The Big Ten should be one of the most competitive conferences yet again in the 2011 college football season.
In 2010, the Big Ten had a three way tie for first place. Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin all finished with records of 11-1 (7-1 in conference play).
Those three teams all finished with BCS rankings in the top 10, more than any other conference.
This season could be more of the same, especially due to the addition of Nebraska to the conference.
Here are predictions for what the Big Ten standings could look like when the 2011 season comes to a close.
Minnesota was the worst team in the Big Ten last season. They may not have finished last, but they were the worst team.
A miracle victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the final week of the season bumped the Gophers to a 3-9 final record. They finished 2-6 in the Big Ten, putting them at 10th out of the 11 teams.
On top of already being a pretty poor team, the Gophers will no longer have quarterback Adam Weber to lead the way.
I wouldn't expect much improvement from the 98th ranked defense either.
Last season, Indiana beat Towson, Western Kentucky, Akron and Arkansas State. Then, in the final game of the season, they took down Purdue in overtime.
They finished with the 102nd overall scoring defense. Nothing to be very proud of.
Their offense did finish 56th in scoring, but it was mainly due to the arm of Ben Chappell. The Hoosiers running game was 112th in the nation.
Unfortunately for Indiana, Chappell has now graduated.
It's hard to find a bright spot for the team. They could be in for a long year.
Purdue had many ups and downs last season with Rob Henry at quarterback.
The good news for the Boilermakers is that this is expected when a freshman is starting in the most important position on the team.
Henry showed a lot of potential as both a passer and a rusher.
Al-Terek McBurse should now line up as the starting running back. Like Henry, he showed a lot of promise last season.
The team is going to struggle and may not win many games, but there is potential for something to form out of this offensive unit.
I don't want to put Northwestern this low on the list, but the competition may be a bit too much for them.
Dan Persa brings something special to the team. He is a gifted passer and runner, and I wouldn't be surprised if he actually leads Northwestern to a great season.
Running back Mike Trumpy is also going to improve now that he has a season under his belt. This should open up things even more for the Wildcats' offense.
My fear is that the defense won't be able to step it up when needed. They struggled much against lesser opponents last year and looked horrid against better ones.
Penn State overcame a 21-0 deficit to win 35-21, and it's hard to forget the 70 points that Wisconsin put up on them to close out the regular season.
The team could do well, but the defense needs to step up.
Last season, Illinois relied heavily on the abilities of Mikel Leshoure.
Leshoure declared for the 2011 NFL Draft, passing the opportunity to return to Illinois as a senior. The loss is going to hurt the Illini.
Luckily, the Illini have Nathan Scheelhaase, who had a remarkable year as a freshman. Scheelhaase has abilities as a dual threat quarterback that make it tough for defenses to defend.
Jason Ford is going to need to step up and fill the shoes of Leshoure, which will be no small task.
The Illini will probably have a slight drop off from last season, but they do have the tools to make a run in a year or so with a few more key players.
Rich Rodriguez is gone. That alone is a step in the right direction for the Wolverines. Rodriguez went 15-22 in his career at Michigan, the worst winning percentage of any coach in school history.
Brady Hoke hopes to turn things back around for the Wolverines. He is a defensive minded coach, which is what the team needs right now.
They finished 108th in scoring defense last season, allowing 35.2 points per game, something unheard of for the prestigious program.
It won't happen over night, but Michigan could be on track to regaining its glory.
If Hoke can turn them around, the team will be back to its winning ways. It won't even take much, since the offense puts up so many points.
Denard Robinson. Do I need to say more?
Last year was a frustrating one for the Nittany Lions. The team had a roller coaster ride of ups and downs throughout the season.
This was because of youth, something that obviously only gets better with time.
The majority of the Nittany Lion team is returning this season on both sides of the ball. The key loss is running back Evan Royster, who broke the all-time rushing record at Penn State last season.
Despite this, Penn State is likely alright at running back. Royster actually had a rough season and freshman Silas Redd stood out as a future star for the team.
The quarterback position is still questionable. At this point, nobody is sure whether McGloin or Bolden will start next year. Personally, I say give it to Paul Jones.
The Penn State defense will need to step it back up this year also. It wasn't a typical, aggressive defense that we are used to seeing in State College.
If anybody can teach these young kids how to play, it's Joe Paterno and Tom Bradley.
The loss of Ricky Stanzi is going to hurt Iowa, but not as badly as everyone may think.
Stanzi had a great career for the Hawkeyes. He was very efficient and didn't make mistakes. If his replacement, James Vandenberg, can do the same, then the Hawkeyes will have a great season.
Marcus Coker provided a great threat out of the backfield. Iowa will likely lean on it even more this season now that Stanzi is gone.
What makes Iowa a great team is the defense. The Hawkeyes allowed only 17.0 points per game last season, which was seventh in the nation.
Expect that forceful defense to continue the trend, and the Hawkeyes to be contenders for the Big Ten title.
When the Big Ten announced the addition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the conference, all I could think was that there was no better fit in college football.
Nebraska has a powerhouse defense, which finished ninth in the nation last year in points allowed.
They have a young, dual threat quarterback with a lot of potential in Taylor Martinez.
Even with the loss of Roy Helu Jr., the Cornhuskers will likely be a great running team yet again. They finished ninth in rushing yards last season. Rex Burkhead should have little trouble picking up where Helu left off.
Nebraska against Ohio State. Nebraska against Wisconsin. Nebraska against Penn State.
Just the idea excites me. Especially because Nebraska can challenge for the Big Ten Championship immediately.
If it wasn't for the suspensions to Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas, then Ohio State would be first on this list.
But they aren't. These suspensions may really hurt Ohio State's chances this year.
In Week 3, the Buckeyes play the Miami Hurricanes. Last year, Miami scored more points on Ohio State than any other team in the regular season. Ohio State doesn't have its offensive stars to strike back this time.
In Week 5, the team plays Michigan State. I don't want to say it's an automatic win for the Spartans, but the matchup does weigh heavily in their favor.
When the suspensions are lifted, the players will return to face Nebraska in their first week back. That is not the easiest defense to start off against.
It will be a tough year for the Buckeyes. Talent wise, they are probably the best in the conference, but they put themselves in a difficult situation for the 2011 season.
It's not the loss of John Clay or Scott Tolzien that worry me about Wisconsin. It's that they have lost key players on the offensive line.
The reason the Badgers were so dominant last season was because of their ability to manhandle opponents in the trenches. Without Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Lance Kendricks, it will be interesting to see if Wisconsin has the same success on the ground.
They do still have two great players in Montee Ball and James White, who will be actually carrying the ball. Both averaged over six yards per carry last season and combined for 32 touchdown rushes.
Scott Tolzien will likely be easily replaced with Jon Budmayr. Tolzien was a good quarterback, but all he had to do was manage the game. Budmayr will be asked to do the same and should have equal success.
It comes down to a question of depth for Wisconsin. If the new lineman can step in and play well, Wisconsin will once again be a top 10 team in the nation.
Last season, Michigan State finished 47th in scoring offense. They finished 39th in scoring defense. That's nothing impressive
Despite this, they also finished as the No. 9 ranked school in college football and were part of a three way tie for the Big Ten Championship.
Numbers can only account for so much and at the end of the day, it's winning that matters. Winning is something Michigan State can do.
Kirk Cousins may be one of the most under appreciated quarterbacks in the country. He will return for his senior year, and it can be expected that there will be the obvious improvements.
Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell have become a great one-two punch for the Spartans in the running game.
The Spartans have one of the most balanced offenses in the Big Ten. They can beat you either running or throwing the ball. That's what makes them so dangerous.
Now, before anybody freaks out about the 49-7 loss against Alabama (because I know someone will), please keep in mind that these are Big Ten power rankings. This has nothing to do with the rest of the country.
When it comes to the Big Ten, Michigan State knows how to win.