Big Ten Preseason Power Rankings: Where Do the Michigan Wolverines Stand?

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IIAugust 31, 2012

Big Ten Preseason Power Rankings: Where Do the Michigan Wolverines Stand?

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    The Big Ten Conference was not one of the nation's strongest last season, but from top to bottom it appeared just about any of the teams in the league could knock off each other on any given Saturday.

    The trendy picks to win the Big Ten entering the 2012 season are the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans and Wisconsin Badgers with Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for postseason play.

    Where does Michigan and playmaking quarterback Denard Robinson stack up after a strong 2011 campaign under first-year head coach Brady Hoke? You're about to find out.

No. 12: Indiana Hoosiers

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    2011 Record: 1-11 (0-8 Big Ten Conference)

    2012 Projection: 2-10 (0-8)

    Kevin Smith's first year as head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers football team could not have gone much worse. 

    Not only did the Hoosiers fail to win a Big Ten Conference game, they also went 0-11 overall against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Indiana's only win came against South Carolina State of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA.

    Part of the problem for the Hoosiers were their offensive woes highlighted by the lack of a playmaker at quarterback during the first half of the season as Edwin Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel struggled to establish any kind of rhythm, or consistency.

    Things should be better for Indiana on offense this season with dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson calling the shots.

    Roberson started Indiana's final five games, becoming the first quarterback in school history to start as a true freshman, and although the Hoosiers did not win any of those contests, the Indianapolis, Ind. native racked up 1,143 total yards and four touchdowns.

    Dynamic junior running back Stephen Houston accrued 802 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground in 2011, which is another sign of optimism for the Indiana offense entering the 2012 season.

    Indiana's defense was picked apart by just about everybody a year ago as the unit was ranked No. 109 among all FBS schools in total defense. 

    Although the Hoosiers bring back three starting defensive linemen and defensive backs there is no reason to believe Indiana will be able to stop many of the potent offenses they will face this, which will ultimately cost them several games this season.

    Week 1 Match-up: Indiana State, 8 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network.

    Prediction: Indiana by 10.

No. 11: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    2011 Record: 3-9 (2-6 Big Ten Conference)

    2012 Projection: 3-9 (1-7)

    MarQueis Gray was the focal point of the Minnesota Golden Gopher's offense last season with over 2,400 total yards and 14 touchdowns, but unfortunately it did not lead to many victories in Jerry Kill's first season as head coach of the football program.

    Gray's top target from 2011, Da'Jon McKnight, is out of eligibility and starting running back Duane Bennett won't be on the field for the Golden Gophers this season either after completing his senior season last fall.

    There are also some concerns along the offensive line with three sophomores slated to start Minnesota's first game of the 2012 season.

    Minnesota's defense struggled en route to allowing 28 or more points in eight of their 12 games last season. The Golden Gophers surrendered 40-plus points in four of those contests.

    Six starters return for the Golden Gophers on the defensive side of the ball, however it will not be stout enough to keep opponents out of the end zone enough to win more games than they did a year ago.

    Week 1 Match-up: UNLV, Thursday Aug. 30th, 11 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.

    Prediction: Minnesota by 14. 

No. 10: Northwestern Wildcats

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    2011 Record: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten Conference)

    2012 Projection: 6-6 (3-5)

    Expectations were high for the Northwestern Wildcats in 2011 with 16 seniors in the starting lineup, however the defense struggled to keep opponents out of the endzone and even managed to make Penn State's and Indiana's offenses - two of the nation's worst units last season - look spectacular.

    The Wildcats finished ranked No. 80 in total defense last year and with several starters departing there is not much reason for optimism on that side of the ball.

    On offense, Northwestern will be without former All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa, but junior signal caller Kain Colter played well in 2011 when Persa missed time in order to recover from a torn achilles he suffered at the end of the 2010 season.

    Although Colter completed 67 percent of his passes the Colorado native was more of a threat on the ground than throwing the football. Colter led the Wildcats with 654 rushing yards and nine touchdowns a year ago.

    Junior running back Mike Trumpy should be Northwestern's leading rusher this season after missing almost all of the 2011 campaign with a torn ACL.

    Fans also have high expectations for USC transfer wide receiver Kyle Prater, but the former 5-star prospect is still adjusting to the Northwestern offense and will take some time to develop. Down the line Prater has the frame and skill set to be an All-Big Ten wideout. This year though, he and the Wildcats should not be expected to do much more than make it to a bowl game for a fifth consecutive season.

    Week 1 Match-up: @ Syracuse, 12 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

    Prediction: Northwestern by 4. 

No. 9: Penn State Nittany Lions

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    2011 Record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten Conference)

    2012 Projection: 6-6 (3-5)

    The word tumultuous is probably an understatement in relation to how difficult the Penn State Nittany Lions' recent offseason has been in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the NCAA's decision to ban the football program from postseason play for the next four years, in addition to severe scholarship losses.

    First-year head coach Bill O'Brien has a tough task ahead of him after the Nittany Lions only two weapons on offense from a year ago, 1,000 yard rusher Silas Redd and top wide receiver Justin Brown, who transferred to USC and Oklahoma respectively.

    The Nittany Lions no longer have a quarterback controversy on their hands after Rob Bolden's decision to transfer to LSU, but former walk-on Matt McGloin is average at best and without Penn State's two offensive playmakers from a year ago he will have an even tougher senior season in 2012.

    Penn State did not register a single passing touchdown until their fourth game of the season in 2011, however their defense was able to dominate opponents and make up for the Nittany Lions' inability to put points on the board.

    Linebacker Michael Mauti will lead the Nittany Lions defense this season alongside Gerald Hodges, which will be one of the top duos in college football.

    Adrian Amos will lead the Penn State secondary, but the unit will not be nearly as good as it was last season when the Nittany Lions finished the season ranked No. 17 in the nation in passing defense.

    O'Brien and the Penn State program are in for a tough 2012 campaign and an uncertain future. Buckle up Nittany Lions fans, the next four years are sure to be a roller coaster ride unlike any other.

    Week 1 Match-up: Ohio, 12 p.m. ET on ESPN.

    Prediction: Ohio by 7.

No. 8: Illinois Fighting Illini

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    2011 Record: 7-6 (2-6 Big Ten Conference)

    2012 Projection: 6-6 (2-6)

    The Illinois Fighting Illini finally decided Ron Zook's time was up in Champaign, Ill. after yet another season that failed to meet expectations. After starting the 2011 campaign 6-0, the Fighting Illini closed out the regular season on a six game losing streak, which eventually led to Zook's termination.

    Illinois' offense during the second half of the season was inept to say the least as the Fighting Illini failed to score more than 14 points in five of their final seven contests.

    Dual-threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase went through a major sophomore slump and was pulled in favor of freshman signal caller Reilly O'Toole at various points in the season.

    Running backs Troy Pollard and Jason Ford are gone, which leaves sophomore Donovonn Young to carry the load on the ground for the Fighting Illini. Young rushed for 451 yards and six touchdowns on 87 carries a year ago, however it is uncertain how the Houston, Tex. product will perform as an every down back as opposed to splitting touches with Ford and Pollard.

    The defense played well a year ago and often kept Illinois in games late, despite their offense's inability to find the endzone.

    This should once again be the case in 2012 as O'Toole and Scheelhaase battle at quarterback and Young attempts to come into his own as Illinois' go-to running back.

    Tim Beckman brings an offensive mind with him from Toledo, but even he won't be able to jump start the Fighting Illini's offense this season.

    Week 1 Match-up: Western Michigan, 12 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

    Prediction: Illinois by 3.

No. 7: Purdue Boilermakers

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    2011 Record: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten Conference)

    2012 Projection: 7-5 (4-4)

    The Purdue Boilermakers got themselves back into a bowl game last season for the first time since 2007, but were once again average in just about every phase of the game.

    Dual-threat quarterback Rob Henry was sidelined with a knee injury before the season even began, which forced Caleb TerBush to step into the starting role along with Robert Marve, who was granted a sixth season by the NCAA due to previous injuries in his career at Miami (FL) and Purdue.

    The Boilermakers had a serviceable group of running backs in Akeem Shavers, Akeem Hunt and Ralph Bolden; however, none of them ever separated themselves from the pack and often times were not dynamic enough to keep Purdue's offense moving.

    All of the aforementioned players will be back for another campaign with the Boilermakers. Purdue also returns their top three wide receivers in Antavian Edison, Justin Siller and O.J. Ross, which should help out the mediocre group of quarterbacks.

    Even if Purdue's offense is unable to generate a fair amount of points from week to week, their defense should be much improved with the returning cornerback tandem of Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen—who may be the best defensive back in the Big Ten.

    Linebacker Will Lucas is back, but the Boilermakers were hit with a tough blow on Thursday when head coach Danny Hope had to dismiss linebacker Dwayne Beckford due to multiple off-field issues.

    The loss of Beckford will put more pressure on Lucas and the Boilermakers' defensive line, which will be led by defensive tackle Kawaan Short and defensive end Brandon Taylor.

    In short, Purdue does not look much better than they were a year ago and the word "average" will once again describe the Boilermakers this season.

    Week 1 Match-up: Eastern Kentucky, 3:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network.

    Prediction: Purdue by 21.

No. 6: Iowa Hawkeyes

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    2011 Record: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten Conference)

    2012 Projection: 7-5 (3-5)

    The Iowa Hawkeyes had one of the best offenses in the Big Ten Conference last season, but it was marred with inconsistency from week to week, especially against ranked opponents.

    Senior quarterback James Vandenberg turned in a solid season on paper, however, a closer look at his statistics points out a glaring weakness. Vandenberg had the second worst lowest efficiency rating (106.5) in the Big Ten against ranked opponents and only Matt McGloin of Penn State was worse in that category.

    To make matters worse, the Hawkeyes are entering the 2012 season with only two scholarship running backs on their roster after Marcus Coker was dismissed prior to Iowa's bowl game last season, the incumbent starter Joel Canzeri and Barkley Hill both tore their ACL's, De'Andre Johnson was dismissed and Mika'il McCall opted to transfer out of the program.

    This leaves true freshman Greg Garmon and sophomore Damon Bullock to carry the load for the Hawkeyes.

    Even if Garmon and Bullock are very good tailbacks Iowa fan's may not know that by looking at their statistics come season's end, because the Hawkeyes' offensive line is replacing three starters from a year ago.

    Throw in the fact that the defense lost three defensive linemen and still have young linebackers going through growing pains on the field and all signs point to a down season once again in Iowa City.

    Cornerback Micah Hyde will star in the secondary, but it may not matter if the Hawkeyes' front seven struggles to slow down opponents' rushing attacks.

    Week 1 Match-up: Northern Illinois @ Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

    Prediction: Iowa by 17. 

No. 5: Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    2011 Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten Conference)

    2012 Projection: 10-2 (6-2)

    The Nebraska Cornhuskers may have lost two offensive linemen due to personal reasons, do not have a quarterback that can win a game if he is forced to beat the opposing team throwing the football, lost several key players on defense to the NFL, but will still be able to win double-digit games in 2012 because of week to week match-ups.

    As mentioned above, Ryan Klachko transferred to Illinois and Tyler Moore left the program as well. The reasoning seems to have something to do with offensive line coach Barney Cotton according to a report from, but that is an argument for another day.

    Taylor Martinez was impressive running the football last season, however, against ranked opponents his limitations as a passer were exposed. In Nebraska's three losses to opponents inside the top 25, Martinez completion percentage was just below 50-percent and the junior quarterback only threw for 414 yards, two touchdowns along with four interceptions.

    Senior running back Rex Burkhead will carry the load on offense for the Cornhuskers as he did a year ago with 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns on 284 carries.

    Defensively, the Cornuskers lost linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and defensive tackle Jared Crick who were the leaders of their defense a year ago. It should be noted that Crick only managed to play in five games last season due to injury.

    The defensive line will be a question mark all season long for Nebraska and the front seven as a whole may struggle after the departure of two starting linebackers.

    Senior linebacker Will Compton will assume the leadership role for Nebraska's defense in his second season as a starter and the Cornhuskers' secondary will be anchored by senior safety Daimion Stafford. 

    On paper, this is the fifth best team in the Big Ten, however the Cornhuskers should still win 10 games.

    Nebraska gets two of their four toughest games, Michigan and Wisconsin, at home and while both of those teams may have more talent overall they do not match up well against the Cornhuskers.

    Michigan and Wisconsin both have weak defensive lines heading into the 2012 season, which will cancel out Nebraska's weakness on the offensive line and allow Burkhead and Martinez to run wild against both of those teams. Plus, ask Ohio State and Michigan State how difficult it is to leave Memorial Stadium with a win.

    Week 1 Match-up: Southern Miss, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

    Prediction: Nebraska by 10. 

No. 4: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    2011 Record: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten Conference)

    2012 Projection: 9-3 (5-3)

    The Ohio State Buckeyes struggled under interim head coach Luke Fickell last season in large part because of their ineffectiveness on offense, mainly in the passing game.

    Quarterbacks Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller had the Buckeyes near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards last season and only averaged 127 yards per game through the air.

    Miller should be much better this season in new head coach Urban Meyer's offense where the dual-threat quarterback will not asked to throw a high amount of deep passes like the Buckeyes did a year ago in a more pro-style offense. Look for more bubble screens and for Miller's completion percentage and passing stats to increase.

    The only question mark on offense for the Buckeyes, beside who will be the starting right guard and right tackle, is who will be making plays at wide receiver. 

    Corey "Philly" Brown, Devin Smith and Michael Thomas are all candidates for breakout seasons, but whether or not they have one remains to be seen.

    Carlos Hyde will have to carry more of the load at running back than originally expected with Jordan Hall still recovering from foot surgery, but true freshman Bri'onte Dunn will provide the Buckeyes with a power back to utilize in the red zone and spell Hyde when necessary.

    One thing not in question for Ohio State is how good their defense will be in 2012.

    The Buckeyes ranked No. 19 in the country in total defense and should build on that this season with John Simon and Jonathan Hankins returning on the defensive front.

    Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino should also be a solid linebacking tandem and C.J. Barnett is a preseason first team All-Big Ten selection who will lead the Buckeyes secondary this season.

    Ohio State's success this season will come down to how well Miller performs as a passer in Meyer's spread offense.

    Week 1 Match-up: Miami (OH), 12:00 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network.

    Prediction: Ohio State by 30. 

No. 3: Wisconsin Badgers

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    2011 Record: 11-3 (6-2 Big Ten Conference), Leaders Division Champions, Big Ten Conference Champions

    2012 Projection: 10-3 (6-2), Leaders Division Champions, Big Ten Conference Runner-Up

    Montee Ball surprised many college football fans across the country when the Heisman Trophy finalist announced he would return to the University of Wisconsin to play his senior season, which means the Badgers will once again have the best running back tandem in the Big Ten in 2012.

    James White has been a serviceable backup for the Badgers for the past two seasons and Ball won't be able to duplicate the phenomenal 39 total touchdown season he had in 2011, but he will be a headache for opposing defenses running behind a Wisconsin offensive line that reloads with NFL caliber prospects every year.

    Nick Toon may be gone at wide receiver and star quarterback Russell Wilson is no longer taking snaps for the Badgers; however, Jared Abbrederis was a pleasant surprise last season for Wisconsin fans as the redshirt junior wideout finished the 2011 campaign with 933 receiving yards, in addition to his 15.8 yards per punt return average.

    Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien will fill the No. 1 quarterback position that Wilson left behind and while his numbers are nowhere near what Wilson's were coming out of NC State the former Terripan should keep the chains moving for the Wisconsin offense.

    The only concern for the Badgers entering the 2012 season is their defense, mainly the lack of a solid pass rush from their front four.

    The Wisconsin defense gave up an average of 38.5 points per game in their match-ups with Michigan State (twice), Oregon and Ohio State, which is a cause for concern entering this season with the Spartans and Buckeyes on the schedule once again.

    The defense will struggle, but Wisconsin's offense should be able to get them 10 wins, a second straight Leaders Division title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship game come season's end.

    Week 1 Match-up: Northern Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network.

    Prediction: Wisconsin by 35.

No. 2: Michigan Wolverines

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    2011 Record: 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten Conference)

    2012 Projection: 8-4 (6-2)

    The Michigan Wolverines rode Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson and redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint all the way to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory in Brady Hoke's first season in Ann Arbor.

    Robinson and Toussaint are back and looking to accomplish what the Wolverines failed to do in 2011, win the Big Ten Championship.

    The departure of standout wide receiver Junior Hemingway has opened the door for fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree and possibly backup quarterback Devin Gardner, who has taken several snaps with Michigan's wide receivers throughout the spring and early fall.

    The coaches have played their cards close to the chest when talking about Gardner, but Wolverine fans should expect to see the former Inkster star catching some deep passes from Robinson this season.

    Michigan returns three starters on their offensive line, but will have to replace All-American center David Molk - Ricky Barnum shifted over from guard in order to fill the void - and if injuries begin to hit the Wolverines front five their limited depth will be exposed very quickly.

    The offense will put up plenty of points, however the defense is missing three defensive linemen from a year ago that helped the Wolverines take steps toward re-establishing the traditional "Michigan defense".

    Former 5-star defensive tackle Will Campbell has yet to make an impact in a maize and blue uniform and has a chance to make up for his past three seasons of futility with a breakout senior season alongside surprise starter Quinton Washington.

    Jirbeel Black was expected to move inside to defensive tackle, but instead he will be Michigan's starting rush end and on the opposite side of the line Craig Roh is entering his fourth year as a starter for the Wolverines.

    Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan lead a talented linebacking corps and cornerbacks J.T. Floyd and sophomore Blake Countess will be one of the best defensive back tandems in the nation. Add former walk on safety Jordan Kovacs into the mix and Michigan's secondary stacks up against some of the nation's best.

    Overall, the Wolverines have a much tougher schedule than a year ago with a neutral sight contest against No. 2 Alabama, road games against Notre Dame, No. 17 Nebraska and No. 18 Ohio State. Michigan will also be looking to snap a four game losing streak against in-state rival No. 13 Michigan State at the Big House.

    Expect a step back from the Wolverines this season.

    Week 1 Match-up: No. 2 Alabama @ Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex., 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

    Prediction: Alabama by 10.

No. 1: Michigan State Spartans

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    2011 Record: 11-3 (7-1 Big Ten Conference), Legends Division Champions

    2012 Projection: 13-0 (8-0) Legends Division Champions, Big Ten Conference Champions 

    In this writer's humble opinion, the Michigan State Spartans are head and shoulders above everyone in the Big Ten Conference heading into this season, which is something many have been reluctant to admit heading into the 2012 campaign.

    Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell has a better arm than Kirk Cousins did during his time with the Spartans and once the wide receivers hit their stride Michigan State's offense will be tough to stop considering the experience on their offensive line along with power back Le'Veon Bell, who is primed for a breakout season as a junior.

    With the Spartans though it is all about defense, which head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi have turned into the staple of what Michigan State football is going to be about for years to come.

    Will Gholston is one of the best defensive ends in the country and although the Spartans lost Jerel Worthy to the NFL they still have plenty of rising stars on the defensive line with Marcus Rush, Michaj Reynolds and Anthony Rashad White all back in East Lansing.

    The linebackers and secondary are really what make the Spartan defense one of the nation's elite.

    Max Bullough is only a junior and is already one of the country's best middle linebackers alongside senior Chris Norman and fellow junior Denicos Allen. Johnny Adams and Isaiah Lewis will be ball hawks all season long for the Spartans in the secondary.

    Michigan State will topple the Michigan Wolverines for a fifth straight season and win the rest of their crucial games against nationally ranked Nebraska, Ohio State and Notre Dame, which are all going to be played at Spartan Stadium this season.

    Everything is set up for the Spartans to make a run at a national championship on the strength of their defense. Toss in the fact that all but one of their toughest games are in friendly territory and it adds up to Michigan State being the best team in the Big Ten and a legitimate contender to end the recent Southeastern Conference's run of seven straight BCS National Championships.

    Week 1 Match-up: No. 24 Boise State, Friday Aug. 31, 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.

    Prediction: Michigan State by 10.