HOW THEY'LL FINISH
This is an article from the Aug. 22, 2011 issue
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME DEC. 3 IN INDIANAPOLIS: NEBRASKA OVER WISCONSIN
Best defensive player
JARED CRICK DT, Nebraska, Senior
Led the team in sacks (9½) and tackles for loss (17) in 2010. Should put up even bigger numbers this year as the Huskers use a 3--4 more frequently.
True freshman to watch
THOMAS RAWLS RB, Michigan
In a wide-open Wolverines backfield the all-state honorable mention—he rushed for 1,585 yards as a senior at Flint Northern—could see significant carries.
Coach on the rise
BRADY HOKE Michigan
The Michigan Man has yet to win his first game, but he has put together a stellar coaching staff and reeled in five four-star recruits from Ohio.
Coach on the hot seat
RON ZOOK Illinois
He's coming off a bowl win but is 28--45 with the Illini. The retirement of longtime athletic director Ron Guenther this year could signal other changes.
Best offensive player
EDWIN BAKER RB, Michigan State, Junior
In his first year as a starter, the bruising 5'9" back known as the Rock rolled up 1,201 yards at 5.8 per carry and had 13 touchdowns.
Players to Watch (Top performers from unranked teams)
MICHAEL MAUTI LB, Penn State, Senior
Despite starting only seven games last year because of nagging injuries, he still finished fifth on the team with 67 tackles. He's healthy now.
DENARD ROBINSON QB, Michigan, Junior
One of the most electrifying players in the nation, Shoelace will build on a spectacular sophomore year—328.6 yards of total offense per game, second most in the nation—in the new pro-style offense.
DAMARlO BELCHER WR, Indiana, Senior
After losing seven pounds in the off-season, one of the Big Ten's most experienced receivers—he led the league with 78 catches in 2010—hopes to find the end zone more frequently (four TDs last fall).
DAN PERSA QB, Northwestern, Senior
Healed from a ruptured right Achilles tendon that caused him to miss the last three games of 2010, he set a Big Ten record by completing 73.5% of his throws and ranked ninth nationally in pass efficiency (159.0)
TROY STOUDEMIRE KR-CB, Minnesota, Senior
After gaining 27.2 yards per return in '10, he needs 190 yards to break the NCAA alltime record of 3,118. Will be a starting corner after making six starts last year.
DEREK DIMKE K, Illinois, Senior
The Lou Groza Award candidate connected on a conference-high 24 field goals on 29 attempts. He also led the Big Ten with 22 touchbacks and was 43 of 43 on extra-point attempts.
Defensive tackle is the conference's strongest position, with a trio of potential first-round picks in Michigan's Mike Martin, Nebraska's Jared Crick and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy. In new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's 4--3 scheme, the 6'2", 304-pound Martin, who had 37 tackles and 2½ sacks despite nagging injuries to both ankles in 2010, should have a monster year.... For the past two seasons Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has been named Top Cat—the team's hardest worker in the weight room. He can bench 385 pounds.... One of the best high school quarterbacks in the country, Skyler Mornhinweg of St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia—son of Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg—switched his commitment from Stanford to Penn State in July, giving the Nittany Lions a star at the position as early as next year.... Purdue kicker Carson Wiggs may have the strongest leg in the country. He connected on a 67-yard field goal during the spring game, which would have tied the NCAA record.... Going for a more traditional look, Indiana is eliminating the stripes on the Hoosiers' helmets and jerseys.