Now it's time to look at who will reach paydirt most often this season.
I'm setting the bar at 15 touchdowns, which takes quite a few players and position groups out of the mix. Several factors have to work in a player's favor for him to score 15 touchdowns, and one of them often is little depth at the position. Example: When a team has three really good receivers, it's hard to see one of them reaching the end zone 15 times.
Only three Big Ten players eclipsed 15 touchdowns in 2010, and all of them were running backs: Illinois' Mikel Leshoure (20), Wisconsin's Montee Ball (18) and Ohio State's Dan Herron (16). Three players finished with 14 touchdowns: Wisconsin running backs John Clay and James White, and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher led Big Ten receivers in touchdowns with 12 (11 receiving, 1 rushing).
Here's a look at the league's top touchdowners in 2011:
1. Wisconsin RB Montee Ball: Ball not only finished second in the Big Ten and tied for 13th nationally in touchdowns, but he reached the end zone 15 times in his final six games. He'll take on a featured role in the offense from the get-go this season, and with Clay departing, he likely will be Wisconsin's go-to back near the goal line.
2. One of Michigan State's RBs: Junior Edwin Baker has set a goal of 21 touchdowns, and while anything is possible, it seems a little ambitious. Baker reached the end zone 12 times last year and could increase his total, but fellow backs Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper also are in the mix. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Michigan State had a back score 15 or more touchdowns, and I might put my money on Bell, a 237-pound bruiser who could have a huge sophomore season.
3. Wisconsin RB James White: He recorded 14 touchdowns in 2010 and boasts the breakaway speed to record at least a handful of longer scoring runs this fall. Like Ball, White will get more carries with Clay gone and wants to show he can be a tough runner in the red zone. Wisconsin will feed both of its backs enough to get them plenty of touchdown opportunities.
4. Purdue RB Ralph Bolden: Bolden finished second in the league in touchdowns in 2009 with 11 (9 rush, 2 receiving) before missing all of last season with a knee injury. If he can stay healthy, he should be Purdue's featured back and have enough opportunities to score touchdowns. Bolden will run behind an offensive line that should be a team strength, which bodes well in the red zone.
5. Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead or QB Taylor Martinez: I'd lean toward Burkhead because I think he'll have a huge season, but both players are capable of racking up touchdowns. Martinez reached the end zone 12 times in his first five games as a freshman. Think of what he could do if he can stay healthy the whole season.
6. Minnesota WR Da'Jon McKnight: Of McKnight's 48 receptions in 2010, 10 of them wound up as touchdowns. He should have even more chances as Minnesota's No. 2 receiver, MarQueis Gray, returns to the quarterback spot, where he'll be looking for McKnight a lot in the red zone. McKnight also averaged 15.6 yards per catch in 2010, so he's a candidate for some long scoring receptions.
7. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Yes, I know Robinson's rushing numbers likely will go down this season. But you can't discount his ability to improvise and record a couple of long runs per game. The guy still has the ability to take it to the house every time he touches the football. So while this might be a long shot, I can't do a list like this without including No. 16.
8. Iowa RB Marcus Coker: Perhaps I'm buying in too much to what Coker did in the Insight Bowl, but he has several factors working in his favor to rack up touchdowns. He enters the season as Iowa's clear-cut No. 1 back, as there's no proven depth behind him. He'll work behind one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines. He's a bigger back (230 pounds), which bodes well near the goal line. And Iowa likely will stress the run game as it welcomes a new starting quarterback (James Vandenberg).
Other top touchdown candidates to watch include:
Northwestern WR Jeremy Ebert
Iowa WR Marvin McNutt
I'll wrap up the series Monday with a look at the Big Ten's candidates for 100 tackles.