Big Ten ready to kick off historic season
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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.
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.
2. Michigan State
2. Ohio State
3. Penn State
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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