Who will win the Legends Division?
Michigan State will have its work cut out for them in 2011 as the Legends Division looks to be a tough road in advancing to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis at the end of the season. Here is how we see things breaking down as incoming program Nebraska has many giving the Huskers an early edge.
Nebraska – The Huskers look to have the defense to win big in their first season as a member of the Big Ten. However, there should be some questions on offense as they have struggled the past couple of years. Head coach Bo Pelini and his staff will have to learn their new conference mates and that could cause a hiccup along the way. Getting Michigan State and Iowa at home can help them win in their first year, but how they react to games at Wisconsin and Michigan are the keys to success.
Michigan State – Last year was no fluke as Mark Dantonio continues to build depth in his program. However, the schedule is tougher this time around as trips to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska are ahead. Questions along the offensive line are the only ones on offense and who replaces the departed linebacker duo of Greg Jones and Eric Gordon need to be answered early. Nevertheless, the Spartans should be fighting for a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium up to the last week of the season.
Iowa – The Hawkeyes are always in the first when it comes to having a shot at winning a Big Ten title. 2011 will be no different but there are a few questions to ponder. The loss of quarterback Ricky Stanzi and defensive end Adrian Clayborn must be addressed early as both players were key parts to the program's success. The offense should be better than the defense early and the only reason they are this high is the favorable schedule as their toughest road test are Penn State in their Big Ten opener and Nebraska to end the season.
Michigan – Many feel Brady Hoke will wave a magic wand and the Wolverines will be a champion in 2011. Will there be improvements? Yes, as Hoke knows he's got the most explosive offensive weapon in quarterback Denard Robinson at his disposal and his defense should be better. However, can Hoke keep Robinson healthy? If not Devin Gardner will be pushed into action. There are some solid pieces to the defense but too many early questions to place the Wolverines ahead of others in the conference. But the Wolverines are headed in the right direction.
Northwestern – It starts and ends with Dan Persa for the Wildcats. If he is healthy he is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. However, questions in the running game and along the offensive line make for a team that could struggle. Add in too many questions on defense and you can see why the Wildcats will be picked by many to be at the back of the pack. The schedule is favorable as Ohio State and Wisconsin are nowhere in sight.
Minnesota – New head coach Jerry Kill is not promising a change in the Gophers future in 2011. However, Kill has been successful along the way and is looking to quarterback MarQueis Gray to help push the program in the right direction. Trips to USC, Michigan State and Northwestern are just some of the hurdles Kill will have to jump in year one of a major rebuilding project.
Top Offensive Player: Denard Robinson – QB – Michigan
Top Defensive Player: Lavonte David – LB – Nebraska
Top Newcomer: Tony Lippett – WR – Michigan State