Swan song: Last year for 11-team Big Ten
It’s the end of the Big Ten as we know it.
With Nebraska joining in 2011 – not to mention the possibility of others also climbing aboard the expansion train – the Big Misnomer puts its 11-team alignment on the field for one final time this fall.
Next season the conference will go to a divisional setup and begin playing a conference championship extravaganza.
It’s enough to bring pause to many longtime Big Ten lovers.
“It’s truly an end of an era,” said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. “A new era will begin in ’11.”
The final go-round won’t lack for subplots: Can Tressel’s Buckeyes match the record of six straight Big Ten titles? Will Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez ever get things turned around inside the refurbished Big House? Does anybody know how to block man-eaters Adrian Clayborn at Iowa or Greg Jones of Michigan State? And how many victories (currently 394) will Penn State coach Joe Paterno have when he turns a sprightly 84 on Dec. 21?
Iowa is expected to challenge the Buckeyes for the conference crown again, along with Penn State and Wisconsin.
A look at the league in projected order of finish:
OHIO STATE – Key players: QB Terrelle Pryor, DE Cameron Heyward, LB Ross Homan, WR DeVier Posey, OG Justin Boren. Returning starters: 9 offense, 5 defense.
Notes: Buckeyes can match Big Ten record (Ohio State, 1972-77) with sixth straight league title. … Tressel enters 11th season in Columbus at 94-21 (.817) overall and 59-13 (.819) in Big Ten games. … He’s second only to Michigan’s Bo Schembechler (.850 from 1969-89) in Big Ten winning percentage among coaches with at least a decade on job. … Pryor had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in February, says he is healthy and ready to go. … Buckeyes host Miami Hurricanes on Sept. 11.
IOWA – Key players: QB Ricky Stanzi, WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, DE Adrian Clayborn, SS Tyler Sash. Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Sophomore RBs Jewel Hampton, Brandon Wegher and Adam Robinson battle for time. Coach Kirk Ferentz likely won’t name a starter until the week leading up to Sept. 4 opener against Eastern Illinois, though Hampton is suspended for that game. … Clayborn, who spurned the NFL draft for one more season, leads s one of the nation’s best D-lines. … Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State come to Iowa City.
WISCONSIN – Key players: RB John Clay, QB Scott Tolzien, LT Gabe Carimi, LB Chris Borland. Returning starters: 10 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Clay was Big Ten offensive player of year and Borland was league’s top freshman. … Wisconsin went 10-0 when rushing for at least 150 yards. … Tolzien threw for 2,705 yards. … Badgers still young bunch with only 13 seniors on roster.
MICHIGAN STATE – Key players: LB Greg Jones, QB Kirk Cousins, WR/KR Keshawn Martin, DT Jerel Worthy. Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Jones was only Big Ten player named a first-team AP All-American last season, ranking third in the nation in tackles per game. … Spartans have made it to three straight bowl games under coach Mark Dantonio. … Keith Nichol converting from QB to WR. … Spartans might use some 3-4 defense to capitalize on surplus of LBs.
PENN STATE – Key players: RB Evan Royster, WR Derek Moye, OL Stefen Wisniewski, DE Jack Crawford. Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense.
Notes: JoePa begins his record 45th season looking for a new QB. Sophs Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin are top candidates to replace graduated Daryll Clark. … Royster needs 481 yards to break Curt Warner’s school rushing record of 3,398. … Chaz Powell, former starting WR, moved to CB for depth. … Defense needs three new LBs after Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull were taken in NFL draft.
MICHIGAN – Key players: QBs Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, WR Junior Hemingway, LB Obi Ezeh, CB Troy Woolfolk. Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Rodriguez needs a good season to keep his job after losing school-record nine games in his debut and flopping to 5-7 last season with only one Big Ten win. … Forcier was No. 1 QB as a freshman last year, but might get beat out by the speedy Robinson. … Playmakers desperately needed to help a defense that has been awful the past two years and lost DE Brandon Graham and CB Donovan Warren.
NORTHWESTERN – Key players: QB Dan Persa, WR Sidney Stewart, DT Corbin Bryant, LB Quentin Davie. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: The Wildcats have big holes to fill (DE Corey Wootton, QB Mike Kafka, CB Sherrick McManis) after an 8-5 season that ended with a wild 38-35 overtime loss to Auburn in Outback Bowl. … Biggest question is at QB, where Persa takes over after throwing for 224 yards as a sophomore. … TE Drake Dunsmore is one of more versatile TEs in the Big Ten, with 47 catches for 523 yards.
ILLINOIS – Key players: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Mikel LeShoure, LBs Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Scheelhaase steps in for graduated Juice Williams and, though he’s never played a college down, coaches already talking up his leadership. … Most of coach Ron Zook’s staff lost their jobs after last season. New O coordinator is Paul Petrino, brother of Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino. … Petrino will add something not seen much in Zook’s five seasons: the huddle. … LB Wilson running out of chances to live up to recruiting hype after missing virtually all of last season with injury.
PURDUE – Key players: QB Robert Marve, RB Ralph Bolden, WR Keith Smith, DE Ryan Kerrigan. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Bolden tore ACL in right knee and had surgery in May. His status is uncertain. He ran for 935 yards last season. … Former QB Justin Siller, suspended last season, returns. He could see time at every offensive skill position. … Smith caught 91 passes for 1,100 yards in ’09. … Kerrigan had 13 sacks last year.
MINNESOTA – Key players: QB Adam Weber, RB DeLeon Eskridge, WR/KR Troy Stoudermire, S Kim Royston. Returning starters: 9 offense, 2 defense.
Notes: Fifth-year senior Weber plays for his fourth offensive coordinator, Jeff Horton, after failing to find a rhythm in ’09 with a weak running game and an unstable OL. Weber won the job over MarQueis Gray. … Coach Tim Brewster enters his fourth season with pressure to get the Gophers over that 6-6 hump. That may be difficult: 3 of 4 Big Ten home games are against top-10 teams from ’09. Plus, USC pays TCF Bank Stadium a visit. … Royston broke left leg in April and is working way back.
INDIANA – Key players: DT Larry Black Jr., QB Ben Chappell, WR Tandon Doss, LB Tyler Replogle. Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense.
Notes: Hoosiers switching from 4-3 D to 3-4. … Doss was second in Big Ten with 80.2 yards receiving per game. … Indiana will be wearing new uniforms this season, the most noticeable difference being that the stripes will be on the shoulder of the jersey instead of the pants. … Mitchell Evans, a WR who lined up at QB in Hoosiers’ version of wildcat formation last season, is moving to the secondary.
AP Sports Writers Luke Meredith in Iowa City, Iowa, Colin Fly in Milwaukee, Michael Marot and Cliff Brunt in Indianapolis, Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, Mich., Andrew Seligman in Chicago and Dave Campbell in Minneapolis, and Associated Press Writers Genaro Armas in State College, Pa., Tim Martin in Lansing, Mich., and David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.
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