For complete Big Ten player rankings and player previews, see our Draft Kit.
The Big Ten will see many changes heading into 2011, most notably the addition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers from the Big 12, which has resulted in two divisions and the conference’s first ever championship game.
Ohio State is going through team changes that have dominated the news of college football, and has the Buckeyes currently embattled in an NCAA investigation that resulted in the resignation of Head Coach Jim Tressel, the suspensions of running back Daniel Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, and more importantly, quarterback Terrelle Pryor. While Herron and Posey will return in week six, Pryor has opted for the NFL supplemental draft (assuming there is one).
The conference still boasts plenty of fantasy talent, especially at quarterback with the likes of Michigan’s Denard Robinson, Dan Persa (Northwestern), Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois), Russell Wilson (Wisconsin via NC State), and Taylor Martinez (Nebraska). That is a pretty impressive list.
As usual, Wisconsin returns some of the top running backs in Montee Ball and James White, but watch out for Iowa’s Marcus Coker to make a run at changing that in 2011.
The “unknown” position is wide receiver. Will Damarlo Belcher step up and be the new leader of the Big Ten, or will Roy Roundtree explode in his junior season and earn the coveted #1 Wolverine jersey?
All I know is it’s going be a lot of fun to watch.
2009 Record: 12-1
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 11th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 5th
Base Offense: Pro Set with Spread variation
Returning Starters: 7 Offense, 4 Defense
Significant losses: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher
Newcomer of Note: Quarterback Braxton Miller is going to wow with his explosive ability
2011 Thoughts: Jim Tressel is gone, but interim coach Luke Fickell has kept the coaching staff intact. Ohio State still faces 5-game suspensions from key offensive players, including running back Daniel Herron and wide receiver DeVier Posey, but rather than accept his punishment Pryor bolted for the NFL, opening the door for incoming freshman quarterback Braxton Miller to compete for the starting job.
Final Analysis: The offense will take a serious step back early in the 2011 season. Miller will compete at quarterback with Joe Bauserman (26 years old) and redshirt freshman Taylor Graham. At running back, the Buckeyes are hoping Roderick Smith emerges to carry the early load, and if he does it could be hard for Herron to mix back in. DeVier Posey will be a nice free agent addition in the second half of the season, and the Buckeyes return tight end Jake Stoneburner, who should see plenty of action in what could be a scaled down offense. Also keep an eye on massive tight end Reid Fragel; he’s not a receiving threat in the Stoneburner mold, but he he could emerge as a touchdown vulture.
2010 Record: 11-2
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 5th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 25th
Base Offense: Power I
Returning Starters: 4 Offense, 7 Defense
Significant losses: Quarterback Scott Tolzien, running back John Clay, tight end Lance Kendricks
Newcomer of Note: Quarterback Russell Wilson may be the most significant newcomer in the country.
2011 Thoughts: Former North Carolina State star quarterback Wilson has transferred to Wisconsin, giving them a deadly offensive attack. The Badgers already return two 1,000-yard rushers in Montee Ball and James White, and adding Wilson creates a major headache for any team in the Big Ten.
Final Analysis: Wilson will be an interesting draft day target. How much he will run or throw with the stable of backs behind him remains to be seen, but he is an upgrade over Tolzien from a fantasy perspective. Wide receiver Nick Toon’s stock goes up with the addition of Wilson, while slightly downgrading Ball and White (but not by much). There will be plenty of fantasy production from the Badgers in 2011.
2009 Record: 7-6
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 81st
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 49th
Base Offense: Spread variation
Significant losses: Running back Evan Royster, kicker Colin Wagner
Newcomer of Note: Wide receiver Bill Belton is a New Jersey burner capable of playing an immediate role.
Returning Starters: 6 Offense, 8 Defense
2011 Thoughts: Evan Royster posted yet another underwhelming year in 2010 and Penn State as a whole had problems finding the end zone; but there’s new blood with running back Silas Redd. Quarterback will once again come down to Rob Bolden and Matthew McGloin, with Bolden the early favorite.
Final Analysis: Penn State should improve at running the ball, even with the loss of Royster. Redd is ready to take the job and provides the Lions with an upgrade at the position, which honestly isn’t too hard to do after a couple of years of Royster. Leading wide receiver Derek Moye is back for his senior season and the offensive line returns three starters. Look for more points on the board from Penn State, but temper the high expectations for Redd until the Lions find an offensive identity.
2010 Record: 7-6
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 26th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 48th
Base Offense: Pro Style
Returning Starters: 7 Offense, 6 Defense
Significant losses: Running back Mikel LeShoure.
Newcomer of Note: Keep an eye on Kenny Knight down the road.
2011 Thoughts: Ron Zook has been on and off the hot seat at Illinois, but the hiring of offensive coordinator Paul Petrino gave him new life in 2010. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will be a top target among Big Ten players on draft day, and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins may flirt with his first 1,000-yard receiving season.
Final Analysis: The loss of running back Mikel LeShoure to the NFL hurts, but Jason Ford is capable of picking up the slack. The offensive line returns four players who started at least six games, and Petrino’s offense moves into year two, which should bump the numbers for Scheelhaase and Jenkins. With Ford set in the backfield, it should be another three-man show in Champaign.
2010 Record: 4-8
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 105th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 74th
Base Offense: Spread
Returning Starters: 8 Offense, 9 Defense
Significant losses: Running back Dan Dierking and wide receiver Cortez Smith
Newcomer of Note: Akeem Shavers is a JUCO back who is ready to roll. He made a move during the spring.
2011 Thoughts: Purdue returns a lot of starters on both sides of the ball, but the biggest return is running back Ralph Bolden (935 yards in 2009), which should provide instant improvement for the offense. Rob Henry is a dual threat quarterback who looks to improve on his freshman season, but he will need to cut down on the turnovers.
Final Analysis: This should not be a four-win team in 2011. Bolden gives an automatic upgrade should he stay healthy, and Henry will be more comfortable in his second year. One has to figure the Boilermakers can’t possibly be hit by injuries the way they were in 2010. The biggest issue for Purdue is depth at the skill positions if injuries occur again, although they do have Robert Marve backing up Henry at quarterback. Both Bolden and Henry are draft day options.
2010 Record: 5-7
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 56th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 102nd
Base Offense: Spread
Returning Starters: 6 Offense, 6 Defense
Significant losses: Quarterback Ben Chappell, wide receiver Tandon Doss
Newcomer of Note: Shane Wynn is a burner from Ohio’s Glenville High School. He’s only 5’7”, but he can fly.
2011 Thoughts: Indiana will have a new quarterback in Dustin Kiel, and they must replace the production from wide receiver Doss. Duwyce Wilson is a candidate to break out in Doss’ absence, and he is worthy of monitoring. On the bright side, the Hoosiers do return running back Darius Willis who was off to a great start in 2010 before being lost to injury in game four, as well as wide receiver Damarlo Belcher, who actually led the Hoosiers in receiving yards last year.
Final Analysis: Chappell is going to be very hard to replace, as he led the Big Ten in just about every quarterback statistic in 2010. Willis is a player ready to break out and is a great talent, but in order to find room Kiel will have to make some throws. On draft day you will want to consider Willis for sure, but downgrade Belcher a bit from last year.