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.