2011 FINAL BIG TEN STANDINGS
Michigan State 11-3 (7-1)
Michigan 11-2 (6-2)
Nebraska 9-4 (5-3)
Iowa 7-6 (4-4)
Northwestern 6-7 (3-5)
Minnesota 3-9 (2-6)
Wisconsin 11-3 (6-2)
Penn State 9-4 (6-2)
Purdue 7-6 (4-4)
Ohio State 6-7 (3-5)
Illinois 7-6 (2-6)
Indiana 1-11 (0-8)
2011 Championship Game: Wisconsin 42 Michigan St 39
RETURNING STATISTICAL LEADERS
Returning Leaders: Passing
Denard Robinson, Michigan, Sr (142 of 258 for 2173 yds, 20 TD, 15 INT)
James Vandenberg, Iowa, Sr (237 of 404 for 3022 yds, 25 TD, 7 INT)
Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois, Jr (184 of 291 for 2110 yds, 13 TD, 8 INT)
Caleb Terbush, Purdue, Sr (171 of 277 for 1904 yds, 13 TD, 6 INT)
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska, Jr (162 of 288 for 2089, 13 TD, 8 INT)
Returning Leaders: Rushing
Montee Ball, Wisconsin, Sr (307 carries for 1923 yds, 6.2 ypc, 33 TD)
Rex Burkhead, Nebraska, Sr (283 carries for 1357 yds, 4.8 ypc, 15 TD)
Denard Robinson, Mich, Sr (221 carries for 1176 yds, 5.3 ypc, 16 TD)
Fitzgerald Toussaint, Mich, Jr (187 carries for 1041 yds, 5.5 ypc, 9 TD)
Marqueis Gray, Minnesota, Sr (199 carries for 966 yds, 4.8 ypc, 6 TD)
Returning Leaders: Receiving
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin, Jr (55 rec for 933 yds, 8 TD)
Keenan Davis, Iowa, Sr (50 rec for 713 yds, 4 TD)
Antavian Edison, Purdue, Sr (44 rec for 584 yds, 3 TD)
Kain Colter, Northwestern, Jr (43 rec for 458 yds, 3 TD)
Returning Leaders: Tackles
Mike Taylor, Wisconsin, Sr (150 total, 10.7 tackles/game)
Chris Borland, Wisconsin, Jr (143 total, 10.2 tackles/game)
James Morris, Iowa, Jr (109 total, 9.08 tackles/game)
Christian Kirksey, Iowa, Jr (110 total, 8.46 tackles/game)
Returning Leaders: Sacks
Denicos Allen, Mich St, Jr (11.0 sacks)
Michael Buchanan, Illinois, Sr (7.5)
John Simon, Ohio State, Sr (7.0)
Kawann Short, Purdue, Sr (6.5)
Johnathan Brown, Illinois, Jr (6.0)
Returning Leaders: Interceptions
Shelton Johnson, Wisconsin, Sr (4 interceptions)
Isaiah Lewis, Mich St, Jr (4)
BREAKING DOWN THE BIG TEN WITH THE ZEALOTS AND THE SATURDAY EDGE:
Jay (Prediction: #4 Leaders): The Illini are a tricky team for me to gauge this year. On one hand, they have a veteran (if unspectacular) quarterback and a solid amount of talent and experience back on defense, which would normally earn them a "Best of the Rest" designation behind Wisconsin and Ohio State in such a weak division. But this season marks the beginning of a radical transition to new coach Tim Beckman's preferred up-tempo spread offense. As we've seen so often in college football, tempo-based offenses put almost as much pressure on their own defenses as they do their opponents, even more so if they're struggling to get first downs. Last year, the Illini defense was able to bail out a middling offense. But if they struggle on that side of the ball this year (and with no proven playmakers, that's a real possibility), there's no way the defense will be able to hold up, and Illinois will be home for the holidays.
Ross (Prediction: #5 Leaders): There's talent at Illinois, led by QB Nathan Scheelhaase, but they still look like a dysfunctional bunch and Tim Beckman has made several missteps in his first season in charge. Illinois might spring an upset this year... but they'll also seem likely to blow several games.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #3 Leaders; 4-4): New coach Tim Beckman takes over at Illinois and has Nathan Scheelhaase and his 26 starts at quarterback to work with. Scheelhaase is an explosive athlete but has not been great throwing the ball. Beckman’s offense at Toledo put up over 42 PPG in 2011, so look for the Illini to improve on the 22.6 they scored last season. There are 7 starters back on defense, but sack master Whitney Mercilus is now in Houston playing for the Texans. Illinois could be much improved from 2011’s 7-6 team, but the record may not reflect it. Trips to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State will be tough, but if Scheelhaase picks up the offense, the Illini are capable of pulling a big upset or two.
Kevin (Prediction: #4 Leaders): The schedule is very workable and the Illini have a shot to get off to another fast start. The big test comes in the middle of the season when they have four of five games against the like of Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. Look for Illini to beat some teams they aren't supposed to this season but I also think they might lose a couple they are supposed to win.
Jay (Prediction: #6 Leaders): The Hoosiers bottomed out in spectacular fashion in Kevin Wilson's debut season in Bloomington, but that wasn't entirely unexpected given the sweeping changes Wilson implemented across the program. I expect Indiana to be much improved with solid experience returning in year 2 of Wilson's system. The Leaders division is incredibly soft this year, and I could easily see the Hoosiers winning more than 1 conference game for the first time since the team rallied to make a bowl game in the wake of Terry Hoeppner's death in 2007. That may be damning with faint praise, but when you're 1-11, you just have to take it one step at a time.
Ross (Prediction: #6 Leaders): The good news for Indiana? Just three months 'til basketball season.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #6 Leaders; 0-8): The best thing about the start of football for sports fans in Bloomington is that basketball season is just 72 days away. Kevin Wilson took over last season after success as a coordinator at Oklahoma, but it was rough in his first season at the helm. There were no wins over FBS teams and 9 straight losses to end the season. The Hoosiers do return sophomore quarterback Tre Roberson who put up some decent numbers as a true freshman. However, with home games against Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin, there doesn’t appear to be a conference win in the cards for 2012.
Kevin (Prediction: #6 Leaders): This years Indiana squad will improve but I wouldn't look for it to show up that much in the W-L column. At a program like Indiana, Wilson is going to need a full four years to get one cycle of his kids into the program before we really see if he's going to be able to turn this ship around.
Jay (Predicton: #4 Legends): I don't love this Iowa team (too few guys back on defense, not a lot of "wow" at the skill positions on offense), but something feels really wrong about picking them to finish 4th in the division. They have a senior quarterback in James Vandenberg, who is also probably the best pure passer in the conference. Sure, running back is a bit of a mystery, but it seems like it's a mystery every year, and every year, they find guys who can produce. It helps that you'll rarely see an lousy Kirk Ferentz OL. Plus, the Hawkeyes got a fabulous draw for their Leaders division opponents: Indiana, Purdue, and Penn State. All games they should be favored in. Double plus, they get Nebraska at home to end the season. It would not at all surprise me if they finished ahead of flashier preseason picks like Michigan or the Huskers.
Ross (Prediction: #4 Legends): Unlike the other teams listed ahead of them, Iowa actually has a favorable schedule -- they don't leave Iowa City (except for an opening week neutral site game in Chicago) until mid-October and they avoid Ohio State and Wisconsin (plus Illinois). So why aren't they ranked higher? Well, road games at Michigan and Michigan State look daunting and they did lose to Iowa State and Minnesota last year. Oh, and they have to replace most of their passing attack, their entire running game, and both the offensive and defensive line. And break in two new coordinators. You know, nothing much.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #2 (tie) Legends; 5-3): A returning starter at quarterback and a nice schedule give Iowa hopes of a Legends’ championship in 2012. There is no Ohio State, Wisconsin, or Illinois (My 3 favorites in the Leaders) on the slate. Trips to Michigan and Michigan State will decide the Big Ten season for the Hawkeyes. James Vandenberg is the leading passer returning in the conference and receiver Keenan Davis is a consensus preseason all league pick. There are issues at running back and not much returning on the defensive line, but the passing game is capable of carrying this team. A soft early season schedule should provide enough time for the other units to get their bearings and possibly send the Hawks near the top of the division standings.
Kevin (Prediction: #4 Legends): The 2012 season for Iowa will come down to winning the games they are supposed to win and which young players can step up. Iowa has a chance to be really good this season and could surprise some folks but with their lack of experience I think the expectation should be 8-4 with a chance to go either way.
Jay (Prediction: #3 Legends): Brady Hoke fooled me last year. He spent all the offseason talking about how he was making a hard break with the spread in favor of his preferred pro-style attack, only to show up in September playing just slightly less spread than RichRod had. And you've gotta give him credit: The fact that he wasn't slavish to his system (the way Rich was when he had Ryan Mallett sitting in his lap) was a big reason this team won 11 games last year. Another big reason was defensive mastermind Greg Mattison's improbable turnaround of the woebegone Wolverine D, drastically cutting their points allowed by over half. One would typically expect to see further improvement in year 2, but I'm not so sure. It would be difficult for even a veteran defense to improve on 17 points per game, and with key losses on the defensive line (Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen), I think we'll see this unit fall back a bit (but not a whole lot, because Mattison is great). I also think losses on the line will be a big problem for the offense as well. Fitzgerald Toussaint racked up a lot of yards playing the role of "the guy in the backfield no one is concerned about" in 2011, but he wasn't an impressive force running between the tackles on his own. He'll find the going even rougher without a guy like David Molk plowing the way. Denard will still be Denard, though, which is to say a threat to score any time he takes off running but a hopeless passer who can't hit a man downfield unless he's running wide open, or by virtue of pure chance (of which he seemed to benefit an inordinate amount last season. Due for a market adjustment in?). As has been the case for the past two seasons, I think any defense with an athletic front seven can handle what he brings to the table and can beat the Wolverines in 2012. So I'm going to go ahead and put them down for three losses in the conference. And one in Dallas.
Ross (Prediction: #2 Legends): Am I Brady Hoke believer? Yes. Do I think Denard Robinson is one of the most fantastic talents in the entire nation? Yes. But... that schedule is tough. They could be 2-2 before they even start Big Ten play; a neutral site game with Alabama and a road game at Notre Dame are stiff tests. In league play, they have to go to Nebraska and Ohio State. Scheduling aside, while Hoke has upgraded the talent in the program, some of that talent (especially along the defensive line) is lacking in experience.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #2 (tie) Legends; 5-3): Michigan is the Big Ten team getting the most love from the national media during the preseason as they check in with a #8 ranking in the first coaches’ poll. The return of the dynamic Denard Robinson and last season’s 11 wins provide justification for the hype. Things won’t be near as easy for the Wolverines in 2012. Michigan pulled out late wins over Notre Dame and Ohio State and somehow won the Sugar Bowl despite being doubled in yards by Virginia Tech. The defense returns 7 starters, but gone are 3 linemen, including all Big Ten tackle Mike Martin. Robinson and the offense should be fine, but the step back coming for the defense will keep Michigan from taking the Legends in 2012.
Kevin (Prediction: #2 Legends): Michigan starts off in Cowboy Stadium against the defending National Champions. It doesn't get much tougher than that. In addition to that game they have some tough road games (Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State) and a key match-up at home against Michigan State. On the positive side, they don't play Wisconsin. The difference in the season will be the Michigan State and Ohio State games. Circle those on the calendar.
Jay (Prediction: #1 Legends): The Spartans seem to always get way, way, way less respect than they deserve. Mark Dantonio has steadily been building up a monster defense at Michigan State, and this year's unit is his most beastly yet. Not only is it loaded with talent, some of it, like William Gholston, quite freakish, but the amount of returning experience is off the charts: eight returning starters, with 17 of the top 20 tacklers back, as well. Last year, the Spartans held B1G opponents to just 17ppg. They will do better than that in 2012. And if they only need to score 20 to win most games, then how big of a deal is it, really, that they'll have to replace Kirk Cousins at QB and virtually the entire receiving corpse? Andrew Maxwell hasn't logged a lot of game time, but he's a veteran of this system. With a veteran offensive line returning and Le'Veon Bell primed for a breakout season rushing the football, I don't think they're going to have to ask much of him anyway. He won't need to be much better than Greg McElroy was for Alabama in 2009 for the Spartans to return to the B1G Championship.
Ross (Prediction: # 1 Legends): Sparty's bid for a second-straight Big Ten Legends division title could come down to two weeks in October where they play at Michigan and at Wisconsin back-to-back. That could end their title aspirations -- or put them in pole position. The good news is those games are over halfway into the season, so they might have sorted out their other big issue this season: finding an offense. They need to replace basically their entire passing attack; while they work on that, they're going to lean on the defense and the running game. Which might be enough.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #1 Legends; Conference Champion): The defending division champions return 8 starters from one of the nations’ best defenses. William Gholston is a monster at defensive end and cornerback Johnny Adams was first team all Big Ten in 2011. However, starting quarterback and 3 year captain Kirk Cousins is no longer in the green and white and the top 4 receivers are gone as well. Junior Andrew Maxwell is ready to take over under center and with a strong running game and defense to lean on, the transition should not be too bad. Getting Ohio State and Nebraska at home will help, but trips in back to back weeks to Michigan and Wisconsin will determine if the Spartans are ready to repeat in the Legends divisions.
Kevin (Prediction: #1 Legends): The defense can get Michigan State far this year but with their schedule the offense is going to have to carry it's own weight. Out of the three teams that will challenge for the B1G Championship, Michigan State has the toughest schedule (at Michigan and at Wisconsin plus Ohio State and Nebraska).
Jay (Prediction: #5 Legends): I expect the Gophers to be a bit improved in year 2 under Jerry Kill, mainly on defense. But I think there's a very low ceiling for the offense with the guys they have at quarterback right now. And Marquies Gray isn't going to last the season if he ends up being the leading ball carrier again, and he was basically the entire offense last year. If Minnesota can get an infusion of fresh blood in the running game to spare his body (and spare the Gophers Gray's meager passing skills), though, I think they can be very competitive within the bottom half of the conference. On that front, watch out for JUCO transfer James Gillum, a star from the very competitive Mississippi junior college circuit.
Ross (Prediction: #6 Legends): Minnesota is getting better. Jerry Kill is upgrading the talent and proving some much-needed stability after the madcap chaos of the Tim Brewster Era. But it's still going to take him a little longer to effect real meaningful change in the standings.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #6 Legends): Quarterback MarQueis Gray is a fantastic player and is poised to have a great season. After that, I just don’t like much about this team. The top receiver (Da’Jon McKnight) and top two tacklers (Kim Royston and Gary Tinsley) are gone. It wasn’t until Jerry Kill’s third season at NIU that the Huskies showed a lot of improvement, so the Gophers may be a year or two away. Home games include Michigan and Michigan State so conference wins will be hard to come by for Minnesota in 2012.
Kevin (Prediction: #6 Legends): Minnesota was playing much better defense last year as they closed out the season and defense is going to be what makes or breaks the Gophers this year. Their win total will depend on how much of a step forward the defense takes.
Jay (Prediction: #2 Legends): Despite having perhaps the most athletically talented defense in the conference last year, the Huskers fell flat in their B1G debut, posting their worst numbers since Bo Pellini took over the dumpster fire that Bill Callahan left behind. It was. unexpected. I mean, your defensive numbers are supposed to go down once you get away from all those high-flying offensive stat machines in the Big 12, right? One can only assume the Huskers suffered a severe case of culture shock. It's a very different ball game when you've got tight ends and fullbacks running downhill on you. So I'm expecting a big bounce back from Nebraska now that they've had a chance to get adjusted. They are losing several guys who went on to be NFL draft picks, but their returning experience is still very good, and they're still among the most talented D's in the conference. If an inexperienced offensive line can gel and pave the way for Rex Burkhead to have another 1,000-yard season, while being complemented by Ameer Abdullah (who I think is due for a breakout year), they'll be a difficult team to beat. I doubt you'll see them get trounced 48-17 like Wisconsin did to them last year (in fact, I think a revenge-minded Nebraska gets the win at home). But the championship potential of this team depends on Taylor Martinez finally figuring out the whole passing thing. And I just don't see it happening.
Ross (Prediction: #3 Legends): Remember that tough B1G schedule Nebraska drew last year? Well, it's still tough this year. Their first five games are Wisconsin, @Ohio State, @Northwestern, Michigan, and @Michigan State. Good luck with that, Huskers. Northwestern looks like the easiest of that bunch... but they did beat Nebraska last year and they're in prime "trap game" positioning, sandwiched between games against OSU and Michigan (although there is a bye week in there, too). Personnel-wise, Nebraska also needs to replace three of their best defenders (Lavonte David, Jared Crick, Alfonzo Dennard) and prove that Taylor Martinez can actually throw the ball. Seems like a tall task.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #2 (tie) Legends; 5-3): The Cornhuskers enter year 2 of Big Ten play and the schedule makers are making things tough again. Nebraska again draws Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders division and these two games are back to back to start the season. The Huskers return the veteran backfield duo of quarterback Taylor Martinez and tailback Rex Burkhead, but it looks like there may be issues on the offensive line in Lincoln. Projected left tackle Tyler Moore, who became the first true freshman offensive lineman to start opening day in Nebraska history last season, has decided to take the fall semester off and may leave the school. With only 2 others starters returning on the offensive line, Martinez and Burkhead may find running room scarce this season. Nebraska will be near the top of the division this season, but the schedule will prevent a championship.
Kevin (Prediction: #3 Legends): Two games really stood out for the Huskers last year and they were both blowouts. The Huskers got blown out in their two biggest road tests last year (Wisky and Michigan) and overall they finished just 3-3 on the road (and in neutral site games) versus a 6-1 home record. This year, Nebraska still has a very tough schedule as they still play the best two teams in the opposite division but they get them at home. This years big road tests will be at Urban Meyer led Ohio State, at Northwestern (who beat Nebraska in Lincoln last year), at Michigan State and at Iowa. Phil Steele is projecting Nebraska in a three-way tie with Michigan and Michigan State at the top of the Big Ten but I see the Huskers as just a slight step behind them right now.
Jay (Prediction: #6 Legends): I've developed a deep affection for these plucky New Millennium Northwestern teams. I think Pat Fitzgerald is a really undervalued coach that too many teams have overlooked in their coaching searches. But I may have to avert my eyes this season. This is a bad looking team. I'm not entirely sure how a brainiac school ended up with such terrible returning numbers, especially on defense. It's not like they're sending a bunch of stud juniors to the league early. However it happened, I think this Wildcat team is in danger of giving up 30+ppg for the first time in a long while. And if that happens, I think they'll miss a bowl for the first time since 2007 (also the last time they allowed over 30 per game). Kain Colter is an interesting athlete at quarterback, and the addition of Kyle Prater could be a shot in the arm to a receiving corps that badly needs a playmaker, but they just don't have enough on that side of the ball to keep up with the amount of points the defense is going to surrender.
Ross (Prediction: #5 Legends): Northwestern will do Northwestern things: they'll pull one big upset, they'll be in a bunch of other nail-biters, and they'll lose at least one game they have absolutely no business losing. Sounds like business as usual.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #2 (tie) Legends; 5-3): Northwestern has a chance in 2012 because of the setup of the schedule. The Wildcats start Big Ten play with Indiana and then take road trips to Penn State and Minnesota. There is a decent chance that when Northwestern welcomes Nebraska to Evanston in late October that the Cats will be sporting a 3-0 conference mark. Wins over the Huskers and the following week on homecoming against Iowa, could send Northwestern in the home stretch need just a win at either Michigan or Michigan State to have a chance at the title. Dual threat quarterback Kain Colter is back but he will need help. Colter is the leading returner in passing, rushing, and receiving yards. If he stays healthy and coach Pat Fitzgerald patches together a defense, Northwestern could have a say in this division come November.
Kevin (Prediction: #5 Legends): We will find out about the Wildcats early in 2011 as they face three out of confrerence foes from BCS conferences. The schedule is tough (road games against Michigan and Michigan State) but they don't face Ohio State or Wisconsin so there is hope.
Jay (Prediction: #2 Leaders): The Buckeye defense could very well be the best they've fielded since their back-to-back BCS title game seasons in 2006 and 2007. Meyer probably wishes he could save this defense for next year, once the offense has gone through it's messy transition phase and he's had a full recruiting period to bring in some studs on that side of the ball. That said, this year's OSU offense has the potential to be much more formidable than that of his first Florida team by virtue of the presence of Braxton Miller at QB. And if he can find one, just one, dynamic playmaker to complement Miller, this is going to be a very dangerous team. Unfortunately for Buckeye fans who might be hoping to finish atop the Leaders division and really stick it in the NCAA's eye, their schedule is too brutal for them to accomplish that feat. They draw the top 3 teams out of the Legends (Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State) and must travel to Madison, where Wisconsin has had their number of late. I do think they make it 8 of the last 9 against the Wolverines, though. Urb knows how to handle rivals.
Ross (Prediction: #2 Leaders): Urban Meyer will win at Ohio State. He's too good of a coach not to win there. But that doesn't mean he'll win big this year. Florida went through a few growing pains before erupting in Year Two and Ohio State could do the same, although Meyer has an advantage in having a perfect QB for his offense from the get-go and should have a monstrous defensive line. Still, there figure to be a few growing pains.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #2 Leaders; 6-2): The Urban Meyer era beings in Columbus and there is talent aplenty for the Buckeyes. Quarterback Braxton Miller should feel like a new player with the fast paced spread attack being installed and the ground and boring offense being shown the door for the Scarlet and Grey. As mentioned above, Ohio State is banned from post season play, so motivation could be a factor for the team. However, Meyer’s energy and effort should allow the Buckeyes to beat the less talented teams on the schedule. If Miller and the offense take off and the defense returns to pre-2011 form, Ohio State could run the table and go 12-0 with no shot at a championship.
Kevin (Prediction: #2 Leaders): The defense was a strength for the Buckeyes during the Tressel tenure but they took a step back last year. They finished they year giving up a touchdown more than in 2010. If DE Nathan Williams can rebound successfully from injury it will give the Buckeyes two ends that can get after the QB and that will be trouble for B1G foes. The Buckeyes have the talent to be very good on defense this year but there is a lot of unproven talent that will have to step up for the Buckeyes to improve on defense and the defense might have to carry this team until the offense finds it's identity. The good news is that the Buckeyes don't leave the state of Ohio until their September 29th date with Michigan State. Ohio State will be much improved this year but it will take longer than this season for Urban to get the Buckeyes back to the top of the B1G.
Jay (Prediction: #5 Leaders): What else is there really to say about Penn State at this point? This was already going to be a difficult enough season before the NCAA decided to open the gate and allow what little talent that State had left in the corral to head for greener pastures. It suffices to say that they're in a world of hurt. If there's a silver lining to this season, it's that they play in the softer of the B1G's divisions and they didn't get slammed with the top half of the Legends in cross-divisional play. But then that kinda gets balanced out by a non-conference slate that, while it isn't exactly a murderer's row of big time programs, is loaded with the sort of solid, scrappy teams (Ohio, Virginia, Navy, Temple) that can give a down, way down, Penn State a run for their money. I'll toast Bill O'Brien if this team breaks even at 6-6.
Ross (Prediction: #4 Leaders): Does anyone know what to expect out of this team? How could you? No other program in history has dealt with a scandal akin to this one. Transitioning away from JoePa was always going to be challenging, but doing so in the wake of several high-profile transfers and with the eyes of the nation on you to see how you cope after such a massive scandal only ups the ante. They could use the attention to create a massive chip on their shoulders that fuels them to strong performances... or it could utterly break them. Hard to say. So I'll split the difference and guess the finish in the middle of the pack.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #5 Leaders; 1-7): There is not much to say here. Penn State is in trouble and I don’t see how the program can recover from the sanctions imposed this summer. Talented players Silas Redd (USC), Justin Brown (Oklahoma), and Anthony Fera (Texas), among others are gone. The Nittany Lions were not going to challenge for the division championship before the events of the last few weeks, but with the defections and issues hanging over the program, new coach Bill O’Brien has his hands full in Happy Valley. Depth will be an issue this year and going forward and that makes it hard to hang with the big boys. A 1-11 or 2-10 type season is not far-fetched in 2012.
Kevin (Prediction: #5 Leaders): When we originally did our Penn State preview I called for the Nittany Lions to go 8-4. That was before all of the NCAA sanctions. Now, I think they will be lucky to break even.
Jay (Prediction: #3 Leaders): By the grace of God and a surprise upset over Ohio State, Danny Hope survived to see another season at Purdue. And though he's holding on by the slimmest of threads, he returns a veteran team in a division where all but one of their rivals is facing some form of major transition and/or turmoil. Hope for 2013? Sure, why not? This is the best justification I have for picking the Boilermakers 3rd.
Ross (Prediction: #3 Leaders): Purdue has pulled off some upset wins in recent years -- see wins over Ohio State in two of the last three years -- but a general lack of health has kept them from capitalizing on those big wins. When you're (seemingly always) fielding a 3rd- or 4th-string backfield, it's hard to get much traction in the Big Ten. So consider this a bet that -- for once -- they'll finally get some good health. If they don't, Danny Hope and his luxurious mustache could find themselves looking for work this December.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #4 Leaders; 3-5): The Boilermakers went bowling for the first time in 4 years last season. 8 starters (including 3 quarterbacks with experience) return on offense and star DT Kawann Short is also back. The conference schedule is front loaded with Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State being the first 3 games. Of the 7 wins last season, it took a blocked FG to beat Middle Tennessee and a blocked XP to beat OSU in overtime. Despite the talented returning, the setup of the schedule will prevent Purdue from challenging Wisconsin for the Leaders title.
Purdue (Prediction: #3 Leaders): From a scheduling standpoint the Boilermakers do have the benefit of not playing Michigan State and Nebraska (two of the top five teams in the B1G). The big question is if Danny Hope and his staff are cut out for the job. We should have a pretty good idea after this year as Hope will have been on campus for an entire four year cycle.
Jay (Prediction: #1 Leaders; Conference Champion): You've probably heard this before, but it bears repeating, many times over: Danny O'Brien is not Russell Wilson. But he's at least as good as Scott Tolzien, which is to say "good enough to play in the Rose Bowl." And as great as Wilson played last year, the straw that stirred the drink for Wisconsin was Montee Ball (he actually carried the ball just two times less than Wilson passed it, 307 to 309). And he is, inexplicably, back. The lack of experience on the OL might give some pause, but Wisconsin OL play has always been about sheer size and power, and this year's line is as big and fat as ever Maybe they won't keep their streak of averaging 40+ per game alive (at least not without scoring 70 and 80 on the Weak Sisters on their schedule), but they should continue to be one of the most productive offenses in the league. The Wisconsin defense...will continue to be the Wisconsin defense, for better and mostly worse. They're a slow, unathletic bunch, and they'll continue to be ripped by the more dynamic offenses they come up against. Lucky for them, they're playing in the Leaders division of the B1G. You're not going to hear the word "dynamic" used much in connection with the offenses up there.
Ross (Prediction: #1 Leaders; Conference Champion): Three straight Big Ten titles for Wisconsin? It could happen. They benefit from a relatively easy schedule; the toughest road game is at Nebraska and they get Michigan State and Ohio State at home. They also benefit from Ohio State's postseason ban, which removes some of the pressure on Wisconsin to be perfect (or near-perfect) in league play. They just have to be better than Purdue, Indiana, and Illinois... which seems eminently doable. Talent-wise, they return a fair amount on defense and Montee Ball on offense. They have to develop new offensive linemen (luckily, that's their stock-in-trade) and develop their latest ACC transfer at QB. But do that and they could easily be headed back to Pasadena for a third-straight year.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #1 Leaders; 7-1): Led by Montee Ball, the Badger’s running game will be very good again in 2012. Maryland transfer quarterback Danny O’Brien will not be an equal replacement for the departed Russell Wilson, but he won’t have to be. The schedule has Ohio State and Michigan State at home, and only an early season trip to Nebraska looks tough on the road slate. Wisconsin will not have to do much to win this division with Ohio State ineligible to play in the postseason. The trip to Lincoln and the play of O’Brien could be the only things keeping the Badgers from a perfect season.
Kevin (Prediction: #1 Leaders; Conference Champion): It looks like it's going to be a three team race in the Big Ten between Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin with Nebraska looming in the rear view. The difference between a Rose Bowl berth and a non-BCS bowl game will be the quarterback position and how efficient Russell Wilson's replacement plays. Wisconsin's schedule does set up favorably as they have a non-existent out of conference schedule, they don't play Michigan and they get Michigan State and Ohio State at home. Wisconsin will return to the Big Ten championship game this year and I keep waffeling on who will win that game but for this moment I'm going with Montee and the Badgers.
CFBZ PREDICTED FINAL 2012 BIG TEN STANDINGS
1. Michigan State
2. Ohio State
5. Penn State
2012 Championship Game: Wisconsin over Michigan St