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Danny Hope might be on thin ice if Purdue has another so-so season.

Michael Conroy, Associated Press

Big Ten Leaders Division team-by-team capsules

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER
  • Star Tribune
  • August 28, 2012 - 12:35 AM

Listed in predicted order of finish by Star Tribune college football writer Phil Miller

OHIO STATE

Coach: Urban Meyer, 104-23 overall in 10 seasons; first season at Ohio State.

2011: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten), lost 24-17 to Florida in

Gator Bowl.

Returning starters: Seven offense, eight defense.

Most Important Player: Braxton Miller is a quick, mobile quarterback, almost the prototypical triggerman for Urban Meyer's spread offense. Only question is, how fast can he learn it?

Outlook: The Luke Fickell Era lasted only one season in Columbus, but the Buckeyes' late-season collapse -- OSU's four-game losing streak is its first since 1943 -- sets up perfectly for a textbook Meyer miracle. His track record says a big turnaround is imminent, so don't be surprised if they win the Leaders Division, then grumble all winter about their postseason ban.

WISCONSIN

Coach: Bret Bielema, 60-19 in six seasons, all at Wisconsin.

2011: 11-3 (6-2 Big Ten), defeated Michigan State 42-39 in Big Ten Championship Game, lost 45-38 to Oregon in Rose Bowl.

Returning starters: Five offense, six defense.

Most Important Player: Nobody expects Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball to score 39 touchdowns again; the tailback's biggest contribution might be stabilizing the offense while new quarterback Danny O'Brien gets comfortable.

Outlook: The Badgers are regarded as repeat Leaders Division champions by default, but any coach knows how dangerous that attitude can be. These aren't last year's Badgers, not with three offensive linemen graduated to the NFL, a nearly all-new coaching staff, and O'Brien stepping into Russell Wilson's role as QB savior. They might make the Big Ten title game again, but it won't be a smooth ride.

PURDUE

Coach: Danny Hope, 51-43 overall in eight years; 16-21 in three years at Purdue.

2011: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten), defeated Western Michigan 37-32 in Little Caesars Bowl.

Returning starters: Nine offense, nine defense.

Most Important Player: Kawann Short has first-round draft pick potential, and the Boilermakers are counting on the defensive tackle to restore a surprisingly lackluster pass rush.

Outlook: A bunch of aggressive defenders and some experienced depth on offense make Purdue a decent dark horse in the Leaders Division. The Boilermakers will know soon enough; they open Big Ten play with Michigan, Wisconsin and a trip to Ohio State. Survive that with a victory or two, and they could be set up well for a relatively big season.

PENN STATE

Coach: Bill O'Brien, first year as a head coach.

2011: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten), lost 30-14 to Houston in TicketCity Bowl.

Returning starters: Three offense, four defense.

Most Important Player: Bill Belton was a wide receiver and an option quarterback, but once 1,200-yard rusher Silas Redd transferred, the Nittany Lions turned to the quick-but-inexperienced tailback to power their running game.

Outlook: The thing is, there still is lots of talent here, and a determination to stick together through hard times. If recruiting dries up, as expected, the Nittany Lions are looking at a difficult future, but for now, an above-average defense, a promising corps of receivers and a favorable schedule could make this a heartening start to the post-Paterno era.

ILLINOIS

Coach: Tim Beckman, 21-16 overall in three years; first year at Illinois.

2011: 7-6 (2-6 Big Ten), defeated UCLA 20-14 in Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Returning starters: Seven offense, six defense.

Most Important Player: Defensive end Michael Buchanan was expected by many scouts to turn pro, but he returned to Champaign to anchor one of Big Ten's best pass rushes.

Outlook: The Fighting Illini's new coach has spent a lot of time emphasizing competitiveness and accountability after the 0-6 collapse to close the 2011 regular season. He has found a believer in quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who should rebound from a so-so sophomore season because the new system better fits his dodge-and-weave style. Trouble is, he doesn't have much help scoring points, which figures to spoil Beckman's debut.

INDIANA

Coach: Kevin Wilson, 1-11 in one year at Indiana.

2011: 1-11 (0-8 Big Ten).

Returning starters: Seven offense, eight defense

Most Important Player: Stephen Houston is a strong and reliable tailback -- only one fumble all season in 2001 -- who somehow averaged 5.3 yards per carry behind an overmatched offensive line.

Outlook: It's difficult to name a position group in which the Hoosiers are even average in the Big Ten. OK, they didn't miss an extra point last year. Like the Gophers, they took solace in a bad season by using the time to get freshmen ready to contribute. Maybe they will as sophomores, but the Hoosiers will be lucky to avoid another winless Big Ten season.

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