- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Michigan and Wisconsin seem to be the near consensus favorites to win the Big Ten divisions this season and meet Dec. 1 in Indianapolis for the league championship. Michigan State, despite losing some key offensive personnel, also is viewed to be very much in the running after back-to-back 11-win seasons. Ohio State appears all over the map in the preseason rankings, although most agree the Buckeyes will be a better product under first-year coach Urban Meyer. Nebraska also occupies a spot in most preseason polls, although the Huskers aren't generating nearly as much hype as they did a year ago.
Still, it's hard to brand Nebraska as under the radar. For the purposes of this poll, we'll look at unranked teams from the Big Ten, which, by the way, had zero teams in the "also receiving votes" category in the two major preseason polls.
Several Big Ten teams are being overlooked, undervalued, dissed, dismissed -- pick a word -- as the 2012 season beckons. It happens every season in every league, and 2012 is no exception.
Today's poll asks you to vote on the Big Ten's most under-the-radar team.
Here are five choices:
Purdue: Everyone is handing the Leaders division title to Wisconsin, but the Boilers return 18 starters, the most of any Big Ten squad. Coach Danny Hope brands this as his best team in West Lafayette. Led by a formidable defensive line and an offensive backfield filled with familiar names, the Boilers could be a major factor in the division chase.
Penn State: The NCAA sanctions and the player exodus that followed led many to write off Penn State for 2012. What folks fail to realize, however, is that the more significant scholarship penalties don't kick in right away, and while the Nittany Lions lose some key pieces, they still boast a strong defensive front seven. It won't take much to improve upon last year's offensive numbers, and Bill O'Brien's presence should help.
Iowa: There's no shortage of question marks in Iowa City, as the Hawkeyes have new coordinators, plenty of youth and a running back curse that defies logic. Iowa also has a favorable schedule and arguably the Big Ten's top quarterback in senior James Vandenberg. History also shows that the Hawkeyes typically rise when they enter a season under the radar. They could surprise some folks in the crowded Legends division.
Illinois: As Loren Tate writes, the Illini are nearly a mirror image of Penn State: great defensive front seven, new coaching staff, question marks throughout the offense. Still, this is a team that has won back-to-back bowl games and should be good enough on defense to make some noise in the wide-open Leaders division. If several offensive weapons emerge around Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois could surprise some folks.
Northwestern: The Wildcats' wins total has declined each of the past three seasons, and the loss of star quarterback Dan Persa and others raises doubts about the 2012 team. Northwestern is undoubtedly getting younger, but it also could be getting much more talented thanks to improved recruiting. If the Wildcats capitalize on a fairly favorable first-half schedule, they'll be in position to challenge in the Legends division.
It's voting time. Make yours count.
Michigan and Wisconsin seem to be the near consensus favorites to win the Big Ten divisions this season and meet Dec. 1 in Indianapolis for the league championship.