College Football 2011: Ranking Each Big Ten Team's Bowl Chances
With the 2011 college football season just a few months away, annual bowl projections have started to appear the last few weeks.
Although its record has been dismal over the past few years, the Big Ten always places a number of teams into bowl games thanks to fan draw, a large number of bowl tie-ins and the attractiveness of Big Ten teams as BCS at-large teams.
This year, with a very balanced conference, 9-10 teams could end up being bowl-eligible. Check out each Big Ten team's chances of reaching the postseason here.
Illinois Fighting Illini: 70 Percent Chance
Coming off a bowl win with a young team, Illinois' chances of repeat postseason success look to be pretty good.
The Illini will have to replace star running back Mikel Leshoure, who left early for the NFL, as well as top defensive tackle Corey Liuget.
While those losses will be difficult to handle for Illinois, the team still has a budding star at quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase and a renewed confidence that the program hasn't seen since its Rose Bowl year in 2007.
With a decent schedule—the Illini miss Iowa, Michigan State and Nebraska—Illinois should be going bowling again in 2011. The only obstacle Ron Zook and company must face is finding a way to finally live up to expectations.
Indiana Hoosiers: 15 Percent Chance
The only thing saving the Hoosiers' bowl chances is a weak non-conference; three of their first four games—Ball State, South Carolina State and North Texas—look to be guaranteed wins. In the fourth game against Virginia, Indiana will be the underdog.
Offensively, the Hoosiers' production should drop off a bit. However, the offense is the only unit that has produced over the past few years.
Quarterback Ben Chappell is gone, as is one of his top wide receivers, Tandon Doss. Star receiver Damarlo Belcher is still in Bloomington, but his production should decrease along with Indiana's passing stats.
The defense needs a whole new makeover, and while that may be possible in a few years under new head coach Kevin Wilson, it doesn't look like a strong possibility for this season.
Iowa Hawkeyes: 90 Percent Chance
After underachieving in 2010 and losing a lot of talent, Iowa has been largely overlooked by the national media this offseason.
That's just how Kirk Ferentz likes it.
This team could actually end up being better than last year's squad. Despite having to break in new quarterback James Vandenberg, the offensive line should be one of the best of the Ferentz era, and running back Marcus Coker should be a star.
The defensive line has some questions, but the secondary should be solid, and the linebacker corps could be one of the conference's best.
Add to that a favorable schedule—the Hawkeyes miss Ohio State and Wisconsin—and Iowa should be bowling once again this season.
Michigan Wolverines: 70 Percent Chance
This may seem a little low for Michigan, which made it to a bowl game last year, but in the midst of a coaching transition, a bowl game isn't a certainty.
While new coach Brady Hoke certainly has some great talent to work with on offense—namely star quarterback Denard Robinson—the defense needs a whole new makeover after being one of the worst in the conference the past three seasons.
There is no certainty Robinson will fit into Hoke's offense either, and while the Wolverines will likely go bowling, there are still a number of question marks surrounding the program.
Michigan State Spartans: 90 Percent Chance
After finishing 11-1 in 2010 and claiming a share of the Big Ten title, Michigan State is hoping to repeat its success in 2011.
The Spartans' offense should be one of the best in the Big Ten thanks to star quarterback Kirk Cousins, a strong receiving corps and the talented running back duo of Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell.
The defense, however, has many more question marks. The linebacker corps will be completely new and must replace All-American Greg Jones. The secondary will also be relatively inexperienced.
MSU also needs to prove it can live up to high expectations, something it has failed to do in the past. Barring a massive disappointment though, the Spartans should be bowling this winter.
Minnesota Golden Gophers: 20 Percent Chance
Despite ending the regular season on a high point with a win against Iowa, Minnesota had yet another disappointing year in 2010—one that saw the firing of coach Tim Brewster.
Now hopes in Minneapolis are high that new coach Jerry Kill can turn the program around.
But with little talent outside of talented, dual-threat quarterback MarQueis Gray, the Gophers will be in a rebuilding mode in 2011 and likely won't compete for a bowl game.
Nebraska Cornhuskers: 90 Percent Chance
While many experts consider Nebraska the favorite in the Legends Division, the Cornhuskers will have some obstacles to overcome if they want to reach Indianapolis.
The defense should be lights-out, but the offense will need to improve after a very inconsistent 2010 season, especially since it will be facing much better defenses than it saw in the Big 12.
The schedule is brutal, as well. The Huskers must travel to Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, and play Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan State at home.
Even with that schedule, Nebraska should be bowl eligible come December. The question is how far up or down the pecking order it lands.
Northwestern Wildcats: 85 Percent Chance
While the Northwestern program has been on the uptick in recent years, the team is still looking for that ever-allusive bowl win.
With an explosive offense and a more experienced defense returning, Pat Fitzgerald's team could do just that and end up being a sleeper in the Legends Division.
First-Team All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa is back, along with star wide receiver Jeremy Ebert. Persa single-handedly led the Wildcats to a 7-3 record before being injured last season, and if he gets some help in 2011, could lead his team to a January bowl.
There are still questions surrounding the defense,—it gave up 330 yards to Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure and 70 points to Wisconsin in consecutive weeks following Persa's injury—but Northwestern should be able to continue its upward climb in the Big Ten.
Ohio State Buckeyes: 80 Percent Chance
This prediction is obviously only valid if Ohio State doesn't receive a postseason ban from the NCAA.
With Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor gone, the Buckeyes will clearly take a step back in 2011. However, this is still Ohio State, and the Buckeyes will likely still finish near the top of the Big Ten standings.
The passing game will definitely suffer, as will offensive production early in the season due to DeVier Posey's and Dan Herron's suspensions. However, expect OSU to find its form after the first five games and return to the postseason—although reaching another BCS bowl may be a bit of a stretch.
Penn State Nittany Lions: 85 Percent Chance
After a mediocre 2010 season, Penn State still has plenty of work to do if they want to regain the form they showed the latter half of the past decade.
The Nittany Lions still need to figure out their quarterback situation, and the offensive line needs work as well. Having star receiver Derek Moye should help, but the instability at quarterback could hurt his production.
The defense also needs to improve after just a mediocre season last year.
However, even if the Nittany Lions only achieve mediocrity, that is still good enough for a bowl game. Expect Joe Paterno's squad to be bowling once again in 2011.
Purdue Boilermakers: 40 Percent Chance
After underachieving in 2010, a year many experts thought could be a break-out year for the Boilermakers, Purdue finds themselves stuck in rebuilding mode.
With coach Danny Hope firmly on the hot seat, there is a "win now" mentality in West Lafayette. However, with mediocre talent on both sides of the ball, that may not be possible.
The schedule provides some hope; the first three games against Middle Tennessee State, Rice and Southeast Missouri State should be three wins. Plus, the Boilermakers get to play both Minnesota and Indiana.
However, finding a sixth win on that schedule is tough. Could Purdue finally knock off Notre Dame? Could they knock off new "rival" Iowa, which they tend to play well against at home? Those games, among others, present possibilities for the Boilermakers to steal a win.
Reaching a bowl game won't be impossible, but Purdue will likely have to pull of an upset to do so.
Wisconsin Badgers: 95 Percent Chance
With the addition of star quarterback Russell Wilson, Wisconsin looks like the favorite to win the Leaders Division and the Big Ten in 2011.
Wilson joins an outstanding offense that boasts a solid offensive line and outstanding running backs. The defense has question marks, especially in the secondary, but it should be solid as well.
There are questions about how well Wilson can fit into Wisconsin's system, but his arrival undoubtedly makes the Badgers better, especially since quarterback was their biggest question mark this offseason.
While Wisconsin likely won't run away with the conference—no team should this year—it would take a major, major disaster in Madison for the Badgers to be left out of the bowl season.
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