NCAA Football Preview- Big Ten

Editor’s Note: Previous previews on the Big East, Big XII, ACC and SEC are available by clicking the conference name.

Its been a long offseason for the Big Ten.  First there was the handing down of sanctions on Ohio State, and Urban Meyer coming in to rebuild the program.  That was followed up by the whole Penn State drama, and even some thought the program could face the death penalty.  While that didn’t happen, the Penn State football program has been hit with very serious sanctions and rocked by a scandal whose damage will not go away anytime soon.  With that as a backdrop, it’s finally time to get back to football and there are ten other teams in the Big 10 (yes, there are 12 teams in the Big 10…. College-level math) eligible to win the Conference Championship, so let’s take a quick look at the conference.

ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI

2011-12 Record: 7-6 (2-6 Big 10)

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense

Key Losses: WR A.J. Jenkins, DE Whitney Mercilus (NFL)

Player To Watch: Junior QB Nathan Scheelhaase, in his third system since arriving in Champaign.

Of Note: The Illini have a brutal schedule, with road games at Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.

Can’t-Miss Game: A Rose Bowl preview it’s probably not, but for something a little different, catch a Big 10-Pac 12 matchup September 8 as Illinois faces Arizona State

INDIANA HOOSIERS 

2011-12 Record: 1-11 (0-8 Big 10)

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense

Key Loss: I’m not sure you can call any loss “key” when the team was 1-11

Key Additions: Several juco transfers, notably QB Cameron Coffman and a handful of defensive players

Players To Watch: Will QB Tre Roberson hold off Coffman and freshman Nathan Sudfeld, and how will coach Kevin Wilson replace him if he struggles?

Of Note: The Hoosiers last won a conference game November 27, 2010

Can’t-Miss Game: October 6, the Hoosiers play Michigan State for the Old Brass Spittoon. You can’t make this stuff up.

IOWA HAWKEYES

2011-12 Record: 7-6 (4-4 Big 10)

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense

Key Losses: All-time leading Hawkeye WR Marvin McNutt (NFL), all-time leading Hawkeye RB Marcus Coker (suspended, transferred).

Player To Watch: Much-hyped junior TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, with 12 catches in his last four games last season.

Of Note: Starting C James Ferentz is the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz

Can’t-Miss Game: If Iowa wants to be in the discussion in the Big Ten, beating Michigan State October 13 would be a good place to start.

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

2011-12 Record: 11-2 (6-2 Big 10)

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense

Key Losses: DT Mike Martin, C David Molk (NFL), RB Fitz Toussaint (suspended indefinitely after DUI arrest)

Players To Watch: Everyone knows by now what QB Denard Robinson can do with his feet, but he needs to improve his accuracy in the passing game. Also, keep an eye on sophomore RB Thomas Rawls, who with senior Vincent Smith will be replacing Toussaint in the run game.

Of Note: Michigan opens with a neutral-site game against defending champ Alabama.

Can’t-Miss Game: September 22 at Notre Dame. Remember last year? And the year before? If you don’t remember, feel free to tweet my colleague Ben @lastwordBKerr and ask him all about it.

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

2011-12 Record: 11-3 (7-1 Big 10)

Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 8 on defense

Key Losses: QB Kirk Cousins, WR B.J. Cunningham, DT Jerel Worthy (NFL)

Player To Watch: Junior QB Andrew Maxwell may be better than Kirk Cousins in some aspects of the game.

Of Note: Consecutive October road games in Ann Arbor and Madison will likely have implications in December with regards to who plays in Indianapolis

Can’t-Miss Game: At Michigan October 20

MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS

2011-12 Record: 3-9 (2-6 Big 10)

Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 5 on defense

Key Loss: RB DeLeon Eskridge

Player To Watch: Former WR MarQueis Gray, in his second year as the Gophers’ QB

Of Note: This is a very young team with few returning starters. Finishing 6-6 and sneaking into a bowl game would have to be considered a successful season. But take heart, Gopher faithful- hockey season is just around the corner.

Can’t-Miss Game: October 29 vs. Iowa for the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy. For the uninitiated, Floyd is a bronze pig. I love the Big Ten.

NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS

2011-12 Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big 10)

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense

Key Losses: DE Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David (NFL)

Player To Watch: QB Taylor Martinez, whose mechanics and technique have come under fire. According to Sports Illustrated, Martinez averaged just 12.5 completions per game last year. That number needs to go up.

Of Note: Nebraska is one of five Big Ten teams on most preseason Top 25 lists, and they play the other four- Ohio State and Michigan State on the road, and Michigan and Wisconsin in Lincoln.

Can’t-Miss Game: November 3 at Michigan State

NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

2011-12 Record: 6-7 (3-5 Big 10)

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 8 on defense

Key Loss: QB Dan Persa, although current QB Kain Colter filled in capably last year when Persa was injured. Talented S Brian Peters also graduated.

Players To Watch: QB Colter needs to improve in the passing game. Also, keep an eye on the secondary, which lost three starters.

Of Note: The Wildcats have played in a bowl game for four consecutive seasons, a school record.

Can’t-Miss Game: November 24 vs. Illinois for the Land of Lincoln Trophy

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

2011-12 Record: 6-7 (3-5 Big 10)

Key Losses: RB Dan “Boom” Herron, WR DeVier Posey (NFL)

Key Addition: New head coach Urban Meyer

Player To Watch: DE recruit Noah Spence, ranked #9 overall on Rivals.com, could make an impact this season.

Of Note: The Buckeyes aren’t eligible to play in the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game due to the NCAA sanctions resulting from Tattoogate.

Can’t-Miss Game: November 24, when the Wolverines come to the ‘Shoe

PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

2011-12 Record: 7-6 (4-4 Big 10)

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense

Key Loss: RB Ralph Bolden, coming off ACL surgery last winter. He could play sometime this season, but not right away.

Key Addition: QB Rob Henry is back from ACL surgery; it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play some QR or RB, given Purdue’s depth under center (Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve are the #1 and #2 QBs, respectively).

Can’t-Miss Game: November 26 at Indiana, with the winner claiming the Old Oaken Bucket.

WISCONSIN BADGERS

2011-12 Record: 11-3 (6-2 Big 10)

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense

Key Loss: QB Russell Wilson, OL Peter Konz, WR Nick Toon (NFL)

Key Addition: QB Danny O’Brien, a Maryland transfer with two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Player To Watch: RB Montee Ball could very well be in New York for the Heisman ceremony in December.

Of Note: Part of why Wisconsin is predicted by so many to win the Big Ten is their relatively soft schedule. Three of their four conference road games are at Purdue, Indiana, and Penn State. They will have to face Michigan State and Ohio State at Camp Randall.

Can’t-Miss Game: I wish Minnesota were a more formidable opponent so I could discuss the Slab of Bacon. From a football standpoint, however, that game will be a bore. For entertainment purposes, I recommend October 27 vs. Michigan State.

PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS 

2011-12 Record: 9-4 (6-2 Big 10)

Returning Starters: A lot of the lists out there are out of date, but as far as I can tell they have 1 on offense and 4 on defense.

Key Losses: Among the players to transfer in the wake of NCAA sanctions were WR Justin Brown (Oklahoma), RB Silas Redd (USC) and kicker/punter Anthony Fera (Texas).

Key Additions: Fifth-year LB Michael Mauti returns after tearing his ACL early last season.

Of Note: Penn State returns just one starter on the offensive line. They have a relatively easy schedule, with Ohio State and Wisconsin at home, and they don’t face Michigan or Michigan State. Road games at Iowa and Nebraska should be their biggest challenges.

Can’t-Miss Game: Home opener September 1 vs. Ohio

BIG TEN OVERVIEW

Conference Champ: Wisconsin

Best Bets to Challenge: Michigan, Michigan State

Offensive POTY: RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin

Defensive POTY: DE William Gholston, Michigan State

Coach On The Hot Seat: I don’t know about hot, but Danny Hope’s seat at Purdue is getting warm (16-21 in 3 years).