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We might as well begin with the tattoo of an elephant in the room.
The drama surrounding the Ohio State football program this past summer marred the new chapter the Big Ten hoped to begin to write in 2011 with the addition of Nebraska, creation of the Legends and Leaders divisions and installation of a Big Ten Conference Championship game.
Instead, the media attention honed in on Columbus, Ohio where tattoo parlors, leased cars, Terrelle Pryor’s selfishness and Jim Tressel’s squeaky-clean-image-finally-smudged hogged the headlines. The X’s and the O’s, the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s once again hit the back burner, while the conference dealt with that silly thing taught, learned and followed in elementary school: the rules.
Do that and don’t do that.
As we have learned, following NCAA rules isn’t as easily executed as, say, a toss sweep.
So, Tressel has now been forced into retirement with Pryor about to escape to …err… join the NFL (following a five-game suspension). Three of Ohio State’s top players remain suspended the first five games of the season. Luke Fickell’s first year as OSU’s head coach will be a challenge.
With that out of the way, the favorite (according to most sports books) to win the Big Ten is Wisconsin with the "Hi, my name is" nametag Cornhuskers challenging in their inaugural season.
The Badgers offense filled a huge void when MLB prospect and former North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson transferred to Madison. In the backfield, Freshman of the Year, James White, and Montee Ball look to open up the passing game for senior wide receiver Nick Toon.
The Cornhuskers bread and butter reamins their defense. It returns seven starters from 2010 when Nebraska ranked ninth nationally in scoring defense (17.4 ppg). Taylor Martinez, a threat to run at all times (952 rush yards and 12 TDs), will once again lead the team at quarterback.
The R&R is over, now it’s up to the L&L to entertain us on the field this fall.
Using our college football simulation engine, WhatIfSports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create this Big Ten Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of August 19th. What you see in the WIS-Big Ten Predictions table is the most likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.
WIS-Big Ten Predictions
|Big Ten Legends||W||L||Overall Record|
|Big Ten Leaders||W||L||Overall Record|
For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.
Josh Harvey of BigRedReport.com is our Nebraska Cornhuskers insider:
The Big Ten didn't do Nebraska any favors scheduling-wise in their first year with the conference, but the Huskers have the talent for a special year. After back-to-back appearances in the Big 12 Championship game, this might be the best defense yet under head coach Bo Pelini. If Taylor Martinez can be more consistent, they should win the Legends Division and play for a Big Ten Championship.
For more from Josh Harvey and the Cornhuskers, check out BigRedReport.com.
2011 Nebraska Cornhuskers
|2||Fresno State Bulldogs||86||33-18|
|6||Ohio State Buckeyes||43||18-20|
|8||@Minnesota Golden Gophers||95||33-9|
|9||Michigan State Spartans||50||23-24|
|11||@Penn State Nittany Lions||62||25-20|
Dave Berk of SpartanDigest.com is our Michigan State Spartans insider:
The defending Big Ten Champions may be better than they were in 2010. However, their record may not show it as they have a tough road test against Notre Dame early to go with road games at Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa. The offense has key weapons but will need solid offensive line play to be successful while the defense must replace three key players in Greg Jones, Eric Gordon and Chris L. Rucker.
For more from Dave Berk and the Spartans, check out SpartanDigest.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Michigan State Spartans
|1||Youngstown State Penguins||95||59-8|
|2||Florida Atlantic Owls||95||42-12|
|3||@Notre Dame Fighting Irish||57||29-27|
|4||Central Michigan Chippewas||90||36-17|
|5||@Ohio State Buckeyes||46||24-25|
|10||Minnesota Golden Gophers||95||36-13|
Expectations are lower on how Iowa might fare this season, and that seems perfectly OK with coach Kirk Ferentz.
The Hawkeyes were viewed as disappointments last season when they went 8-5 and self-destructed in close games. Then they lost several key players on both sides of the ball. Added together, it's a tonic for at least temporarily lowering the bar.
"Certainly, we have a lot of young guys that we're eager to see how they come along," Ferentz said at Big Ten media festivities in late July.
"I think that's going to be the key for our football team -- how we come along from this point.
"I think we have an opportunity right now to really grow."
Moving on from last November's meltdown remains paramount to the Hawkeyes, who also had a rough offseason due to a workout-related outbreak of rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder that led to the hospitalization of 13 players. Iowa lost three straight November games by a combined total of 10 points.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Iowa Hawkeyes
|1||Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles||95||51-7|
|2||@Iowa State Cyclones||89||30-14|
|6||@Penn State Nittany Lions||32||21-26|
|9||@Minnesota Golden Gophers||93||32-13|
|11||Michigan State Spartans||30||22-30|
Tom Beaver of GoBlueWolverine.com is our Michigan Wolverines insider:
On offense, Michigan has the 2010 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in Denard Robinson. On defense, Michigan has brought in highly regarded coordinator Greg Mattison from the Baltimore Ravens to bring the Wolverines D back to respectability after finishing dead-last in the league in most categories last season. With 17 returning starters and a new head coach in Brady Hoke, Michigan should be able to show improvement over the 7-6 2010 record that ended Rich Rodriguez's stint in Ann Arbor.
For more from Tom Beaver and the Wolverines, check out GoBlueWolverine.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Michigan Wolverines
|1||Western Michigan Broncos||75||36-26|
|2||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||39||29-34|
|3||Eastern Michigan Eagles||95||43-12|
|4||San Diego State Aztecs||53||33-31|
|5||Minnesota Golden Gophers||85||34-19|
|7||@Michigan State Spartans||41||29-32|
|11||@Illinois Fighting Illini||69||32-24|
|13||Ohio State Buckeyes||22||24-33|
It's wrong to single out one player as the likely difference between a winning and losing 2011 season. Especially at Northwestern, where the coaches are fond of saying that every play is an 11-man operation. Especially when the Wildcats return 16 starters and own the momentum that comes with three straight bowl appearances.
Yet it's an easy decision to declare the Wildcats' fortunes revolve around the health of fifth-year senior quarterback Dan Persa. Need some proof? He earned first-team all-Big Ten honors from the coaches last year. He's the subject of a nascent Heisman Trophy campaign that features billboards in Chicago and Bristol, Conn. (the latter designed for ESPN tastemakers' eyes on their way to work).
If the Wildcats' post-spring depth chart holds true for the Sept. 3 opener at Boston College -- and the coaches are counting on fierce competition to fill two linebacker spots, two defensive line jobs and one safety position -- there will be as many as six new starters this season. At the same time, Northwestern's extensive redshirting program means 10 of the 11 starters will be in their fourth or fifth year at the school.
If the Wildcats intend to record their fourth straight winning season and deliver the team's first bowl victory since 1949, then the 21 seniors must come through.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Northwestern Wildcats
|1||@Boston College Eagles||52||25-24|
|2||Eastern Illinois Panthers||95||49-8|
|3||@Army Black Knights||80||29-17|
|5||@Illinois Fighting Illini||62||26-24|
|8||Penn State Nittany Lions||24||21-30|
|12||Minnesota Golden Gophers||89||32-17|
|13||Michigan State Spartans||26||23-31|
Jerry Kill's track record as a head coach cannot be questioned.
Kill has been successful at every stop. With the exception of a .500 record in two seasons at Empoira State, he's been a winner, from Saginaw Vallley State to Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois. Kill has compiled a .628 winning percentage and has never left a school with a sub-.500 record in his 17 seasons as a head coach.
Kill's biggest challenges will be to bring stability to the program and change the mentality of his players, who became too accustomed to losing last season. Kill's teams have been known as tough, physical squads that controlled the line of scrimmage. While the offensive line did an acceptable job last season, the defensive line was constantly pushed all over the field and is the Gophers' weakest area going into 2011.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Minnesota Golden Gophers
|2||New Mexico State Aggies||86||27-12|
|3||Miami (OH) RedHawks||36||19-25|
|4||North Dakota State Bison||95||37-8|
|10||@Michigan State Spartans||5||13-36|
|13||Illinois Fighting Illini||26||17-27|
Benjamin Worgull of BadgerNation.com is our Wisconsin Badgers insider:
The Badgers return just 11 starters, but it's a misleading stat considering Wisconsin has 25 players on the roster that have started at least one game, including quarterback Russell Wilson, who made a big splash in the offseason by deciding to take his 8,545 career passing yards and 76 career touchdown passes to Madison. The Wilson decision fills a major gap and weakness for Wisconsin. The schedule is manageable and the Leaders Division is weak, meaning the Badgers should be playing in Indianapolis with a chance to go back to Pasadena or better.
For more from Benjamin Worgull and the Badgers, check out BadgerNation.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Wisconsin Badgers
|2||Oregon State Beavers||91||36-19|
|3||@Northern Illinois Huskies||79||37-24|
|4||South Dakota Coyotes||95||65-6|
|8||@Michigan State Spartans||71||33-26|
|9||@Ohio State Buckeyes||64||28-21|
|11||@Minnesota Golden Gophers||95||44-10|
|12||@Illinois Fighting Illini||95||36-17|
|13||Penn State Nittany Lions||81||32-21|
Jeff Svoboda of BuckeyeSports.com is our Ohio State Buckeyes insider:
Ohio State must replace a lot – head coach Jim Tressel, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, on- and off-field star wideout Dane Sanzenbacher and seven defensive starters are all gone, and that’s not mentioning the five-game, season-opening suspensions to three starters, running back Dan Herron, wideout DeVier Posey and left tackle Mike Adams. Throw in a tough schedule – with early games at Miami (Fla.), home vs. Michigan State and at Nebraska and late-season showdowns with Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan – and OSU has a lot to overcome. There are bright spots, though. Five-star freshman QB Braxton Miller has talent, the Buckeyes are loaded at running back, the offensive line has some nasty to it and Jim Heacock’s defense should be dominating as usual.
For more from Jeff Svoboda and the Buckeyes, check out BuckeyeSports.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Ohio State Buckeyes
|3||@Miami (FL) Hurricanes||60||25-23|
|5||Michigan State Spartans||54||25-24|
|7||@Illinois Fighting Illini||83||30-17|
|12||Penn State Nittany Lions||66||27-21|
Mark Brennan of FightOnState.com is our Penn State Nittany Lions insider:
An unsettled QB race and reshuffling along the O-line will cause headaches against the better teams on the schedule. Otherwise, PSU is loaded at the skill positions on offense. Defensively, there is a major talent upgrade at LB and the DBs are a veteran group. The front four will be good, too, if it can avoid the injury bug.
For more from Mark Brennan and the Nittany Lions, check out FightOnState.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Penn State Nittany Lions
|1||Indiana State Sycamores||95||54-7|
|2||Alabama Crimson Tide||19||19-31|
|4||Eastern Michigan Eagles||95||43-8|
|9||Illinois Fighting Illini||78||30-20|
|12||@Ohio State Buckeyes||33||21-27|
Coach Danny Hope's 2010 team was decimated by injuries at key positions, including quarterback. But as the 2011 season is set to unfold, the Boilermakers appear to be healthy.
In order for Purdue to return to the postseason for the first time since 2007, it has to remain that way.
Despite the injuries, the Boilermakers were 4-2 at the midway point last season, but now enter Hope's third season on a six-game losing streak.
However, there's plenty of optimism that Purdue won't finish 2011 in the same manner.
For the first time in Hope's tenure, the Boilermakers will start a season with experience at the quarterback position. Rob Henry, Robert Marve and Sean Robinson all saw game action last year. Although Henry is listed No. 1 on the depth chart, he's expected to share the duties with Marve, who suffered a knee injury and missed the last eight games.
Although Purdue returns nine starts on defense, it lost Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kerrigan. The defensive end was a one-man pass rush and the Boilermakers will need to find that production from a group of players.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Purdue Boilermakers
|1||Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders||80||27-16|
|3||Southeast Missouri State Redhawks||95||49-8|
|5||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||20||19-31|
|6||Minnesota Golden Gophers||86||29-16|
|7||@Penn State Nittany Lions||25||20-29|
|8||Illinois Fighting Illini||54||24-23|
|11||Ohio State Buckeyes||8||15-32|
Jack Lyman of InsideIllini.com is our Illinois Fighting Illini insider:
The outlook for 2011 is excellent, provided the Illini can avoid the injury bug at key positions. They are now experienced with the new offensive and defensive schemes brought in last year, so they can add technique and complexity to their repertoire this year. There is also a lot of leadership to help sustain what Illini fans see as early success against a manageable nonconference schedule.
For more from Jack Lyman and the Fighting Illini, check out InsideIllini.com.Absolute Schedule/Records
2011 Illinois Fighting Illini
|1||Arkansas State Red Wolves||79||31-21|
|2||South Dakota State Jackrabbits||95||48-8|
|3||Arizona State Sun Devils||26||20-29|
|4||Western Michigan Broncos||62||31-26|
|7||Ohio State Buckeyes||16||17-30|
|9||@Penn State Nittany Lions||22||20-30|
|13||@Minnesota Golden Gophers||74||27-17|
The Hoosiers have a new head man, and with him comes a breath of fresh air.
The 2010 season featured plenty of positives, such as QB Ben Chappell and WRs Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher, and LB Jeff Thomas emerged as a leader on defense. But overshadowing Chappell's record-setting season and Doss' brilliance was the constant negativity surrounding head coach Bill Lynch. Fans weren't happy with the Hoosiers' inability to finish games, and despite a number of close calls during October, the pressure mounted on Lynch and the Hoosiers.
Enter Kevin Wilson, a former Oklahoma assistant who is entering his first college head coaching job. Although some of the Hoosier faithful were nervous with the hire, Wilson is proving to be a coach IU fans can embrace.
Although Wilson comes from an offensive background, he knows defense wins games and has surrounded himself with quality defensive assistants who aim to change the culture in Bloomington on "D." Turning up the work ethic on both sides of the ball will be another goal, and IU's players are ready to work harder than they ever have before.
Turning a program around isn't easy, but Wilson has everybody on his side for the time being, and that's the first step in the battle.
- FOXSports.comAbsolute Schedule/Records
2011 Indiana Hoosiers
|1||@Ball State Cardinals||80||31-17|
|3||South Carolina State Bulldogs||95||42-9|
|4||@North Texas Mean Green||69||31-25|
|5||Penn State Nittany Lions||9||19-37|
|6||Illinois Fighting Illini||29||23-30|
|10||@Ohio State Buckeyes||6||16-38|
|12||@Michigan State Spartans||7||20-40|
Ryan Fowler is the content manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.