1. Wisconsin: The Badgers have an elite offensive line, a veteran quarterback, and three capable backs if you include true freshman Melvin Gordon who has passed the eyeball test so far in fall camp. They also have a go-to receiver in Nick Toon and playmakers on defense like linebacker Chris Borland and cornerback Antonio Fenelus. The Badgers will take advantage of a conference rebuilding at the top. Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State will all be a shadow of their former selves this year.
2. Michigan State: The Spartans have as much offensive skill position talent as anyone in the country and their defensive personnel isn't too shabby either. William Gholston will terrorize quarterbacks in the B1G this year and Trenton Robinson is one of the best safeties in the conference if not the nation. The schedule is brutal with conference road trips to: Columbus, Lincoln, Iowa City, and Evanston. However, this is a veteran team that should win at least two of these games and I don't see the Spartans losing more than one home game this year.
3. Iowa: The Hawkeyes must be licking their chops right now, most people are picking them to finish 3rd or 4th in the Legends Division. The Hawkeyes are likely sending thank you notes to media members right now. The Hawkeyes flourish when they are not in the spotlight and the spotlight will shine brightly upon their neighbors to the west in Lincoln leaving them in the dark, which they are perfectly fine with. While Nebraska will be busy searching for their identity on offense Iowa will know exactly what they are doing offensively. The Hawkeyes will pound the rock with workhorse tailback Marcus Coker and a dominant offensive line and use play action passing from arguably the best pure passer in the conference in James Vandenburg. Iowa will churn out two or three more superstars at linebacker and defensive line and boasts Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde in the secondary. If you are in Vegas bet the over on the Hawkeyes.
4. Nebraska: This team makes me nervous. I just don't trust them a lick. How can a team pound an inferior opponent on the road, only to lose to them three months later in a bowl game? Well the Huskers did just that putting 50+ points on Washington in Seattle only to lose to them in the Holiday Bowl three months later. If Taylor Martinez can stay healthy all bets are off and this team could legitimately put up double digit victories. If Martinez plays like he did down the stretch last year when he was banged up Nebraska will be a pedestrian team and struggle to win 8 games. The Blackshirt D will be for real, but the offense leaves a lot to be desired. The Huskers must also replace leading rusher Roy Helu Jr.
5. Penn State: Rob Bolden should emerge from the unsettled qb situation in State College and become the quarterback that many expected him to become last year before Freshman inconsistency cost him his job midway through the 2010 season. Bolden should be more mature and ready to lead a potent Nittany Lions offense with weapons like TB Silas Redd, and WR Derrik Moye. Michael Mauti will lead the D for Linebacker U. Penn State has a very favorable schedule early on, with a loaded Alabama team providing the only test in the non conference season. Penn State could very easily be 8-1 or 9-0 heading into the last three games of the season.
6. Ohio State: I'm not going to lie to you. It feels pretty weird putting the Buckeyes this low in the power rankings... However, given their tumultuous offseason and the fact that they will be breaking in a new (interim) Head Coach, a new QB, and new found apathy from the fan base. Jaamal Berry should provide Buckeye nation with a little bit of excitement and a potential superstar, but the questions are too numerous for TOSU to be a legitimate factor in the B1G title chase. After all they have to have a down year eventually and this seems like a pretty good year to have one. Look for true freshman Braxton Miller to start at QB eventually for the Buckeyes.
7. Michigan: The Wolverines are loaded offensively and not even Al Borges' vanilla scheme can slow it down. As Gerry DiNardo from the BTN said, "you can take the quarterback out of the spread, but you can't take the spread out of the quarterback". I couldn't agree with that statement more. DRob will put up pin ball numbes, he won't have the highest score in the arcade like he did last year but he will be on the leaderboard. Greg Mattison will help the Michigan defense improve dramatically. They will still give up a bunch of yards, but unlike last year they will be able to make stops when they need them.
8. Illinois: If the Illini can find replacements for Martez Wilson, Corey Liuget, and Clay Nurse on defense they could be very good. The Illini have a great offensive line, and plenty of options at RB despite the loss of Mikel Leshoure. Sophomore Nathan Sheelhaase will continue to improve upon a very intriguing freshman year at QB. I still question Ron Zook's coaching ability and the Illinois program as a whole. The Illini haven't put together back to back winning seasons since 90-91. Ouch...
9. Minnesota: The Gophers will have one of the top 5 rushing offenses in the conference behind QB MarQueisGray and a stable of running backs. DaJon McKnight and Eric Lair give them vertical weapons as well. The Gophers also have some nice pieces defensively in safety Kim Royston and LB Gary Tinsley. The key for the Gophers will be avoiding injuries because the team is probably among the thinnest in the B1G. Improved special teams and a pass rush will be the key to whether Minnesota goes bowling or not.
10. Northwestern: The Wildcats have a really good QB and head coach, but they need help and they won't get much. The running game is atrocious and the defense was beyond sieve like late in the year. The Wildcats were absolutely lit on fire by Illinois, Wisconsin, and a pedestrian Texas Tech team. Dan Persa better not only be healthy, he better be superman.
11. Purdue: Count me unimpressed with all the returning veterans for the Boilermakers. When I think of Purdue I think of the saying "the good news is everyone returns, the bad news is everyone returns". Rob Henry couldn't hit the broad side of a barn last year and Robert Mavre was too busy accepting lap dances at Miami strip clubs when he wasn't rehabbing various knee injuries. Rob Bolden returns at RB following an ACL tear. It usually takes running backs a couple of years to return to form after an ACL injury so look for Bolden to try to get his sea legs in 2011 and not much else. The defense must replace Ryan Kerrigan at DE.
12. Indiana: I'm sure Kevin Wilson circled the October 8th tilt with Illinois on his schedule. I'm sure he would love nothing more than to stick it to former Illini QB and current Indianapolis radio host Jack Trudeau after a heated exchange on the Zakk and Jack show. Trudeau said that he was going to place a call to Ron Zook to run up the score on IU. Fun stuff! As far as the product on the field is concerned, well they are still a year or two away from being able to make a move up the standings. They had a coup by landing a verbal commitment from Gunner Kiel, the brother of current Hoosiers QB Dusty. The younger Kiel is considered one of the best QB recruits in the country. The problem for Indiana in 2011 is they won't be able to stop anyone ever.