In the last few months, the Big Ten landscape has seemingly opened itself up for the new kid on the block, Nebraska, to make a run at the conference title in their first year as a member.
Since the end of last season, the traditional contenders in the Huskers' new conference have undergone enough turmoil for Nebraska to be arguably considered the favorite to wear the Big Ten crown.
Ohio State and Michigan have both gone through very public coaching changes, and it would be reasonable to believe that neither team will be ready to assume their place atop the conference for at least the next couple of seasons.
Iowa and Penn State are both dealing with major personnel questions: both squads lost significant pieces to the draft, and both teams have issues at the quarterback position. While it is not impossible for the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions to win the conference title, both of these teams have too many uncertainties to be named the favorite.
Unless some unexpected team rises from the ashes, that leaves just Michigan State and Wisconsin as the major obstacles between Nebraska and a Big Ten championship.
Last season, Michigan State won four games by a one possession margin. When a team wins that many close games, the next season things often balance back out. I expect this to happen to the Spartans in 2011.
Wisconsin is in the best shape after last season, but the loss of quarterback Scott Tolzien loomed large for the Badgers, especially considering coach Bret Bielema had not appeared to be overly confident in any of his potential replacements at the position coming out of spring practice.
Even with Tolzien at quarterback, Wisconsin seemed to lack the diversity on offense that is often necessary for a program to win at the highest level. When the ground game was going, the Badgers were unstoppable in 2010.
However, Wisconsin did not have much of a plan B if the rushing attack stalled.
All of those concerns for Wisconsin seemed to be answered the moment Russell Wilson decided to transfer to Madison. The former North Carolina State star is a dynamic play maker; something that is usually not synonymous with the Badgers offense.
Wilson's presence provides Wisconsin with the ability to attack opposing defenses in a variety of ways. I believe this turns them from a team that would have done well to make the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, to a team that could potentially be a national title contender if they get a couple breaks.
So what does this all mean for Nebraska? While the Huskers should still be the favorite in the Legends Division, the conference title does not look to be as easily attainable for them as it did last week before Wilson became a Badger.
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