Big Ten Pre-Spring Preview - Early Rankings
Wisconsin WR Nick Toon
Wisconsin WR Nick Toon
Posted Feb 17, 2011

2011 Big Ten Pre-Spring Preview - Rankings For All The Big Ten Teams Before Spring Ball Kicks In

2011 Pre-Spring Preview   

Early Rankings - Big Ten

Click for each team's pre-spring lookback and lookahead
Leaders Illinois | Indiana | Ohio State | Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin 
Legends Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern 

2011 Big Ten Pre-Spring Preview
- Big Ten Pre-Spring Rankings
- Why Every Team Should Be Excited
- Why Every Team Should Be Grouchy
- What Every Team Needs To Work On 

- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Division Breakdown & Analysis 
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Division Breakdown & Analysis
- 2011 Big Ten Composite Schedule & Week Rankings
- 2011 Big Ten Schedule Analysis


1. Wisconsin 

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 13
2010 Record: 10-3
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 6
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 10-2
2009 Final Ranking: 19
2008 Final Ranking: 60

The Badgers lose Doak Walker finalist John Clay, Outland winner Gabe Carimi, ultra-efficient QB Scott Tolzien, and heart-and-soul defensive end J.J. Watt ... and the team might not skip a beat. The running back rotation of Montee Ball and James White should once again be devastating behind another strong offensive line, while Nick Toon should be one of the Big Ten's top receivers. The key to the season will be quarterback where Curt Phillips tries to return from a second major knee injury to battle Jon Budmayr for Tolzien's gig. The defense should be terrific with the line a major strength even with the loss of Watt.

2. Ohio State

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 3
2010 Record: 12-1
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 2
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 10-2
2009 Final Ranking: 7
2008 Final Ranking: 12

Joe Bauserman. If it's now true freshman Braxton Miller, Bauswerman could hold the key to the 2011 season for Ohio State and all of college football as he needs to keep the team treading water until Terrelle Pryor is back to lead the attack. The bigger problem than the suspensions might be the new starters on defense with seven new players needing to step in. The defensive front seven will require a ton of look, but the secondary has to undergo the biggest overhaul with Chimdi Chekwa and three starters done. It's Ohio State. It has players.

3. Penn State

2010 CFN Final Ranking: T48
2010 Record: 7-6
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 18
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 9-3
2009 Final Ranking: 15
2008 Final Ranking: 10

This is how Penn State rolls. Take a year to reload, get Joe Paterno back after everyone assumes he's retiring, and go play in another New Year's Day bowl. This year's team might not be the most talented of JoePa's lot, but it's loaded with experience led by QB Matt McGloin and a receiving corps that should be solid. The one concern could be up front with two key losses in center Doug Klopacz and RG Stefen Wisniewski, and RB Evan Royster is done. The entire secondary returns as does most of the defensive front four.

4. Illinois

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 41
2010 Record: 7-6
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 60
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 5-7
2009 Final Ranking: 98
2008 Final Ranking: 69

Which Illinois will return, the one that flounders at times at the end of the regular season, or the one that dominated Baylor in the bowl? The problem is the loss of the three best players early to the NFL with Mikel Leshoure's departure hurting the ground game, and DT Corey Liuget and LB Martez Wilson's bailing taking big presences out of the middle of the line. The offense is all QB Nathan Scheelhaase, and if he can improve his passing consistency, the attack should be fine.

5. Purdue

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 79
2010 Record: 4-8
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 49
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 6-6
2009 Final Ranking: 71
2008 Final Ranking: 85

Is this the year Purdue finally catches a break? After seemingly every star offensive player getting hurt, now there's experience returning with QB Rob Henry being thrown to the first over the second half of last year working behind a line that gets four starters back. All-America DE Ryan Kerrigan is gone off the defensive front, but nine starters are back including the entire secondary and a group of tackles that were way too young last year, but are big and promising coming into this season.

6. Indiana

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 88
2010 Record: 5-7
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 70
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 5-7
2009 Final Ranking: T99.
2008 Final Ranking: 105

Gone is Ben Chappell, but new head coach Kevin Wilson has Edward Wright-Baker at quarterback and a fabulous receiving corps led by Demarlo Belcher. Four starters are back on the offensive front, while he defense gets most of the key starters back including three players on the defensive line. The Hoosiers might not be all that great, but they'll put points on the board.


1. Nebraska

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 16
2010 Record: 10-4
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 38
2009 Final Ranking: 17
2008 Final Ranking: 35

Welcome to the Big Ten ... now win it. It all depends on the soap opera situation with QB Taylor Martinez. If he's healthy and actually playing (and still on the team), the Husker offense should be terrific even with some major losses on the line. The defense should be frothing at the mouth from the start with seven starters returning including Jared Crick and three great players on the line. Save time and put LB Lavonte David on the All-Big Ten right now. He'll be a finalist for the Butkus. The graduation of PK/P Alex Henery is devastating.

2. Michigan

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 50
2010 Record: 7-6
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 47
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 7-5
2009 Final Ranking: 82
2008 Final Ranking: 97

And the Brady Hoke grace period ends ... wait for it ... wait for it ... now. The defense might need more playmakers, but it can't help but be better with a simplified scheme and with nine starters returning led by Mike Martin on the nose. The offense got its big break with Denard Robinson choosing to stay, and he leads a loaded attack with ten starters returning including all the key parts to the ground game. The passing game should sing from the start.

3. Michigan State

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 11
2010 Record: 11-2
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 31
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 9-3
2009 Final Ranking: 66
2008 Final Ranking: 28

That was fun while it lasted. It's not like the Spartans are going to fall off the map, and QB Kirk Cousins should keep the offense from collapsing, but the offensive line will need a little while to pave the way for a great looking group of backs. The defense loses linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon and needs work in the secondary. The D line should grow to be terrific in time.

4. Iowa

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 24
2010 Record: 8-5
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 14
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 9-3
2009 Final Ranking: 8
2008 Final Ranking: 19 

Iowa was a disappointment with the expectations sky-high, but now nothing will be expected in a rebuilding year. That's usually when the Kirk Ferentz teams are their most dangerous. The problem is the massive loss of all the defensive stars including Adrian Clayborn and Karl Klug off the offensive line, and with safety Tyler Sash leaving early for the NFL. Corner will be a strength with bowl hero Micah Hyde and Shaun Prater coming back. The offense needs James Vandenberg to be a steady leader, and RB Marcus Coker has to pick up where he left off after the Missouri win. The O line should be fine in time, but the receiving corps will be an Achilles heel.

5. Northwestern 

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 64
2010 Record: 7-6
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 53
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 7-5
2009 Final Ranking: 47
2008 Final Ranking: 49

Can Dan Persa really come back from the torn Achilles heel? He might not be quite ready for the start of the season, but as is, nine starters are back on offense including four good starters on the offensive front. Now the attack needs to find more producers in case Persa isn't back to do it all. The defense has to be stronger, and it could be with seven starters back including three in the secondary and three up front. Losing linebackers Quentin Davie and Nate Williams isn't a plus for a team that needs to play tougher.

6. Minnesota

2010 CFN Final Ranking: 91
2010 Record: 3-9
2010 CFN Preseason Rank: 71
CFN 2010 Preseason Prediction: 3-9
2009 Final Ranking: 70
2008 Final Ranking: 71

New head coach Jerry Kill might not have the line he needs to run the offense the way he wants to, but MarQueis Gray could become a superstar at quarterback if he takes to the attack. The defense has a good base to start with thanks to nine returning starters from a group that got better as last year went on. The entire front seven returns.