The Big Ten saw a lot of firsts in 2011. It was the first time Ohio State took the field with out Jim Tressel. It was the first time Kevin Wilson, and Jerry Kill were head coaches. It was the first time the Big 10 had two divisions, and the first time it will have a conference championship game. It was the first time any team played Nebraska as conference opponent. Looking forward to the 2012 season, there will be a lot more firsts.
Ohio State introduced their new head football coach on Monday. What a signing it was when they announced Urban Meyer as the head Buckeye for 2012, and the future. Meyer was the former head man at Florida, where he won two National Championships before retiring, siting health issues as the reason. Meyer said that he is much more healthy and has learned how to deal with the stress of coaching, and handle his health issues. The biggest surprise was that coach Meyer announced that he would keep current Buckeye head coach Luke Fickle on the staff as defensive coordinator, and mentioned that it would be a recuirement for the members of his staff to be “Ohio Guys.”
Also on Monday, Illinois helped spin the coaching carousel after firing Ron Zook. Zook was 34-51 in Campaign, including a Rose Bowl appearance in 2008. It will be interesting to see who the fighting Illini pick to replace Zook.
The preseason pick to win the Big 10 was Nebraska. They finished the season 9-3, with two huge losses to Wisconsin and Michigan, and missed the conference championship game. They look to replace 3 senior preseason All-Americans in defensive tackle, Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David, and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. All of which will be 1st day, maybe even first round draft picks. In year two of the Taylor Martinez experiment, Nebraska found new struggles offensively, and refused to see what else they had behind Martinez, and junior running back Rex Burkhead. The Husker coaching staff did however did find new explosive receivers in Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. Turner may still get a look at quarterback in the spring. He was a High School All-American.
Wisconsin will look to replace seniors, quarterback Russel Wilson, wide receiver Nick Toon, right tackle Josh Oglesby, and left guard Kevin Zeitler on offense. Not to mention that running back Montee Ball could come out after his junior year. Wisconsin will also lose the 5 starting seniors on defense. The Badgers could also lose three juniors to the NFL at key positions. Next years team will have a total different look. Ball coming back is key.
Michigan State will lose Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, and the team’s two leading receivers Keeshawn Martin, and B.J. Cunningham. However, the Spartans return 4 of the starting offensive linemen, and 10 of 11 starters on defense. If coach Mark Dantonio can find someone to fill the huge shoes left to fill by Cousins, the Spartans may find themselves playing in a second straight conference title game.
Penn Sate will start a season with out Joe Paterno at the helm for the first time in 53 years. There has been no announcement on who the coach of the future will be, but who ever he may be, hopefully they can pick a starting quarterback out of Rob Boldin, or Matt McGloin. It will be interesting to see how big of a name they can draw to be the head Lion in Happy Valley, and how well they can recruit after the sexual molestation allogations that have been brought on former Nittany Lion’s assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Northwestern may have found a star in sophomore quarterback Kain Colter. He is completing 67% of his passes this season, in the place of often injured senior signal caller Dan Persa. He has thrown 5 touchdowns to just 1 interception and has rushed for 8 scores on the ground. The Wildcats will have to replace senior tail back Jacob Schmidt. Northwestern finished the season 6-6 (3-5) in 2011. With Colter as the full time starter next year, I could see the Wildcats finished 8-4, or better.
Michigan maybe the favored pick to win the conference next season. They return multi-talented quarterback Denard Robinson for his senior season. Robinson has already accounted for 2,882 yards of total offense, and 28 touchdowns for the Wolverines. The biggest addition to Robinson is sophomore sensation Fitzgerald Toussaint, who has rushed for 891 yards and 9 touchdowns. With former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison calling the defense, the Wolverines jumped from 108th nationally in defense to the top 20. Look for the defense to improve even more in the second year under Mattison.
Iowas Senior wide receiver Marvin McNutt was named to the All-Big Ten 1st team on Monday. He and offensive linemen, Adam Gettis and Markus Zusevics are the only senior Hawkeyes that start on this team. Kirk Ferentz gets leading rusher Marcus Coker, and quarterback James Vandenberg back for one more year. It will be interesting to see how junior Keenan Davis, and freshman sensation Kevonte Matin-Manley’s production fluctuates with the loss of McNutt to draw the double teams next year.
Purdue almost missed a bowl game, but with a 33-25 win over Indiana on Saturday, the Boilermakers move to 6-6. Junior defensive tackle Kawann Short was the only Boilermaker to make All-Big Ten first team honors. Senior kicker Carson Wiggs, did make All-Big Ten second team honors. Purdue will lose four key starters from defense to graduation, but sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen could be a star in the making. He was named to the All-Big Ten second team list. He could very well make the first team next season.
Indiana finishes 2011 with a 1-11 record, and the only win coming over a non FBS school by 13 points. Not the start that first year head coach Kevin Wilson had in mind when he left Norman Oklahoma. True freshman Tre Roberson completed 57% of his passes, but throwing 3 touchdowns to 6 interceptions is not going to cut it. The Hoosiers need to get better quarterback play to even make strides from this season.
Minnesota finished the season 3-9, and gave Jerry Kill a contract extension. He beat Big Ten foes, Iowas and Illinois, and could have been the main reason behind Ron Zook loosing his job. Kill returns junior quarterback MarQueis Gray in 2012, but loses a combination of 12 starters, including 3 starting offensive linemen. Kill currently has 19 players committed to the Golden Gophers for the 2012 recruiting class. Its not to start studded, but depth is just as important as skill in big time college football.
By Jimmie Allen
Picture provided by the Associated Press.