MY Preseason Rankings:
1. Wisconsin Badgers-
Every issue the Badgers appeared to have going into this season seems to be getting solved. Their chief competition in Ohio State essentially has a gunshot wound in both knees. QB was a huge question mark, but now Wisconsin will benefit from the transfer of NC State's talented Russell Wilson. Granted, all he will be doing (and need to do) is hand the ball to Montee Ball. The division, and perhaps whole conference, is theirs to lose. Hey Wisky, y'all might get another shot at the Rose Bowl trophy after all! How wonderful...
2. Penn State Nittany Lions-Penn State is the other major beneficiary of tOSU's legal troubles. Joe Pa's team this year is older and more experienced. Transfer QB Rob Bolden should be just what the offense needs to get jump-started. They will have to play Ohio State in Columbus this season, but I'm confident that they can pull off the win under the current circumstances. Assuming they do beat the Buckeyes, PSU could be an upset at Wisconsin away from a chance at the Big 10 title. While I think a win @ Wisconsin is unlikely, 2nd place in the Big 10's new "Leaders" division, after last season's 7-6 mark, would be a admirable accomplishment.
3. Illinois Fighting Illini:
If you thought Penn State benefited from Ohio State's screwing up, you haven't met Illinois. I am confident that Ohio State will beat Illinois, but I am also confident that Ohio State will lose 4 conference games (see OSU's summary), thus placing the Illini in a satisfactory 3rd place. So enough about OSU, let's talk about Illinois. Roughly 75% of lettermen return and the Illini look to reach back-to-back bowls. Their schedule is very manageable, meaning I see potential for 3 conference losses and 1 outside of conference. We'll see what happens.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes:
Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor are gone and 4 more players are suspended for the season's first 5 games. As a result, the Buckeyes will be taking a major step back this season. Due to the suspensions, games against Miami and Michigan State in the first 5 weeks should be automatic losses. This loss of momentum should snowball downhill. Ohio State should have enough talent to survive the majority of their conference schedule, but they do play at Nebraska and they of course play Penn State and Wisconsin, all three of which should be losses. That makes 4 conference losses, so even if they beat Illinois (which they should) it won't be enough to garner 3rd place. Sucks to be OS-you...
5. Purdue Boilermakers-
A big reason last season didn't exactly go as planned is that Purdue's top QB, RB, and WR were all lost to injury by week 4. This year, however, everyone is healthy and it could be just enough to push the Boilermakers into bowl season. A lot of lettermen return, not necessarily starters, but key losses like DE Ryan Kerrigan will be apparent. Personally, I see Purdue falling just short of bowl qualification, winning 5 games. Maybe next year.
6. Indiana Hoosiers-
Indiana has actually managed to improve by one win each of the last 3 years. Don't let that fool you though, this team is pretty awful (except for star WR, Demario Belcher). This year they will have a brand new head coach and QB... recipe for disaster. Not to mention they only return 12 starters, the 2nd fewest in the conference. What's even more sad, is there basketball team isn't even all that good right now. Life's just not fair sometimes.
1. Nebraska Cornhuskers-
The children of the corn's first year in the Big 10 will be a hard one. They must play Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State from the other division. However, this team is talented and tough. QB Taylor Martinez returns along with 11 other starters, and will be at full health. Their season will come down to a home game against Michigan State. If they can pull off the win, and I believe they will, I predict that Nebraska will appear in the first ever Big 10 championship with a 10-2 record.
2. Michigan State Spartans-
This is an extremely talented team with veteran leadership. QB Kirk Cousins is a Senior, they have a great defense, and arguably the best stable of RBs in the Big 10. They are definitely a threat to win the conference. They will catch a few breaks, like catching OSU at their weakest, but they still must play Wisconsin and @ Nebraska, all pivotal games. Like Nebraska, I fully expect this team to go 10-2. However, loss #2 will come at the hands of Nebraska, thus keeping Sparty out of the conference championship. Nonetheless, this team will certainly be a handful for opponents.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes-
Iowa looks to have another down year, after last season's 8-5 finish. The Hawkeyes are the most inexperienced team in the conference, returning 9 starters. Their schedule presents them with enough favors though that should garner a 3rd place finish. Games against Pittsburgh, Penn State, Michigan State, and Nebraska should all be losses. If it weren't for the fact that every team besides MSU and Nebraska in the "Legends" division is anything but, Iowa wouldn't have a shot at finishing this high. A tough win against Northwestern at home should assure Iowa of this ranking.
4. Northwestern Wildcats-
Northwestern looks to have a pretty solid team team this year, their best in a while. They return a record 56 lettermen, making them a very experienced team. Dan Persa could easily be considered the best QB in the conference. Their division is so heavy at the top, it will still be hard for the Cats to crack the top 3. Gut check time will come for a game @ Iowa. If NW can pull off a win there, they could definitely move into that 3rd spot.
5. Michigan Wolverines-
After multiple years of unsurpassed futility, Michigan looks to have found their answer at head coach with Brady Hoke. However, he'll need some time to get the Wolverines back to where they were before. Hoke will be installing yet another new offensive scheme, which should set the Michigan back a season. Not to mention I'm not confident in QB Denard Robinson's ability to run a pro-style offense. Michigan does have a talented team though, that returns 16 starters. Despite this though, they will still need at least one more year to rebuild. I see 3 to 4 conference wins and a bowl game, but that's it.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers-
14 returning starters make this a veteran squad. The only problem is, they are veteran chronic losers and will have a brand new coach this year to assimilate to. The odds are stacked against the 2011 Gophers. Rebuilding continues.
MY All Conference Team:
|Montee Ball, Wisconsin|
QB- Kirk Cousins, Michigan State
RB- Montee Ball, Wisconsin
RB- Edwin Baker, Michigan State
WR- Demario Belcher, Indiana
WR- Derek Moye, Penn State
WR- Marvin McNutt, Iowa
C- Mike Brewster, Ohio State
|Mike Brewster, Ohio State|
OG- Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin
OG- Joel Foreman, Michigan State
OT- Riley Reiff, Iowa
OT- Jeff Allen, Illinois
DE- Vince Browne, Northwestern
DE- Broderick Binns, Iowa
|Jared Crick, Nebraska|
DT- Mike Martin, Michigan
LB- Michael Mauti, Penn State
LB- Andrew Sweat, Ohio State
LB- Lavonte David, Nebraska
CB- Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
CB- Shaun Prater, Iowa
|Shaun Prater, Iowa|
S- Trenton Robinson, Michigan State
K- Derek Dimke, Illinois
P- Brad Nortman, Wisconsin
Ret- Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
5 Games to Watch:
1. Michigan State @ Nebraska: This will easily be the game of the year in the Big 10. Two very good teams will square off for a spot in the first ever Big 10 title game. Both teams are evenly matched, but playing in a hostile Nebraska environment. The matchup to watch will be MSU's offense vs Nebraska's defense. I smell an ESPN classic.
2. Nebraska @ Wisconsin: One of two likely previews of the Big 10 Championship game. This will be a big measuring stick game for both teams. Nebraska's introduction to Camp Randall will also be their first ever Big 10 game. It's historic, has championship implications, and will be a hard fought game.
3. Wisconsin @ Michigan State: Another possible preview of the Big 10 championship. This is a classic Big 10 matchup and both teams are at the height of their power. This one could be decided in the game's final minutes.
4. Ohio State @ Michigan: By no means does this year's game have the same implications as many of the great ones of the past. But the 2011 installment of this rivalry could be surrounded by the most intrigue since 2006. Ohio State is in a considerable down year, while Michigan is fighting to improve, thus evening the playing field. Title implications will be stripped bare, leaving both teams with the pure hatred of the rivalry and their season finale. All things considered, this will be a great game.
5. Iowa @ Nebraska: I've picked this game for the sole reason of what I believe it can become. Based on geography and the consistent equal talent of these two teams (excluding this season perhaps), Iowa looks to be the best fit to become Nebraska's biggest conference rival in their new home. While I don't foresee this 2011 game being overly close, it has the potential to be so, if Iowa is fired up enough.
Coming up next, I'll tackle a conference that seems to be better known for it's academia and basketball than for it's football prowess lately. That's right, it's another underachieving BCS conference: the ACC!