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Michigan QB Denard Robinson looks to bring the Wolverines back to glory
1. Michigan Wolverines - 10-2 (7-1)
Now is the best chance Michigan has of returning to the Rose Bowl, a place where they haven't been since 2007, or won since 1998. Quarterback Denard Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint will lead the way on offense, and will undoubtedly provide many fireworks all season long. Robinsin passed for 20 touchdowns last season while also rushing for 16 touchdowns. Couple Robinson with Toussaint, and wide receiver Roy Roundtree and a very good defense that returns seven starters—the Wolverines are stacked. So what's the catch? A near-impossible schedule that includes Alabama and Notre Dame in addition to trips to Nebraska and Ohio State. However, with their won over Nebraska on October 27, Michigan will win the Big Ten Legends Division.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers - 9-3 (5-3)
Nebraska, despite being just one of eight teams in the FBS to have four straight nine-plus win seasons, was rudely awakened last year, their first in the Big Ten. Their 5-3 Big Ten record was far more disappointing than what the numbers said. The losses came against Wisconsin, Michigan and Northwestern by a combined 62 points. It was clear Nebraska wasn't ready for the physicality of the Big Ten and not much may have changed this year. Sure, the Cornhuskers are loaded on defense, and have good offensive weapons in running back Rex Burkhead and wide receivers Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa. But can Nebraska hold up against Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State? I think they go 1-3 against those teams, costing them a spot in the Big Ten championship game.
3. Michigan State - 9-3 (5-3)
The success of the Spartans lie on how well quarterback Andrew Maxwell can carry an offense previously carried very well by Kirk Cousins. All signs from the MSU coaches say Maxwell will indeed carry the offense, and then some. Either way, replicating an 11-3 season and falling just a few plays short of a Rose Bowl appearance is hard to do. Especially with a reloaded Michigan and Nebraska team in front of you. It all depends on how the Spartans play against the Big Ten, specifically Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin. I think they go 1-3.
4. Northwestern Wildcats - 7-5 (4-4)
Northwestern is always that team who can shock the conference, but never really do. This season feels different for the 'Cats, really different. It starts with quarterback Kain Colter, who holds an electrifying track record in high school, and was a fine replacement for Dan Persa during his injury last year (Colter passed for 673 yards and 6 touchdowns, and rushed for 654 yards and 9 touchdowns). Colter also has a bona-fide wide receiver target in USC transfer Kyle Prater. The offense can be dangerous, but the defense, who returned five starters from last year, will have to catch up quickly. Led by Quentin Williams and Ibraheim Cambpell, Northwestern had the conference-worst defense last year. Now, coach Pat Fitzgerald will depend on his defense to grow up fast, or else this year can turn ugly in no time.
5. Iowa Hawkeyes - 7-5 (3-5)
Iowa is going through a rough patch, which includes losing their offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe, who has been with the team since 1998, as well as back-to-back disappointing bowl losses. I have no doubts that Iowa will challenge for another bowl game, but I have my reserves when it comes to challenging for a Big Ten Championship (that is years away, my friends). For now, Iowa's offense relies on senior quarterback James Vandenberg and wide receiver Keenan Davis. Last season, Iowa was the 11th-ranked defense in the Big Ten, and I don't anticipate any big jumps this year. With all of that taken into consideration, plus a schedule that includes trips to Michigan State, Northwestern and Michigan—on top of home games against Nebraska and Penn State— and Iowa is looking at a dismal 2012 Big Ten campaign.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers - 4-8 (1-7)
Minnesota is a long way away from becoming competitive, let alone returning to the Rose Bowl, a place they haven't been since 1962. It's clear the Gophers are looking into the future because they're fielding one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten. Of the 22 starting positions, there are eight sophomores, six juniors and one freshman. The Gophers' only fireworks should come from duel-threat quarterback MarQueis Gray, who had 2,461 all-purpose yards and 14 all-purpose touchdowns last season. On defense, Minnesota has to find a way to create more turnovers—they were last in the Big Ten, and 100th in the NCAA in turnover margin last season. In all, Minnesota is a few years away from getting back to .500 in conference play, but seem content with playing the "shocker role," which always seems to happen.