Big Ten

2010-11 NCAA Football Preview: Big Ten

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It is baseball season, but there are plenty of ways to get your fill of football too. Our own Danny Hobrock is on the beat making his way across the College Football landscape exhaustively covering team after team. These previews will get you up to snuff with everything you need to know about the transition to each 2010 team.

Each team preview covers the team's outlook and projection for the 2010 season. We've got in depth coverage of each team's offense, defense and special teams. We'll cover who's in and who's out, and players from true freshmen to four year starters and pro prospects. Finally, we'll look at strategy and style of play on both sides of the ball, as well detailed information about coaches and players.

Today Danny is previewing the Big Ten Conference teams - Ohio State Buckeyes, Iowa Hawkeyes, Wisconsin Badgers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers, Illinois Fighting Illini, and Minnesota Golden Gophers. Clicking on each team's logo will take you right to the team's preview.

Check back often between now and the September 2nd season kick-off as new team previews are going up almost every day. Clicking here or on the NCAA Football in the right sidebar will take you to the page containing all the previews published to date.

  1. Ohio State Buckeyes
  2. Iowa Hawkeyes
  3. Wisconsin Badgers
  4. Penn State Nittany Lions
  5. Michigan State Spartans
  6. Michigan Wolverines
  7. Northwestern Wildcats
  8. Purdue Boilermakers
  9. Indiana Hoosiers
  10. Illinois Fighting Illini
  11. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Ohio State Buckeyes

Big Ten Champions

This is one hell of an Ohio State team. They lose some good defenders, but the core of their defense is back to go along with an offense that loses just one starter. The schedule is built in such a way that if they get by Miami, against whom they'll be favored, they will start the year 6-0 before heading to Madison to take on Wisconsin. The second half of the schedule is tough with road games against three teams that went to a bowl game last year and home games against Purdue, Penn State and Michigan. There is plenty of potential to slip up somewhere in there, or in the second week against Miami, but Ohio State has the inside track to the BCS National Championship Game if they can get by unscathed.

The Buckeyes should know what they're getting on offense with 10 starters returning, but they'll still be looking at Pryor to be more of a leader. He'll throw more, which should take a little pressure off the running game, but whether he is successful in getting teams to respect his deep pass and his mid-range passing game is something we'll have to wait to see. Some questions will have to be answered on defense as well, notably if their safeties can prevent big plays and whether their front seven can get pressure on the quarterback. There aren't a lot of world-class quarterbacks on the schedule, but if the secondary cannot hold their own and the opposing quarterback has time to throw, teams could find a way to exploit this defense. That said, expect another premier effort from this team as a whole.

Iowa Hawkeyes

2nd Big Ten

Iowa has a team that could down anybody that comes their way in 2010. The problem is that if last year is any indication, they're also susceptible to dropping a game against a team they should have no problem handling. There was one such loss last season when Northwestern beat the Hawkeyes 17-10, but Stanzi was injured in that one and had to watch from the sidelines as the Hawkeyes could not find their late game magic. Northern Iowa gave the Hawkeye nation a bit of a scare early on as well. There was also a three point victory over Arkansas State the week after they beat the fifth ranked Nittany Lions and then a couple tight ones against Michigan and Michigan State. If this team is to challenge for the conference title, they'll have to make sure they take care of business against their softer opponents, even if a star player or two is temporarily sidelined.

The November 20 matchup with Ohio State could decide the Big Ten champion this season, although both teams will have to get through Wisconsin and Penn State first. The good news for the Hawkeyes is that they get the Badgers and Nittany Lions at home this year, and won't have to play a de facto Big Ten title game in the 'Shoe. There are no glaring question marks on this team with an offensive line and linebackers corps expected to be just fine after losing some key players, although staying healthy will be key in the backfield as well as for their starting safeties.

Wisconsin Badgers

3rd Big Ten

Nobody should be surprised if the Badgers overtake Iowa for the second spot in the conference, and try not to let your jaw drop too low if they beat out Ohio State for the conference title, but entering the season questions on defense are holding the Badgers back. The defensive tackle position is unproven and the secondary, while they should be good and have the talent to produce, needs to prove they can play at a high level week in and week out.

The running game should be an absolute terror with John Clay, Montee Bell and Zach Brown comprising a deep and talented backfield. The Wisconsin running game could even challenge for one of the top five rushing attacks in the nation. Scott Tolzien should be solid through the air and could be counted among the Big Ten's top passers by the time the season is over.

All that said, though, the month of October should tell us all we need to know about the fate of this Badgers team. With a win against Minnesota on the 9th a strong probability, if this team can win at least two of their three matchups against Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa, Wisconsin should be able to finish second or higher in the conference. If they are unable to do so, they'll likely be looking at third in the division. That's all assuming they don't drop one against Purdue, Indiana or Michigan and can get by Northwestern at the end of the year.

Penn State Nittany Lions

4th Big Ten

The Nittany Lions get the champions of the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and the entire friggin' nation this year, and they have to play them all in unfriendly territory. Assume those are all losses for a minute, and we're still looking at a 9-3 season with a jump to the double-digits if they can grab their bowl game. Nab either the Iowa or Ohio State game and the Nittany Lions could be in contention for the Big Ten crown. In such a top-heavy conference, Ohio State is the favorite, but the top spot could realistically go to the Buckeyes, Hawkeyes, Badgers or Nittany Lions.

If Kevin Newsome or Matt McGloin can come in and be successful at the most important position on the field, this could be a whole different ballgame. The offense won't be one-dimensional, but Penn State will rely heavily on Evan Royster and the running game against some pretty tough Big Ten defenses if the quarterbacks can't find their groove by the time they enter conference play against Iowa. Royster is a stud, but the line needs to do a better job at opening holes in matchups against Ohio State and Iowa-two teams with some pretty impressive front sevens to say the least. Two losses in this conference will likely push them out of contention.

Linebacker U will replace all three linebackers, and while the talent is there, as it almost always is, the transition at all three positions on the second line of defense could be a hiccup for this team in the early part of the season when they take on Alabama and Iowa. The defensive line should be outstanding, however.

And don't forget, wins over Michigan, Northwestern and Michigan State is no guarantee.

Michigan State Spartans

5th Big Ten

After a tumultuous ending to the 2009 season that will be remembered for an off-field melee that reportedly involved several members of the football team, the Spartans enter 2010 with high aspirations. Nobody at Michigan State will be content settling for fifth place in a conference that includes a couple of teams that could be a little more beatable than some seem to think. Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State mark the Spartans' marquee conference matchups in the upcoming season. They lucked out in missing Ohio State and if they can find a way to grab one, or more, of these bigger games, they'll be in excellent shape and could actually finish in the top three in the Big Ten.

That said, despite an offense that features plenty of depth at the skill positions and a defense that includes arguably the best defender in college football, and despite the fact that the Spartans can beat most of their opponents in October and November, there is still the chance they drop a couple key conference matchups against Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue. Combine that with matchups against favored Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State and the Spartans have their work cut out for them if they want to break into the top of this top-heavy conference.

Michigan Wolverines

6th Big Ten

The biggest battle to watch is obviously that for the starting quarterback spot. We may not know the starter until just before the season, but whoever it is will be looked to for consistency, something the Wolverines lacked at the position on several occasions in the second half of the season last year. Once they get it sorted out, they'll be ready to move forward with some talent at the skill positions and a solid offensive line. On defense, the Wolverines need a playmaker to emerge, especially in the secondary and pass rush. The 3-3-5 alignment allows the defense to take advantage of depth in the secondary, as well as their versatile athletes who can step up as linebacker/safety hybrids and end/linebacker hybrids.

The Wolverines have a realistic shot at starting 6-0 if they can get by Connecticut in the opener and then Notre Dame the following week and Michigan State on October 9. Then comes Iowa at home and Penn State away before closing with Wisconsin (home) and Ohio State (away). At first glance, the Wolverines could again find themselves in another late season slide that could ultimately cost Rich Rodriguez his job.

Northwestern Wildcats

7th Big Ten

Plain and simple: this team needs to be able to run the ball. Dan Persa is no Mike Kafka through the air, but is a dual threat quarterback who can be effective in the short- to mid-range passing game. If the offensive line can protect him and open up lanes for the slew of running backs expected to get carries this season, the offense should be in pretty good shape. They can't afford to rely on Persa to throw 78 passes for 500+ yards the way Kafka did in the overtime loss to Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Meanwhile, the defense needs to avoid giving up big points to the opposition. They finished around the middle of the pack in the nation and in their conference in terms of scoring defense, but letting up over 30 points in five games (four of them losses) needs to change. Considering the Wildcats lost just five games in 2009, keeping opposing offenses off the scoreboard is essential, especially because the Wildcats hope to establish a running game with Persa under center instead of relying solely on the pass to get it done.

Purdue Boilermakers

8th Big Ten

There are ten games this season in which Purdue will be either favored or will have a very good shot at winning. They miss Iowa and Penn State, with only the matchups against Wisconsin and Ohio State considered far shots. Nonetheless, the Big Ten is a pretty tight conference in the middle with Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue likely occupying the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth spots in the conference. How they finish is up for debate.

If Robert Marve or Caleb TerBrush turns out to be a consistent threat under center, this offense is in for a good season. They'll have the weapons around them to make plays, especially if Al-Terek McBurse can step up as a featured back, giving this offense the ability to put up some points. They may need to if the inexperienced secondary does not gel quickly. Combine questions in the defensive backfield with a suspect run defense, although that will hopefully see improvement, and what should be a good defense with an experienced front seven becomes more of an issue than many realize.

Indiana Hoosiers

9th Big Ten

Could Indiana be the next team to frustrate its fans by putting up 40 points a game only to give up a few more to the other team? With a talented quarterback and a deep receivers corps, as well as a solid offensive line to give Chappell time to throw, this could develop into a high-flying kind of offense. Look for the defense to assume a more aggressive style of play, but with only four returning starters and unproven promise rife on this unit, it's hard to say whether the Hoosiers will succeed in keeping points off the board.

Indiana will measure success this season by whether they make it to the bowl season. To get to the six wins required for bowl eligibility, they'll have to get through Towson, Western Kentucky, Akron and Arkansas State on the out of conference schedule...not exactly an insurmountable feat. That leaves just two in-conference game's they'll have to win. It may sound odd, but one of their best opportunities will come against Michigan, a team that has dominated the Hoosiers and one of the most storied programs in the nation. The Wolverines haven't been anything special of late, finishing 10th and tied for last in conference in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Other opportunities to grab a conference win will come against Illinois, Northwestern (games against the Wildcats have been close since '02) and Purdue, although the Hoosiers have seen just limited success of late against the in-state and conference rival Boilermakers.

Illinois Fighting Illini

10th Big Ten Conference

With the new Bandit position in Champaign, the defense will be more aggressive and will likely see some improvement over last season's abysmal performance. Still, if they cannot force a few more interceptions and be more disruptive in the passing game, the Illini could again struggle to keep opponents off the board (they ranked 96th in scoring defense in 2009).

The key to success on the offensive side of the ball will be how quickly Scheelhaase becomes acclimated to the offense and the college game in general. He'll have a talented backfield that, combined with his own efforts and those of the offensive line, will make for a formidable running game.

While a run at a Big Ten title is pretty much out of the question, and despite losing arguably their top-tier talent in quarterback Juice Williams and wide receiver Arrelious Benn, the Illini could find themselves in the middle of the conference and in a bowl game come season's end if things go their way and they're able to put it all together before they reach conference play. That said, it's hard to see much of an improvement for a team with unproven potential at several positions and considering the unfulfilled expectations from last season.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

11th Big Ten Conference

While offensive game plans are bound to change in some form or another throughout the season, and they very well may with a talented passer in Adam Weber under center, the Gophers appear to be embracing the power running model heading into the season. That's not to say that Weber won't be able to spread the ball around and even improve on last year's passing numbers, but when you finish dead last in rushing in your conference the previous season, you tend to want to place emphasis on getting the ground game working to, if nothing else, free up the passing game a little bit.

The defense enters the season with tons of questions. Will the safeties be ready to go? Will the JUCO transfers contribute in the defensive backfield right away? Will Gary Tinsley be available to start at middle linebacker? Only the defensive line seems steady heading into the season with a solid, albeit inexperienced, starting bunch and a few freshmen who could work their way into the rotation. Whatever ends up happening with this defense, they'll have to find a way to put a halt to the rough and tumble offenses in the Big Ten.

There's reason to be optimistic for the future of Minnesota football with a bunch of talented freshmen joining the team on both sides of the ball and a couple of fairly highly ranked recruiting classes from 2008 and 2009 (17, 39) taking over starting spots, but as far as 2010 goes, the Golden Gophers may be relegated to the bottom of the conference with another tough conference schedule in the second half of the season. - Danny Hobrock

Danny Hobrock is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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