Kansas won four games in '83 only because it had the conference's second most prolific offense, behind Nebraska's. This year's attack will be led by Mike Norseth, who threw for 3,010 yards at Utah's Snow J.C. last season, and flanker Skip Peete, a transfer from Arizona. The Jayhawks are on NCAA probation for recruiting violations, and the defense—despite the efforts of linebacker Willie Pless, who made 190 tackles in '83—will again be among the worst anywhere.
Nineteen eighty-four has not been kind to Illinois. First came the 45-9 Rose Bowl loss to UCLA. Then, in June, all-conference safety Craig Swoope was arrested for trafficking in cocaine (the trial was scheduled for Aug. 20) and cornerback Keith Taylor suffered back and neck injuries in an auto accident that will put him out for the season. Finally, on July 27, the NCAA put Illinois on two-year probation for recruiting violations. In the plus column, the Illini still have Jack Trudeau, who passed for 2,446 yards in '83; All-Big Ten offensive linemen Chris Babyar and Jim Juriga; Thomas Rooks, who averaged 5.4 yards a carry as a fullback; and coach Mike White's son, Chris, a walk-on kicker who led the team in scoring [78 points] last year.
Purdue had some offseason high jinks, too. Five players allegedly took part in campus thefts, and coach Leon Burtnett gave them the boot. Burtnett was looking to the future anyway. He will be breaking in 20 freshmen he redshirted last season. Michigan State began '83 with victories over Colorado and Notre Dame and then lost half the team to injuries against Illinois. Coach George Perles could get seven wins in his second year in East Lansing. One key is All-Big Ten safety Phil Parker.
On offense, ever rebuilding Wisconsin has two 300-pound tackles, Jeff Dellenbach and Kevin Belcher, and split end AI Toon, who averaged 20.7 yards per catch in '83. The defense will get a boost from tackle Darryl Sims, who made All-Big Ten in '82 but sat out last season because of lousy grades. Indiana has its third coach in three years. "I don't go on gimmicks," says Bill Mallory, who steered Northern Illinois to the MAC title in '82. "I go on a lot of hard work." Mallory's first mission will be to cut down last year's conference-high 279.3 rushing yards allowed per game.
Northwestern's offense can ignite behind Sandy Schwab, who has passed for 4,573 yards over the last two years while running for his life. Last year Minnesota suffered its worst season ever. Nebraska beat the Gophers 84-13. In all, six opponents scored at least 50 points. "When your football team gives up more points than your basketball team, you're in trouble," says new coach Lou Holtz.
Central Michigan will win the MAC behind tailback Curtis Adams, the No. 4 rusher in the nation last year with 1,431 yards. The other contender is Bowling Green, led by Brian McClure, whose 3,264 passing yards in '83 are a I-A record for a sophomore, and Mark Dowdell, whose 70 catches are the most ever by a tight end.
Defending champion Northern Illinois is rebuilding in its first season under coach Lee Corso, while Toledo has an experienced squad that features tailback Steve Morgan. Ball State has an excellent tight end in 6'4", 250-pound Mike Leuck, who had 67 receptions last season. However, the Cardinals have to cut down on the conference-high 302 points they allowed in '83.
Western Michigan lost three games by a total of 11 points in '83, but its margins of defeat will probably be greater this season. Without linebacker John Offerdahl, the Broncos would have no D. Ohio coach Brian Burke has an inoffensive offense but an experienced defense, which was No. 1 nationally against the pass in '83. The heart of the unit is linebackers Brian Mays and Mike Mangen, who combined for 275 tackles last year.