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Wisconsin is the hottest team in the Big Ten. It’s true. This is a new world Big Ten, where traditional heavyweights like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska all are looking up at Wisconsin. This is the Badgers’ world … and everyone else is just living in it. The Badgers are coming off back-to-back Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances, going an aggregate 22-5 overall the last two seasons (13-3 Big Ten).
Purdue is coming off a 7-6, the program’s first winning mark since 2007. That has some people in West Lafayette thinking big, as the program aims for back-to-back bowls for the first time since 2006-07 when Joe Tiller still was the coach.
Penn State is entering a difficult era of NCAA probation and sanctions that figure to cripple the program for years. But first-year coach Bill O’Brien is moving forward undaunted and undeterred. The Nittany Lions can’t go to a bowl or win the Big Ten title, so O’Brien and Company must focus on regular-season success in the dawn of the post-Joe Paterno era that began in 1966. Penn State will have a chance to impact who wins the conference crown with games vs. the likes of Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska, as it aims to begin the healing process in pursuit of the best record possible.
At Ohio State, it’s about turning the page. A new era has begun—and the possibilities seem limitless. Last season was difficult, as the Buckeyes endured the program’s first losing season (6-7) since 1988, which was John Cooper’s first campaign. The program also was shackled with NCAA probation stemming from the Jim Tressel era.
Nebraska’s maiden voyage in the Big Ten has to be considered a success on many fronts. The Cornhuskers finished 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten. But along the way, Nebraska found out it needs to get bigger and more physical on defense to better deal with Big Ten offenses. And the Husker offense must improve its passing game to give the attack better balance.
It’s four bowls in a row and counting for Northwestern. And that’s a school record. The next goal: Win the program’s first postseason game since claiming the Rose Bowl after the 1948 season. If you are scoring in Evanston, that’s nine bowl defeats in succession. Pat Fitzgerald knows all of this. And it keeps him motivated. His offense has been clicking and doing its part in recent years.
Last season was one of transition for Minnesota. Tim Brewster was out after three-and-a-half years and a 15-30 overall record (6-21 Big Ten). Jerry Kill was in, arriving after a successful three-year run at Northern Illinois that produced a 23-16 overall mark and three bowl bids.
These are high times in East Lansing, as Michigan State has gone an aggregate 22-5 the past two seasons (14-2 in the Big Ten) under Mark Dantonio with a share of the 2010 league crown and the 2011 Legends Division pennant. And Dantonio has taken the Spartans to a bowl in each of his five seasons, as he has the program playing as well as it has since the glory days of the 1960s.
Brady Hoke’s debut couldn’t have gone much better last season. The moribund three-year Rich Rodriguez tenure saw Michigan go 15-22 (6-18 Big Ten) and left many disappointed. The program hit historic low points in many respects, as the Wolverines fell from the Big Ten elite. But Hoke changed all of that quickly with an 11-2 season that was capped by a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
Kirk Ferentz knows what it’s like to be the best. He had his Iowa program among the Big Ten’s best from 2002-04, when the Hawkeyes went an aggregate 31-7 with two Big Ten titles. But since then, Iowa has just one double-digit victory season (2009). With that, I present 10 reasons for Iowa fans to be excited about the 2012 season playing in an uber-tough Legends Division. Earlier, I offered up 10 reasons why Illinois and Indiana fans should be excited.
In my ongoing summertime look at our 12 Big Ten football teams (see my football schedule analysis here, my latest one-on-one interviews here, and all sorts of fun rankings here), I am presenting my ways to to fuel enthusiasm about football on each campus. I served up 10 reasons why Illini fans should be excited about football in 2012 on Monday. Now it’s time to get Hoosiers fans fired up.
This is the best time of the year. This is the time of year when every team has a shot to win the Big Ten. The possibilities seem limitless, right? The games have yet to begin—heck, practices haven’t started—but great expectations loom from Minneapolis to Bloomington, and from Lincoln to State College. As a way to fuel the aforementioned enthusiasm on each campus, I will offer 10 reasons–in no particular order–to be excited for each Big Ten school. First up: Illinois.
My ranking of all 96 2012 Big Ten football games has reached the finish line. It was a fun journey (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV), but now it’s time to take a look at the season’s top 20 games. Here’s an interesting fact: nine of the top 10 games involve a team from the state of Michigan. But which one is No. 1? Find out in this post.
The numbers last year for the Nebraska offense were decent. The Cornhuskers ranked fifth in the Big Ten in total offense (379.9 ypg); third in rushing (217.2 ypg); fourth in scoring (29.2 ppg) during a 9-4 season. The number that wasn’t so pretty? Passing, as Nebraska ranked 10th in the Big Ten (162.7 ypg). Only two schools (Penn State and Minnesota with 10 apiece) threw fewer touchdown passes than the Huskers’ 13 in 2011. Coordinator Tim Beck knows that. And he knows the overall numbers can be better.
Another day, another step closer to the finale of my countdown of the top 2012 Big Ten football games. Today, I’m looking at games 21-39. And tomorrow, of course, it will 1-20. Which game will be No. 1? You’ll have to wait. Earlier this week, I did games 40-59, 60-79 and 80-96. Like rankings like this? You need to check out my Rankings archive, where I rank all things Big Ten, including my top 2012 Big Ten units.