With Big Ten media days kicking off in a week, fall is quickly approaching and so is college football season.
After a wild 2010 season that saw a three-way tie atop the conference standings, 2011 figures to be just as exciting, even with the departure of some top players.
The league has incurred a lot of offseason drama, from Ohio State's scandal to Iowa's rhabdomyolysis incident and has also welcomed top players, such as Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, over the winter.
Let's take a look at the conference outlook heading into 2011.
Wisconsin is an obvious choice for favorite, as the Badgers shared the Big Ten title last season and represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.
They return the league's top group of running backs, and, as always, a top offensive line. The addition of quarterback Russell Wilson will also help, as quarterback was the Badgers' biggest weakness heading into 2011, although it remains to be seen how well he can fit into coach Bret Bielema's system.
Nebraska seems to the be other main choice for favorite in its first year in the Big Ten.
The Cornhuskers are led by an elite defense that could end up being one of the best in the conference. However, they must be more consistent on offense and also have one of the most brutal schedules in the league.
As last year certainly proved, favorites don't always turn out as planned. However, there is a possibility that the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game could pit both "Big Reds."
This group contains two of the favorites from last season, both of which have been under a lot of scrutiny in the past year.
Ohio State went from sure favorite to an unknown after it was announced that the "tattoo five" would be suspended for the first five games. Now it is even more of an unknown with the departure of star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and coach Jim Tressel. Other top players, such as Dan Herron and DeVier Posey, are still suspended for the first five games.
This could be a rough year for the Buckeyes, but this is also still Ohio State, and it would be crazy to write off the Buckeyes just yet.
Like OSU, Iowa was considered a Big Ten favorite last year but struggled in close games and ended the regular season on a three-game losing streak.
Now, with many top players gone, Iowa is in the shadows once again. However, it will have arguably the best offensive line in the conference, a talented young quarterback and a budding star at running back in Marcus Coker.
With a very easy schedule, the Hawkeyes could surprise a lot of people in 2011.
The last sleeper, Northwestern, seems to always play this role but can't get over the hump. However, thanks to a very easy schedule and the return of star quarterback Dan Persa, this could be the year that the Wildcats break through and win a Big Ten title.
Persa finally has a solid supporting cast on offense, and if the defense improves from last year, Northwestern could be in the thick of the Legends Division race in November.
After a miserable stretch during the Rich Rodriguez era, Michigan is back to the drawing board with new coach Brady Hoke.
Hoke is a "Michigan Man" who brings a lot of pride and confidence to the job, which he knows will be a piece of work in his first season.
Hoke's first mission needs to be improving the defense, which was one of the worst in college football over the past few years, and he also needs to find a way to make quarterback Denard Robinson's talent work in his system.
Michigan likely won't be a Big Ten championship contender this season, but Hoke is a solid fit for the program and should return it to Michigan standards within the next few years.
It seems as though Penn State's return to dominance in the last five years is slowly fading away. After a rebuilding season last season, the Nittany Lions are stuck rebuilding even more in 2011.
There is still no answer at quarterback, as neither Rob Bolden nor Matt McGloin was consistent last year. Bolden seems to have more potential but is not confident enough to be the Nittany Lions' signal-caller right now.
With the departure of star running back Evan Royster and an inexperienced offensive line, the eventual starting quarterback will have little help on offense.
The defense will also be very inexperienced after being just average last season, and the schedule is one of the most difficult in the Big Ten.
There is a decent possibility of a 6-6 season or worse in Happy Valley.
After a subpar 2010 season, coach Danny Hope is certainly on the hot seat in 2011.
The defense certainly needs to improve, and the Boilermakers need to learn how to close out games, but thanks to a solid offense and decent schedule, Purdue could be bowling again this season.
The offense should be good again with two experienced quarterbacks in Robert Marve and Rob Henry.
The Boilermakers always seem to have a surprise win in them, and while this is more of a hunch than anything, they could end up making a little bit of noise in the Leaders Division.
They won't win their division, but they could get back into bowl contention.
It's too close to call between these two teams, as both are expected to have very good years but may end up falling short.
Michigan State could end up having one of the best offenses in the country, but that's only if the offensive line improves. Kirk Cousins is one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten and the Spartans will also have a very good group of running backs, but if the line can't come together, the numbers at both of those positions could drop off.
The defense is also very inexperienced, especially in the middle, due to the departure of star linebacker Greg Jones. And with a tough schedule and very high expectations, the Spartans could be a disappointment in 2011, following a very successful 2010.
I am one of the few writers who still isn't sold on Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers are favored by many members of the media, but we still don't know how they will adjust to the Big Ten. The defense is very good—there's no argument there—but the offense was extremely inconsistent last year and will be facing much better defenses this season.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez still needs to get his confidence back from early last season before I can buy into that team.
The schedule is also the toughest in the Big Ten, as the Cornhuskers must play at Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan and play Ohio State, Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan State at home.
Don't be surprised if Nebraska's inaugural season doesn't go as well as many Huskers fans hope (and think) it will.
Dan Persa was Northwestern's team last year. He did it all at quarterback, running and passing and finished first in the FBS in pass completion percentage.
He was also a first team All-Big Ten quarterback.
There's a chance that Persa won't be the same player in 2011, as he is recovering from an ACL, injury, but that recovery seems to be going well.
This year, Persa will have more help at running back, a top receiver in Jeremy Ebert and a much improved and experienced offensive line.
That all sets up for a very strong offensive season and a shot for the Big Ten title.
Crick is one of the best defensive linemen in the country and will likely make every preseason All-American list in 2011.
He will be the best defender on what may end up being the league's top defense and is good against the run and at creating pressure in the pocket.
Some experts think Crick is better than former Nebraska great Ndamukong Suh, and that he could have a better future in the NFL.
Expect Crick to continue to rack up awards in the Big Ten, just like he did in the Big 12.
Wisconsin is the obvious choice from the Leaders Division. Ohio State could come on strong, but the Buckeyes have too many question marks right now and may lose a few games early because of player and staff turnover.
Iowa is the surprise pick here, and I probably have some explaining to do here to Nebraska and Michigan State fans.
However, I see Northwestern, not either of those teams—both of whom I think will "disappoint"—being the Hawkeyes' challenger for the Legends Division title.
Iowa must break in new quarterback James Vandenberg, but he is almost a veteran and has been impressive when given a chance to play. The rest of the offense should help him out a lot as well.
The offensive line should be the best in the Big Ten and running back Marcus Coker proved why he was so highly recruited in high school, putting up 219 yards in the 2010 Insight Bowl against Missouri. Wide receiver Marvin McNutt will also be one of the best in the conference.
The defense has more question marks, especially along the defensive line, but every team in this division has question marks. The secondary and the linebacker corps, should be good and will sneak up on a lot of teams.
And with a very manageable schedule, I expect Iowa to come out of a very close division race with a ticket to Indianapolis.
For this Iowa-Wisconsin, there will be much more than the Heartland Trophy on the line. There will be an outright Big Ten title, a BCS bid and a berth in the Rose Bowl at stake as well.