Ohio St, Michigan no favorites in new Big Ten
The first Big Ten football championship game will be played in
December at the home of the Indianapolis Colts.
If neither Ohio State nor Michigan is playing at Lucas Oil
Stadium that day, no one will be particularly surprised. The teams
that have combined to win 77 Big Ten titles aren’t even favored to
win their divisions.
Things really have changed in the Big Ten, haven’t they?
In Columbus, Ohio, the Buckeyes are coming off a sixth straight
season in which they at least tied for first in the Big Ten. But a
stormy offseason cost them coach Jim Tressel and quarterback
Terrelle Pryor and could lead to NCAA sanctions.
Further complicating Ohio State’s season is the suspension of
four key players, including running back Daniel Herron and receiver
DeVier Posey, for the first five games of the season for their
involvement in the tattoo-for-memorablia scandal that led to
Tressel and Pryor’s departures.
The Buckeyes don’t lack talent, but so much uncertainty could be
difficult for iterim coach Luke Fickell to overcome.
Of course football players never miss a chance to turn adversity
”It is different than the past three years,” senior center
Mike Brewster said. ”But I think we’re kind of embracing the
challenge. Let’s prove people wrong. People are counting us out,
but we’re more alive than ever now.”
Up the road in Ann Arbor, Mich., things haven’t been too rosey
Three years under Rich Rodriguez produced one winning season and
one case of major NCAA violations. Rodriguez was let go after last
season and the Wolverines turned to former Michigan assistant Brady
Hoke to turn things around.
Hoke inherited a team full of players who have taken their lumps
playing major roles before they were probably ready, especially on
defense. Now the Wolverines might be ready to quickly improve.
”We’re eliminating the mistakes,” defensive tackle Mike Martin
said. ”There’s no more excuses for those guys.”
MICHIGAN STATE – Key players: QB Kirk Cousins, RB Edwin Baker;
DL Jerel Worthy. Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Cousins, a fifth-year senior going onto his third season
as starter, holds the school record for career completion
percentage at 64 percent. But even he ackowledges the Spartans must
run well to win … Baker ran for 1,201 yards and scored 13 TDs,
but he should get plenty of help from fellow sophomore Le’Veon Bell
and junior Larry Casper.
NEBRASKA – Key players: QB Taylor Martinez, DT Jared Crick; LB
Lavonte David. Returning starters: 6 offense; 7 defense.
Notes: Martinez started his freshman season looking like a
Heisman Trophy candidate, but injuries slowed him and defenses
started to adjust. … Over the past two seasons, Nebraska has
allowed the fourth fewest points in the nation. … The Huskers’
first Big Ten schedule is brutal. They DON’T play Indiana, Illinois
MICHIGAN – Key players: QB Denard Robinson; DT Mike Martin; WR
Roy Roundtree. Returning starters: 9 offense, 9 defense.
Notes: Hoke brings a prostyle offense back to The Big House.
Robinson excelled in the spread, averaging 328 total yards per
game, but Hoke is confident he’ll be just as good spending less
time in the shotgun. … New defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is
switching to a 4-3 scheme.
NORTHWESTERN – Key players: QB Dan Persa, SS Brian Peters,
Jeremy Ebert. Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: The school is pumping up Persa, one of the most
overlooked players in the country last season, as a Heisman
contender in 2011. The campaign slogan is PersaStrong and the
school has been sending media members a set of purple 7-pound
dumbells in the mail.
IOWA – Key players: WR Marvin McNutt; CB Shaun Prater; T Reily
Reiff. Returning starters: 5 offense, 5 defense.
Notes: QB James Vandenberg replaces the departed Ricky Stanzi.
Vanderberg was thrown into big games as a freshman in ’09 and had
some memorable moments. … Sophomore C.J. Fiedorowicz could be
Iowa’s next All-American tight end.
MINNESOTA – Key players: QB MarQueis Gray; LB Gary Tinsley; WR
Da’Jon McKnight. Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: What has Minnesota fans excited is Gray being installed
as the starting quarterback by new coach Jerry Kill. He was a huge
quarterback recruit out of high school, but has mostly played
WISCONSIN – Key players: QB Russell Wilson, RB LB Chris Borland,
RB James White. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Coach Bret Bielema called Wilson, the North Carolina
State transfer, a ”potential starter” during Big Ten media day.
In reality, he’s the type of player who could push the Badgers into
national title contention … First true road game comes Oct. 22 at
Michigan State. Then Badgers play at Ohio State the next week.
OHIO STATE – Key players: DT John Simon, OT Mike Adams, WR
DeVier Posey. Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense.
Notes: Who plays quarterback? With Pryor gone, it opens the
possibility that freshman Braxton Miller could grab the job. Senior
Joe Bauserman might be the front-runner to start … Posey, Adams,
Herron and DE Solomon Thomas will miss first five games. Of those
five, a trip to Miami and the Big Ten opener vs. Michigan State
could be problematic.
PENN STATE – Key players: LB Mike Mauti, DE Jack Crawford, WR
Derek Moye. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: QB controversy in Happy Valley? Joe Paterno, entering his
46th season as Nittany Lions coach, hopes not. Rob Bolden started
as a freshman last year. Matt McGloin ended the season as the
starter. One of them has to emerge for Penn State to succeed.
ILLINOIS – Key players: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, CB Tavon Wilson,
WR A.J. Jenkins. Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: The schedule shapes up nicely for coach Ron Zook’s team
with road trips to Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Minnesota and
the rest of the Illini’s games at home. … Can RB Jason Ford
become Illinois’ next star runner.
PURDUE – Key players: DL Kawann Short, DT Bruce Gaston, RB Ralph
Bolden. Returning starters: 6 offense, 9 defense.
Notes: QB Robert Marve returns for a knee injury, along with Rob
Henry, who filled in for Marve. Coach Danny Hope says he might play
both. … Bolden also returns from a knee injury.
INDIANA – Key players: WR Demarlo Belcher; RB Darius Willis; DE
Darius Johnson. Returning starters: 9 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson takes
over a program that has floundered for years. The Hoosiers won’t be
any good this year, but there is reason for optimism: five-star
quarterback recruit Gunner Kiel from Columbus, Indiana, has
committed to the Hoosiers.