Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, August 6, 2012

It's Monday, and we're one week closer to football season. There, that should help you get through this day. If not, maybe my latest Big Ten daily links can do the trick. Get to clicking in this post.

UNSURE ABOUT ILLINI: How will Illinois do this season? Don?t ask long-time Fighting Illini writer Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald-Review. He has no idea. None.

There are many unknowns in Champaign as Tim Beckman embarks on his first season as coach. Beckman thinks a big reason why the Illini struggled down the stretch during an epic 0-6 collapse to the regular season was that it didn?t respond well to adversity. But there is potential for this team. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is a gritty leader and good fit for the new spread scheme. And the defense? Some think it may have four or five NFL players.

Bottom line: Illinois could be a sleeper in the Leaders Division. Really. I am serious.

DEFENSIVE NEEDS: There is no way Minnesota will inch close to a bowl without better play from the defense. The early good news: The three junior college transfer cornerbacks look like they are going to help a defense that ranked 10th in the Big Ten in 2011.

Martez Shabazz, Jeremy Baltazar, Briean Bodd have the coaches excited.

A HANDFUL OF QUESTIONS: Speaking of the Golden Gophers, Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has five questions for Jerry Kill?s second season.

Of those five, here are the biggest three in my mind: Are there any playmakers aside from quarterback MarQueis Gray? Can the defense create more pressure? Is the defense strong up the middle? Those items will determine if the Gophers reach a bowl for the first time since 2009.

RANKING THE NITTANY LIONS: With the Penn State roster now basically in place, Bob Flounders of the Harrisburg Patriot-News took a stab at ranking the Top 25 players on the team.

Hard to argue with this ranking. The interesting thing is four of the top six players-including the top three–are on defense, led by linebacker Gerald Hodges at No. 1. That confirms what many thought, that the defense could be decent this season. And that means the Nittany Lions should have a shot to remain in most games. Now, can the offense score enough to win, especially with reports that top wideout Justin Brown is transferring to Oklahoma?

In the end, Penn State?s best hope to win this fall will be to keep games low scoring.

MICHIGAN BATTLES: With Michigan?s camp here, Kyle Meinke of takes a look at five position battles to watch.

The fact that two of the items are special-teams-oriented (punting and return job) tells you that this Michigan team doesn?t have many glaring issues. Another position battle issue seems more like a luxury problem: Finding a No. 3 receiver. So, you can see why many pundits are picking the Wolverines to win the Big Ten in 2012.

Me? I still have concerns about the defense and am leaning toward Michigan State.

OHIO STATE ISSUES: That NCAA investigation, subsequent probation and 6-7 mark in 2011 seem like ancient history at Ohio State now, right? Well, maybe not. Regardless, the dawn of the Urban Meyer era has Buckeye fans focusing on the future and not the ugly recent past.

Bill Rabinowitz and Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch have a nice back and forth exchange about key issues facing the 2012 Buckeyes. According to Rabinowitz, one of the most fascinating to watch will be how Ohio State deals with adversity when it hits. Oh, it will hit at some point this fall. And, without a bowl or Big Ten title to play for, will the Buckeyes stay on course when that adversity hits? If they do, the Buckeyes could end up with the top record in the Big Ten.

TAYLOR TIME: Will there be a more scrutinized player in the Big Ten this fall than Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez? Of course not. Most think he holds the key to the Cornhuskers? season, as he must show more as a passer. Martinez addressed some of those issues in this video.

Oh, and, in case you were wondering: Martinez also has heard the snickers of those who doubt him. Yes, I?m looking at you.

GOING FOR THREE IN A ROW: Wisconsin is chasing history, as the Badgers aim for a third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl. No Big Ten school has done that since Michigan turned the trick after the 1976-78 seasons.

But, questions persist. In fact, here are 10 of them that face the Badgers as the season kicks off.

The biggest question looms at quarterback. There likely is no way any signal-caller on the roster can replace Russell Wilson. But Danny O?Brien, the Maryland transfer and likely favorite to win the post, can be a reasonable facsimile. For me, perhaps the most underrated question comes on special teams, as the Badgers are breaking in a new kicker and punter. Championship teams almost always have to win one or two close games that come down to making a big kick.

Will the new Wisconsin kicker deliver? And the new punter will be called upon from time to time to turn over the field. Will he be capable? At least top return man Jared Abbrederis is back.

THINGS TO WATCH IN EAST LANSING: Continuing today?s ?links? theme, I present five things to watch in East Lansing as Michigan State gets things going.

The offense will command most of the preseason attention, with everyone curious about new quarterback Andrew Maxwell and his revamped receiving corps. But the most important item on this list is the last one: leadership. Who will emerge and take charge with leaders like Kirk Cousins, Trenton Robinson and Joel Foreman gone?


My take: This is the most underrated aspect of the program. And a big reason for its success.

My take: This is bad news for MSU foes. Thomas is one of the team?s underrated players to watch on a defense that already is loaded.

My take: Another cold bucket of water in the face for Penn State.

My take: Look in the mirror, Bob! senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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