How to Win the Big Ten

Every conference has its favorites, its sleepers, and its bottom-dwellers. But the beauty of it all is that every team has the same chance to win their conference. Obviously, teams like Nebraska and Wisconsin are heavily regarded as Big Ten favorites, but in all honesty, teams like Indiana and Minnesota have the same opportunity as do the big dogs of the Big Ten to win the conference.

So why not take a look at how each team, whether it be a stretch or not, has a chance to win the Big Ten and what needs to go right in order to do so:

Illinois: Coming off a 7-6 (4-4) season in 20 10, the Illini must receive major contributions from their quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase. After racking up 1,583 yards and 17 touchdowns in his freshman season, Scheelhaase must take the so-called "next step" in his sophomore season. Illinois isn't considered to be a Big Ten favorite, but if Scheelhaase can continue to develop as a quarterback and lead Illinois over their friendly non-conference schedule, which features four home games (their lone competition being Arizona State), then Illinois could pan out to be a much better team record-wise than many expected.


Indiana: In all honesty, the Hoosiers will need a ton to go wrong with all the eleven other Big Ten schools in order to win the conference, but hey, it's college football, and we all know that anything can happen. Their season will rely on how well the players respond to first-year head coach Kevin Wilson. He's already expressed himself as a passionate and fiery coach, which could translate well with the players. Like said, Indiana will need an endless amount of luck, such as multiple injuries to big-time players at every other Big Ten school, in order to win the Big Ten.


Iowa: With no Ricky Stanzi at the helm, the Hawkeyes will need running back Marcus Coker to make an enormous impact this season in order to make a run in the Big Ten. With James Vandenberg starting at quarterback, Coker will play a major role in both relieving pressure off first-year starter Vandenberg and racking up the touchdowns while moving the chains for this Iowa offense. He displayed his quickness and athletic ability in his lone start season in Iowa's bowl game, rushing for 219 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri. Vandenberg and Coker's success on the field will play a huge role in where Iowa finishes this season.



Michigan: It's quite simple for the Wolverines: protect Denard Robinson and watch him shine. Michigan can be considered the one team that relies on one individual the most. The Wolverines will go as far as Robinson takes them. He's an electrifying player who can do it with both his arm and his legs. Now, the pressure could be taken of Robinson's shoulders if the Michigan defense can turn things around. Last season, the defense ranked 108th in points allowed with 35.2. That's absurd for a Big Ten defense. They must figure things out in 2011 in order to win the conference.


Michigan State: Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins is undoubtedly one of the most important players on this team, but he will need some help from his defense, which features defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and cornerback Johnny Adams. They had a defense that ranked second in the Big Ten in red zone defense, so they expect to do the same in 2011 – possibly even better. Unfortunately, though, they have a tough schedule that features road games at Notre Dame, Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio State and Northwestern. It's hard to imagine the Spartans surviving all of those games, but veteran coach Mark Dantonio has proven before he can keep his team focused one game at a time.


Minnesota: Simply put, the Golden Gophers will need dual-threat quarterback Marquies Gray to put up Heisman-type numbers in order to win the Big Ten. Actually, the Gophers will need their defense, which ranked 98th in points allowed last season, to have a mass turnaround in 2011 to go along with the rise of Gray in order to shock the Big Ten.


Nebraska: The Cornhuskers, in their first season in the Big Ten, have a tremendous opportunity to win this conference. But they will need to protect Taylor Martinez and keep him upright. The maturation of running back Rex Burkhead will also play a pivotal role in how this offense performs in 2011. But Nebraska's season will depend on the Blackshirts. With NFL prospects and three All-Americans on the defensive side of the ball, the Huskers will bring a new, intimidating defense to the Big Ten, and depending on how the opposing offenses adjust in Nebraska's first year, the Huskers have the chance to be ranked No. 1 in overall defense in their new conference.


Northwestern: The Wildcats are a feel-good story. Led by Pat Fitzgerald, it's hard to not appreciate Northwestern whenever they pull out a win, and considering how they have rejuvenated themselves as a respectable football program, it's not too far-fetched to believe they can win the Big Ten. Quarterback Dan Persa is, arguably, the top pure passer in the conference, and the duo of Persa and Jeremy Ebert could end up being the best in the conference.


Ohio State: The Buckeyes have yet to name a quarterback, but whoever it may be, that individual will have a lot of weight on their shoulders. Despite all their off-the-field troubles, Ohio State remains a favorite in the Big Ten and a possible Rose Bowl participant once again. With so much drama surrounding the program, it wouldn't be surprising if the Buckeyes play this season with a chip on their shoulder in an effort to rebuild their image. Their first five games, though against weaker opponents, could go a long way in building up their team chemistry and overall confidence with a slew of players being suspended for the early part of the season, including running back and leading rusher Daniel Herron.


Penn State: Like Ohio State, the Nittany Lions are unsure as to who exactly will be starting under center. After being replaced last season, Rob Bolden is clearly a better prospect than his competition, Matt McGloin, but after he threatened to transfer this offseason, it is uncertain if Joe Paterno will go with him in week one. Bolden gives Penn State the best chance to win, but with the loss of the school's all-time leading rusher, the fate of this team in 2011 falls on the shoulders of Silas Redd. Whether or not he can handle the bulk of the carries is still to be determined, but it will be a huge determinant as to how the season shapes out for PSU. With a defense loaded with experienced players, such as Michael Mauti, the Lions should be able to stay alive in many games.


Purdue: There is uncertainty at the quarterback position and a new head coach at the helm. But, with nine starters returning on defense, the Boilermakers should stack up well among other Big Ten defenses. A win early over Notre Dame would be a huge confidence boost for Purdue heading into conference play. They have to win out in non-conference play in order to build up their confidence and create some sort of respect among their Big Ten peers.


Wisconsin: Another favorite in the conference, Wisconsin will need transfer quarterback Russell Wilson to revert back to his days in the ACC. A dual-threat quarterback, Wilson should benefit with the conference's top rushing attack, led by Montee Ball and James White – the duo combined for over 2,000 yards in 2010. Their BCS title hopes will depend on how they perform against Nebraska. A win over the Huskers would almost certainly bump them into the conference game, with the right to possibly play Nebraska for a second time. Defeating Nebraska twice is no easy task, but if it is done, the Badgers could find themselves in the BCS title game.

*** The thoughts and opinions of Kyle Phillippi may not be that of Josh Harvey, Big Red Report, or Scout.com.***


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