2011 Big Ten Football Simulated Preview From WhatIfSports.com image

2011 Big Ten Football Simulated Preview

We simulate the Big Ten football season

By Ryan Fowler - WhatIfSports.com
Aug. 24, 2011

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 LegendsWLOverall Record
Michigan State539-3
Big Ten LeadersWLOverall Record
Ohio State629-3
Penn State538-4

To hide the details, click here.

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.


Taylor Martinez

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.

Absolute Schedule/Records

2011 Nebraska Cornhuskers
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Chattanooga Mocs9554-6
2Fresno State Bulldogs8633-18
3Washington Huskies8125-13
4@Wyoming Cowboys9536-9
5@Wisconsin Badgers4922-23
6Ohio State Buckeyes4318-20
8@Minnesota Golden Gophers9533-9
9Michigan State Spartans5023-24
10Northwestern Wildcats7927-17
11@Penn State Nittany Lions6225-20
12@Michigan Wolverines6729-22
13Iowa Hawkeyes7023-16

Michigan State

Edwin Baker

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
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Youngstown State Penguins9559-8
2Florida Atlantic Owls9542-12
3@Notre Dame Fighting Irish5729-27
4Central Michigan Chippewas9036-17
5@Ohio State Buckeyes4624-25
7Michigan Wolverines5932-29
8Wisconsin Badgers2926-33
9@Nebraska Cornhuskers5024-23
10Minnesota Golden Gophers9536-13
11@Iowa Hawkeyes7030-22
12Indiana Hoosiers9340-20
13@Northwestern Wildcats7431-23


Marvin McNutt

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.com

Absolute Schedule/Records

2011 Iowa Hawkeyes
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles9551-7
2@Iowa State Cyclones8930-14
3Pittsburgh Panthers3322-28
4Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks7129-20
6@Penn State Nittany Lions3221-26
7Northwestern Wildcats5826-23
8Indiana Hoosiers7831-19
9@Minnesota Golden Gophers9332-13
10Michigan Wolverines4827-29
11Michigan State Spartans3022-30
12@Purdue Boilermakers6624-19
13@Nebraska Cornhuskers3016-23


Brady Hoke

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
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Western Michigan Broncos7536-26
2Notre Dame Fighting Irish3929-34
3Eastern Michigan Eagles9543-12
4San Diego State Aztecs5333-31
5Minnesota Golden Gophers8534-19
6@Northwestern Wildcats5531-30
7@Michigan State Spartans4129-32
9Purdue Boilermakers7031-25
10@Iowa Hawkeyes5229-27
11@Illinois Fighting Illini6932-24
12Nebraska Cornhuskers3222-29
13Ohio State Buckeyes2224-33


Dan Persa

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.com

Absolute Schedule/Records

2011 Northwestern Wildcats
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Boston College Eagles5225-24
2Eastern Illinois Panthers9549-8
3@Army Black Knights8029-17
5@Illinois Fighting Illini6226-24
6Michigan Wolverines4530-31
7@Iowa Hawkeyes4223-26
8Penn State Nittany Lions2421-30
9@Indiana Hoosiers8535-23
10@Nebraska Cornhuskers2117-27
11Rice Owls9235-19
12Minnesota Golden Gophers8932-17
13Michigan State Spartans2623-31


DeLeon Eskridge

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.com

Absolute Schedule/Records

2011 Minnesota Golden Gophers
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@USC Trojans515-38
2New Mexico State Aggies8627-12
3Miami (OH) RedHawks3619-25
4North Dakota State Bison9537-8
5@Michigan Wolverines1519-34
6@Purdue Boilermakers1316-29
8Nebraska Cornhuskers59-33
9Iowa Hawkeyes613-32
10@Michigan State Spartans513-36
11Wisconsin Badgers510-44
12@Northwestern Wildcats1117-32
13Illinois Fighting Illini2617-27


Montee Ball

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
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1UNLV Rebels9550-8
2Oregon State Beavers9136-19
3@Northern Illinois Huskies7937-24
4South Dakota Coyotes9565-6
5Nebraska Cornhuskers5123-22
7Indiana Hoosiers9543-17
8@Michigan State Spartans7133-26
9@Ohio State Buckeyes6428-21
10Purdue Boilermakers9235-18
11@Minnesota Golden Gophers9544-10
12@Illinois Fighting Illini9536-17
13Penn State Nittany Lions8132-21

Ohio State

Daniel Herron and DeVier Posey

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
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Akron Zips9541-7
2Toledo Rockets8933-19
3@Miami (FL) Hurricanes6025-23
4Colorado Buffaloes9032-16
5Michigan State Spartans5425-24
6@Nebraska Cornhuskers5720-18
7@Illinois Fighting Illini8330-17
9Wisconsin Badgers3621-28
10Indiana Hoosiers9438-16
11@Purdue Boilermakers9232-15
12Penn State Nittany Lions6627-21
13@Michigan Wolverines7833-24

Penn State

Joe Paterno

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
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Indiana State Sycamores9554-7
2Alabama Crimson Tide1919-31
3@Temple Owls7431-20
4Eastern Michigan Eagles9543-8
5@Indiana Hoosiers9137-19
6Iowa Hawkeyes6826-21
7Purdue Boilermakers7529-20
8@Northwestern Wildcats7630-21
9Illinois Fighting Illini7830-20
11Nebraska Cornhuskers3720-25
12@Ohio State Buckeyes3321-27
13@Wisconsin Badgers1921-32


Rob Henry

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.com

Absolute Schedule/Records

2011 Purdue Boilermakers
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders8027-16
2@Rice Owls9031-17
3Southeast Missouri State Redhawks9549-8
5Notre Dame Fighting Irish2019-31
6Minnesota Golden Gophers8629-16
7@Penn State Nittany Lions2520-29
8Illinois Fighting Illini5424-23
9@Michigan Wolverines2925-31
10@Wisconsin Badgers818-35
11Ohio State Buckeyes815-32
12Iowa Hawkeyes3419-24
13@Indiana Hoosiers7630-20


Nathan Scheelhaase

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
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Arkansas State Red Wolves7931-21
2South Dakota State Jackrabbits9548-8
3Arizona State Sun Devils2620-29
4Western Michigan Broncos6231-26
5Northwestern Wildcats3724-26
6@Indiana Hoosiers7130-23
7Ohio State Buckeyes1617-30
8@Purdue Boilermakers4623-24
9@Penn State Nittany Lions2220-30
11Michigan Wolverines3124-32
12Wisconsin Badgers517-36
13@Minnesota Golden Gophers7427-17


Kevin Wilson

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.com

Absolute Schedule/Records

2011 Indiana Hoosiers
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Ball State Cardinals8031-17
2Virginia Cavaliers5428-27
3South Carolina State Bulldogs9542-9
4@North Texas Mean Green6931-25
5Penn State Nittany Lions919-37
6Illinois Fighting Illini2923-30
7@Wisconsin Badgers517-43
8@Iowa Hawkeyes2219-31
9Northwestern Wildcats1523-35
10@Ohio State Buckeyes616-38
12@Michigan State Spartans720-40
13Purdue Boilermakers2420-30

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Ryan Fowler is the content manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at rfowler@whatifsports.com.

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