College Football 2011 Power Rankings: Big Ten Football
The 2011 Big Ten football season will be one of the most intense and competitive in the nation. Not only are there several good teams, but it will be the first year the conference will have a championship game.
Several teams will be vying for the first conference championship since expanding to 12 teams, and as many as nine teams could go bowling in 2011.
Though none of the teams will be mentioned as preseason national championship contenders, one of them could emerge to shake things up at the top nationally.
Here are the preseason Big Ten football rankings for the 2011 season.
12. Indiana Hoosiers
The Hoosiers found themselves in the Big Ten cellar once again in 2010, going 1-7 in the conference.
It will be much of the same for Indiana in 2011.
Their out of conference schedule is soft yet again, and they could repeat their 4-0 out of conference record from 2010.
However, wins will be hard to come by in conference games. The Big Ten schedule hurts the Hoosiers’ chances of going bowling, as the only winnable game will be the season finale against Purdue.
Indiana’s 2011 ceiling for wins is five, and the Hoosiers will once again miss out on going to a bowl game.
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Golden Gophers had yet another disappointing season in 2010, going 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten, leading to the dismissal of head coach Tim Brewster.
Under new coach Jerry Kill, Minnesota will try to get back to the winning ways it experienced under Glen Mason.
Nine starters return on defense, and quarterback MarQueis Gray looks to fulfill some of the potential that made him one of the nation’s top recruits in 2008.
The schedule doesn’t do Minnesota any favors, as it heads to Los Angeles to play USC the first week of the year.
Though it could be improved, don’t expect much out of Minnesota in 2011.
10. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue had a disappointing 2010 season, to say the least, going 4-8 and missing out on a bowl game.
Nine returning starters on defense will try to turn the Boilermakers’ fate around.
Purdue should take care of business in its first three games against MTSU, Rice and Southeast Missouri State, but finding three more wins in the Big Ten, plus its game against Notre Dame, will be hard to come by.
9. Illinois Fighting Illini
The Fighting Illini had a good 2010 season, going 7-6 and defeating Baylor in the Texas Bowl.
Dual-threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns and is one of the Big Ten’s best in 2011.
If the Illini can replace star running back Mikel Leshoure, they have a chance at making another bowl game this season.
8. Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa only returns 10 starters from the 2010 squad, which is second-fewest in the nation.
The Hawkeyes will need to find answers at several key positions, including quarterback. James Vandenberg is in line to take over for Ricky Stanzi, and the team’s success will mirror his success.
The schedule does set up favorably for the Hawkeyes with Wisconsin and Ohio State both off it, so if Iowa can fill its numerous holes, it could be back near the top of the Big Ten.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State has several questions to figure out heading into 2011.
The quarterback controversy is still unsettled, as both Robert Bolden and Matt McGloin battle it out for the starting position.
Also, the Nittany Lions will have to replace running back Evan Royster, the school’s all-time leading rusher.
Penn State does return eight starters to a defense that is consistently one of the conference’s best.
The 2011 season may not go the way fans in Happy Valley want it, and the cries for Joe Paterno’s retirement may get louder at the end of the season.
6. Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern is a dark horse to make the Big Ten championship in 2011.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald has built the Wildcats into a much-improved team, and quarterback Dan Persa is one of the conference’s best quarterbacks.
The schedule also sets up favorably, as Ohio State and Wisconsin are off the schedule in 2011.
Northwestern will be a dangerous team in 2011 and with a couple upsets could make a run at the Big Ten championship.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
The 2011 season will be one filled with turmoil for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Coach Jim Tressel, quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four other players will miss the team’s first five games, which includes a trip down to Miami to play the Hurricanes and a showdown with Michigan State in Columbus.
Tressel and Pryor won't be able to ease into the season like the rest of the team. Their first game will be at Nebraska in October, one of the Buckeyes' toughest games of the season.
No one can predict how the Buckeyes will handle the adversity. It will take a toll on the team, but they are too talented to let it take them all the way down.
A decent season is in store for the Buckeyes still, but another BCS game isn’t in the cards for Ohio State.
4. Michigan Wolverines
The Michigan Wolverines are on their way back to national prominence.
First-year head coach Brady Hoke has changed the culture at Michigan. He understands the importance of the Ohio State game and has installed “Beat Ohio” clocks around Schembechler Hall to remind players of how big of a game it is.
Quarterback Denard Robinson is back to lead the new-look Michigan offense, and the defense will be much improved under the tutelage of former Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
As a team, Michigan returns 20 starters, which is the second-most in the nation. Though they may not be the most talented, they will be one of the most experienced teams.
The Wolverines are still a couple seasons away from vying for a Big Ten championship, but they will take yet another step in the right direction in 2011.
3. Michigan State Spartans
The Michigan State Spartans had a great 2010 season, going 11-2 and 7-1 in the conference.
This year, Sparty will look to build off their success from last season and try to play in their first Rose Bowl since 1988.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins is back, as well as running back Edwin Baker, who looks to emerge nationally as one of the top running backs in the nation.
Michigan State has some tough road games at Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska that will make another 10-win season tough.
Overall, Sparty will have a solid season but will fall short of their 2010 success.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers
In their first year in the Big Ten, the Nebraska Cornhuskers will be one of the conference’s top teams.
With standout quarterback Taylor Martinez looking to improve off a good freshman season and the blackshirt defense returning seven starters, the Cornhuskers will win the Legends Division and play for the Big Ten title.
Though they won’t win the conference, the Huskers have a great shot at making a BCS bowl game in 2011.
1. Wisconsin Badgers
The Wisconsin Badgers are the class of the Big Ten in 2011.
Led by the running back tandem of Montee Ball and James White, the Badgers will be able to run the ball at will in the Big Ten.
A couple tough road games at Michigan State and Ohio State await them in late October, but even with some road bumps, the Badgers will win the first Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
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