The offseason is here and it provides a chance for the Big Ten to look in the mirror.
The league didn't exactly have a banner year in 2010, and it's important to avoid slipping back to the period before the bowl breakthrough in 2009.
I've prepared a to-do list for the Big Ten and several of its teams during the next seven and a half months before the games begin again.
1. Image is everything: Legends and Leaders will remain through the 2011 season, and the Big Ten's new logo isn't going anywhere, either, but the league should continue to examine how it's viewed nationally and how it can improve its image. Whether Big Ten fans want to acknowledge it or not, the league's reputation outside the footprint isn't overly favorable. A large part of this has to do with recent on-field performance, but many see the Big Ten as an arrogant league that lives off of its past. The Big Ten should improve in 2011 with the addition of Nebraska, but it must find better ways to connect positively with folks around the country.
2. Repair the defenses: Five Big Ten teams made changes or tweaks to the defensive coordinator position, and fixing defense will be a common theme around the league in the coming months. Teams like Michigan and Northwestern return quite a bit on offense but need significant upgrades on the defensive side of the ball. Indiana tries to fix its chronic problems on defense, while other squads such as Purdue and Wisconsin must replace standout linemen (Ryan Kerrigan, J.J. Watt).
3. Quarterback search in the Leaders division: Illinois and Purdue are the only teams in the Leaders division that have a good idea of their starting quarterbacks entering the season, and that's assuming Boilers signal-caller Robert Marve returns at full strength following his second ACL tear. Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana will feature quarterback competitions this summer, and Ohio State must identify a starter for the first five games while Terrelle Pryor serves his suspension.
4. Complete Nebraska's integration: All indications so far suggest Nebraska's transition to the Big Ten is going well. It's important for both sides to complete the process without any snags before Nebraska becomes a full Big Ten member on July 1. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and others acknowledge Penn State's transition two decades ago didn't go as smoothly as it could have. It's important for the Big Ten to finalize future schedules and any other logistics before Big Red comes storming in.
5. Fill the gaps in Madison and Columbus: The Big Ten's top two teams in 2010 both face significant challenges on the depth chart entering 2011. Wisconsin loses more individual standouts than any Big Ten team and must replace stars at quarterback, offensive line, tight end and defensive end. Ohio State not only says goodbye to a large senior class but must figure out how to survive the first five games without four offensive starters (Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams) and a defensive reserve (Solomon Thomas).