The sleeper team. If it's not your favorite offseason topic, it's pretty high on the list. I can't keep track of how often I get asked to name the Big Ten surprise team or sleeper team for the coming season. Now I'm putting the question to you.
Although few folks projected Michigan State to win 11 games in 2010, the Spartans probably weren't the league’s biggest surprise last season. Illinois entered the fall with a coach on the hot seat (Ron Zook), a freshman quarterback (Nathan Scheelhaase), two new coordinators (Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning) and countless questions. The Illini ended up winning their first bowl game since 1999.
While Illinois might not be as big of a surprise team this year, it is certainly in the mix after losing standout players like defensive tackle Corey Liuget, linebacker Martez Wilson and running back Mikel Leshoure. Northwestern has made three consecutive bowl games for the first time in team history, but the Wildcats could qualify as a surprise if they were to, say, win the Legends division.
Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue were the only Big Ten teams not to qualify for bowls in 2010. The Gophers and Hoosiers have new coaches, while Purdue hopes to end a three-year bowl drought. All three teams have a chance to surprise some folks in 2010.
It's your turn to weigh in on the Big Ten's surprise team in 2011.