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

into motivation.

”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

lately, either.

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.”

LEGENDS

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

and Purdue.

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

receiver.

LEADERS

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.