Dienhart: Predicting the Big Ten Race ... of 2012

The 2011 season was barely punctuated, and the 2012 football polls were already coming out. LSU looks like a consensus pick for No. 1, but the Big Ten is well represented. In the five polls I found, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin all were ranked. And Nebraska appeared in all but one poll. Ohio State, which is ineligible to win the Big Ten title or play in a bowl in 2012 because of probation, is in two polls.

There is no consensus as to who the best Big Ten team will be in 2012, as Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State all are the highest rated Big Ten team in a poll.

The highest a Big Ten team are ranked is Ohio State and Michigan State, which each are ranked No. 6 in a poll. So, if these polls are accurate, the Big Ten won’t have a team in the BCS title game for a fifth season in a row.

Here’s my early, early look at the 2012 Big Ten race. Agree? Disagree? Use the comments box below and tell me what you think. Or come find me on Twitter @BTNTomDienhart.

1. Ohio State Michigan
2. Wisconsin Nebraska
3. Penn State Michigan State
4. Purdue Iowa
5. Illinois Northwestern
6. Indiana Minnesota

Here’s our BTN.com poll page with the final tallies from the 2011 season. Following is a look at the Big Ten’s place in five prominent early 2012 polls:

Yahoo! Sports: Michigan is No. 8; Michigan State is No. 13; Wisconsin is No. 14; Nebraska is No. 17; Ohio State is No. 18.

Athlon: Ohio State is No. 6; Michigan is No. 9; Michigan State is No. 13; Nebraska is No. 14; Wisconsin is No. 19.

CBSSports.com: Michigan is No. 10; Nebraska is No. 14; Ohio State is No. 16; Michigan State is No. 18; Wisconsin is No. 22.

SI.com: Michigan State is No. 6; Michigan is No. 11; Wisconsin is No. 12; Nebraska is No. 16.

ESPN.com: Michigan State is No. 9; Michigan is No. 11; Nebraska is No. 13; Wisconsin is No. 19.

Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (31 Comments)
Ben Steward on 1/12/2012 @ 3:59pm EDT Said:

Minnesota is going to be higher than last.

Steve F on 1/12/2012 @ 4:10pm EDT Said:

Ohio State is ineligible.

Ben on 1/12/2012 @ 4:11pm EDT Said:

With all of the problems surrounding them, I’d rank Penn State lower. New coach, questionable QB situation due to the fight, and the scandals. Throw in a proven new coach at Illinois (Beckman) and a Purdue team that surprised this year by going to and winning a bowl game, and I think there’s a good chance they drop a point or two.

The real competition will be, yet again, among the Legends. I loved watching the race last year, and hope we’re in for another treat with some key games between Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan St. With Dantonio finally making things work by beating Georgia, that rivalry game will be taken to the next level.

aroznowski on 1/12/2012 @ 4:23pm EDT Said:

Nebraska will win the Legends Division. Michigan and Michigan State will be in contention for most of the season, but Nebraska gets the edge because I expect the Cornhuskers to get their revenge on Michigan in Lincoln. The Michigan-Nebraska game will essentially be the de facto Legends Division championship game. In the Leaders Division, Ohio State will finish first in the standings. However, the Buckeyes are ineligible to play in the Big Ten Championship Game. Therefore, the second-place team in the Leaders Division will go to Indianapolis. The race for second place is wide open. Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, and Illinois will duke it out all season for the Leaders Division’s berth in the conference championship game. Write each of those four schools’ names on a separate notecard, place the notecards in a hat, bucket, basket, etc., and draw one. That team will play in the Big Ten Championship Game and lose to Nebraska. Nebraska will then go on to play in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio against either USC or Oregon. Michigan will likely earn an at-large berth in the BCS.

SugarBooger on 1/12/2012 @ 4:24pm EDT Said:

CBSSports.com has Nebraska at No. 14.

    BTN.com staff on 1/12/2012 @ 8:31pm EDT Said:

    Good catch. Corrected.

amm on 1/12/2012 @ 4:51pm EDT Said:

I guess you don’t think much of the Spartan Defense? Oh well, I guess they will have to prove you and most of the Talking Heads wrong – again.

NaplesIzzone on 1/12/2012 @ 5:28pm EDT Said:

Michigan to win the Legends? Wow, they sure have a lot of people fooled!

    Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer on 1/13/2012 @ 11:21am EDT Said:

    Again: MSU loses a lot on offense. How do replace the tangible and intangibles of Kirk Cousins???? And no B.J. Cunningham, Keith Nichol or Edwin Baker. Jerel Worthy also is gone. How is the 2012 MSU team better than the 2011 team?

    Michigan has more of its top players back.

David M Clever on 1/12/2012 @ 5:53pm EDT Said:

Tom, MSU will be sniffing the roses in 2012…you’re 3rd place prediction in the Legends division gave me a good laugh. Don’t get sucked into the Hokey-Pokey hype, they will lose at least 4 games next year!!

Doug on 1/12/2012 @ 11:44pm EDT Said:

yep michigan finally has to play some road games, 7-5 for them! MSU to the Rose Bowl !

    Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer on 1/13/2012 @ 11:20am EDT Said:

    It would be nice if MSU finally can get to Pasadena. The Spartans haven’t been there since the 1987 season!!! MSU has come so close the last two seasons. Dantonio has it rolling!!!

david koszegi on 1/13/2012 @ 4:30am EDT Said:

MSU will struggle a bit with Maxwell at QB… but Michigan to win the Legends??? Goodness! That’s quite a stretch. UofM will probably be 8-4, possibly 7-5.

    Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer on 1/13/2012 @ 11:19am EDT Said:

    Michigan has a lot coming back. MSU could win it. The defense will be loaded even without Worthy, but I worry abou the offense at QB, WR — and the o-line hasn’t really been a strength ever under Dantonio.

Brad on 1/13/2012 @ 1:41pm EDT Said:

Still no respect for NE They have alot coming back. Dont count them out!!!

Ben on 1/13/2012 @ 4:11pm EDT Said:

What do think the chances are for Minnesota to finish at .500 or above?

brian on 1/14/2012 @ 4:17pm EDT Said:

are you guys serious michigan 7-5 8-4.? They have the ultimate team coming back in the big ten. 8 offensive and 8 defensive starters return along with more experience ontop a top 3 recruiting class coming in. Not to mention what teams lost who and what we’re returning smh I pitty you fools who know nothing about football. Michigan plays the #1 defensive and national championship team alabama in dallas with a win or close loss that will surely give michigan the edge and confidence to destory any opponent..

Tony on 1/15/2012 @ 8:55am EDT Said:

Just some food for thought..
Michigan had a cake-walk of a schedule last year. And the powers that be have done everything to help build this program back up; be it the joke of a schedule, or getting a BCS bid over MSU who beat them by two scores, and didn’t even win the division. MSU was penalized for playing in the championship, and if not for a borderline iffy-call on the roughing the kicker call, probably would have won. They have the most wins out of any team in the Big Ten for the last two seasons, and their schedule hasn’t been favorable in either years. I remember last year they were predicting MSU to be 3rd in the division at best.

But anyway, on to 2012.. UofM will lose to Alabama, lose @ND (barely beat them at home last year), lose @ Nebraska, lose @OSU, and lose to MSU for the 5th straight…

The upperclassmen on UofM’s team DO NOT play well away; and they will be playing the tougher teams away next year. OSU was competitive at the Big House last year, and with Urban Myers and a good recruiting class, they beat UofM in Columbus.
Playing in Lincoln will be a whole different animal than the Nebraska team that lost in Ann Arbor.

Has UofM shown any life against halfway-decent teams away from Ann Arbor in the last 3 or 4 years?

That’s why I don’t see UofM winning the division, and doubt they will have more than 8 wins next year.

Sean on 1/20/2012 @ 3:31pm EDT Said:

How was Michigans schedule any easier than Michigan States? Michigan played everyone Michigan State played except for Wisconsin. Michigan State played Youngstown state and Florida Atlantic. Michigans two lesser opponents were Eastern and Western Michigan. Which are far better than Youngstown and Florida Atlantic. Yes, Michigan State had a 4 game stretch that was tough but most of it was at home. So please explain to me how Michigan States schedule was so much tougher than Michigans.

    Tony on 1/21/2012 @ 1:15pm EDT Said:

    OSU on the road, Notre Dame on the road, Playing Wisconsin twice who Michigan had conveniently off their schedule..

Danny on 2/3/2012 @ 10:05pm EDT Said:

The lack of respect for Michigan State just makes me laugh. Yea MSU has a new starting QB, but that QB isnt a freshman, he’s in his 3rd year in the same offense sitting behind Cousins, you think he’s going to be just some scab coming off the bench and is going to suck? Dont think so, watch the Green and White game and you’ll see his arm is better than Cousins ever was. Not too mention State just got two 4 star WR’s and an ESPN150 recruit in Arnett coming in. And return 4 starters on the O-line to block for a RB in Bell who averaged 5.2 ypc…. Or the fact that MSU had the #5 defense in the nation and returns 9 of 11 starters from said defense… the only defense that ranked in the top 20 in EVERY statistical category and no other team can say that… One of the “holes” in the spartan D was at safety and we bring in a 4 star S named Demetious Cox who was once flagged for hitting too hard, do some homework please, Michigan doesnt stand a chance against State AGAIN, get used to it because this isnt some “odd year” where MSU shows flashes while michigan is down, this is an all out change of power! Coach D develops players better than anybody and now he is getting high recruits… Undefeated season is not out of the question for MSU, tho it wont happen, they will win 11 games yet again and a big ten title for the 2nd time in 3 years and a rose bowl (appearance) at the least. Michigan will be a 9-3 team and depending on the bowl game will probably be 10-3. But to say they’re gonna win it? Denard cant throw the ball and EVENTUALLY everyone has to throw the ball and when he does MSU makes him pay EVERY YEAR! Wake up and smell the change in power from blue to Green and White!

Logan on 2/8/2012 @ 2:48pm EDT Said:

Minnesota won’t do better than last just because you beat the hawkeyes last year, the hawkeyes almost lost to everybody last year as normal. But don’t count the iowa team out they have come out of the blue a million times and are always tough. But i dont bet them to win the legends, but with all of there defense coming back and the great offensive line coming back, i would think people would give them a bit more attention. If they can find a running back it could be a fun year for them. The lengends is a tossup a lot of uncertain quarterbacks for msu and michigan and nebraska but i like MSU to take it! please comment if you think the hawks have a chance

Jeff on 2/10/2012 @ 1:12pm EDT Said:

UM did not get picked for a BCS bowl over MSU because they were shown favoritism. MSU was not eligible because they were not in the top 14. Illinois beat MSU in basketball does that indicate they should automatically be ranked higher than MSU? Of course not. I am concerned that last year may be a false standard for the immediate future for UM. They won some close ones and the schedule is harder next year.

    Danny on 2/10/2012 @ 6:29pm EDT Said:

    @Jeff, I personally am not the rare state fan that will say Mich over MSU was BS, what I hate is that Mich got in over Boise St. HOWEVER, i understand what that guy is saying because MSU was ranked 11th and is virtually “forced” to play an extra game and then in turn is hurt by losing that game by 3! at the time before the big ten champ game MSU was ranked 11th (13th in BCS), after the “extra loss” they were ranked 13th so they actually were eligible for it, however im not one to say they “deserved” to go whatsoever, its just that msu was hurt by playing the extra game is all. If anyone should be mad its Boise St. tho! lol those guys should be pissed! and i applaud you for actually confessing your concern for the immediate future for michigan. My prediction for mich is 9-3 and depending on the bowl game they can win a 10th

    Tony on 2/10/2012 @ 9:26pm EDT Said:

    Well UofM was ranked below MSU after the last game of regular season..
    They leapfrogged MSU due to MSU losing in the championship game.. I don’t care who you are, but there is something wrong with that. Basically MSU got penalized for losing a close game, the championship game, and UofM rose without having to play a game. There is something wrong with the system when it is better off not to make it to the championship game.

bobby on 2/17/2012 @ 10:59am EDT Said:

Hillarious. OSU and Michigan are suddenly going to take over the conference? haha! umich had a fluke season, buddy, and their team is going to be worse on top of that. osu is going to take years to recover from their fallout. Somebody is dreaming about the old rivalry days. Dream on, while MSU runs the table.

Shane on 3/25/2012 @ 11:35pm EDT Said:

I cant get over the arrogance of MSU fans & they call UM fans arrogant. MSU is gonna struggle this year, UM is on the up. MSU fans need to get off the schedule from last year. They dont pick their big 10 schedule, its set by the league. yeah they didnt get wisconsin but they also didnt have easy to beat Indiana on their schedule. I here how they had more home games, go check the schedules, UM had one more home game than MSU.

Griffin on 3/29/2012 @ 10:22pm EDT Said:

Msu has a player to put in every position they lose. The tennesee kid comes in at reciever and the defense is loaded but of course msu isnt the facorite as usual

Kris on 4/2/2012 @ 11:43am EDT Said:

Nebraska was weak last season, I don’t they’ve improved that drastically to compete for the Big 10 right now. Michigan State has lost way to many players and really haven’t replaced them, they won’t do as well next year. Michigan has lost some key d-lineman but I believe they could fill those holes and win the Big 10 this year.

    brad on 4/4/2012 @ 3:49pm EDT Said:

    NE was weak last year. LOL Michigan had a cake walk last year. NE will beat Mich And win that division. Hello Rose bowl!!!!!!

Realist on 4/30/2012 @ 2:21pm EDT Said:

Like many analysts it looks like Dienhart overrates returning offensive players. To me the best defenses in the league are going to be MSU and OSU but I think Wisconsin will win the Leaders because of the probation for the Bucks. I also think MSU and Wisconsin perhaps might have the best OLs in the league, and can give new QBs time to get acclimated. Iowa has a solid OL as well. U-M coaches did a great job last year but it reminded me of MSU’s 9-3 season in Dantonio’s second year. A team that overachieved and may come back down to earth this year with a much tougher schedule.


OSU – 10-2, 6-2
Wisconsin – 10-2, 6-2
Penn State – 8-4, 4-4
Purdue – 7-5, 4-4
Illinois – 4-8, 2-6
Indiana – 3-9, 1-7

MSU – 11-1, 7-1
Nebraska – 10-2, 6-2
Michigan – 7-5, 5-3
Iowa – 7-5, 3-5
Minnesota – 5-7, 2-6
Northwestern – 4-8, 2-6

Title Game: MSU over Wisconsin (after Badgers give MSU only loss in regular season)

Other observations:
– The record may not show it but Minnesota will be a better team this year with a chance to make real noise in 2013.
– Iowa will have a tough time being a consistent title contender in this division. I see them as a team on the decline.
– Northwestern’s defense will be porous this year and the offense not quite as explosive.
– If Purdue gets a few breaks and stays healthy, watch out for the Boilers to make a run at a division title with OSU on probation.

Bowl predictions:
– MSU loses to USC in the Rose Bowl.
– Nebraska loses to Alabama in a BCS bowl.
– Wisconsin beats Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.
– Michigan beats Florida in the Outback Bowl.
– Penn State gets hammered by someone in the Gator Bowl.
– Purdue and Iowa make bowl games and split against their opponents.

Coaching predictions:
– Kirk Ferentz leaves Iowa after the end of the season.
– Mark Dantonio turns down one or more job offers from other programs after the season.
– Danny Hope signs a 2-year extension, angering Purdue fans.
– Kevin Wilson should make it to year 3 at least in Bloomington but may search for other opportunities.