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Previewing the Big Ten 2011 Football Season: Legends vs. Leaders

Posted on February 11, 2011 by JA Allen

The Big Ten enlarged to 12 teams starting in 2011.

The Big Ten Football Conference is dramatically changing its landscape for the 2011 season.

The addition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers brings about a division of teams into two leagues and a conference championship game for the first time in the history of the Big Ten Conference.

The Divisions:

Legends: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern

Leaders: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

Each Big Ten team plays eight conference contests including each team in their respective division plus three conference games outside of their division, crossover contests.

Totally each team in the Big Ten plays twelve games starting on September 3, 2011.

The season concludes with the Big Ten Championship game played on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium.

While most pundits haggle over the names selected, the division of the teams seems equitable to most.

As the 2011 season looms on the horizon here is a first glimpse of the season ahead in the newly aligned Big Ten Conference.

Indiana – Leaders Division

2010 Record: 1-6, 5-7

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 3.5

Prediction: Under

Indiana had some terrific offensive potential in 2010 but they could never win the close ones or hold a lead. That is why their coach Bill Lynch is gone.

In his place is newly hired former Oklahoma Sooner offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson who helped lead the Sooners to nine consecutive bowl appearances, seven BCS Bowls, including three national championships in 2003, 2004 and 2008.

Wilson will have his work cut out for him in establishing a new quarterback to replace now departed Ben Chappell who led the Hoosiers in 2010.

The new coach must also shore up a very porous defense.

Indiana signed 21 players in its 2011 recruiting class including four defensive linemen, three linebackers, three cornerbacks, two safeties, four offensive linemen, three wide receivers, one quarterback and one running back.

Wilson views the recruits with much optimism.

The Hoosiers start the 2011 season playing at Ball State. Indiana follows by hosting Virginia and South Carolina State before traveling to North Texas to complete their non-conference schedule.

The Hoosiers begin Big Ten conference play by welcoming Penn State to Bloomington. Indiana’s three crossover conference contests are with Northwestern, at Iowa and at Michigan State.

It will be a tough year for Wilson and Indiana in 2011.

Indiana 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 3-9

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Purdue – Leaders Division

2010 Record: 2-6, 4-8

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 4.5

Prediction: Under

Purdue lost their last 6 games in 2010.

At one point in 2010 Purdue stood at 4-2. Then the Boilers lost the last six games of the season.

The end resulted in another bad year for Purdue on the gridiron.

Wholesale, unending injuries depleted Boiler reserves starting with running back Ralph Bolden who went down for the season with an ACL injury.  He would soon to be followed by teammate after teammate.

Robert Marve stepped into the quarterback slot but in week two wide receiver Keith Smith went down with a knee injury.

In week four QB Marve, himself, went down with a knee injury just as wide receiver Justin Siller suffered a foot injury that rendered him pointless on the field for the rest of the season.

Quarterback Rob Henry came in to lead the Boilermaker attack as a dangerous runner but with limited passing abilities.

With declining personnel, Purdue hit the heart of the Big Ten season, losing the rest of their games.

Heading into the 2011 season with all injured players returning to full strength, their coach Danny Hope will focus on retooling the offense as well as filling some holes in the defense.

Hope will be aided in this task after recruiting some much needed talent like OLB Armstead Williams or WR Frankie Williams.  The Boilers will also welcome Robert Kugler at tight end plus Raheem Mostert who could help on kickoff or punt returns or step in at wide receiver.

The Boilermakers have a fairly comfortable non-conference schedule until they welcome Notre Dame to West Lafayette on October 1.  Purdue goes on the road to face Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana.

They have home stands against Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State and Iowa.  Luckily the Boilers avoid new-comer Nebraska as well as Michigan State and Northwestern.

As long as their players stay healthy, Purdue should equal their 4-8 record of 2010.

Purdue 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 4-8
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Illinois – Leaders Division

2010 Record: 4-4, 7-6

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 7.5

Prediction: Over

Ah, it could have finally been an outstanding 2011 season for Ron Zook and the Fighting Illini.

Then Mikel Leshoure decided to declare himself eligible for the 2011 draft and potentially the best running back in Illinois history is gone.

It may make the task a little more difficult but the Illini have several other running backs returning like senior Jason Ford.

Additionally, Illinois returns quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to lead the offense in 2011.  Scheehaase improved game by game as a freshman.

The running game was their primary moving force in 2010. Scheelhaase will seek to improve his passing attack in order to open up the field more for the run.

Illinois also returns a strong defensive front seven. They will, however, need to improve their offensive line.

Ron Zook and his staff recruited a couple a top-rated prospects in Jon Davis who might fit in a number of positions and Donovonn Young at running back.

Illinois starts the season with its first five games at home including a visit on September 17 by Arizona State. It may be possible for the Illini to win all of their non-conference games and enter the Big Ten season undefeated.

Their first conference foe is Northwestern of the newly defined Legends Division.  Illinois’ first division contest comes against Ohio State at home on October 15.

Expect the Illini to do very well in 2011.

Illinois 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 8-4
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Ohio State – Leaders Division

2010 Record: 7-1, 12-1

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 8.5

Prediction: Over

Ohio State starts the year with 5 key players on suspension.

Our parents cautioned us as teenagers about the evils of getting tattoos.

But the fallout really hit home in Columbus, Ohio when QB Terrell Pryor, RB Dan Herron, WR DeVier Posey, OT Mike Adams and DE Solomon Thomas were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 football season.

The suspension was for selling championship rings, jerseys and awards and for receiving improper benefits from a local tattoo parlor and its owner.

It is difficult to judge the total impact of the suspension since Pryor and crew will return for the bulk of the Big Ten season.

The five games they will miss include Akron, Toledo, at Miami (FLA), Colorado plus the Big Ten opener with Michigan State in Columbus.

After that the Buckeyes travel full strength to Lincoln to meet the Cornhuskers then onto Champagne to meet the Illini before they return to Columbus to greet Wisconsin, Indiana and Penn State at home.

Ohio State has a road game with Purdue on October 12 and end their regular season on the road at Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The Buckeyes received an “A-” grade on their 2011 recruiting class. Stand out prospects include defensive players Steve Miller and Michael Bennett on the line along with corner-back Doran Grant and linebackers Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier.

Recruits could have an immediate impact depending on the progress of current backup players.

Normally this would be another Big Ten season locked down. But the suspensions add a bit of mystery to the proceedings as does the new conference championship game.

You must expect Ohio State to come out of the Leaders Division near the top.

If they do win, who might be waiting to challenge them for the Big Ten Championship?

Ohio State 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 9-3
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Penn State – Leaders Division

2010 Record: 4-4, 7-6

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 8.5

Prediction: Under

Penn State tried hard to rebuild in 2010.  They made some progress but never achieved the level of consistency of a typical Joe Paterno-coached team.

The first half of the season was brutal for the Lions. But they seemed to stabilize after inserting sophomore Matt McGloin into the line up as quarterback.

McGloin replaced true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden who suffered many ups and downs in the early part of the season.

The Lions will lose their vaunted senior running back Evan Royster after a very lack luster year for the talented back.

The offensive line proved lacking making life difficult for the running back and the starting quarterbacks.

The ineffective O-line is an area Paterno will be looking to remedy in 2011.

The recruiting class offered some promise as Penn State signed Angelo Mangiro at offensive guard, Anthony Zettel at offensive guard, Donovan Smith at offensive tackle, Ben Kline at outside linebacker and Ryan Nowicki at offensive tackle.

The Lions have a tough schedule facing Alabama in their second game of the season. Penn State also must travel to visit the Temple Owls who gave them fits in 2010 as part of their non-conference schedule.

Penn State opens the Big Ten season on the road at Indiana––then the Lions welcome Iowa and Purdue to Happy Valley. The end of the season  is not a pleasant prospect as they play Nebraska at home and then travel to Ohio State followed by Wisconsin.

Could be a bad ending for the Penn State Nittany Lions in 2011.

Penn State 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 8-4

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Wisconsin – Leaders Division

2010 Record: 7-1, 11-2

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 9.5

Prediction: Over

Wisconsin even without an established quarterback, looks to finish well in 2011.

The Badgers finally made it back to the Rose Bowl after the 2010 season.  They had not appeared on the field in Pasadena since 2000.

This time, however, Wisconsin faced TCU, losing 21-19.  It was a disappointment to the Badgers and their fans, to say the least.

At the conclusion of the 2010 season, Wisconsin tied Ohio State and Michigan State for the Big Ten Conference title. The Badgers also earned the right to represent the Big Ten at the Rose Bowl.

The upcoming 2011 season finds the Badgers trying to fill gaps left by the departure of numerous seniors from the squad.

Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien who led the Big Ten in passing efficiency is gone after serving as the Badger starter for the past two years.

Wisconsin also loses tight end Lance Kendricks, a key player on the offense, as well as Gabe Carimi at left tackle, leaving a large vacancy in the line with his departure.

The Badger running backs will be magnificent again but Wisconsin will need to reinforce the offensive line to make sure there are plenty of holes large enough for the backs to run through.

Much will depend on the quarterback who steps in to replace Tolzien.

The Badgers overall, however, have plenty of talent returning on defense.

Wisconsin plays UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois at Soldier Field plus South Dakota during their non-conference schedule.

Then the Badgers welcome Nebraska in their opening Big Ten Conference game. Wisconsin plays five of the their first six games at home in Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers are on the road at Michigan State and Ohio State before they play return to play Purdue at home.

The final three games of the season are on the road at Minnesota and Illinois before the Badgers finish at home playing Penn State.

In the end, without a settled quarterback it is difficult to analyze how the Badgers will do definitively but expect them to do very well overall.

Wisconsin 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 10-2

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Minnesota – Legends Division

2010 Record: 2-6, 3-9

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 3.5

Prediction: Under

New Coach Jerry Kill has been scrambling since he signed to take over the Minnesota football program.

For 2011 the Gophers will be rebuilding from the ground up, starting with the quarterback position now that Adam Weber has departed.

One of Kill’s first acts as the new head coach was to hit hard at recruiting––which is exactly what he did signing 23 new players to play football at the University of Minnesota.

His needs were many but top on the list were offensive linemen. Kill signed six including four-star guard Tommy Olson and three-star offensive tackle Kyle McAvoy.

Minnesota also picked up three linebackers plus Quentin Gardner as a wide receiver.

Minnesota also has a “killer” schedule opening the season at USC.

Conference schedules include playing at Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State and Northwestern while welcoming in Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

It will be quite a test for Kill who arrived in Minneapolis after coaching Northern Illinois where Kill went 10-3 in 2010 including a 34-23 victory at Minnesota.

The Gophers are at rock bottom in experience and self-confidence.

The rebuilding will have to come from the inside out and many believe Kill is up for the task.

Minnesota 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 3-9

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Northwestern – Legends Division

2010 Record: 3-5, 7-6

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 5.5

Prediction: Over

Quarterback Dan Persa will return in 2011 to lead the Wildcats.

Northwestern hopes to see the return of Dan Persa to the quarterback position at the start of the 2011 season.

Persa went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon during the last play of the Wildcat’s game against Iowa. Persa did not play the rest of the season and Northwestern did not win another game.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald completed a moderately successful recruiting class signing 15 three-star recruits so far in 2011, 17 in total. The Cats rank No. 57 in recruiting in 2011.

Among their top signees are running backs Jordan Perkins and Treyvon Green who should be able to help Persa in the backfield.

Recruit Christian Jones could also aid the receiving corps.

Northwestern’s non-conference schedule requires that the Cats hit the road early playing at Boston College and at Army in September.

They start their Big Ten campaign with a crossover visit to Illinois in Champagne. Their in-division road contests are at Iowa and Nebraska while the Cats welcome Michigan, Penn State Minnesota and Michigan State to Evanston.

Northwestern has a reputation of doing more with less. This year will be no exception if the Cats hope to contend and secure another chance to win a bowl game.

It is never good to discount Northwestern.  Just ask Iowa.

Northwestern 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 6-6
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Michigan – Legends Division

2010 Record: 3-5, 7-6

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 5.5

Prediction: Over

Coach Rich Rodriguez is gone. But his quarterback Denard Robinson is back, arguably one of the best and most exciting quarterbacks in college football.

New head coach Brady Hoke is on board, swooped up from San Diego State.

Hoke must complete a massive rebuilding program on defense to make the Wolverines competitive with the big boys in the Big Ten.

In 2010 Michigan fielded a very young team so the number of players they lost to graduation are minimal.

Nonetheless, Michigan will have to replace some key talent on the offensive line and at the linebacker position.

Last year Robinson rushed for 1,702 yards and passed for another 2,570.  He was a one-man wrecking crew.

With QB Tate Forcier transferring out, Michigan will have to make sure Robinson stays healthy.

Like Illinois, Michigan plays their first five games at home in the friendly confines in Ann Arbor.

But the Wolverines do face Notre Dame and San Diego State in September.

They also face Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois on the road. Plus they end the year hosting first Nebraska followed by Ohio State.

Brady Hoke will have to dance like a maniac to get the Wolverines ready for 2011 but maybe Hoke will turn out to be the football guru Michigan fans think he will be.

Michigan 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 6-6

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Iowa – Legends Division

2010 Record: 4-4, 8-5

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 7.5

Prediction: Over

The Iowa Hawkeyes will be rebuilding in 2011.

The Iowa Hawkeyes had an ego-bruising year in 2010.

With high expectations, the Hawkeyes found the “luck” that had been so prevalent in their 2009 campaign took a sharp left and deserted the Hawkeyes starting in the Arizona desert.

The Hawkeyes also lose a bucket load of talent starting with seasoned quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a three-year starter for Iowa.

In addition to Stanzi, Iowa also has lost all-time leading receiver Derrell Johnson Koulianos, tight end Alan Reisner and almost the entire Hawkeye defense, including All-American defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

The losses on the line and in the backfield are significant and deep on both sides of the ball.

This will be a legitimate rebuilding year for the Hawkeyes as they reload at those critical positions including the quarterback slot.

Presumably, the QB position should fall to junior James Vandenberg who has been standing in the wings for two long seasons.

Iowa, in case you are not aware, has a way of making an impact when they should not.

The Hawkeyes face a couple of tricky non-conference opponents at Iowa State and at home against Pittsburgh.

Iowa also has difficult road games at Penn State, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska but they do not have to face Ohio State or Wisconsin this year.

It is hard to predict the outcome of the Hawkeye season at this point but Iowa always plays hard every Saturday.

Iowa 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 8-4
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Michigan State – Legends Division

2010 Record: 7-1, 11-2

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 8.5

Prediction: Over

Michigan State despite getting whopped by Alabama 49-7 in the Capital One Bowl on January 1, had a pretty good year.

The Spartans won a share of the Big Ten title in 2010, ending up 11-2 on the season.

In 2011 the Spartans will see the return of their quarterback Kirk Cousins along with stellar running back Edwin Baker. Cousins is expected to rank among the top quarterbacks in the league in his senior season.

The Spartans did, however, lose some key personnel on defense including middle linebacker Greg Jones and Chris Rucker at defensive back.

The inevitable losses on offense and defense are not as deep as those suffered by Iowa and Wisconsin; but Spartan Coach Mark Dantonio will have to plug those slots with some very talented players to make Michigan State repeat at the level they achieved in 2010.

Michigan State will travel to Notre Dame on September 17 and to Ohio State on October 1.

The Ohio State game will take place when Terrell Pryor and the other Ohio State players will be serving the last of their five game suspension––perhaps this will bring good fortune to the Spartans.

The Spartans not only play Ohio State on the road, they must also travel to Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern.

Michigan State should finish near the top of the Legend’s Division with an experienced quarterback at the helm, depth at running back and strong corps of receivers ready to stretch for the end zone.

Michigan State 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 9-3
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Nebraska – Legends Division

2010 Record: 6-2, 10-4

2011 Over-Under Win Total: 9.5

Prediction: Over

2011 will mark the Nebraska Cornhuskers first year in the Big Ten.

Nebraska’s entry into the Big Ten will become the focal point of the year in college football.

The storied program will heighten the Big Ten’s prominence in the marketplace to an even greater degree.

The Cornhuskers will be shooting for the Legend’s Division title right off the bat, starting off at ground zero, just like everyone else in the division.

Apparently their stiffest opponents will come from the State of Michigan, mainly Michigan State but perhaps also Michigan.

It is not easy to discount Iowa as a spoiler, however, regardless of their supposed pose as a rebuilding team.

Nebraska did suffer some losses on defense that Bo Pelini will hope to fill quickly with a promising 2011 recruiting class.

Nebraska signed five prospects for the offensive line, four defensive linemen, two defensive backs and a linebacker.  Nebraska finds itself currently lacking at running back. Signing recruit Aaron Green was a big plus.

The Cornhuskers have a promising experienced quarterback in Taylor Martinez who could vie for most exciting quarterback along with Denard Robinson and Terrell Pryor.

The schedule for Nebraska, however, could be a real problem with non-conference games with Washington and at Wyoming.

The Cornhuskers must travel to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Penn State and Michigan. They host Ohio State just as Terrell Pryor returns to the line-up.

All in all, the Cornhuskers should breathe some fresh air into a staid Big Ten Conference.

Nebraska 2011 Projected Season Win-Loss: 10-2
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