College Football 2011 Rankings: Ranking the Big 10 from Worst to Best

Joe Rapolla Jr.Featured ColumnistJune 1, 2011

College Football 2011 Rankings: Ranking the Big 10 from Worst to Best

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    LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 13: Coach Bo Pelini of the Nebraska Cornhuskers leads his team onto the field to play the Kansas Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated Kansas 20-3. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Ima
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    College football season is nearly upon us, and the race and fight for the bowl games ensues.

    It will be refreshing to see college football be actually played since the recent news has been dominated by the Jim Tressel/Ohio State University scandal. 

    Speaking of Ohio State, the Big 10 Conference will be strong this year as always. I predict they will have four teams (Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin) in the top 25. 

    Here are my complete preseason rankings for the men of the good ol' Midwest, the Big 10 Conference. 

12. Minnesota

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    MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 18:  Da'Jon McKnight #6 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown during the game against the USC Trojans on September 18, 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Jamie
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Golden Gophers were pretty terrible last year and will remain pretty terrible once again. MarQueis Gray will take over as quarterback following Adam Weber's departure. Gray is a better player, yet he will need time to adjust to being a starter. 

    The Golden Gophers is simply pitiful however. They gave up almost 33 points and 400 yards/game last year. It will take a very long time for them to contend since it will take a very long time for their defense to improve. 

    I don't expect the Golden Gophers to win more than one conference game, if that. 

11. Northwestern

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    EVANSTON, IL - OCTOBER 23: Dan Persa #7 of the Northwestern Wildcats throws a pass against the Michigan State Spartans at Ryan Field on October 23, 2010 in Evanston, Illinois. Michigan State defeated Northwestern 35-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Ima
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    When speaking of the Northwestern Wildcats offense, it is all quarterback Dan Persa.

    He only played in 10 games last season and he still shattered most offensive categories. He will return this year which is good news for the Wildcats. 

    What is not good news is that their defense lost their best tackle in Corbin Bryant. A few other players left on defense, and the Wildcats will not succeed until these holes are mended. 

10. Indiana

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    Former QB Ben Chappell
    Former QB Ben ChappellJamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The Indiana Hoosiers are another Big 10 team that were pretty awful last year and will continue to be pretty bad this year. 

    They are a team going through changes: they have a new head coach in former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. Ben Chappell, the former starting quarterback, also graduated. 

    Indiana needs to decide who to start at QB so they can get the ball to senior wide receiver Demario Belcher, who has the potential to make big plays. 

    There defense is apparently switching to a 4-3 scheme, and when you look at the fact that they only had 15 sacks all season last year, it can't possibly hurt. 

9. Purdue

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    EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 12:   Ralph Bolden #23 of the Purdue Boilermakers runs the ball against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    The Purdue Boilermakers dealt with a lot of injuries last year to key offensive players. Quarterback Robert Marve and running back Ralph Bolden both went down mid-season with injuries. 

    Despite this, the Boilermakers offense was dismal, and a QB battle will now likely ensue between Marve and Rob Henry for who gets the starting job. 

    As for defense, the star of the Boilermakers attack, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, is now a Washington Redskin. Good thing he is not used to winning. 

    The Boilermakers have some work to do before they are contenders again. 

8. Illinois

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    CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 02: Nathan Scheelhaase #2 of the Illinois Fighting Illini passes the ball against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Memorial Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Champaign, Illinois. Ohio State defeated Illinois 24-13. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    I really like quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. He reminds me of a young Michael Vick in his playing style. He is a fantastic runner, but is not at all limited in passing the ball. He is only a sophomore, so he will only improve for the Illini. 

    I would rank the Illini much higher, but their defense has to rebuild following the departures of Corey Liuget and Martez Wilson. Both players were key to the defense that allowed the Illini to contend last year. 

    Six of the Illini's first seven games are at home, and this bodes very well for them. I would not be surprised if they turn out to be one of 2011's unexpected success stories. 

7. Penn State

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    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1:  Quarterback Matt McGloin #11 of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks to pass against the Florida Gators January 1, 2011 in the 25th Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Penn State's biggest issue/mystery is who will start at quarterback. Matt McGloin played well all season last year for the Nittany Lions, but the starter at the beginning of last season was Rob Bolden.

    Bolden made attempts to transfer, which head coach Joe Paterno rejected. This hints that Paterno has plans for Bolden. Bolden and McGloin will compete with redshirt freshman Paul Jones for the starting job. 

    Penn State's second biggest issue is the offensive line. It was terrible last season, and the only notable talent on it, Stefen Wisniewski, graduated. 

    Penn State needs to build up a solid army to protect whoever plays quarterback for them, or it won't matter who is throwing the ball. 

6. Michigan

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    ANN ARBOR, MI - APRIL 16:  Head football coach Brady Hoke talks with his team during the annual Spring Game at Michigan Stadium on April 16, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    The big story for Michigan in the offseason was the firing of head coach Rich Rodriguez. Former San Diego State ringleader Brady Hoke as been hired to take the reigns in Ann Arbor. 

    Offensively, the Michigan Wolverines have a very capable quarterback in Denard Robinson. He is only a sophomore this season, and his favorite target from last season, wide receiver Roy Roundtree, returns for his junior season. 

    Where the Wolverines need to focus most of their energy is on defense. The Gator Bowl last season exposed all their flaws, when Mississippi State trounced them 52-14.

    They only had 17 sacks last season. Their front seven needs to improve immensely for Michigan to win a notable bowl game. 

5. Iowa

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    IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 20:  Running back Marcus Coker #34 of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes drives the ball past linebacker Ross Homan #51 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the second half of play at Kinnick Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Iowa City, I
    David Purdy/Getty Images

    The Iowa Hawkeyes have thrived for season's on the strength of their offensive line and defense.

    Fortunately for Hawkeye fans, both of these components should be healthy and strong again this season.

    The Hawkeyes' biggest challenge will be to develop a big name rusher that can boast a rushing attack for Iowa. Marcus Coker will start at running back this year, and could blossom behind the strength of the offensive line. 

    James Vandenberg will start at quarterback, and this has Iowa fans the most nervous. Vandenberg does not have a ton of experience, and following a strong Ricky Stanzi career in Hawkeye nation will not be easy. 

    Nonetheless, Iowa should have another solid season and flirt with the top 25 from time to time. 

4. Wisconsin

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    MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 16: Peter Konz #66 of the Wisconsin Badgers prepares to snap the ball to Scott Tolzien #16 against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Ohio State 31-18. (Photo
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The focal point of the Wisconsin Badger's offense will be running back James White. The Badger running game is always deadly, and White should provide most of the punch this year. Running back Montee Ball will also see a lot of playing time. 

    The reason the Badgers are able to put together so many consistent running attacks is thanks to their never ending flow of offensive linemen. Center Peter Konz will hold the line together, and you can place your money that quarterback Jon Budmayr won't get sacked often. 

    The Badgers biggest challenge will come in replacing defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who was nothing short of brilliant in his tenure at Wisconsin. Should the fill-ins step up though, Wisconsin is a football team with very few flaws who will make appearances in the top 10 throughout the season. 

3. Michigan State

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    ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Kirk Cousins #8  of the Michigan State Spartans is sacked by Courtney Upshaw #41 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the Capitol One Bowl at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Quarterback Kirk Cousins is now a senior. Expect him to have his best season to date. He is a very safe and efficient passer who does not throw very many picks for a college QB.

    He also has some great receivers who will get open and inflate his stats. B.J. Cunningham is an end zone magnet and Keshawn Martin is nimble and speedy enough to get open on any defense. 

    On defense, Michigan State should once again be solid. They lost a few starters but have some young talent that will keep the Spartans a force to be reckoned with. I particularly like Denicos Allen, who is quick enough to be a safety but strong enough to be a linebacker. 

    Expect the spartans to hang in the top 25 for most of the season. 

2. Ohio State

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks to run against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Once the talk about Jim Tressel and the Tattoo Five (punk band name?) settles down, people will start to remember why Ohio State went 12-1 in 2010: the 4th best defense in the country. 

    Defensive tackle John Simon and defensive end Nathan Williams are both returning to maul opposing teams quarterbacks, The secondary is not great, but the tandem of cornerbacks Dominic Clarke and Travis Howard is enough to pressure opposing receivers. 

    The biggest hole in Ohio State's road to success is the absence during the first five games of running back Dan Herron and wide receiver Devier Posey. Both players are offensive stars for the Buckeyes and their absence will be felt.

    Of course another huge question is what is happening to Terrelle Pryor. He made a commitment to stay at Ohio State and serve his suspension, yet that was before Jim Tressel resigned. If Pryor leaves, Joe Bauserman will most likely start at quarterback for the whole season. 

    No doubt, Ohio State is in a state of limbo, yet I expect them to fight through based on the talent of their team and the pride of their program and be, once again, a top 10 football team in 2011. 

1. Nebraska

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    LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 13: Jared Crick #94 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers wraps up Angus Quigley #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated Kansas 20-3. (Photo by Eric Francis
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    The newcomers to the Big 10 Conference are probably also the team to benefit the most from the Ohio State fallout. With Columbus in a frenzy and possibly losing star players, the former Big-12 Cornhuskers will make a big impact during their first year in the conference. 

    Their defense, like last season, will be very tough. Defensive tackle Jared Crick is returning for what may be his last season in college football. The big (6'8", 285 lbs) DT will surely rack up some sacks for the Cornhuskers. 

    Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will have to step up to replace former All-American Prince Amukamara. Not an easy task. The Cornhuskers also have lost CB Eric Hagg and his 5 picks. 

    While the secondary will be the biggest question on defense, the biggest question offensively will definitely be whether quarterback Taylor Martinez can step it up enough to be the quarterback of a top 10 football team.

    I think he will, and the Huskers will end 2011 ranked as the sixth or seventh best team in the country.