season - when they
have to play Texas and Iowa in back-to-
back weeks - may be the biggest chal-
lenge. If Smith isn't ready to go when
he's reinstated, Ohio State will fall out
of the national picture.
~ What everyone's talk-
ing about: With a com-
bined 229 tackles last
year, senior linebackers Abdul Hodge

and Chad Greenway are the studs of the
defense. But last year, the duo had four
senior linemen in front of them. The
question will be what they can do behind
the Hawkeyes' current front four.
What they should be saying: Last
year, the Hawkeyes lost their top four
running backs to injuries. Their 72.6
rushing yards per game ranked sec-
ond-lowest in the nation last year. The
last time anyone saw Iowa quarterback
Drew Tate, he was throwing a 56-yard
touchdown bomb to win the Capital One
Bowl. This year, the media voted him
preseason player of the year. Tate threw
to a school record 19 different players
last year, so he knows how to spread the
ball around.
Our thoughts: We were always wor-
ried about what would happen when
coach Kirk Ferentz got top recruiting
classes to team up with his NFL-cali-
ber coaching. This is the year he's been
waiting for, but he has to face both Ohio
State and Purdue on the road.
, What everyone's talk-
ing about: Because of
the scheduling arrange-
ments in the Big Ten, luck helped Pur-
due dodge both Michigan and Ohio
State this year. And to make things even
easier, the Boilermakers get Iowa at
home.'Their schedule makes it difficult
to imagine them losing a game.
What they should be saying: Purdue
returns 20 starters - all 11 on defense

and nine on offense. Senior quarter-
back Brandon Kirsch has had to play
behind Kyle Orton for three years, but
he's the new breed of quarterback, and
he can beat you with both his arm and
his legs. Last year, Kirsch threw for 711
yards and seven touchdowns as Orton's
Our thoughts: Purdue's defense is
the real deal. Defensive tackle Brandon
Villarreal had 17.5 tackles for loss last
season. Anthony Spencer had 7.5 sacks,
and that wasn't even tops on his team.
The .saying is that defense wins champi-
onships, and, with that schedule, we're
sold on Purdue as a threat.

deep. Didn't pick the best year to get
good, did you, Joe Pa?




Aa I

Penn State

What everyone is talk-
ing about: A defense that
gave up 21 points or fewer
in every game last year.
Michigan State quarterback Drew Stan-
ton called the Penn State defense the
best he saw all last year. And of course
they are also talking about Joe Paterno,
who is now in his 40th year as head
coach of the program.
What they should be saying: The
defense will be the strong suit for the Nit-
tany Lions, but Paterno has some actual
talent this year - such as top recruits
Justin King and Derrick Williams - to
go along with his always hard-work-
ing team. Fifth-year senior quarterback
Michael Robinson might be Paterno's
most athletic QB, but he is being pushed
by sophomore Anthony Morelli. And
they should be talking about Paterno
- he's been there for 40 years!
Our thoughts: For the first time in
recent memory, Penn State will be a
program to worry about. Unfortunately
for the Nittany Lions, they have to play
both Michigan and Michigan State on
the road. And the Big Ten is just too

What everyone is talk-
ing about: Drew Stanton,
Drew Stanton, Drew Stanton. The Spar-
tans' star quarterback said that he spent
the offseason listening to people tell
him that if he had stayed healthy, they
would have beaten Michigan. He knows
the Spartans' success rests in his hands.
What they should be saying: Drew
Stanton, Drew Stanton, Drew Stanton.
State will miss DeAndra Cobb at run-
ning back, leaving the 6-foot-3, 222-
pound Stanton to do it all. Last year, he
led the MSU offense to 460 yards per
game, tops in the Big Ten.
Our thoughts: Last year in the Big
House, we saw what he could do. He
rushed for 80 yards and a TD and threw
for 95 more yards before getting injured
in the first half. It's a lot of pressure on
one guy, but he has the arm, and espe-
cially the legs, to do the job.
What everyone is talk-
ing about: The departure
of Marion Barber III.
Well, maybe not his absence in par-
ticular, but rather how it will affect the
mileage Laurence Maroney will be able
to rack up. Maroney ran for 1,348 yards
last year while splitting time with Bar-
ber, so a run at 2,000 yards is possible.
What they should be saying: Min-
nesota has to play all four of the Big
Ten's powerhouse schools: Michigan,
Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue. That's a
tough task for anybody.
Our thoughts: The Gophers start-

ed last season with five straight wins.
Then, after losing to Michigan on Oct.
9, Minnesota went 1-4 over its next five
games. The team will have to avoid the
Michigan hangover this year if it wants
a chance.
What everyone is talk-
ing about: Barry Alvarez
announced his upcoming
retirement two months
before the start of the season. If Wis-
consin was good, people might be talk-
ing about the team. But everyone just
wants to talk about its coach.
What everyone should be saying:
Replacing Anthony Davis would seem
to be a difficult endeavor. But Alvarez
went out and grabbed Colorado transfer
Brian Calhoun. Who knows if he's as
good as Alvarez thinks - or hopes.
Our-thoughts: Last year the Badgers
were poised to win the Big Ten title,
and they stumbled to end the season.
This year they have just nine starters
returning. Missed your chance guys.



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What everyone is talking
about: Fifth-year senior
iBrett Basanez - a four-
year starter in Evanston
-- is pretty much guaranteed to set
Northwestern's passing record. He is
less than 200 yards shy of the mark.
What everyone should be saying:
Basanez is great, but the team still has
to score more points. The Wildcats
scored just 24 touchdowns on 39 trips
into the red zone.
Our thoughts: Who knows? North-
western won three of four overtime
games last year, including one at
home against Ohio State. They could
beat just about anybody, but they
probably won't.
What everyone is talk-,
ing about: Ron Zook will
take over as head coach,
and won't have to deal
with www.fireronzook.com.
What everyone should be saying:
Don't really know. Zook doesn't have
the personnel to be able to win.
Our thoughts: Illinois has had just
two winning seasons in the last decade.
You do the math.

t was a common sentiment through-
out the offseason - as Gabe Watson
goes, so goes the Michigan defense.
Like the defense, Watson enters the
2005 campaign with a bull's eye on the
back of his jersey. While it remains to be
seen whether his offseason conditioning
will improve his stamina in the grueling
Big Ten season, one thing is certain - if
anyone can handle adversity, it's Watson.
On his left bicep, just below the sleeve
of his jersey, Watson has a tattoo, a scroll
inscribed with a Bible verse - James
1:2-4 - whose meaning transcends his
on-the-field struggles.
"It's basically saying that when
you're going through tough times, just
be joyful and know that good things
are going to come out sooner or later,"
Watson explains. "It's been part of my
life a long time."
Watson's faith is one of the values his
mother LaVon instilled in him at a young
age. But far too early, Watson had some-
thing just as precious taken away - his
mother's constant presence in his life.
Along with his father and six brothers
and sisters, Watson weathered the errat-
ic behavior caused by LaVon's mental
It's the kind of childhood that could
have hardened him. But as his tattoo
illustrates, the Southfield native has never
lost his ability to see the good - and the
humor - in his life, no matter how hard
his coaches push him or how much he
missed his mom as a child.
"You don't grow without going
through adversity," Watson says. "You
just have to get used to it."
Trying to understand
W atson's eldest brother Chuck
sounds more like his father as he
shares his memories of Gabe as a child.
Chuck used to lift weights in the base-
ment of their house. One day when Gabe
was about seven or eight, he came down-
stairs and started throwing shoes and
socks at Chuck. He waited for his big
brother to get angry and then ran up the
stairs. Chuck followed him, but, when he
reached the top, he slipped on the banana
peel that Gabe had placed there and fell
down in the middle of the hallway.
Chuck looks back on that prank with
a father's fondness rather than a brother's
"He always was a funny kid," Chuck
said. "You had no choice but to laugh."
Chuck never expected to be a third
parent to his younger siblings. But with
his father often holding more than one
full-time job and working up to 16 hours
each day, he had to take on some of the
day-to-day tasks, like cooking and clean-
ing and making sure all seven kids got to
school on time with only one bathroom
to get ready in.
And as his mother's condition
worsened, his responsibilities contin-
ued to grow.
LaVon was at her worst in the mid-
1980s. She heard noises and at times
went days without eating or sleeping.
She often walked around the house
late at night, and on the warmest days
of the summer she would wear three

or four layers of clothes, unaware of
the heat.
Gabe was just four years old when
doctors diagnosed his mother's mental
illness. It's still hard for him to under-
stand it now, but as a preschooler, trying
to comprehend her "crazy" behavior was
almost impossible.
"There's a lot of things you look at like
why is she doing this or why is she doing
that," Watson said. "You try to under-
stand it, but you just can't understand
some parts of it."
"All we got is us"
For much of Gabe's childhood, his
mother was in and out of the hospital.
"Sometimes we would see her for
two years, and then she would disap-
pear for 11 months," Watson said.
"Then we'd see her again, and then 11
police cars would come up to our house
and take her away."
Chuck didn't want to call the police
at first; he felt disloyal to his mother. He
eventually realized that in her mental
state, LaVon needed more help than he
could give her.
The image of police officers taking his
mother away still breaks Gabe's heart.
"It was tough growing up and seeing
your brothers and sisters - looking in
their eyes and seeing them cry, so hurt
from the things that were going on,"
Watson said. "It was tough. You don't
want your family, your loved ones, going
through that."
The first time LaVon came home, she
gave Chuck the responsibility of making
sure she took her pills every night at 9 p.m.
Chuck said that no matter where he was or
what he did earlier in the day, he always
got back to give LaVon her medicine.
Sometimes she would refuse to take it;


An All-Big Ten first-team selection last year, Watson believes he still hasn't reached his full potential as a football player.

eventually she would relapse and have to
leave again.
"We spent a lot of time without her,"
Gabe said. "It brought us a lot closer."
Said Chuck: "We all did things
together. This wasn't exactly how it was,
but sometimes we felt like all we got is
us. We were pretty much all there for
each other."
Nothing could take away the pain of
missing their mom, but they knew they
couldn't dwell on her absence.
So they made each other laugh -
Gabe more than anyone.
When he was around nine or 10, Gabe
stood up in the living room and started
performing spinning roundhouse kicks.
He executed a dozen or so perfectly
before he landed funny and claimed he
twisted his ankle.
His siblings' laughter changed to con-
cern as Gabe collapsed on the couch and
held his leg.
Then he confessed he was faking the
injury. And as frustrated as Chuck is sure
he was, he only remembers laughing.
LaVon says Gabe always stood out as
the funniest of her children. And he's car-
ried that humor with him to Michigan.
Everyone from co-captain Pat Massey
to coach Lloyd Carr smiles when asked
about Watson's sense of humor. Massey
says Watson lightens the mood when
practice is tense, and Carr calls his "won-
derful personality" one of the main rea-
sons his teammates respect him.
LaMarr Woodley - one of Watson's
friends off the field as well - agrees.
It might be hard to picture the 6-foot-
4, 333-pound lineman quacking, but
Woodley claims Watson's Daffy Duck
impression is one of the notorious
jokester's best.
"That's the one that sticks out for me,"
Woodley says with a big smile. "Gabe is

the biggest comedian."
Learning from the past
W atson is no stranger to high expe
tations - he came to Michigan
2002 as one of the most highly regarde
freshman linemen in the nation.
But he struggled to live up to the hyp
earning no more than limited playir
time in each game that year.
Watson began this season in much th
same way. He was named to the watc
list for five major postseason honors. B
this time, Watson said he understand
how to handle the pressure.
"Some guys get preseason honors ar
then they relax and get complacent
Watson said. "Coach Carr knows how 1
keep his foot in your butt and keep yc
Watson would know. In spite of h
accolades and talent - or perhaps becaus
of them - Watson incurred his share <
Carr's wrath in his first three seasons.
And after a lackluster performance i
the season opener last Saturday, there
a chance Carr may sit Watson again
Notre Dame this weekend.
At first, it seems as if the All-Big Te



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R va e a

What everyone is talk-
r ing about: Why new head
coach Terry Hoeppner
would leave Miami (Ohio) for a team
that will always play second fiddle to a
basketball -program.
What they should be saying:
Hoeppner was one of the best MAC
coaches, and, while there, he molded
Ben Roethlisberger into one of the
NFL's best young QBs.
Our thoughts: It's going to be inter-
esting to see what Indiana will look like
with a spread offense. -

He at i gIp n

IRBMED#: 2005-0117

The Great
Open Vi

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