Big Ten Football: Power Ranking the Best Programs of the 2000s

JA AllenSenior Writer IAugust 18, 2011

Big Ten Football: Power Ranking the Best Programs of the 2000s

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    If you study the past 11 years from 2000-2010, you get a very good idea of which are the top, consistently most winning college football programs in the Big Ten

    Prior to 2011, the Big Ten had 11 football teams competing in the conference with rotating schedules. Each team played eight conference games, which meant two conference foes were not scheduled each year.

    The team that ended with the best conference record won the division. 

    That often proved very unsatisfactory to players, coaches and their fans because multiple teams would end the season with identical win-loss records. The subsequent ties were decided by a combination of factors, but the main one was the head-to-head competition––for purposes of determining the postseason bowl destination of the respective winners.

    There was, however, often an incomplete, unsettled feeling when there was no head-to-head result because the teams in question did not play each other during the season. 

    Last year, for example, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State all ended conference play at 7-1, tying for the Big Ten title. Michigan State beat Wisconsin during the Big Ten season, but did not play Ohio State. Wisconsin beat Ohio State, but lost to Michigan State. Michigan State, on the other hand, lost to Iowa.

    The feeling of many in the Big Ten was that pollsters and others may have penalized the Spartans for not playing Ohio State. The conference schedule, however, was simply out of the control of the Spartans. Ultimately, Wisconsin got to play in the Rose Bowl and Ohio State, the Sugar Bowl, while Michigan State ended up in the Capital One Bowl.

    That situation should not resurface because in 2011, the Nebraska Cornhuskers become members of the Big Ten Conference. With the separation of the 12 teams into two divisions, the "Legends" and the "Leaders," a true Big Ten champion will emerge at the conclusion of the season in December. 

    Who has the best shot to win it all?  No one really knows at this point. But take a look back at 2000-2011 conference competition and see whether it is likely that the past leaders will continue to dominate. 

    Perhaps the new format, along with the addition of the Cornhuskers in the Big Ten lineup, will change the pecking order of the traditional power brokers on the gridiron.

12. The Indiana Hoosiers: 21.6 Conference Winning Percentage

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    Whew!  Indiana has to be the toughest coaching assignment in college football. For new head coach Kevin Wilson, the task to merely produce a winning season will be monumental. 

    Indiana has not had a winning season since the yearly odometer turned over 2000, and in the past 11 years, Indiana has not had a winning season in conference play. 

    The Hoosiers did go 4-4 in 2001, but ended the year overall at 5-6. In 2007, Indiana closed out the year nudging over the 50 percent mark at 7-6. 

    Their record over the last 11 football seasons was 19-69 (Big Ten), 44-85 overall. The Hoosiers' conference winning percentage rested at 21.6 percent, while their overall winning percentage was 34.1.

    These are not numbers to write home about. 

    The good thing for Wilson, as he takes over the reins at Indiana after serving as offensive coordinator for the Oklahoma Sooners, is that there is no place to go other than up. You cannot sink any lower on the college football meter.

    Bill Lynch left some talent behind, and there will be much effort expended trying to rebuild from the ground up—but do not expect much to happen in Year 1 of the Kevin Wilson era,

11. The Illinois Fighting Illini: 34.0 Conference Winning Percentage

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    Because Illinois ended the year with a 7-6 record, Ron Zook received a reprieve. 

    Illinois had one of their better seasons in the past few years in 2010; therefore, there is much hope and expectation as the 2011 season gets ready to roll.

    But that also means there is no room to slide back. Zook and his coaches must continue to move the program forward. 

    In terms of Big Ten Conference play, Illinois has had two winning seasons since the year 2000, once in 2001 and again in 2007. 

    The Illini finished even-up (4-4) twice in conference play, once in 2002 and again last year when the Fighting Illini managed to win their bowl game, closing the season with an overall winning record.

    In the past 11 seasons, the Illini have recorded a 30-58 (Big Ten), 52-79 record. Their winning percentage was 34 percent in the Big Ten and 39.7 overall. 

    During those years, the Illini suffered through seven losing seasons.

    Illinois returns seasoned quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who promises to be even better in 2011.

    In addition, the Illini are returning seven starters on offense and six on defense, plus kicker Derek Dimke. With a decent schedule, the Illini should continue to improve in 2011.

10. The Minnesota Gophers: 36.4 Conference Winning Percentage

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    The task ahead of new Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill is as monumental as that of Kevin Wilson at Indiana. 

    There is nothing left at Minnesota but a program in shambles. There is, however, a deep-seated faith in all associated with Minnesota athletics that Kill can do the job. 

    His first task, of course, is to build a rock-solid defense. That will not happen overnight and, for once, no one expects it to.

    Kill has made everyone understand that winning will take time.

    Like Indiana, Minnesota really cannot sink much lower, but this program has had a few more successes in the past 11 years than the Hoosiers.

    Although the Gophers suffered through eight losing seasons in Big Ten Conference play, Minnesota enjoyed their best year in 2003, going 5-3 (Big Ten) and 10-3 overall. 

    The Gophers also went 4-4 (Big Ten) twice––once in 2000, ending the year at 6-5, and again in 2005, earning an overall record of 7-5. 

    Still, Minnesota compiled a 32-56 (Big Ten), 65-70 overall record in the years 2000-2010. The Gophers' winning percentage in the Big Ten was 36.4 and, overall, Minnesota earned a 48.1 winning percentage.

    The Gophers return five starters on offense and five on defense, as well as a huge deficit in the kicking game for 2011. It promises to be a long year for Minnesota, but a very interesting one.

9. The Michigan State Spartans: 44.3 Conference Winning Percentage

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    Michigan State's rebuilding program under Mark Dantonio has produced sterling results in his first four years as the Spartans' head coach.

    Michigan State went 7-1 in the Big Ten in 2010, finishing their season at 11-2. Their ugly loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl was the only real blemish on their season. 

    2011 offers a more challenging schedule for the Spartans with away games at Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa. Chances are Michigan State will not escape without at least three losses on the season.

    To arrive at their lofty standings at the end of 2010, however, the Spartans had to undergo some horrific seasons during the past 11 years.

    Michigan State compiled a 39-49 (Big Ten), 71-64 (overall) win-loss record during the years 2000-2010.  The Spartans' winning percentage was 44.3 percent in the Big Ten and 52.6 percent overall. 

    Michigan State had six losing seasons in Big Ten Conference play. In 2003, 2008 and 2010, the Spartans outplayed their Big Ten competition, ending with winning records in the conference. In 2004 and 2009, Michigan State ended conference play at 4-4, but still ended with overall losing records.

    The Spartans return quarterback Kirk Cousins, as well as five other offensive returning starters and six returning starters on defense. They will be back in contention in the "Legends" Division in 2011. 

8. The Northwestern Wildcats: 46.6 Conference Winning Percentage

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    Everyone involved with Northwestern football breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was clear that Dan Persa would be rejoining the Wildcat football team for the 2011 season.

    Persa is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and the Wildcats will need his help to take them to the top of the Big Ten where they feel they belong.

    Last year after Persa went out after the Iowa game, the Wildcats lost their last three games.

    Behind the leadership of coach Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern has remained competitive, but they wish to take their football program to the next step.  

    From 2000-2010, the Wildcats had five winning Big Ten seasons in 2000, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009.  They also compiled a 4-4 season in 2003. During this same period of time, the Wildcats also had five losing seasons.

    Northwestern's win-loss record was 41-47 (Big Ten), 68-66 overall for the past 11 seasons. Its winning percentage in the Big Ten from 2000-2010 was 46.6 and 50.7 percent overall.

    In addition to Persa, Northwestern returns seven starters on offense and six players on defense. The Wildcats cannot sneak up on anyone any longer; this year they will have to earn their spot in postseason play.

7. The Purdue Boilermakers: 48.9 Conference Winning Percentage

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    Purdue almost had to field the Boiler marching band to fill out their roster last season. The team was riddled with injuries in 2010, taking out one key offensive player after another.

    The good thing that came from the injuries was that their younger, less-learned replacements were able to gain some valuable experience. This will bring these players into 2011 more able to add productive playing time. The injured players will return to the lineup in 2011 with experienced backups playing behind them.

    Purdue is confident that their 2011 season will be a vast improvement over 2010. 

    During the years from 2000-2010, the Boilermakers had three conference winning seasons in 2000, 2003 and 2006.  Purdue also compiled 4-4 break-even seasons in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2009. During this same period of time, the Boilermakers endured four losing seasons.

    Purdue's win-loss record was 43-45 (Big Ten), 71-64 overall for the past 11 seasons. Its winning percentage in the Big Ten from 2000-2010 was 48.9 and 52.6 percent overall.

    Purdue looks to start the season strong, but the end of the season looks particularly bruising for the Boilermakers.

6. The Penn State Nittany Lions: 55.7 Conference Winning Percentage

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    Every year, speculation about Joe Paterno's tenure surfaces as part of the upcoming season's projections. After last season's lackluster performances, the Nittany Lions will be looking to make vast improvements in 2011.

    The first order of business will be settling the starting quarterback issue between potential starters Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin.

    As is true in all years, there are positives to build on and negatives to overcome.

    During the years from 2000-2010, the Nittany Lions had five outright winning Big Ten seasons in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009.

    Penn State also compiled 4-4 break-even seasons in 2000, 2001, 2007 and 2010. During this same period of time, the Nittany Lions also had back-to-back losing seasons in 2003 and 2004.

    Penn State's win-loss record was 49-39 (Big Ten), 83-54 overall for the past 11 seasons. The Nittany Lions' winning percentage in the Big Ten, from 2000-2010, was 55.7 and 60.6 percent overall.

    Assuming the quarterback issue is resolved early on and the defense proves to be as intense as projected, Penn State could have a good year even though their schedule late in the season is a nightmare, ending with Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Ouch.

5. The Wisconsin Badgers: 57.9 Conference Winning Percentage

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    The Wisconsin Badgers have been hot, hot, hot during the past two seasons, coming in with double-digit wins.

    This year, however, Wisconsin will start the season without quality, seasoned quarterback Scott Tolzien, as well as defensive end J.J Watt and tight end Lance Kendricks. Replacing these stalwarts will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

    The Badgers' last five seasons have been impressive. 2011 may be a bit less, but not by much. The Badgers must play Michigan State and Ohio State on the road. They will also welcome Nebraska into Madison for their first Big Ten game of the season.

    From 2000-2010, the Badgers had six outright winning Big Ten seasons in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. Wisconsin also had 4-4 break-even seasons in 2000 and 2003. During this same period of time, the Badgers also had three losing seasons in 2001, 2002 and 2008.

    Wisconsin's win-loss record was 51-37 (Big Ten) and 92-47 overall for the past 11 seasons; therefore the Badgers' winning percentage in the Big Ten was 57.9 and 66.2 percent overall.

    Certainly their last five years were better overall than their first six, and there is no reason to expect the Badgers to slip back in 2011. 

    In fact, they have a real shot to finish at the top of the "Leaders" Division, especially if Ohio State fails to make the grade.

3. The Nebraska Cornhuskers: 59.6 Conference Winning Percentage

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    It will be impossible to truly fit the Nebraska Cornhuskers into this listing because, of course, while all the other teams have played each other for the past 11 years, Nebraska played their conference games with teams in the Big 12.

    Still, looking at their record of conference play, you can make the case that the level of their competition is comparable to that in the Big Ten. Therefore, we will bring them in tied with Iowa for the No. 3 spot based on their conference winning percentage.

    Entering the Big Ten will be a challenge during their inaugural year because the Cornhuskers are not accustomed to the various Big Ten stadiums or the teams and players they will be facing in 2011.

    The Cornhuskers' last three seasons have been good ones, as they won 10 games each year from 2008-2010. They have appeared in the last two Big 12 Championship games as well.

    Nebraska has a rough year ahead with games at Wisconsin, at Penn State and at Michigan, while they welcome Ohio State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa into Lincoln.

    From 2000-2010, the Cornhuskers had seven outright winning conference seasons with one 4-4 break-even season in 2005. During this same period of time, Nebraska also had three losing seasons in 2002, 2004 and 2007.

    The Cornhuskers' win-loss record was 53-36 (Big 12) and 95-48 overall for the past 11 seasons. Nebraska's winning percentage in the Big 12 from 2000-2010 was 59.6 and 66.4 percent overall.

    It will be a trial by fire for Nebraska this year, but many expect the Cornhuskers to win the "Legends" Division.

3. The Iowa Hawkeyes: 60.2 Conference Winning Percentage

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    Iowa lost its three-year starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi, as well as a chunk of the defensive line, safety Tyler Sash and linebacker Jeremiah Hunter.

    After a disappointing 2010 season, Iowa will be happy to get back to the business of playing football rather than dealing with all the offseason distractions that seemed to come its way in 2011.

    New Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg will hope to settle into the pocket behind an experienced offensive line, aided in the backfield by running back Marcus Coker and wide receiver Marvin McNutt.

    During 2000-2010, the Hawkeyes had six outright winning conference seasons with three 4-4 break-even seasons in 2001, 2007 and 2010. During this same period of time, Iowa also had two losing seasons in 2000 and 2006.

    The Hawkeyes' win-loss record was 53-35 (Big Ten) and 88-50 overall for the past 11 seasons, therefore Iowa's winning percentage in the Big Ten was 60.2 and 63.8 percent overall.

    Iowa has a decent schedule in 2011 with no Wisconsin or Ohio State on the schedule, but the Hawkeyes must travel to Penn State and Nebraska. Still, their slate of games could have been much more taxing. 

    Iowa will not be on anyone's radar in the 2011. They are not expected to win, but that is usually when they do their best work.

2. The Michigan Wolverines: 63.6 Conference Winning Percentage

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    The Wolverines fell on harder times around 2005, but more so in 2008 when they went 2-6 in the conference. This losing status was unacceptable to the Michigan faithful and to the university. 

    Rich Rodriquez's spread offense that gave Denard Robinson a great stage upon which to perform will become history under Brady Hoke.

    Hoke will, however, utilize the running ability of his talented quarterback as much as the pro-style offense will provide. Allowances will be made for Robinson, who dominated Michigan's offense in 2010.

    First and foremost, the work that needs to be done at Michigan is on defense. The Wolverines have allowed opponents to run over them for the past three years—that must end.

    From 2000-2010, the Wolverines produced eight winning conference seasons. During this same period of time, Michigan also had three losing seasons of conference play in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

    The Wolverines' win-loss record was 56-32 (Big Ten) and 87-48 overall for the past 11 seasons, with a winning percentage of 63.6 in the Big Ten and 64.4 percent overall.

    Michigan will be rebuilding, but at the same time, they must meet some stiff competition––most of it at home in 2011. The Wolverines will welcome Notre Dame for a night game, as well as Purdue, Nebraska and Ohio State, while they must travel to Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois.

    Michigan should hope to break even in the Big Ten in 2011.

1. The Ohio State Buckeyes: 80.7 Conference Winning Percentage

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    There is no team in the Big Ten even close to equaling what Ohio State has accomplished since the year 2000. 

    The Buckeyes had two perfect seasons (8-0) in Big Ten conference play in 2002 and 2006. In fact, they were ended 2002 undefeated at 14-0 and have a National Championship to show for their efforts. 

    During those years from 2000-2010, Ohio State compiled 10 winning seasons of conference play. For the 11th season of that span, the Buckeyes broke even at 4-4 in 2004 with no losing seasons during 2000-2010.

    Ohio State's win-loss record was 71-17 (Big Ten), 114-24 overall for the past 11 seasons. The Buckeyes' winning percentage in the Big Ten from 2000-2010 was 80.7 and 82.6 percent overall.

    The only insurmountable problems the Buckeyes faced came during this offseason when five players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were suspended for five games for violation of NCAA rules. This debacle eventually led to the resignation of coach Jim Tressel and the departure of Pryor.

    With bad press, a new coach and much uncertainty, there is a chink in the Buckeye armor for 2011. Nothing is certain at this point.

    Ohio State must travel to Nebraska and Michigan. In Columbus, they must play rivals Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State. A new coaching staff under Luke Fickell must lead the way and make sure winning remains a tradition at Ohio State.