The Big Ten, the oldest collegiate athletic conference in the NCAA, has embarked on a new journey beginning with the addition of the University of Nebraska as its 12th member institution. This is the first change in conference membership since 1993, when Penn State joined and the conference is even stronger now for producing a team to win the
BCS National Championship.
The Cornhuskers have won five national championships in football, and currently rank fifth all-time in victories by NCAA institutions. By joining the conference the Cornhuskers also now have a chance to be in the Rose Bowl the traditional path of the winner of the Big 10.
In the most recent polls, the conference is represented by Ohio State (#17), Michigan State (#15), Nebraska (#10), and Wisconsin (#7). Nebraska's addition split into two six-school divisions, the Legends Division (Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan State,Nebraska), and the Leaders Division (Penn State, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State ). The champions of each division will meet in the Big Ten Championship game at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011.
The Wisconsin Badgers appear (at least in the early season) to be the team to beat according the college football betting lines, and this was even before N.C. State transfer QB Russell Wilson took over the position. Wilson has been lights-out in his first two games, and as long as the Wisconsin OL stays healthy, Wilson could become a Heisman Trophy candidate. LB Mike Taylor and S Aaron Henry lead a suffocating defense.
Ohio State underwent a nightmare of an off-season, with long-time coach Jim Tressel being forced out as a result of allegations of illegal payments and services being provided several Buckeye players, including QB Terrelle Pryor, who subsequently left school. New coach Luke Fickell has his work cut out for him.
Legendary coach Joe Paterno embarks on his 46th season as mentor of the Nittany Lions, with each victory adding to his record as college football's all-time winningest coach. 2011 should see a return to defensive dominance at Penn State, with too many question marks on offense to expect them to be national contenders.
The Fighting Illini will pin their hopes on sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhasse, who set freshman passing records in his first season. The key for Illinois is an unproven defense. Purdue and Indiana will probably battle it out to avoid last place in the Leaders Division.
In the Legends Division, newcomer Nebraska looks to be the top team, although Michigan State & Michigan will not just roll over. The Huskers are deep and talented, and with veteran QB Taylor Martinez returning, the offense should be effective. Nebraska is always stingy on the defensive side, with DL Jared Crick a potential All-American. The big concern is the secondary, which lost three starters to the NFL.
Michigan QB Denard Robinson is one of the most exciting players in the nation, and a legitimate threat according to the Heisman Trophy odds. The Wolverines aren't without areas of concern, and will also be under the tutelage of new head coach Brady Hoke.
Moving the ball won't be an issue for Michigan State, as the Spartans return QB Kirk Cousins and RB Edwin Baker, both standout performers. Michigan State has a lot of holes defensively, however.
Other than a stellar secondary, the Iowa Hawkeyes have quite a bit of rebuilding to do. Coach Kirk Ferentz is one of the conference's best, but even he may be looking ahead to better days.
Both Northwestern and Minnesota have too many question marks to be considered contenders in the Big Ten their odds to win the Big Ten are quite low in the sportsbook. Northwestern should be solid, if thin, on defense, while the Golden Gophers are desperate for defenders, being near the bottom nationally in several defensive categories in 2010.
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