Big Ten

2011 Predictions: Nebraska Cornhuskers

What will Nebraska's first Big Ten conference record be in 2011?

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

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<p> Athlon's editors debate just how Nebraska will handle the move to the Big Ten?</p>

'11 Team Rankings: Big Ten

How did the class of 2011 shake out in the Big Ten?

The finalizing of recruiting in the Big Ten for 2011 symbolizes the end of an extremely transitional year for the country’s most lucrative conference. (Well, at least it's over for now.) Heartland powerhouse Nebraska is now recruiting to the Big Ten, and it didn’t take long for the Huskers to assert their influence, finishing No. 2 in the league rankings this fall.

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'11 Predictions: Big Ten

Is Michigan State the Big Ten team to beat in 2011?
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Athlon takes a way too early look at the Big Ten in 2011.

In the Leaders Division, it is unfortunate that suspensions could play the biggest role in determining the champion. Pryor will miss the first five games next fall, so he should get to play most of the Big Ten schedule. How a slow start in non-conference play affect the Buckeye’s Big Ten title hopes remains to be seen, but OSU will once again be loaded along the line of scrimmage.

Wisconsin, much like Iowa, is looking at major losses. Arguably the four most important offensive players need to be replaced. Quarterback Scott Tolzien has led the Big Ten in passer efficiency two years in a row and claimed the Johnny Unitas Award this fall. Tight end Lance Kendricks and left tackle Gabe Carimi could be the best player at their position in the nation. The backfield will be absolutely stacked — whether John Clay is in Madison or not — but the holes will be a bit smaller as the offensive line will need to replace Carimi and fellow All-Big Ten-er John Moffitt.

Penn State and Illinois are a bit of a mystery and are in similar situations. Both have young quarterbacks and offenses built around running the ball. Both need to rebuild inconsistent offensive lines. And both should be strong in the front seven on defense. The difference could be Mikel LeShoure and the Illini rushing attack. If quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase can get the ball down the field and open running lanes for LeShoure (assuming he does not go pro), then Illinois has a chance to be THE surprise team in this division. Very few quarterbacks improved from the first to second half of the 2010 season more than Scheelhaase — few quarterbacks are as fun to watch as him either.

The schedule could favor Illinois too, as Penn State travels to Champagne in the first week of conference action (a home test against Alabama doesn’t help momentum either). Arkansas State, South Dakota State, Arizona State and Western Michigan could give the Illini an unbeaten mark heading into that first conference game with Penn State. The cross overs also favor the Illini. Ron Zook will face Minnesota, Northwestern and Michigan from the Legends Division while JoePa will take on Michigan State, Iowa and Minnesota.

With Corey Liuget, Martez Wilson and LeShoure still holding plenty of NFL cards, its tough to peg the Illini for 2011. If all return, the Illini could be the top contender to Ohio State. If not, Penn State is the biggest hurdle for Ohio State in the division.

Legends Division Predictions (key losses)

1. Michigan State: WR Mark Dell, TE Charlie Gantt, OL D.J. Young, OL John Stipek, DE Colin Neely, LB Greg Jones, LB Eric Gordon, DB Chris L. Rucker, S Marcus Hyde

2. Nebraska: RB Roy Helu, TE Mike McNeill, DE Pierre Allen, DT Jared Crick*, CB Prince Amukamara, DB Eric Hagg, K Alex Henery

3. Michigan: OL Steve Schilling, LB Jonas Mouton, LB Obi Ezeh, CB Troy Woolfolk

4. Northwestern: QB Dan Persa, DT Corbin Bryant, LB Quentin Davie

5. Iowa: QB Ricky Stanzi, WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, OL Julian Vandervelde, OL Josh Koeppel, TE Allen Reisner, DE Adrian Clayborn, DT Christian Ballard, DT Karl Klug, LB Jeremiha Hunter, LB Jeff Tarpinian, S Brent Greenwood, P Ryan Donahue, S Tyler Sash*

6. Minnesota: QB Adam Weber

Leaders Division Predictions

1. Ohio State: WR Dane Sanzenbacher, OL Justin Boren, OL Michael Brewster*, OL Mike Adams*, OL J.B. Shugarts*, OL Bryant Browning, Cameron Heyward, DT Dexter Larimore, LB Brian Rolle, LB Ross Homan, CB Chimdi Chekwa, CB Devon Torrence, S Jermale Hines, QB Terrelle Pryor*

2. Penn State: RB Evan Royster, OL Stefen Wisniewski, DT Ollie Ogbu

3. Illinois: WR Jarred Fayson, RB Mikel LeShoure*, OL Randall Hunt, OL Ryan Palmer, S Travon Bellamy, LB Nate Bussey, LB Martez Wilson*, DT Corey Liuget*

4. Wisconsin: QB Scott Tolzien, TE Lance Kendricks, OL Gabe Carimi, OL John Moffitt, RB John Clay*, S Jai Valai, LB Culmer St. Jean, DE J.J. Watt*, CB Niles Brinkley, WR/KR David Gilreath

5. Purdue: TE Kyle Adams, DE Ryan Kerrigan

6. Indiana: QB Ben Chappell, OL James Brewer, WR Tandon Doss*

* - Underclassmen who could still decide to enter the NFL Draft.


The Big Ten's Best

Carimi, Badgers were league's best OL. But who else garnered Big Ten awards?
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Athlon Sports picks its postseason awards for the 2010 Big Ten conference.

Dick Butkus Award (LB): Greg Jones, Michigan State
The preseason All-American finished with a team-leading 98 total tackles, his first two INTs, three forced fumbles and 8.0 tackles for loss. The Spartans rush defense was third in the Big Ten and 20th nationally, and their scoring defense was also third in the league and 24th nationally.

Jim Thorpe Award (DB): Chimdi Checkwa, Ohio State
The most talented shutdown corner in the league was a first-team all-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media. Checkwa led the team in interceptions, was used as a blitzer from time to time, had 42 total tackles, four solo TFL and had eight passes defended.

Lombardi Award (D-Lineman): Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
See The Bednarik Defensive Player of the Year award above.

Adrian Peterson Award (freshman): James White, Wisconsin
The freshman from Florida finished fourth in the league with 108.6 rushing yards per game and led the Badgers in rushing with 1,029 yards. He averaged 7.0 yards per carry and scored 14 times on the ground. He was the game-changer at tailback for Wisconsin.

Lou Groza Award (K): Dan Conroy, Michigan State
Conroy had made 14 straight field goals before missing his first kick in nearly two full seasons when he missed his only field goal of the year against Northwestern. He missed only one of 45 extra points on the year.

Ray Guy Award (P): Anthony Santella, Illinois
The Illini punter was sixth nationally and led the conference in punting at 45.7 yards per punt.

Desmond Howard Award (KR/PR): Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
This was a tough call because a few names could have been picked. David Gilreath’s opening kickoff for a touchdown against Ohio State was easily the biggest return of the year in the league. DJK from Iowa led the league in kick returns, but only Martin was used as both a punt and kick returner. He scored once on a punt return and led the league in that category.

Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (HC): Bret Bielema, Wisconsin
Wisconsin was picked third in the preseason, but wins against No. 1 Ohio State and on the road at Iowa in back-to-back weeks probably won Bielema this award. Oh, and that likely trip to Pasedena gives him the nod over fellow Big Ten champ Mark D'Antonio.

Broyles Award (Asst Coach): Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
The Badgers led the league in scoring (43.3 ppg) and dropped at least a 70-spot three times this year — twice in conference. All of this with star tailback John Clay and tight end Lance Kendricks missing time throughout the season. This was the best scoring attack in Big Ten (45.2) play since the 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions (48.1).