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2011 CFN Big Ten Preview

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 29, 2011


Is anything interesting happening in the Big Ten? There's the Ohio State scandal, two new divisions, and oh yeah, that Big Red team from the Big 12 is joining the fun. Check out the unit rankings, All-Big Ten Team and top 30 players, thoughts on the season, predictions, breakdowns, and more in the 2011 CFN Big Ten Preview.


Preview 2011

Big Ten Preview



LEADERS
- 2011 Illinois Preview | 2011 Indiana Preview | 2011 Ohio State Preview
- 2011 Penn State Preview | 2011 Purdue Preview | 2011 Wisconsin Preview

LEGENDS
- 2011 Iowa Preview | 2011 Michigan Preview | 2011 Michigan State Preview
- 2011 Minnesota Preview | 2011 Nebraska Preview | 2011 Northwestern Preview

- 2011 Big Ten Preview
- CFN Thoughts on the Big Ten | 2011 Big Ten Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN All-Big Ten Team & Top 30 Players | 2011 Big Ten Schedules & Picks
- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 Big Ten Media Days - Coaches Quotes | 2010 Big Ten Preview

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History is being made with Nebraska joining the Big Ten, but that’s not the biggest storyline going into the 2011 season.

Ohio State’s issues are all anyone seems to really care about, and the NCAA rulings are the talk of the conference, but that’s not the league’s biggest problem.

A 12-team conference called the Big Ten is confusing, and two divisions named the Leaders and Legends is sort of strange, but the league has a larger issue going into 2011.

The Big Ten’s big problem? It has to be better.

It will be, these things go in cycles, but at the moment, the new-look conference is full of big names without the big games. To be fair, it’s not like the Big 12 was a world-beater, the old Pac Ten was incredibly mediocre, and the SEC, even with its national championship run, wasn’t up to its normal standards last season. But all three of those conferences appear to be a bit better going into this year, especially the SEC, while the Big Ten has to hope for the superpowers to become true superpowers again.

Nebraska used to be special, but it hasn’t won a conference title since 1999. Going limp in the Holiday Bowl loss to Washington didn’t help the cause.

Michigan used to be special, but it hasn’t won a BCS game since 1999. The atomic wedgie applied by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl wasn’t exactly a plus.

Penn State used to be special, but it hasn’t won a BCS game since 2005, the only one the program it played in since the 1997 Fiesta Bowl – before it was a BCS game. Getting picked off by a lousy Florida team in the Outback Bowl didn’t inspire any confidence going into this year.

Ohio State used to be special, but it[‘s asking a lot of anyone, not just Luke Fickell, to try to keep up the impossible pace and the unattainable standard – at least on the field – set by Jim Tressel. Trying to give away the Sugar Bowl to Arkansas, and then doing it with an *, was an embarrassing way to end the run.

Wisconsin’s bizarre loss to an overmatched TCU team in the Rose Bowl, Michigan State’s put-them-at-the-kid’s-table performance against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl, and Northwestern’s ugly first three quarters against Texas Tech in the TicketCity.com Bowl all but unraveled any positives made by Iowa’s miraculous bowl win over Missouri and the Illinois domination of Baylor. But it’s not quite fair and it’s not right to judge a team and a conference just by the bowl season; but those games provide the lingering perceptions going forward. Now, the Big Ten has to prove that it can rebound, and it will. Eventually.

Wisconsin has proven staying power, Michigan is about to be a whole bunch better under Brady Hoke, and Nebraska is on the right track under Bo Pelini.

Indiana will be better under Kevin Wilson, Jerry Kill is the right guy for the right job at Minnesota, and soon, Illinois might have found the right combination with the assistant coaching hires of last year, and Purdue should soon have some semblance of luck and will be a regular in the bowl circuit again.

Michigan State appears ready and able to stay strong, Iowa always rebounds and reloads in a hurry, and Northwestern isn’t going to go away as long as Pat Fitzgerald is the head man.

And then there’s Ohio State. It’s Ohio State; it’ll be Ohio State once this storm passes.

So for all the excitement and all the waiting for the 2011 season, which should be thrilling, the league might still be a year away from being a true killer again. The old, stodgy conference has become modernized, and it’ll end up being for the better.

Team That'll Surprise

Michigan - Here's the thing that got lost in the Rich Rodriguez fiasco; 2011 was when it was all supposed to work. It was supposed to take a while to tear the program down and build it back up again, and RichRod did that with the offensive talent now in place and the defense loaded with veterans. Granted, there's still a question mark about the overall talent level, and it might take a little while for Brady Hoke to tweak things and make them the way he wants them, but the schedule works out extremely well with just four road games - Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa, and Illinois - and with the Nebraska and Ohio State games coming at home at the end of the year when Hoke and his staff should have his team figured out. Nebraska and Michigan State are strong enough to win the Legends, and Iowa and Northwestern will be heard from, but there aren't many excuses for the Wolverines to not be in the hunt for the division title.

Team That'll Disappoint

Nebraska – The team is strong and the coaching is fantastic, but the schedule and the pressure might be too much to win the Legends in the inaugural season. Taylor Martinez might have a ton of talent, but he has to prove he can last a full season and has to show he can be the type of quarterback who can handle tough game after tough game. The defense will be fantastic, especially in the front seven, but the offense might have some consistency issues. The biggest problem, though, is the schedule. EVERY Big Ten game will be the circle-spotlight battle of the week, starting out at Wisconsin, getting Ohio State the week after, and having to go on the road to face Penn State and Michigan before closing out against Iowa. The bye week comes before Minnesota; Nebraska doesn’t need a bye week before Minnesota.

Game of the Year

Nebraska at Wisconsin, Oct. 1 - Ohio State vs. the Huskers and the Badgers will be among the biggest games of the 2011 college football season, but it's the Big Ten opener that should set the tone for the rest of the year. Both Wisconsin and Nebraska should be unbeaten, and they both come in looking to make a big early statement, and they both might need the win. Nebraska's schedule doesn't get much easier the rest of the way, but if it comes away from Camp Randall with a win, the expectations will go through the roof for the showdown against the Buckeyes the week after. If the Badgers win, they should be 6-0 going into the road battles with Michigan State and Ohio State..

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight

1. WR Damarlo Belcher, Sr., Indiana
2. DT Kawann Short, Jr., Purdue
3. LB Michael Mauti, Jr., Penn State
4. OT Riley Reiff, Jr., Iowa
5. DE Vince Browne, Sr., Northwestern

Coach on the Hot Seat

Luke Fickell, Ohio State - Illinois head man Ron Zook might be the only Big Ten head coach with a win-or-go-home issue, but it's Fickell who has the most pressure. Some might assume he'll get a little bit of slack in such a tumultuous situation, but Ohio State isn't exactly a place that tolerates anything less than greatness. Even with the problems, the Buckeyes are still the most talented team in the Big Ten and they have no reason to not be in the mix for the Big Ten title. If Fickell doesn't at least win the division, and/or if he doesn't get past Michigan, the offseason storylines will be about who the next OSU head man will be if 2012 isn't tremendous.

5 Non-Conference Games the Big Ten had better take very, very seriously

1. Western Michigan at Michigan, Sept. 3
2. Minnesota at Miami University, Sept. 17
3. Northwestern at Army, Sept. 17
4. Toledo at Ohio State, Sept. 10
5. Arkansas State at Illinois, Sept. 3

Bold Predictions …
Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg will be shockingly terrific ... Ohio State's quarterback situation will be a topic of discussion all season long. ... Indiana's defense will make an immediate improvement and will come up with at least two great Big Ten games from the front seven. ... Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will be the league's hot player going into 2012. ... Nebraska's defensive tackle pair of Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler will earn All-America honors, but linebacker Lavonte David will be the star of the show. ... Penn State's defense will end up leading the Big Ten. ... Wisconsin's defensive front won't miss J.J. Watt. ... Michigan State will be better than it was in 2010, but with a worse record. ... Minnesota's Jerry Kill will be named the Big Ten coach of the Year. ... Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa won't be the same player coming off his Achilles heel injury.

5 Best Pro Prospects

1. DT Jerel Worthy, Jr. Michigan State
2. DE Jared Crick, Sr. Nebraska
3. OT Mike Adams, Sr. Ohio State
4. C Michael Brewster, Sr. Ohio State
5. FS Trenton Robinson, Sr. Michigan State

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill

1. Head coach Luke Fickell for Jim Tressel
2. QB Braxton Miller or Joe Bauserman for Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
3. DEs Pat Muldoon and David Gilbert for J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
4. RB Jason Ford for Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
5. OT Ricky Wagner for Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

LEADERS
- 2011 Illinois Preview | 2011 Indiana Preview | 2011 Ohio State Preview
- 2011 Penn State Preview | 2011 Purdue Preview | 2011 Wisconsin Preview

LEGENDS
- 2011 Iowa Preview | 2011 Michigan Preview | 2011 Michigan State Preview
- 2011 Minnesota Preview | 2011 Nebraska Preview | 2011 Northwestern Preview

- 2011 Big Ten Preview
- CFN Thoughts on the Big Ten | 2011 Big Ten Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN All-Big Ten Team & Top 30 Players | 2011 Big Ten Schedules & Picks
- 2011 Big Ten Leaders Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 Big Ten Legends Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 Big Ten Media Days - Coaches Quotes | 2010 Big Ten Preview