2012 Big Ten Football Preview: Leaders Division
*Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for the conference championship due to NCAA sanctions.
Wisconsin Badgers: 10-2 (6-2)
Maryland quarterback transfer Danny O'Brien isn't going to be Russell Wilson, but his assets match the type of offense coach Bret Bielema wants to run: a dominant power-run attack with an effective, vibrant passing game. Assuming Montee Ball is fine after his recent head injuries, all this should be in place. In addition, the defense will be very good. In fact, it just might be the best Bielema has had while in Madison.
*Ohio State Buckeyes: 10-2 (6-2)
The Buckeyes return an exceptional amount of young talent, all starting with sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller. Coach Urban Meyer has gushed over the 2011 National Freshman Performer of the Year since before he had even accepted the job at Ohio State, while bringing an offense that perfectly suits his uncanny abilities to make plays in the open field. It's unfornutate that OSU has to endure a postseason ban this year, because as the "most talented team in the Big Ten," a BCS bowl would not have been out of the question. Still, Buckeyes fans have a lot to look forward to this fall, with a future national championship run looming in 2013-14.
Illinois Fighting Illini: 8-4 (4-4)
The door couldn't be open any wider for coach Tim Beckman in his first season with the Illini. Both Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible, Purdue and Indiana are, well, Purdue and Indiana, and Wisconsin lost its ace signal caller Russell Wilson to the NFL draft. If Illinois can find someone to step up and make plays from the skill positions, while continue getting a pass rush on defense even without Whitney Mercilus, it could contend with the Badgers for the Leaders. And this might be the only chance Beckman will get to do it in a long time.
Purdue Boilermakers: 6-6 (3-5)
After beating Ohio State last season, the Boilermakers head into their 2012 campaign with a lot of optimism and higher expectations. They probably don't have enough to make a Big Ten title run, but with a potent offense returning and arguably the nation's best defensive lineman in Kawann Short, Purdue could do something special—and it'll get the chance to do so with road games at Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa and Illinois. In my opinion, it doesn't have enough competency to hang with the big boys just yet.
*Penn State Nittany Lions: 5-7 (2-6)
This may be a touchy subject for some, so I'll leave this with some quick and simple words: I don't know how many Penn State players will leave by the season-opener, I don't know how good of a college coach Bill O'Brien is, and I don't know how the team will react on the field after all that has happened. I think a 5-7 record is generous, and even if it weren't ever involved in the scandal, I would have had the Nittany Lions at 7-5.
Indiana Hoosiers: 2-10 (0-8)
What's there to say about Indiana's football program other than the fact that's it's been the laughing stock of the Big Ten since it joined the conference in 1899. It has just two conference titles (1945, '67) and hasn't won a bowl game in 21 years. Other than sophomore dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson—who is a project—the Hoosiers don't really have much to look forward to on the football field any time soon. Sorry, was that too harsh?
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