In this slideshow, I'll take a look at how the Big Ten shapes up for 2012. Obviously, there will be a great many changes before August 31, 2012, when Michigan State meets Boise State.
After all, between January, 2011, and September, 2011, Michigan got a new coach, and Ohio State fell to pieces. It is unlikely there will be as much uproar this off-season as last year, but one never knows.
Regarding "key dates on schedule," I listed games that would be imperative for the team in question to reach its goals. Needless to say, Indiana's goals—bowl eligibility, beat Purdue—are considerably different than those of Michigan—conference championship, beat Ohio State, BCS bowl.
In effect, the "key dates" for the teams reflect those teams' goals. In order for a lower-tier team to reach its goals, it has to beat similar teams in its conference, as well as upset a couple of mid-tier teams. Contrarily, in order for an upper-tier team to reach its goals, it has to compete at the highest level with the assumption that it will beat lower-tier teams.
An asterisk (*) next to a players' name means that he was first team all-conference.
Three asterisks (***) means that he was consensus All-American.
A pound symbol (#) means that he is leaving with eligibility remaining.
Finally, in order for a player to be considered a returning "starter," he had to start at least four games. I realize there are players with plenty of experience that haven't started, but as I said, at this point in the year, it is unnecessary to get too in depth.