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College Football Predictions 2011: 10 Bold Big Ten Predictions

Joe PetruloCorrespondent IIIJuly 20, 2011

College Football Predictions 2011: 10 Bold Big Ten Predictions

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    The Big Ten will be filled with intriguing storylines and great teams in 2011.

    Whether it is the uprising of a lowly program or the controversy surrounding Ohio State, this season will be filled with action.

    There will be a number of individuals primed to make a national impact and many teams that will look to improve on their 2010 campaigns.

    Let's take a look at 10 bold predictions for the Big Ten in 2011.

10. The Northwestern Wildcats Will Win 8 Games

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    The Northwestern Wildcats have struggled to get back to relevance in recent years.

    Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has gotten them back into bowl contention seemingly every year.

    Still, they need to look to take the next step and win more than six games in the regular season.

    This season, they avoid both the Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers on the schedule.

    Although the team will face a somewhat difficult non-conference schedule that includes an opening game at Boston College, this may be the year that Northwestern becomes a contender in the Big Ten.

    The schedule may allow them to win eight games in 2011.

9. Da'Jon McKnight Will Be a Top 5 Receiver in the Big Ten

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    The Minnesota Golden Gophers may have a gem in wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight.

    McKnight made most of the offense's big plays through the air last season. This year, he will be MarQueis Gray's main target on Saturdays.

    Last year, Gray started opposite McKnight at wide receiver. This year, he gets his chance to be a starting quarterback.

    He may struggle early on, but as the season wears on, he and McKnight will establish on-field chemistry that matches their current off-field chemistry.

    McKnight will be a top five receiver in 2011 because of his talent and his team.

    The Golden Gophers will likely struggle to win games, meaning they may be trying to get back in games through air quite often.

    McKnight could be primed for an extraordinary season in 2011.

8. Michigan State Will Contend for Another Big Ten Title

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    The Michigan State Spartans had a historic season in 2010, winning a share of the Big Ten title.

    Their 11-1 regular season record was a shock to most, and a repeat of that record this season might be even more surprising.

    This team has a very difficult schedule that includes games at Ohio State, Nebraska, and Notre Dame.

    Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins is turning into one of the best quarterbacks in the conference.

    Still, some question the overall talent level of this team.

    When Alabama ripped the Spartans in the Outback Bowl last season, it raised questions about the legitimacy of last year's run.

    This team returns most of its key players, including running back Edwin Baker and standout free safety Trenton Robinson.

    Despite the brutal ending to 2010, look for the Spartans to win some big games and be in the Big Ten title picture with a few weeks left in the season.

7. Russell Wilson Will Be in the Running for All-Conference Team Honors

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    Russell Wilson, the former North Carolina State standout quarterback, will be the leader of the Wisconsin Badgers offense in 2011.

    He brings three years of experience with him that include statistics that have Badgers fans excited.

    In a remarkable freshman campaign in 2008, he threw 17 touchdowns to only one interception. As a sophomore, he surpassed 3,000 passing yards and threw 31 touchdowns to only 11 interceptions. Last season, he found team success with a 9-4 record and developed as a passer, throwing 527 times which added up to 3,563 yards and 28 touchdowns.

    Those are just his passing numbers.

    He is also a great athlete.

    If Wisconsin can incorporate him into their lethal running attack, along with his great passing skills, this guy is sure to produce eye-popping numbers in the Big Ten.

    These numbers and team success may put him on an All-Conference Team in his first and what will be his only season playing in the Big Ten.

6. The Penn State Nittany Lions Will Win 6 Games

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    The Penn State Nittany Lions football program have been the model of consistency during Joe Paterno's tenure.

    Still, the talent level has slowly been dropping in recent years.

    Last year, the team's conference wins cam against Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Indiana. These teams don't exactly represent the cream of the crop in the conference. Plus, the Nittany Lions went 0-4 against teams in the top 25.

    Penn State could very well go 2-2 in the non-conference with games against the Alabama Crimson Tide and on the road against the Temple Owls, who gave them trouble last season.

    Then, the conference schedule hits, which ends with a death trap of Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.

    It is very possible that this team could only win three conference games and miss bowl contention.

    Despite the fact that the team returns 16 starters, the talent is not there.

    Penn State will not make a bowl game in 2011. 

5. MarQueis Gray Will Turn into One of the Best Quarterbacks in the Big Ten

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    MarQueis Gray is the most talented player to put on the maroon and gold for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a very long time.

    Whether he converts on that talent is another question.

    He sat behind Adam Weber for two years during the Tim Brewster era, and became a full-time starter at wide receiver last season. It was difficult for the coaching staff to leave him off the field.

    Still, the stint at wide receiver may have hurt his development at quarterback a bit. 

    Nonetheless, after he adjusts to the speed of the game from the quarterback perspective, he will bloom.

    Gray is a physical presence that will be a running quarterback that can stay in the pocket and fire every throw as well.

    He may have an adjustment period during the first half of the season, but once does, he will be considered one of the most difficult quarterbacks to prepare for in the Big Ten.

4. Iowa Will Not Take a Step Back

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    On paper, the Iowa Hawkeyes appear to have every reason to take a step back in 2011.

    They return only five starters on each side of the ball.

    They had to deal with controversy that may still linger around the program.

    They lose Ricky Stanzi, their quarterback and leader for 3 years.

    Still, this team will be able to manage a decent 2011 campaign.

    Why?

    Iowa's schedule is one of the easier ones in the Big Ten. They do not have to play Ohio State or Wisconsin, and their most difficult non-conference game is at home against Pittsburgh.

    The Hawkeyes still have some talent on the roster in the form of All-Conference selections like wide receiver Marvin McNutt, offensive tackle Riley Reiff, and cornerback Shaun Prater.

    Iowa will have enough to get to a decent bowl and salvage what everyone expects to be a lost season.

3. Nebraska Will Struggle in the Big Ten

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    It seems as if the majority of the Nebraska Cornhuskers community believes that the Big Ten will be no challenge for their team.

    They are most definitely mistaken.

    The Big Ten is no longer filled with the best teams in the country year in and year out.

    Still, they produce a number of solid teams that tend to perform well in BCS bowl games each year.

    Nebraska will find tough sledding in their first season as a part of the Big Ten.

    There may be games that prove the speed of the former Big 12 team beats the physical nature of Big Ten teams.

    Nonetheless, the Cornhuskers will struggle to challenge for a conference title in their first season.. 

2. Denard Robinson Will Finish in the Top 3 in Heisman Voting

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    Last season, Denard Robinson was the Heisman favorite for the first half of the college football season.

    Then, he and his team took a step back and so did the hype from the media.

    This year, the key to Robinson moving up from his sixth place finish in the 2010 voting may be team success.

    The Michigan Wolverines are set to produce a very solid campaign in 2011.

    Robinson loses only one starter from his potent offense of a season ago, and the defense only loses three.

    Most of Michigan's big games are at home, including contests against Ohio State and Nebraska.

    If Robinson and new head coach Brady Hoke can push this team to a solid record, watch for Robinson to earn national respect in the Heisman voting.

1. Ohio State Will Win the Big Ten

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    Despite the controversy surrounding the Ohio State Buckeyes football program, this team is talented enough to win the Big Ten title.

    The Buckeyes always recruit most of the best talent in the Big Ten, so their lack of returning talent is not a large concern.

    Some players may be split on opinions of former head coach Jim Tressel and quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

    Despite this, these players will jump at the chance for unexpected playing time.

    New head coach (for now) Luke Fickell seems like the type of coach that does not take petty excuses for lack of effort.

    If he can instill maturity and discipline in these players as they fight through a fairly easy schedule, this team will win the 2011 Big Ten title.

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