There's some easy parts and some tricky parts about deciding who the favorites are in Big Ten football this year. The easy? Well, you know Ohio State's gotta be the favorite. And you know who the top also-rans are -- it's Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin in some order.
Oh, and Illinois is terrible.
But the tough part? Deciding what to do with rankings number 5 through 10. Here's how I think the Big Ten is looking going into the 2010 season. Just for fun, I'll throw Nebraska in there too.
1. Ohio State - Terrelle Pryor is the conference's best Heisman candidate, although there are several others worth consideration.
With WR Dane Sanzenbacher back (and I didn't even look up that spelling!) as well as Rolle at linebacker, the Buckeyes are what we always expect them to be - a great team with great depth who won't spend any time outside of the Top Ten nationwide.
2. Iowa - Adrian Clayborn was the best defensive player in the Big Ten last year, and proved it with his highlight reel field goal block and TD return against Penn State. He's back this year to make his case as a top five NFL draft pick.
Ricky Stanzi? I'm not quite as sold. But the Hawkeyes are aiming for ten wins and a BCS game.
3. Wisconsin - John Clay is the Big Ten's best running back and a dark horse Heisman candidate - think Toby Gerhart, but Clay does it against better defenses. Wisco is coming off a big bowl win and looking to improve.
4. Penn State - Even though they lost a ton of players, JoePa recruits better than anyone not named Sweater Vest in the conference. Plus, that home field advantage at Happy Valley is awesome.
5. Northwestern - My love for Pat Fitzgerald is well-documented. He's Joe Paterno in diapers. The Wildcats are marketing Chicago hard this year, with hopes of improving attendance at Ryan Field, and I believe there are plenty of wannabe fans in the area that should flock to what is a thoroughly enjoyable gameday experience.
Dan Persa is more than capable at quarterback. The biggest question is whether the 'Cats can rely on Arby Fields to actually gain yardage at RB. Northwestern hasn't really had a good running back since Damien Anderson. Finding one would be a huge plus.
5a. Nebraska - That defense was one of the best in the nation last season, but loses Ndamukong Suh and Barry "Bears Practice Squad" Turner, and their offense is nothing to write home about.
However, cornerback Prince Amukamara (yes, I cheated here) is a superstar in waiting, and I expect the Blackshirts defense to make the Huskers' last season in the Big 12 a memorable one.
6. Michigan State - Kirk Cousins returns at quarterback, and is probably the Big Ten's biggest darkhorse Heisman hopeful as a junior. But Sparty has had a ton of offseason controversy and I just don't see them sneaking up on anyone.
7. Purdue - Miami transfer Robert Marve (QB) is carrying the hopes of Boiler Nation. Danny Hope is a good solid coach, but I don't know that Purdue has the depth or talent to do much more than hope for six wins.
8. Indiana - With Ben Chappell back at QB, and probably the best wide receivers in the entire Big Ten, Indiana figures to score a ton this year. Fred Glass has done a great job getting butts in seats at Memorial Stadium.
But after losing DEs Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton, LB Matt Mayberry, and safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk, the Hoosiers will have some serious issues on defense. Can the Replogle Brothers become the faces of a retooled D? They'll put up great stats, but IU looks to be giving up 28+ a game this year in the Big Ten.
However, soft out of conference matchups (Arkansas State is the best of the four) should guarantee at least four wins, or else Bill Lynch is a goner. Is it wrong to say that my heart wouldn't exactly be broken by that?
Whatever, I bought my season tickets.
9. Michigan - I thought Rich Rodriguez was amazing at West Virginia. What happened? It's looking more and more like Carr should have stayed in Ann Arbor, and Rich Rod should have stayed in Morgantown. Capital One Bowl > No Bowl.
10. Minnesota - If you can't win with talent like Eric Decker, you can't win without talent like Eric Decker. Tim Brewster is gone after this year.
11. Illinois - After a train wreck in 2009, Illinois isn't looking a whole lot better in 2010. It may be a long year in Champaign. And, by the way, I do expect Ron Zook to join Brewster on the firing line.