Wisconsin will challenge for title

Ohio State and Purdue are restructuring this season, while Wisconsin should be a Big Ten contender.

Originally Published: March 16, 2004
By Mel Kiper Jr. | Special to ESPN Insider
Editor's note: ESPN.com's Mel Kiper Jr. continues his breakdown of the Big Ten conference (teams listed in alphabetical order.

Northwestern Wildcats
Offense: The entire offensive line returns intact and boasts a pair of studs at tackle in Trai Essex on the left and Zack Strief on the right. Both are among the top linemen in the country. The running game is versatile with both Noah Herron and Terrell Jordan able to contribute. Junior quarterback Brent Basanez will be expected to do more this year and the staff is hoping he can make the same improvement from his sophomore to junior seasons as former Wildcat QBs Steve Schnur and Zak Kustok. The real key, though, will be the play of the wide receivers. The entire group was bad last year, struggling to catch, block and run routes. The player to watch is redshirt freshman Kim Thompson, a former Michigan high school 100-meter champion
Defense: The defense should be the strength of the team. The defensive line also brings back all of its starters, with solid tackles Loren Howard and Luis Castillo anchoring the middle. Tim McGarigle is a solid outside linebacker, Dominique Price is a good safety and the coaches are high on Marquis Cole, a third cornerback who clocks in at 4.2 in the 40-yard dash.
Overall: The Wildcats have early dates at TCU and Minnesota, but with their defense they have a chance to succeed. If Basanez and the wide receivers come on Northwestern could have a nice year and finish in the middle of the Big Ten.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst
Mel Kiper has served as an NFL draft analyst for ESPN since 1984. He is a regular contributor on SportsCenter and ESPN Radio and writes weekly for ESPN Insider.