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updated: 9/1/2011 9:12 PM

Big Ten ready to kick off historic season

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  • Wisconsin's Montee Ball celebrates a touchdown run against UNLV during the first half of their game Thursday in Madison, Wis.

      Wisconsin's Montee Ball celebrates a touchdown run against UNLV during the first half of their game Thursday in Madison, Wis.
    Associated Press

  • The Big Ten's hectic offseason drew as many headlines as its teams did on the field last year. Now, with the additions of Nebraska, two divisions, a title game and four new coaches, football starts again beginning Thursday in Madison, Wis.

      The Big Ten's hectic offseason drew as many headlines as its teams did on the field last year. Now, with the additions of Nebraska, two divisions, a title game and four new coaches, football starts again beginning Thursday in Madison, Wis.
    associated press

 

Remember the lovely off-season when we had all the time we wanted to hash and re-hash conference realignment, Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor and quid pro quo tattoos?

We regret to inform you that we must cast these issues aside now in order to focus on -- gasp! -- the games.

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Wisconsin kicked off the 116th Big Ten season Thursday night -- a season that promises to be unlike any other.

Nebraska makes its debut. So do the well-loved Legends and Leaders division names. So does the Stagg-Paterno Trophy, which goes to the school that captures the inaugural Big Ten championship game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.

Four new head coaches -- five if you want to include Nebraska boss Bo Pelini -- grace the sidelines.

Wisconsin, which looked vulnerable at the end of spring ball with lightly tested sophomore Jon Budmayr as the only quarterback option, suddenly became a national-title contender in June when North Carolina State transfer Russell Wilson came to town.

Wilson, by the way, entered Thursday's game ranked third among active players in total yards (9,628) and touchdowns (93).

Wilson's experience gives the Badgers the nod over the Buckeyes, who'll miss a fistful of key players (including first-team all-Big Ten running back Dan Herron and first-team tackle Mike Adams) for the first five games due to last year's off-field hijinks.

In keeping with the program's off-season theme, Ohio State announced Thursday that three players on the two-deep are suspended for Saturday's opener after accepting illegal benefits at a charity outing.

While the Buckeyes are trending down, Michigan believes it nipped a three-year descent in the bud when it fired Rich Rodriguez and hired Brady Hoke.

Hoke has scrapped Rodriguez's high-wire offense and indifferent defense for the bruising style to which Michigan fans have become accustomed.

Denard Robinson, the reigning Offensive Player of the Year, will play a more-refined style yet still have opportunities to eat yards at a prodigious rate.

Northwestern, on the other hand, would love to allow first-team all-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa to do anything he wants.

Alas, his healed Achilles' tendon hasn't healed enough to allow him to be the Wildcats' main man when they open Saturday at Boston College.

When Northwestern released its injury report Thursday, Persa was listed as questionable. That suggests sophomore Kain Colter will get the start and handle most, if not all, of the snaps.

As for Illinois, Ron Zook's seventh edition has a prime chance to produce the program's first 4-0 start since 1951.

The Illini open with five straight home games for the first time since 1905: Arkansas State, South Dakota, Arizona State, Western Michigan and Northwestern.

LEGENDS

1. Nebraska

2. Michigan State

3. Iowa

4. Michigan

5. Northwestern

6. Minnesota

LEADERS

1. Wisconsin

2. Ohio State

3. Penn State

4. Illinois

5. Purdue

6. Indiana

Willhite's preseason all-Big Ten team:

QB: Denard Robinson, Michigan

RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin

RB: Edwin Baker, Michigan State

WR: Marvin McNutt, Iowa

WR: Derek Moye, Penn State

WR: Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern

TE: Kyler Reed, Nebraska

OT: Jeff Allen, Illinois

OG: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin

C: Mike Brewster, Ohio State

OG: Joel Foreman, Michigan State

OT: Riley Reiff, Iowa

K: Dan Conroy, Michigan State

DE: Vince Browne, Northwestern

DT: Jared Crick, Nebraska

DT: Mike Martin, Michigan

DE: Cameron Meredith, Nebraska

OLB: Mike Mauti, Penn State

MLB: Lavonte David, Nebraska

OLB: Jonathan Brown, Illinois

CB: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska

CB: Shaun Prater, Iowa

S: Aaron Henry, Wisconsin

S: Trenton Robinson, Michigan State

P: Brad Nortman, Wisconsin

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