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2011 Jun 05
In 2010, the Big Ten was one of the most competitive conferences in the nation. By season’s end there was a three-way tie for the Big Ten championship between Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Due to all three being in the final BCS poll's top ten, the Big Ten had the most teams represented of any conference. When the season ended, many expected that 2011 would be more of the same especially with the addition of Nebraska. Since then, much has changed allowing the Big Ten to be far more interesting this season.
It may be June, but it’s never too early to begin predicting the final Big Ten rankings. Beginning with the Leaders Division, this will be a four-part series that takes a look at where all teams will fall come December along with each school's odds of winning the conference crown.
6. Indiana: The Hoosiers find themselves in a unique position. With both a new head coach in former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and a new quarterback thanks to Ben Chappell’s graduation, Indiana will be struggling to find its identity. The 2011 recruiting class was ranked ninth in the conference by Scout and tenth by Rivals.
That may not seem outstanding to most, but by Indiana’s standards, it’s a good start. Wilson will do his best to revamp the offense, but it will not be an overnight revamp. 2011 will be a rocky season for the Hoosiers because of this. It would be a stretch to expect much out of this team right away, but it could be a fundamental rebuilding year. If Wilson can manage to get into a few less arguments with the refs than previous head coach Bill Lynch, that alone would be a positive for Indiana.
Odds of winning the Big Ten Championship: 100/1
5. Purdue: Purdue had a rough 2010 season with a large number of freak injuries. On that list was starting quarterback Rob Henry who did manage to come back strong by the end of the season. Having shown a large amount of potential last season, Henry is Purdue’s true bright spot. The Boilermakers have something to look forward to on offense due to Henry’s dual-threat capabilities, but the rosy outlook mostly ends there.
Much like Indiana, it won’t be an easy season for Purdue. The Boilermakers didn’t make a bowl game in 2010 as they won only four out of the necessary six games to be eligible. However, it’s important to note that some of the losses that could have given Purdue the nudge into a bowl game were lost by a small margin. What does this mean for 2011?
If Purdue can keep the injuries to a minimum while taking full advantage of all returning talent, they could find themselves headed to a bowl game. It will be a trying season for Danny Hope who is now 9-15 as the Boilermakers' head coach, but if Purdue can overcome its last two unlucky seasons, 2011 could be the spark that the program needs to excel in the future.
Odds of winning the Big Ten Championship: 75/1
4. Illinois: Nebraska offered Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase but Cody Green beat him to the punch. The Cornhuskers’ loss became the Fighting Illini’s greatest gain as Scheelhaase remains a strong quarterback. Last season, Illinois barely made a bowl game, but 2011 looks to be more promising. The defense will need to step up as they fill vacated spots and players such as running back Jason Ford will need to shine.
Most importantly, 2011 will be a telling season for head coach Ron Zook who was hired in 2005. It has been three seasons since Zook coached the Illini into a Rose Bowl berth and it’s been a rough road since then. He was nearly fired in 2009 but managed to keep his job by not only getting Illinois to a bowl game, but by coaching them to a bowl victory for the first time since 1999. This season will be less about winning the Leaders Division for Illinois and more about determining the future of Ron Zook.
Odds of winning the Big Ten Championship: 30/1
Leaders 1-3, Legends 4-6
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