Thursday morning I shared my struggle to identify a clear-cut Big Ten favorite for the 2011 season. To recap, if not for the Ohio State suspensions, I'd pick the Buckeyes, but the suspensions make the picture a bit cloudier. Teams like Wisconsin and Iowa lose a lot, and it's hard to go with Michigan State after the Capital One Bowl disaster and some key losses at linebacker.
Not surprisingly, you folks aren't nearly as torn about the Big Ten favorite. But you're hardly in agreement, either.
Here are some of the better responses to my inquiry ...
Anthony from Dayton, Ohio, writes: As a Buckeye fan, I am biased in my opinion. But I believe it really depends on if the suspensions are reduced to say three games instead of five. If they suspensions are reduced, I believe OSU would be the clear favorite for the Leaders' division based on the offense coming back and the loaded defense (which a lot of freshmen played in the Sugar Bowl and played admirably). If the suspensions are not reduced, I think that Penn State could be possibly a front runner (real young in 2010). On the legends side, Nebraska and/or Michigan State. I would have to go with MSU based on their knowledge of other Big Ten teams and the lack of experience playing "Big Ten" football in Nebraska.
Tom from Alexandria, Va., writes: I would pick Ohio St. as the Big Ten favorite for 2011. They have good depth in a variety of positions, and they know right now, up front, who they'll have available for each game. They have plenty of time to prepare, and if the replacements can take care of business in the Big Ten opener, Ohio St. should be favored in every remaining game with the return of Pryor & Co. I think that any transitional issues will be adeptly handled by The Vest and his staff.I also choose the Buckeyes because there are too many questions elsewhere, as you acknowledged - Wisconsin losing great players and coordinator/s (though still have at least two excellent running backs); Michigan St. questionable after the bowl performance; Nebraska is a bit of a wild card in terms of a transitional year and a brutal conference schedule; Iowa losing lots of seniors; and my Nittany Lions have more growing to do.
Dan from New York writes: Besides being a Badger alumni, here is why I think Sconnie should be the favorite:I think the schedule is pretty favorable despite the away games at East Lansing and Columbus. MSU looked very poor in the Capital One Bowl against Alabama and the lost of Greg Jones is going to hurt their run D exponentially. Columbus is going to be a lot harder, however, with those suspensions in place, how sharp can Pryor, Posey and Herron really be in their 3rd game back. (I am getting their schedules from www.fbsschedules.com).They are losing quite a few studs, but they are also returning a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Nick Toon has developed into a go-too receiver. Jared Abbredaris has developed as well over the season. Chris Borland will be back and healthy (fingers crossed) and a majority of the Offensive Line is returning (Oglsby and Konz, just to name a few)I think Jon Budmayr is primed to take over the reigns from Tolzien.
Jonathon from Lansing, Mich., writes: Michigan State SHOULD be the favorite in the Legends Division and here is why: Michigan State does lose some very good seniors, namely on defense with Greg Jones, Eric Gordon, and Chris L. Rucker graduating. But I do think they can be replaced. MSU is very deep at the linebacker position with guys like Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, Steve Gardiner and 5* recruit Lawrence Thomas coming in. We also have been recruting multiple defense backs the last couple seasons so we have some very good young players at that position (S Isaiah Lewis, CBs Darqueze Denard, Mylan Hicks, Tony Lippett). I think this group of guys can ease the loss of Jones/Gordon/Rucker. On offense virtually everyone returns except for our to OT's and our C. From watching the bowl game where Alabama completely dominated our o-line this might not be that big of a loss. All three of those guys (Deane, Young, and Stipek) were converted dlineman. Now we will have all Dantonio recruits across the line and it usually takes 2-3 years for an o-lineman to develop.
Jeff from Hastings, Neb., writes: Adam--for a favorite in the Big 10 for the 2011 season I would have to cast my vote for NU...the purple one, not the red one. It would be naive for Husker fans to think Bo and his boys will just dominate the Legends division next year. There will be adjustments. Northwestern has a favorable schedule (they miss Wisconsin and Ohio State) and they return QB Dan Persa. Coming from the Big 12 where we are familiar with division races we Husker fans realize how important those two things are to getting your team to the championship game. And once you get in the championship, anything can happen.
Justin from NE Iowa writes: Hey Adam,How about Iowa and Illinois as a couple favorites? First Illinois - They keep most of their Offensive and Defensive lines, quarterback, recievers, and linebackers don't they? 2nd year under some really good coordinators and with that baylor bowl beat down, should be a nice springboard for the B10 season. And they don't play missouri this upcoming year? So an easier ooc schedule as well. Now Iowa. They lose Stanzi, but Vandenberg shows as much promise as any new starter in the league. Coker is good feature back material - big & pounding, which Iowa hasn't had for a couple seasons. And then the O-Line should be the best in the B10 next year with another year and just about everyone back. Tight ends/recieving should be good as long as McNutt doesn't turn pro. The weakness this year on D was backers, and theirs got a trial by fire this year and should be improved. They'll keep at least half of a good cornerback/safeties core, and they will have half of a good D-Line in place. So the D won't be AS salty, but should be at least middle of the pack for the B10.
Aaron from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, writes: Adam, you are right picking a Big 10 favorite is tough for 2011. If the Suspended 5 come back like they say Ohio St is the favorite. I have a feeling that suspension will be reduced. In the legends division I am going to go with Iowa or Nebraska. Losing Don Tredwell & some significant seniors is too much. Michigan and Minnesota, no thank you! Northwestern could be a surprise, but they have two issues, can't run the ball and a lot of holes in the defense. Nebraska does not lose a lot unless a couple guys go pro. Iowa loses a number of guys; however, there were some young guys that received a lot of playing time this year. Iowa will be back under the radar and will finish with a better record. The winner of the Nebraska-Iowa game at the end of the year will determine the Legends division to play Ohio St.
Brad from State College, Pa., writes: Adam,Just to prove I am not a total homer, I think OSU is the favorite until the streak is over. With that said, don't count PSU out of the mix. I don't think you will see an undefeated team in the Big Ten next year and I would be willing to bet that both teams in the conference championship game will have 2 loses. That gives Penn State, which returns a lot of talent, a chance to get P.J. some experience or McGloin a chance to read defenses before PSU hits a tough three game stretch at the end. If that stretch was at the begining, I would count them out. Are they the favorite, no. Candidate, yes!
Great responses, guys.
I'm sure I'll revisit this question, oh, 50 times before the season kicks off in September. So be ready!