You have to feel for Michigan. Entering a season in which most see the maize and blue as the Big Ten’s team to beat, that darn school due south somehow managed to steal most of the offseason headlines.
The conference is abuzz over the hiring of Urban Meyer, whose mission is to clean up and rebuild Ohio State into a perennial powerhouse.
No one questions whether Meyer can do it, or even that he will do it; it’s just a matter of how long it will take. Perhaps Meyer could steal a few pointers from his new archrival, Brady Hoke, who turned Michigan’s mess into a BCS qualifier in just one season.
Outsiders may have marveled at Hoke’s work, but not Big Ten coaches.
“I’ve been part of this conference for 20 years,” Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz told Lindy’s, “and one constant is that you can never count Michigan or Ohio State out for long.”
The Wolverines’ 1-2 punch of quarterback Denard Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint leads a roster full of promise.
The school’s season-opener against Alabama will serve as an indicator for whether Hoke’s squad is ready to take the next step, but the more important test will come weeks later when the Wolverines entertain in-state rival (and leading conference challenger) Michigan State.
In Columbus, Meyer has few pieces to play with in year one. The offensive line must be reshaped to fit his wide-open approach, and Braxton Miller must become more consistent under center. On defense, the secondary is deep but inexperienced.
Again, no one doubts that the man who won two national titles while at Florida is up to the challenge.
“What he’s done speaks for itself,” says Minnesota’s Jerry Kill. “(His arrival) only makes our conference tougher.”
No matter how well the Buckeyes fare, it’s kind of a lost season; the team is ineligible for postseason play, including the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. That leaves the door open for Wisconsin to return to Lucas Oil Stadium.
First, the Badgers must replace three offensive linemen and retool the secondary, but that’s hardly a worry. What fans are concerned about is quarterback; 2011 starter Russell Wilson transformed the grind-it-out offense into a multi-dimensional attack; 2012 transfer Danny O’Brien has yet to take a snap for the red and white.
The team Wisconsin beat in last year’s title game is desperate to return.
“Having been there, it was even more exciting than we could have imagined,” said Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio.
His club will rely on an outstanding defense, highlighted by a fierce pass rush and a trio of linebackers — Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Chris Norman — that rates among the best in the country. The Spartans must weather several tests before their showdown in Ann Arbor.
Can Nebraska and Penn State play spoiler? Only if both clubs’ offensive and defensive lines come together in time. Same goes for Iowa and Northwestern — both schools are well coached, but lacking in firepower.
Of course, it’s foolish to count out any squad in this conference.
“Any team can rise to the top in this conference,” Dantonio said.
— Mike Beacom
OFFENSE – FIRST TEAM
|OL||Chris McDonald||Sr.||Michigan State|
DEFENSE – FIRST TEAM
|DL||William Gholston||Jr.||Michigan State|
|DL||John Simon||Sr.||Ohio State|
|DL||Johnathan Hankins||Jr.||Ohio State|
|LB||Gerald Hodges||Sr.||Penn State|
|DB||Johnny Adams||Sr.||Michigan State|
|DB||C.J. Barnett||Jr.||Ohio State|
OFFENSE – SECOND TEAM
|QB||Braxton Miller||So.||Ohio State|
|RB||Le’Veon Bell||Jr.||Michigan State|
|TE||Jake Stoneburner||Sr.||Ohio State|
|OL||Jack Mewhort||Jr.||Ohio State|
|OL||Fou Fonoti||Sr.||Michigan State|
|K||Drew Basil||Jr.||Ohio State|
DEFENSE – SECOND TEAM
|DL||Jordan Hill||Sr.||Penn State|
|DL||Marcus Rush||So.||Michigan State|
|LB||Denicos Allen||Jr.||Michigan State|
|DB||Isaiah Lewis||Jr.||Michigan State|
|DB||Travis Howard||Sr.||Ohio State|
|P||Anthony Fera||Jr.||Penn State|
OFFENSE – THIRD TEAM
|RB||Jordan Hall||Sr.||Ohio State|
|WR||Justin Brown||Sr.||Penn State|
|C||Matt Stankiewitch||Sr.||Penn State|
|OL||Reid Fragel||Sr.||Ohio State|
|K||Anthony Fera||Jr.||Penn State|
DEFENSE – THIRD TEAM
|LB||Max Bullough||Jr.||Michigan State|
|LB||Ryan Shazier||So.||Ohio State|
|LB||Michael Mauti||Sr.||Penn State|