2012 Pre-Preseason Rankings - Big Ten Legends
Michigan RB Fitzgerald Toussaint
Michigan RB Fitzgerald Toussaint
Posted Jan 18, 2012

The too early look at how good the Big Ten Legends should be in 2012.

CFN 2012 First Look Rankings

Big Ten Legends

2011 CFN Pre-Preseason First Look Rankings
The Top 10 | Rankings 11-25 | Rankings 26-50
- Rankings 51-75 | Rankings 76-100The Bottom 20  

2011 CFN Final Season Rankings
The Top 10 | Rankings 11-25 | Rankings 26-50
- Rankings 51-75 | Rankings 76-100The Bottom 20

- CFN 2011 FINAL Rankings

It might seem way too early, but considering the returning starters and the teams coming back, where does everyone stand before Signing Day and spring ball? Here's CFN's first look at all the teams for 2012 based on how good they appear to be at the moment.

- CFN 2012 Pre-Preseason Big Ten Leaders Rankings

1. Michigan (11-2)

One more year. It might take one more season for Michigan to truly be back to being Michigan, but everything is on the right track with one of the nation's top recruiting classes coming in and a great base of talent in place to work around. Denard Robinson is back for one more season before he becomes an NFL receiver, but he'll lose target Junior Hemingway and he'll have to run– especially in the opener against Alabama – behind a line that has to replace center David Molk and right tackle Mark Huyge. Fitzgerald Toussaint flew under the national radar last season, but he should be among the nation's top running backs this year.

The defense that made tremendous strides should go to another level in the secondary that returns three starters. Jake Ryan and the linebacking corps are talented and could be potentially terrific with more help on the way, but the line needs help with Mike Martin and three starters gone.

2. Michigan State (11-3)

Quarterback Kirk Cousins needs to be replaced and running back Edwin Baker curiously left early for the next-level. Making matters worse for the offense is the loss of receivers B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin, Keith Nichol, and both starting tight ends have to be replaced. On the plus side, four starters are back on the offensive line to pave the way for bruising running back Le'Veon Bell and protect likely new starting QB Andrew Maxwell.

It might take a while for the offense to come around, but the defense should be the best in the Mark Danotonio era. Anchor Jerel Worthy is gone from the defensive line, but William Gholston and Marcus Rush should form one of the Big Ten's best pass rushing tandems. The secondary is loaded with ball-hawkers SS Isaiah Lewis and corners Darqueze Dennard and Johnny Adams, and Chris Norman and Max Bullough headline a terrific-looking linebacking corps.

3. Nebraska (9-4)

Quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead return. Now the offense needs a third option. The O line loses three starters, and a wide receiver has to emerge, but as long as Martinez and Burkhead are healthy, the running game will work. The best offensive weapon could turn out to be kicker Brett Maher, possibly the Big Ten's best all-around kicker. The defense will be air-tight with five starters returning to the defensive front, but tackling machine linebacker Lavonte David is done and top corner Alfonzo Dennard is off to the NFL. There's good depth and a few nice options to fill in the gaps, but finding playmakers and stars early on will be a must.

4. Northwestern (6-7)

Is Kain Colter ready to be the full-time quarterback without Dan Persa done? He'll be the star of the running game, but help is on the way with top recruits Malin Jones and Traveon Henry ready to help out Treyvon Green. The real star on the way is linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo, but the corps is already going to be the team's biggest strength with three promising young starters returning. They need to shine with three starters gone from the secondary and both starting tackles done. The O line needs to give Colter time to work with top targets Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore both finished, but Demetrius Fields has the look of a go-to receiver.

5. Iowa (7-6)

It could be another down year with a slew of new starters needing to play huge roles. Iowa lost star running back Marcus Coker, top receiver Marvin McNutt, and NFL-bound tackle Riley Reiff, so how is the attack going to be more consistent? It's probably won't be, even though QB James Vandenberg returns and Keenan Davis is ready to fill the role of a No. 1 receiver. Only two starters are back on a shaky offensive line, while the underwhelming defensive front has to replace three starters including tacle Mike Daniels and end Broderick Binns. Leading tackler James Morris returns, but corner Shaun Prater and SS Jordan Bernstine have to be replaced.

6. Minnesota (3-9)

Year Two under head coach Jerry Kill should be better and more consistent. QB MarQueis Gray had a rough season, but he's a big-time talent who needs to shine in his final year. The line has to replace two starters, but it should be better with some of the young talents ready to do more for a ground game that should be solid with Gray and RB Donnell Kirkwood. Top target Da'Jon McKnight is done meaning Malcolm Moulton has to become the No. 1 right away. The defense loses both tackles, MLB Gary Tinsley and leading tackler Kim Royston, but seven starters return, led by Mike Rallis at one outside linebacker spot.