College Football 2011: Power Ranking Top 10 Stars in New-Look Big Ten
One of the most intriguing stories in the 2011 college football season is the new-look Big Ten.
With the addition of Nebraska, there are enough teams for a conference championship game, adding a huge wrinkle to the 2011 season. There are a lot of high-profile teams out there, and even bigger stars ready to shine in an effort to lead their program to the Rose Bowl and beyond.
Inside, we'll be looking at the 10 biggest names in the Big Ten as we head into the season. If you have any thoughts, make sure to leave them in the comments below, with who you think is going to make the biggest impact in the conference and who will play in the Big Ten's first title game.
No. 10: Robert Bolden, QB, Penn State
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Robert Bolden may not be the most accomplished player on this list, but there is no doubt that all eyes will be on him in Happy Valley.
Last year, he was thrown into the fire as a freshman, and he failed to live up to expectations, struggling to find his groove as a passer and eventually giving way to Matt McGloin when the young signal caller suffered a concussion. Despite rumors of a possible transfer, Bolden is back in camp and looking to lead Penn State back to the promised land.
There is no denying his raw physical talents, and if he can put it all together, he can get Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions back to the bright lights of college football.
No. 9: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
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It will be his first season in the Big Ten, but Taylor Martinez is going to be under pressure to take Nebraska to the conference championship game and beyond.
The young quarterback showed flashes of brilliance, but was terrible at protecting the ball. Martinez made a habit of throwing terrible interceptions and fumbling the ball during his breathtaking runs. There is no doubt that the scrambling signal caller has the ability to put it all together, but until he limits his turnovers, Martinez and the Cornhuskers will fall short of their goals.
You can dismiss Martinez's errors to a lack of experience, but if they continue next season, you have to start worrying about his ability to lead a team.
No. 8: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
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Last year, A.J. Jenkins broke out in a big way, and now, it's time for him to take it to another level.
Jenkins emerged as one of the top targets in the Illinois offense, grabbing 56 passes for 746 yards and seven touchdowns. It was by far the best stats of anyone in the Illini receiving corps, and if Illinois is going to make noise in the Big Ten, he is going to have to replicate his 2010 production, and exceed it.
The explosive wideout is going to be one of the players to watch, as he teams up with the next member on our list.
No. 7: Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois
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When you explode on the national stage as a freshman, there is going to be a lot of buzz about your sophomore campaign.
Nathan Scheehaase stepped under center for Illinois and led the team to a 7-6 record. Scheelhaase threw for 1825 yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions, as the Illini ended the season with a win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl. For a freshman, it was an impressive feat and gave plenty of fans hope for the future.
With A.J. Jenkins serving as a top target in the passing game, Scheelhaase has the potential to take the Big Ten by storm and challenge some of the conference's top contenders on a weekly basis.
No. 6: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
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When Michigan State was dissected by Alabama, it left a bitter taste in Kirk Cousins' mouth.
The Spartans had so much success in 2010 and flirted with greatness, something the program has failed to find in so very long. Cousins was key in Michigan State's success, and if he and his team are going to get back to the top of the Big Ten, he is going to have to come up clutch.
There is a lot of competition within the conference, and there will be a lot of doubters who write the Spartans' 2010 success off as nothing more than a fluke, but if anyone on that roster can prove them wrong, it's Cousins. If he fails under center, the team fails, and that dynamic makes Cousins a player to watch in 2011.
No. 5: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
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Ricky Stanzi may be gone, but Marvin McNutt is still with Iowa, and he remains one of the most dangerous wide receivers in all of the Big Ten.
Last year, McNutt grabbed 53 passes for 861 yards and eight touchdowns. Needless to say, that's the type of numbers the Hawkeyes are going to need, if not more, if they want to compete for glory within the conference. Iowa is a program in transition, and one of the few things it has to rely on is their star wideout's production.
McNutt has NFL aspirations, and if he's going to make an impression on pro scouts, he's going to have to turn in an impressive 2011 campaign. It may not be easy with a change at the quarterback position, but with that type of talent, he should make things very easy for his signal caller.
No. 4: Dan Persa, QB, Northwestern
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Northwestern is already starting the Heisman Trophy campaign for Dan Persa, so obviously, the quarterback has high hopes for his 2011 campaign.
Persa exploded onto the scene in 2010, but a devastating injury shortened his season, delivering a crippling blow to Northwestern's hopes as the Wildcats stumbled to finish the season. We have seen that the quarterback has the ability to be truly dominant, tossing 15 touchdowns to four interceptions, and if he improves upon that, opposing defenses are going to have a heck of a time trying to stop him.
The Wildcats might not be getting the headlines of other Big Ten powers, but if he continues to play like he did last season, more people are going to catch on to how talented he is.
No. 3: Dan Herron, RB, Ohio State
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He may be suspended to start the season, but Dan Herron is a guy who has a lot to prove in 2011.
Herron will be the star of the show once he returns from his suspension and with Terrelle Pryor gone, the Buckeyes will want to rely on the running back's prowess to get them by some of the biggest opponents in the Big Ten. With the character concerns flying around him coming into this season, Herron will have to step up and prove that he is worth the risk for an NFL team.
Few things are as dangerous as a desperate player, and Herron is as desperate as it gets heading into the 2011 season.
No. 2: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
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When Russell Wilson transferred to Wisconsin, it created a whole new wrinkle of intrigue for the 2011 season, and he is going to be one of the must-see players in the Big Ten.
Wilson is coming over from NC State, and there is going to be a lot of pressure on him to keep the good times rolling in Madison, where they are celebrating a Big Ten championship. The Badgers have a truly talented signal caller, and he has the potential to get Wisconsin back to the Rose Bowl.
Only time will tell how great he will be, but his transfer created headlines around the country, and all eyes will be on him from day one.
No. 1: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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It may not always be pretty, but when Denard Robinson is on the field, you can't help but be entertained.
The dynamic Michigan quarterback became an overnight sensation last season, and while he failed to stay healthy and consistent, the signs of his true talent were there. There is a new regime in Ann Arbor, and it will be interesting to see how Brady Hoke uses Robinson's physical gifts, which could change the Wolverines' fortunes in the Big Ten.
If Robinson can stay healthy and improve his play against the best teams in the conference, last year's Heisman hype can become reality.