Yesterday, I ran down the chances of the conference’s bottom half all the way from optimistic to slim and/or none. Today, I shine the spotlight on those likely to carry the Big Ten in 2012.
5: Nebraska – A young, inexperienced defense, a quarterback with a billion eyes his shoulder pads and a running back who, let’s face it, will carry the team.
Dust off the script from 2011.
While some of the names have changed, Bo Pelini’s squad comes into fall camp with more questions than answers. Rex Burkhead returns, as does a quality corps of receivers, but the offense starts (and ends far too often) with Taylor Martinez.
Defensively, there are fewer questions in the back seven, but still a high level of uncertainty. Many say success is measured in championships and Nebraska can compete for one in 2013. To do so, they’re going to get over a hump they haven’t cleared in four years under Pelini.
4: Michigan State – The defending champs of the Legends division have their work cut out for them in a bid to repeat. Mark Dantonio lost a lot of good players on offense to graduation (Kirk Cousins, BJ Cunningham, Edwin Baker), but has a good defense returning.
Sparty’s defenders should keep them in games early in the year giving the offense time to gel. Opening against Boise State isn’t as daunting this year without Kellen Moore under center.
Back to back games against Michigan and Wisconsin on the road followed by a visit from Nebraska will test Dantonio’s abilities.
3: Wisconsin – Sure, I could’ve put the defending Leaders division and conference champs higher, but with Russell Wilson and Nick Toon gone, not to mention Paul Chryst headed to the tire fire that is Pitt, Wisky’s going to take a hit.
Bret Bielema welcomes back Montee Ball, gains a new quarterback in transfer Danny O’Brien and aims to keep up an offense that ranked No. 6 in 2011’s overall scoring numbers.
The schedule offers up a four-pack of softies before Nebraska happily welcomes the team that gave them their one-sided welcome to the B1G to town. Needing only to be third in the division to make it back to Indy, the Badgers should coast to a title defense.
2: Ohio State – I’m sure that some Wisconsin fans are fried and demanding an explanation as to why I DARED PUT THOSE CHEATING BUCKEYES OVER THE BADGERS! Well, it’s simple.
Urban Meyer had a full offseason to install his systems. We’re talking schemes and recruiting. We’d be lying to ourselves if we said this team wasn’t stocked to begin with.
Even though there’s no postseason waiting for the Bucks this year, that doesn’t prevent them from setting out to punish everyone in their path.
It won’t all be peaches and cream during Meyer’s first year, but expect Urban to get everything he can out of his players as he emphasizes that while opponents might see a bowl game, The Ohio State won’t.
1: Michigan – The current B1G top dogs reside in Ann Arbor. Fielding Yost’s seat has seen the transformation of a program riddled with bickering and bad Josh Groban singing by Rich Rodriguez back into championship material thanks to Brady Hoke.
Denard Robinson is the conference’s best quarterback, and a defense that was putrid under Greg Robinson has been turned around by Greg Mattison.
The Labor Day Weekend tilt against Alabama in Arlington could either be Hoke’s coming out party or preseason hype taking another beating along with the Wolverines. Regardless, Michigan is the conference’s clear No. 1 as of today.
Follow Brian on Twitter: @btbowling