The Wisconsin Badgers have won the Big Ten and played in the Rose Bowl for two straight seasons, and they have a good chance to make that happen a third consecutive time. The Badgers find themselves in the Leaders Division of the Big Ten, which is going to be substantially weakened now that the NCAA has declared a couple of teams ineligible.
The Penn State Nittany Lions were handed a four-year bowl ban following the conviction of Jerry Sandusky while the Ohio State Buckeyes will be missing in postseason action for one year following the Jim Tressel indiscretions from two years ago.
That means the Badgers are heavily favored to repeat as winners, and it doesn't appear that anyone will put up much of a fight.
Wisconsin is -500 to win the division, with Illinois next at +550, then Purdue at +800 and Indiana at +1500.
The Indiana Hoosiers started more freshmen than anyone in the country last season, and the results weren't pretty. The team finished 2-10 in Kevin Wilson's first season, and the Hoosiers clearly have plenty of work to do.
Meanwhile, the Purdue Boilermakers and Illinois Fighting Illini each finished 7-6. Illinois is rebuilding after canning head coach Ron Zook at the end of last season and replacing him with Tim Beckman.
The Beckman era has been interesting so far, to say the least. Beckman has a track record of success, but some may question his tactics after he sent six assistant coaches to the Penn State campus to hang outside the Lasch Building for some recruiting.
The good news is that he's got 15 starters back along with one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks in Nathan Scheelhaase. The team still has key questions along the offensive line and is searching for a reliable running back to carry the load and a top wideout after A.J. Jenkins graduated to the NFL.
Purdue has interesting prospects for the season as the Boilermakers return 19 starters, the most in the Big Ten. Danny Hope's team was 4-8 in his first season but improved to 7-6 last year, including a bowl win. The Boilermakers clearly have momentum, and that could carry over into the 2012 campaign, as three of the first four contests are at home. Should Wisconsin falter, this would appear to be the team best fit to benefit.
But that's unlikely, because the Badgers appear to be a cut above the rest in the Leaders Division.
Once again, Wisconsin has picked up a veteran ACC quarterback castoff as former Maryland starter Danny O'Brien will take over the signal-calling duties for the Badgers. He's no Russell Wilson, but considering he's got Heisman Trophy-contending running back Montee Ball to hand the ball off to, O'Brien won't have to do much work.
Ball is on pace to smash several NCAA records this season, and the Badgers' strong offensive line should help him in his quest. With a solid defense to boot, a lot will have to go wrong for Wisconsin to falter.
It also helps that the Badgers have one of the easiest schedules in the Big Ten. There's no Michigan or Iowa on the radar, and the Badgers will get to face Michigan State and Ohio State at home.
Expect to see the Badgers playing in the Big Ten title game come Dec. 1.
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