Big Ten: best case/worst case 12

Best Case/Worst Case: Wisconsin

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
2:30
PM ET
Our series looking at the best- and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team comes to a close today with Wisconsin.

As a reminder one last time, these are by no means predictions for the season. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. We've been trying to have some fun here, and I think we succeeded.

The Badgers have had fun winning the past two Big Ten championships. What are the high and low possibilities for them in 2012?

Best Case

Everything is coming up Roses again in Madison. Wisconsin returns a lot of top-shelf talent, the path in the Leaders Division has been cleared (thanks, NCAA!) and the bounces finally go the Badgers' way almost all season.

Montee Ball shows he's still the full Montee by running for four touchdowns in the easy opening win over Northern Iowa. Oregon State, rusty from having its opener cancelled by Hurricane Isaac, is a step slow all day in a 42-7 Wisconsin win. Danny O'Brien has his first big game against the Beavers, throwing for 300 yards. O'Brien completes 70 percent of his passes for the year, making fans forget about Russell Wilson.

Ball piles up the touchdowns against Utah State and UTEP to head into the showdown at Nebraska at 4-0. The Huskers win on a controversial call in the final seconds, spoiling a chance at a perfect season for the Badgers.

But that only makes this team mad, and it takes that anger out on the rest of the league. Wisconsin bludgeons Illinois and Purdue and beats Minnesota 65-0. Cement is poured around Paul Bunyan's Axe.

Michigan State comes to Madison on Oct. 27 and receives an early Halloween nightmare. Thousands of Wisconsin students dress up as John L. Smith, but the scariest thing is how easily the Badgers puncture the Spartans' defense in the 35-14 victory. O'Brien completes a Hail Mary for a touchdown -- to end the first half.

After a six-touchdown performance by Ball against Indiana, Urban Meyer brings Ohio State to town. Bret Bielema has been waiting for this one since February and pulls out all the stops. Wisconsin's defense rises to the occasion, repeatedly taking advantage of freshman offensive lineman Kyle Dodson, who's been forced into action because of injuries. Bielema goes for two on every play in the 44-17 win.

The Badgers steamroll a downtrodden Penn State and roll on to the Big Ten championship game, where they club Iowa by three touchdowns to regain both the league title and the Heartland Trophy. Ball, who finishes with a new FBS record of 41 touchdowns, wins the Heisman Trophy. Ricky Wagner wins the Outland Trophy. Travis Frederick wins the Rimington Trophy. Jacob Pedersen wins the Mackey Award. Chris Borland wins the Butkus Award.

Wisconsin makes its third straight Rose Bowl and wins it this time over USC. House of Pain performs at halftime. After an ugly BCS title game, several Associated Press voters elevate the Badgers to No. 1. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater decides that he will graduate in 2013 and transfer to the Badgers to succeed O'Brien as the starter in '14.

The FDA announces that cheese curds, bratwurst and Spotted Cow are actually good for you and recommends 3-to-5 servings per day.

Worst Case

Six new assistant coaches. No Russell Wilson. A dinged-up Montee Ball. Winter is coming, Badgerland.

Ball doesn't look quite right in the opener against Northern Iowa, and concussions symptoms lead to him missing several games. Wisconsin survives an upset bid. Oregon State, rested and ready after having its opener cancelled, springs a surprise on the flat-footed Badgers as O'Brien reverts to his Maryland sophomore struggles and throws three interceptions. Fans look longingly to Wilson, who's tearing up the NFL in Seattle.

Wisconsin beats Utah State and UTEP but looks ugly in doing so because of a lack of staff cohesion. The newly-married Bielema, much like Don Draper on the last season of "Mad Men," doesn't get too concerned because he's still on "love leave."

Nebraska pounds the Badgers into submission in Week 5 in primetime. Barry Alvarez is so overcome with emotion about his alma mater that he announces he will succeed Tom Osborne as Huskers AD.

The team rebounds to beat Illinois, but then its road troubles continue with a loss at Purdue. O'Brien tosses three more interceptions and is lifted for Joel Stave. With things in disarray, Minnesota comes to Camp Randall and pulls off a shocking upset thanks to MarQueis Gray's game-winning Hail Mary. Gleeful Gophers players take Paul Bunyan's Axe and destroy the new facility upgrades at the stadium.

Michigan State seeks revenge the next week and gets it. Isaiah Lewis blocks two punts and the Spartans don't need any late heroics in the 31-14 victory. Madison police, citing safety concerns, cancel the State Street Halloween party.

Wisconsin regroups enough to beat Indiana, but Urban Meyer has been waiting since signing day to exact a pound of flesh from Bielema. Braxton Miller goes nuts, and the surprising Kyle Dodson leads the way on the offensive line. Meyer goes for two on every play and struts off the field after a 44-17 win. Penn State gears up for the finale and waylays the Badgers 38-7, sending Purdue to Indianapolis. Iowa wins the Big Ten title.

The 6-6 season sends Wisconsin to the Little Caesars Bowl against Northern Illinois and former assistant Dave Doeren. Now more familiar with the Badgers system than most of Bielema's current assistants, Doeren leads the Huskies to victory.

House of Pain sends a cease and desist letter to the school, demanding that "Jump Around" no longer be played at Camp Randall. A national cheese, beer and sausage shortage grips the nation, and vegan restaurants take over Madison.

More Best Case/Worst Case

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota
Nebraska
Northwestern
Ohio State
Penn State
Purdue

Best Case/Worst Case: Purdue

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
4:00
PM ET
We're winding down the best case/worst case series, which we know you've enjoyed tremendously.

As a reminder, these are by no means predictions for the season. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.

Next up is the Purdue Boilermakers, who have experienced more lows than highs in recent years but have a chance to take a step in Year 4 under Danny Hope.

Best case

The roar returns to Ross-Ade Stadium as Purdue gets back to its winning ways. Hope's claims about having his best Boilers team prove true, as Purdue puts it all together for a surprise title run. The veterans step up, new stars emerge, the major mental gaffes stop (and so do the off-field issues), the fans return and Purdue bangs the Big Bass Drum all the way to Indianapolis.

Purdue opens the season by thrashing Eastern Kentucky 45-6, and it could have been worse had Hope not called off the dogs to spare his alma mater additional shame. The Boilers then head to South Bend and stun a Notre Dame team still jet-lagged from its trip to Dublin the week before. Cornerback Ricardo Allen records a pair of pick-sixes against Irish quarterbacks, and NBC cameras forget to bleep Brian Kelly as his sideline tirade goes viral. Purdue carries the Shillelagh Trophy out of Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 2004.

Easy wins follow against Eastern Michigan and Marshall before the Boilers open Big Ten play against Michigan. The game swings back and forth, going into a third overtime, which creates the night-game setting many Purdue fans desired. Forced to go for two points and the win, Caleb TerBush finds fellow quarterback Rob Henry in the back corner of the end zone for a 36-35 win. Fans storm the field. Purdue enters the top 20. Purdue fraternities require their members to grow mustaches. The Purdue Exponent discovers that football players Ishmael Arisitide and Henry actually won the student government election in April.

Purdue hosts Wisconsin for homecoming, and Drew Brees, enjoying a bye week, addresses the team before the game. The Boilers then dominate the Badgers, as Akeem Shavers outshines Montee Ball and Kawann Short records three sacks and a forced fumble in a 31-17 victory. Although Purdue stumbles the next week at Ohio State, it rebounds with an easy win at Minnesota. The school announces its remaining home games have sold out, and a capacity crowd watches Purdue shut out Penn State 24-0. Defensive end Ryan Russell, named one of college football's most entertaining tweeters earlier in the week by ESPN.com, records four sacks.

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, mired in a winless season, tries to regrow his mustache to be like Hope, who lands an endorsement deal with Remington trimmers. Purdue sweeps its final three games, clinching the Leaders division title by crushing Indiana 48-3. TerBush, Henry and Robert Marve all throw touchdown passes in the win.

Boiler Nation descends on Indy as Purdue faces Michigan State for the Big Ten title. Although the Boilers fall short, they land an at-large BCS berth and head to the Fiesta Bowl, where they beat Texas in a thriller. Season-ticket sales for 2013 surge. Athletic director Morgan Burke agrees to install permanent lights. Allen returns for his senior season. Indiana finishes 0-12. Hope, after starring in Remington commercials with Tom Selleck, Burt Reynolds and Ron Jeremy, lands a top 10 recruiting class, which is only one-third Floridians.

Worst case

The Boilers fall apart both on and off the field, backsliding in Hope's fourth season. The major mistakes plague Purdue early and often, and the team has no answers at the quarterback position. Fans flee and start a countdown to basketball season in late September.

Purdue needs a dramatic fourth-quarter rally to outlast Eastern Kentucky in the opener. After the game, Hope drones on about the Colonels and his time at EKU as a player and a coach. Reporters roll their eyes.

Reality arrives the following week in South Bend, as Notre Dame crushes the Boilers by three touchdowns. The Irish double-team Short and run at Purdue's backup middle linebacker, filling in for the suspended Dwayne Beckford. Theo Riddick piles up 250 rush yards in the victory.

Purdue suffers a hangover the following week and falls to Eastern Michigan. All three quarterbacks throw interceptions and the Eagles pull away in the fourth quarter as fans empty out of Ross-Ade.

After squeaking past Marshall, Purdue gets blown out in the Big Ten opener by Michigan, as Wolverines wide receiver Roy Roundtree, a one-time Boilers' recruit, torches Allen for 200 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Former Boilers coach Joe Tiller, who cut short a fishing trip to attend the game, throws snake oil on the Michigan team bus as it pulls away.

More ugly losses follow against Wisconsin and Ohio State as Purdue drops to 0-3 in Big Ten play. Indiana, meanwhile, improves to 6-2 and receives some votes in the polls. Hope shaves his 'stache in an attempt to reverse the losing.

After dropping a heartbreaker at Minnesota, Purdue returns home and falls to Penn State before a crowd of 21,000. The Purdue band performs without the Big Bass Drum, stolen by Indiana students and taken to Bloomington. Marve, upset with his lack of playing time, launches a Twitter tirade against the coaching staff. That night, police arrest four Boilers starters at Harry's.

The Boilers drop their final three games, including a 35-10 decision to Indiana in the Bucket game, Purdue's second straight home loss to the Hoosiers. Wilson, now sporting a well-manicured 'stache, lands the Remington endorsement deal, and leads his team to an Outback Bowl win.

Purdue finishes 2-10. Burke, despite pressure to make a change, grants Hope a 10-year contract and convinces university president Mitch Daniels never to install permanent lights at Ross-Ade. Season-ticket renewals plummet. Allen turns pro. Russell deactivates his Twitter account. Notre Dame wins the national championship.

More Best Case/Worst Case:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota
Nebraska
Northwestern
Ohio State
Penn State

Best Case/Worst Case: Penn State

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
3:30
PM ET
We've got just a few more Best Case/Worst Case scenarios to go through before actual games begin.

As a reminder, these pieces are not in any way predictions. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.

Let's move on to Penn State, which knows a thing or two about worst-case scenarios right now. But maybe better things are ahead.

Best Case

The best thing for the Nittany Lions is that they finally get to play some football. Outsiders underestimate the amount of talent still on hand, especially on defense. The arrival of Bill O'Brien and his modern offensive system means that Penn State might finally put some points on the board with regularity. And while the schedule offers no true cupcakes, the Lions might face only one ranked team on the road all season.

The O'Brien era begins on a high note with an easy win over Ohio in the opener. Matt McGloin throws three touchdown passes and no interceptions, and the defense stifles its MAC opponent. The Lions then go to Virginia and make a statement with a 31-7 win. Bill Belton runs for 150 yards and two scores, and the offense looks like a light version of the New England Patriots' attack.

The Nittany Lions' fan base starts to get really excited about this team as it slaps around Navy and Temple for a 4-0 start. Big Ten play opens at Illinois, where Penn State takes out some anger on Tim Beckman's aggressive recruiting tactics with a four-touchdown victory. Near the end of the game, O'Brien keeps calling for sweeps that end up barreling into the Illini sideline. Beckman is fired after a disastrous 0-12 campaign.

Penn State wins its next two against Northwestern and Iowa to stand at 7-0 heading into the Ineligi-Bowl against Ohio State. The Lions become a national feel-good story for the media, and "GameDay" comes to Beaver Stadium for the Buckeyes matchup even though neither team can reach the postseason. McGloin gets a pregame pep talk from Tom Brady and goes on to throw three touchdown passes in a 24-21 victory. Penn State students flood the streets to celebrate, peacefully.

The momentum stalls when the team loses its next two road games, at Purdue and in the snow at Nebraska. But after thrashing Indiana, Penn State gears up for Senior Day against Wisconsin. Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti and Jordan Hill are among the seniors who play out of their minds on defense to lead a shutout victory.

The 10-2 record inspires recruits to sign up with O'Brien despite the sanctions. The inspirational season, along with the school's good behavior, prompts the NCAA to announce that it will consider lessening the penalties. Joe Posnanski begins work on his new book, "O'Brien." USC and Oklahoma have disappointing seasons.

Worst Case

Pretty sure that this already more than qualifies as a 2012 worst-case scenario. So we'll take it somewhat easy on battered and bruised Nittany Lions fans with this fictional account.

Penn State still has talent, but its depth took a hit with the transfers and the offensive skill positions remain a question mark. McGloin is more like Marcia Brady than Tom Brady, and his backups show why they couldn't beat him out in practice. The Lions desperately miss Silas Redd and Justin Brown and have all kinds of trouble scoring points.

Disaster is narrowly averted in the opener, as Hodges intercepts a pass at the goal line in the final minute to ward off an Ohio upset bid. But that's an omen for the season. Penn State loses 14-3 at Virginia as McGloin is picked off three times. The Lions squeak past Navy but are then are upset at home by Temple. The impact of losing kicker/punter Anthony Fera becomes apparent as two missed field goals and a blocked punt contribute heavily to the loss.

Penn State limps into Big Ten play and is shellacked by Beckman's Illinois team. Several Lions players get tackled out of bounds on the Illini sideline and never return; five of them announce after the game that they're transferring to Champaign. Beckman will go on to win Big Ten coach of the year honors.

The next week brings a win against Northwestern, but it's a costly one as several key Penn State players are injured. Paul Jones gets a long-awaited start at Iowa, but he completes only four passes as James Vandenberg & Co. cruise to an easy victory.

Injuries mount, and depth becomes a real concern. It's a good thing there are names on the backs of the jerseys this season, because fans have not heard of many of the new starters. Ohio State crushes the home team in the most half-hearted White-Out ever seen at Beaver Stadium. The Buckeyes finish 12-0 and assert themselves as the new Leaders Division powers as Urban Meyer extends his recruiting reach into Pennsylvania.

With a bare-bones roster and little offensive firepower, O'Brien's team doesn't put up much of a fight at Purdue or Nebraska. Penn State manages to eke out a victory over Indiana before a half-empty Beaver Stadium. That's the final bit of good news, though, as Wisconsin rolls to a 52-6 blowout in the finale.

The Lions finish 4-8 and endure a new wave of offseason transfers while struggling to persuade recruits to play under NCAA sanctions. Rob Bolden quarterbacks LSU to the national title over USC, which features Heisman Trophy winner Redd. Oklahoma wins the Fiesta Bowl behind Biletnikoff winner Brown, while Texas claims the Rose Bowl on Fera's game-winning kick. Pitt wins the Orange Bowl. Mark Emmert wins the Nobel Prize.

Best Case/Worst Case: Ohio State

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
1:30
PM ET
We're getting closer and closer to finding out just how teams will fare in the 2012 season. But before the fall campaign kicks off, we're presenting our looks at the best- and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team.

As a reminder, these pieces are not in any way predictions. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.
Let's move on in our alphabetical march to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Best Case

Urban renewal. The off-the-field distractions of last year are over. Lots of blue-chip talent is back. And Urban Meyer knows how to make the most of it.

The Buckeyes field one of the top defenses in the nation as the Silver Bullets reclaim their elite status. The defensive line and secondary are both among the best in the nation, and Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant make huge strides to bring the linebacker unit up to Ohio State's standard of excellence. On offense, Braxton Miller develops into a superstar at quarterback, while the young receivers grow up in a hurry and Jordan Hall comes back quickly from his foot injury to become Percy Harvin 2.0.

A beneficial nonconference schedule which features four home games against unranked teams leads to four easy blowout victories. Ohio State gets its first test at Michigan State in Week 5, but a dominating defensive effort shuts down the Spartans' shaky passing game, and Miller throws the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Nebraska comes to the 'Shoe the following week, and just like a year ago, the Buckeyes race out to a 27-6 lead. But this time, Miller stays in the game and there will be no Huskers miracle. Two electrifying Hall touchdowns -- one on a kickoff return and another on a 60-yard draw play -- spark a 34-13 win.

Following easy victories over Indiana and Purdue, Ohio State heads to Beaver Stadium. Despite a snowstorm and the Penn State white out, Miller stages his own version of the Wildcat by running for 200 yards in the 21-0 win. Meyer schools former assistant Tim Beckman and Illinois as the Buckeyes head into their bye week 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country.

Still privately harboring some bitterness toward Bret Bielema over his recruiting comments in February, Meyer spends two weeks feverishly preparing for Wisconsin. Ohio State comes out with plenty of "juice" and ends the Badgers' home-field dominance. Going for two on every score, the Buckeyes win 44-20.

"I hope Bret enjoys St. Elmo's and everything else about Indianapolis next month," Meyer says in the postgame news conference. "Because it will be a long time before Wisconsin makes it back there."

Ohio State can't go to a bowl but ends the season on a high note, beating Michigan by two touchdowns. Brady Hoke storms off the field, fuming about Meyer turning five of the Wolverines' top commits to the Scarlet and Gray. Michigan finishes 6-7 with a bowl loss to Ohio.

"He might forget to say 'State' when he talks about us," Meyer says of Hoke. "That's OK. We've got the State-ment."

The 12-0 season puts the Buckeyes No. 1 in the final regular-season AP poll. They drop to No. 2 following the BCS title game but are assured of entering the 2013 season as the top-ranked team in the land. Miller goes to New York as a Heisman finalist, while John Simon wins the Nagurski and Hendricks awards and Johnathan Hankins collects the Outland. The Oakland Raiders cut Terrelle Pryor. Meyer signs a 10-year contract extension.

Worst Case

Urban blight. There sure is an awful lot of hype over a team that finished 6-7 a year ago. Meyer has a glittering résumé, but his last year at Florida was one of his worst seasons. Defenses have caught on to his spread offense, and he doesn't have the skill position players to run it properly.

The offense struggles in closer-than-expected wins over Miami (Ohio) and UCF, as Miller completes less than 50 percent of his passes. The first real crack in the armor appears when California scores an upset victory in the 'Shoe. Ohio State bounces back against a bad UAB team, but the week before the Michigan State trip, news breaks that Miller, Hall, Simon and Hankins were spotted hanging out at a tattoo parlor. They cannot explain why they are suddenly covered head to toe in full sleeves or where their university-issued iPads went. Meyer suspends all four. The shorthanded Buckeyes are no match for the Spartans or Nebraska the following week.

After a win over Indiana, athletic director Gene Smith announces that there are no more compliance issues to worry about. Forty-five seconds later, Cleveland businessman and creepy superfan Bobby DiGeronimo emerges from his hiding spot in the Ohio State locker room, carrying envelopes stuffed with cash.

Multiple suspensions ensue, and Ohio State loses to Purdue for the third time in four years. Penn State breaks out the Wildcat again and somehow the Buckeyes are surprised by it again in a road loss. They beat Illinois to mercifully make it to the bye week, but the worst is yet to come.

Still privately harboring some bitterness toward Meyer's recruiting tactics, Bielema can't wait to run up the score on Ohio State. He goes for two on every score and leaves Montee Ball in until the final minute in a 44-17 victory.

"Welcome to the Big Ten," Bielema says.

Hoke adds to the Scarlet and Gray's misery with his second straight win over "Ohio." Michigan wins the national championship, and Ohio recruits make a beeline for Ann Arbor. Meanwhile, Ohio State finishes 5-7 and has NCAA investigators and investigative reporters poking around Columbus once more. Pryor writes a book exposing improprieties during his time in school and it becomes a best-seller.

Meyer resigns, citing health concerns.

More Best Case/Worst Case:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota
Nebraska
Northwestern
We're plodding our way through the best case/worst case scenarios for each Big Ten team (promise to finish up before the season). Up next: Northwestern.

As a reminder, these pieces are not in any way predictions. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.

Let's check out the potential highs and lows for the Purple and White.

Best case

The win total begins to climb again as Northwestern makes a serious push for the Legends division title. Kain Colter dazzles, the defense shows a pulse and a pop, attendance soars and the school's trustees wise up and grant coach Pat Fitzgerald his dream lakefront football facility.

It begins with an impressive road win at Syracuse as Northwestern improves to 7-0 in openers under Fitzgerald. Colter passes for two touchdowns and runs for two more, and the defense forces a pair of turnovers in a 31-17 triumph. All Syracuse alumni working at ESPN are forced to wear purple to work.

Northwestern returns home to face Vanderbilt and affirms itself as the better brainier program. After the game, four Vanderbilt recruits switch their commitments to Northwestern. 'Dores coach James Franklin walks past the Northwestern family section, spots some wives of Wildcats assistants and tries to recruit four of Fitzgerald's aides. They all turn him down.

Easy wins follow against Boston College, South Dakota and Indiana.

The squad stays perfect in its Big Ten road opener at Penn State, as USC transfer Kyle Prater hauls in two touchdowns and the defense smothers Wildcat-killer Matt McGloin. Northwestern improves to 7-0 by beating Minnesota, and enters the Top 25.

Chicago is buzzing about Northwestern as the team returns home, while Illinois drops to 1-6 under new coach Tim Beckman. Nebraska comes to town with its enormous traveling party, but Northwestern fans flood the turnstiles and make it a 50-50 split in the the stands. Colter torments the Huskers yet again, and Northwestern stuffs Taylor Martinez at the goal line to prevail 28-24. Chicagoans start to greet one another with, "Go Cats."

Any thought of a letdown the following the week disappears as recent nemesis Iowa visits Evanston. PETA members throw animal blood on James Vandenberg as he gets off the team bus, shattering his confidence. Vandenberg throws three interceptions, and Northwestern cuts through a soft Hawkeyes defense for a 10-point win. In the closing seconds, Wildcats fans unfold a banner reading, "Order restored: just another win against justIowa."

After the game, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel gives Fitzgerald the key to the city. The Illinois' "Our State. Our Team" billboards contain spelling and grammatical errors.

Northwestern's run ends with a road loss at Michigan, followed by another at Michigan State. But the Wildcats take out their anger out on Illinois, thumping the Illini by 35. Beckman weeps in the closing seconds. The Northwestern band plays the entire score from "Chicago" during the second half.

Colter earns Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors, while Fitzgerald takes home Coach of the Year and then signs a lifetime contract. Northwestern beats South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl for its first postseason win since 1949. Illinois finishes 2-10, just below Iowa (3-9). The Northwestern trustees approve an on-campus football complex and stadium upgrades.

Worst case

The win total continues to drop and the streak of bowl appearances comes to a crashing halt. The offense stalls, the defense crumbles, the facilities campaign fizzles and Illinois rules the town -- and the state.

The season begins ominously as Syracuse football retires Greg Paulus' number before the opener, thanking him for beating Northwestern in 2009. Syracuse then goes on to a 25-point win, dissecting Northwestern's secondary for 350 yards. Northwestern alums Mike Wilbon and Darren Rovell are forced to sing Syracuse's fight song on ESPN. Vogue magazine declares the Wildcats new uniforms uglier than Maryland's 2011 threads.

Vanderbilt continues the misery the following week with a 10-point in Evanston, leading to numerous stories about how Stanford and Vanderbilt are showing how academically focused schools can still win big in football. Franklin walks past the Wildcats family section and shakes his head. Fitzgerald stews.

The Wildcats win their next three but backslide in State College, as McGloin lights them up for 400 yards and four touchdowns. Fitzgerald spends the second half searching for Rob Bolden. Illinois enters the Top 25.

A heartbreaking loss follows at TCF Bank Stadium, as a Colter fumble in the closing minutes leads to Minnesota's game-winning touchdown. Opposing fans take over Ryan Field the following two weeks as Northwestern is pummeled by Nebraska and then Iowa. Herky puts a Hawkeye helmet on the Wildcat statue in the fourth quarter.

Two more ugly losses follow, and Illinois completes the torture with a 30-point win in the regular-season finale. Beckman and the Illini celebrate a Leaders division title and are greeted after the game by President Obama, Mike Ditka and Oprah.

Miffed by a 3-9 season, the trustees decide to nix the facilities plan. They divert the funds to build a second nano fabrication lab. Illinois and Iowa play for the Big Ten championship. The winner meets Stanford in the national title game.

More Best Case/Worst Case:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota
Nebraska

Best case/Worst case: Nebraska

August, 22, 2012
8/22/12
2:45
PM ET
We move from the Ms to the Ns on our countdown of the best case and worst case scenarios for each Big Ten team in 2012. Up next: Nebraska.

As a reminder, these pieces are not in any way predictions. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.

Year 2 of the Huskers' residence in the Big Ten could turn out very good or very bad.

Best case

The Huskers perform like the team many thought they'd be in 2011. Rex Burkhead makes a run for the Heisman, while Taylor Martinez looks like a different quarterback in the pocket. The Blackshirts throw the bones every third play and Nebraska ends up in two choice destinations: Indianapolis and Pasadena.

It begins with an impressive opening win against Southern Miss, the 2011 Conference USA champion. Martinez hits Kenny Bell in stride for a 73-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage, and goes on to throw two more touchdown strikes. Burkhead racks up 180 yards against one of the nation's better rushing defenses in 2011, and the Huskers roll.

The following week, Nebraska fans take over the Rose Bowl and the Huskers thrash UCLA to improve to 2-0. California natives like Martinez, Cam Meredith, Eric Martin, Daimion Stafford and Quincy Enunwa step up in their home state. Running off the field, a confident Martinez declares, "See you in January!"

After easy wins against Idaho State and Arkansas State, Nebraska opens Big Ten play against Wisconsin and avenges last year's blowout loss in Madison. Martinez tosses three touchdown passes, no interceptions and only two incomplete passes, high-fiving his one-time critic Tommie Frazier as he leaves the field. Burkhead outrushes Montee Ball by 80 yards. Nebraska wins by 10. Bo Pelini cracks a half-smile. The helium shortage ends in the Husker State and the red balloon tradition returns.

Pelini is all business the next week as he returns to his alma mater, Ohio State. The Huskers' defense shows it can shut down a healthy Braxton Miller for four quarters as Ciante Evans records a pick-six against the Buckeyes quarterback. Nebraska improves to 6-0 and enters the top 10.

After making Northwestern pay for last year's game in Lincoln, Nebraska hosts Michigan in an epic game under the lights in Lincoln. A new cheering section, Martinez's Minions, debuts at Memorial Stadium. Martinez and Denard Robinson both come to play, but Nebraska prevails as Burkhead leaps over four Wolverines defenders into the end zone with four seconds left. Superman, indeed.

The Huskers suffer a mini letdown the following week and fall to Michigan State by a touchdown, but they sweep their final three games, clinching the Legends Division title by shutting out Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. The headline "Blackshirt Friday" appears in the local papers the next day. Pelini leads the media corps in a singing of "Kumbaya."

Nebraska outlasts Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game to win its first league championship since 1999. Pelini earns Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. Burkhead is a Heisman finalist and heads to New York. Brett Maher wins both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy awards.

The Huskers return to Pasadena and beat Oregon 48-45 in a wildly entertaining shootout. Martinez meets his preseason goal by completing 70.1 percent of his passes.

Worst case

Big Red sees red again as Nebraska falls well short of expectations and stumbles in a tough division. Martinez's offseason progress proves to be a farce, while defenses load up to stop Burkhead. Pelini explodes on the sideline and at the podium.

Rather than wait to have its annual home letdown, Nebraska stumbles right off the bat in a stunning defeat to Southern Miss. Martinez throws two ugly interceptions off of his back foot, while Burkhead fumbles and the defense fails to slow down the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss wins 24-21.

The misery continues the following week in Pasadena. Despite filling most of the Rose Bowl, Nebraska fans are silent and stunned as UCLA slices through the Huskers defense in the fourth quarter for two touchdowns.

Two unimpressive wins follow before Nebraska once again takes on Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener. And like last year, Martinez's mistakes prove disastrous. Badgers defenders Devin Smith and Chris Borland record pick-sixes against Martinez, who is benched in the third quarter. Ball runs for 250 yards, while Burkhead is held to 35 on 17 carries. The Huskers play badly and look worse, as their alternate uniforms blotch an already miserable night. After the game, athletic director Tom Osborne declares the alternate unis will return for the Michigan game.

Nebraska drops to 2-4 the next week as Miller picks up where he left off before his injury in Lincoln last October. Miller rips apart the Huskers defense as Ohio State wins by 17. Pelini explodes at his postgame news conference, drawing a reprimand from Osborne and chancellor Harvey Perlman. Defensive lineman Chase Rome assaults another towel dispenser at the Columbus airport.

During the open week, Meredith, in an effort to shake things up, shaves off his signature 'stache but cuts himself, requiring stitches. Bell also shaves his 'fro.

The Huskers notch a win against Northwestern but then suffer back-to-back blowout losses to Michigan and Michigan State, effectively ending their chase for a division title. The defense has no answer for Robinson or Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell.

Nebraska wins its next two, setting up a chance to even its record at 6-6 against Iowa. But Hawkeyes quarterback James Vandenberg leads a 99-yard drive in the closing minutes, aided by a 15-yard penalty on Pelini for lambasting an official.

The Huskers finish 5-7. The U.S. Olympic team asks Martinez if he'll try out for the shot put in 2016. Osborne retires and then becomes a consultant for Texas. Nebraska re-hires Steve Pederson as AD. Iowa wins the Rose Bowl, and Texas wins the national championship.

More Best Case/Worst Case:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota

Best case/Worst case: Minnesota

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
2:00
PM ET
As the 2012 season approaches, we're going through the best case and worst case scenarios for each Big Ten squad this fall. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are up next.

As a reminder, these pieces are not in any way predictions. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.

Let's see what Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era could have in store.

Best case

Kill shows why he's a master at rehabbing programs. Led by quarterback MarQueis Gray, the Gophers emerge from the mist of the Tim Brewster era and not only get back to a bowl game, but make noise in a crowded Legends Division.

It begins on a Thursday night in Sin City, as Minnesota thrashes UNLV by four touchdowns. The Gophers eclipse 30 points for the first time in the Kill era, as Gray fires two touchdown passes to tight end John Rabe and running back James Gillum rushes for 120 yards and a score. After the game, Goldy wins a progressive jackpot at the Golden Nugget and pledges the money toward a new football complex.

Minnesota makes quick work of New Hampshire and scores another impressive win against Western Michigan, as a beleaguered Gophers defensive line sacks quarterback Alex Carder five times. Student ticket sales triple as the Gophers complete a sweep of non-league play by rallying to beat Syracuse on double-reverse pass to Gray.

A week later, Minnesota brings home the bacon yet again as it records its third consecutive win against Iowa, its longest win streak in the series since 1998-2000. Gray racks up 400 yards of total offense and vows after the game to name his next son Floyd. Kirk Ferentz goes vegan.

The Gophers improve to 6-0 for the first time since 2003 with a win the next week against Northwestern. The student section is packed. Prince sings the national anthem and then gives athletic director Norwood Teague a $3 million check toward the new football facility. The Gophers enter the Top 25 for the first time since November 2008. Kill picks up eight verbal commits. Troy Stoudermire sets the all-time NCAA kick return yards record.

Minnesota drops its first game the next week in Madison, but it puts a major scare into the rival Badgers. There's no mass celebration after the Badgers squeak out a 2-point victory.

The Gophers get back on track against Purdue and avenge their disastrous performance in Ann Arbor with a stunning victory against Michigan, their first since 2005. Gophers defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman keeps Denard Robinson out of the end zone in the closing seconds by bringing him down by an untied shoelace. Students storm the field to get their hands on the Little Brown Jug.

Although Minnesota drops two of its final three games, the 9-3 finish marks the team's best since 2003. Gray earns Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors, and the Gophers advance to the Outback Bowl and beat Georgia. Teague announces plans for a massive facilities upgrade as recruits continue to stream in.

Worst case

The misery continues in Minneapolis as the Gophers miss a bowl yet again, doubts increase about Kill's viability in a big-time program and both students and recruits stay far, far away.

Things begin with a thud in Vegas, as a UNLV team that went 2-10 in 2011 beats the Gophers on a two-point conversion with no time remaining. The night before, Bellagio officials call animal control after spotting Goldy trying to swim in its famed fountain.

The Gophers barely beat New Hampshire before a crowd of 18,000 before Carder tosses five touchdowns the following week to lift Western Michigan to a win. Ryan Nassib takes his turn dissecting the Gophers defense, which gives him all the time he needs to throw in a Syracuse victory.

Iowa butchers the Gophers in the Big Ten opener 48-3, reclaiming the Floyd of Rosedale.

Minnesota bribes 200 students from nearby Macalester College to attend the Big Ten home opener against Northwestern. Most leave at halftime as Northwestern builds a 24-3 lead and cruises from there.

Another blowout loss follows in Madison, as Wisconsin retains Paul Bunyan's Axe for the eighth consecutive year. Leading by 50 points in the fourth quarter, Badgers coach Bret Bielema, rarely one to ease off the gas, instructs his third-string quarterback to take a knee at the Minnesota 4-yard line.

The Gophers manage to record a Big Ten win down the stretch -- against Purdue or Illinois -- but look noncompetitive in their other contests and tumble to 2-10. Michigan blanks Minnesota for the second straight year and keeps the Jug. Attendance continues to plummet. Recruits don't commit. Teague announces a new basketball facilities plan but ignores football. Tubby chuckles.

Wisconsin and Iowa meet in the Big Ten title game and both go onto BCS bowl victories.

More Best Case/Worst Case:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
It's time to dive back into our series examining the best- and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team.

As a reminder, these pieces are not in any way predictions. They are meant to illustrate the extreme potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.

Let's see what the polar opposites might be for Michigan State.

Best Case

Same Old Spartans? Hardly. The program is in the midst of its best stretch since the 1960s, and the best is yet to come. Mark Dantonio's team is loaded on defense, and has the best offensive line of his tenure. That's how you win big in the Big Ten.

The season starts with a bang as Michigan State tops Boise State by 10 points, and Andrew Maxwell settles all fears by throwing for 250 yards and a pair of scores. The Notre Dame game in Week 3 is a taut thriller that causes Dantonio to reach deep into his bag of tricks -- and love for goofy sports movies. Finding a loophole in the NCAA rule book, he employs "Air Bud: Golden Receiver," which involves a dog and the backup punter and ... well, you really have to see it to believe it.

The Sept. 29 Big Ten opener against Ohio State is a defensive struggle, but William Gholston and Denicos Allen make Braxton Miller's day miserable in a 10-3 win. Drama-free blowouts against Indiana and Iowa set up the showdown at Michigan. Despite playing on the road, the Spartans exploit the Wolverines' defensive line depth problems as Le'Veon Bell bowls defenders over on his way to 150 yards and three touchdowns. Gholston, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, registers five sacks of Denard Robinson, and Taylor Lewan is ejected. After the 24-3 win, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi says, "That was 60 minutes, but it wasn't very rough for us." Pre-schoolers in the state of Michigan ask their parents if the Wolverines have ever beaten Michigan State.

The excitement dies down a bit when the Spartans suffer their first loss of the season the following week at Wisconsin, as Maxwell's Hail Mary as time expires is batted down at the goal line. But, all in all, the team makes out well in its most brutal schedule stretch by rebounding to beat Nebraska at home, avenging last season's lone regular-season Big Ten loss.

With only Northwestern and Minnesota left, Michigan State breezes to its second straight Legends Division title, where a rematch with Wisconsin awaits. Round Four of this epic, two-year series ends when Isaiah Lewis blocks a punt and scoops it up for the winning touchdown. The Spartans go on to their first Rose Bowl since the 1987 season. Michigan finishes 6-7. Where's the threat? Good question.

Worst Case

Same Old Rose-Bowl-less Spartans. Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin aren't walking through that door. Defensive stars worry more about their NFL draft stock than their current season. And that schedule is pretty unforgiving.

Boise State does what Boise State does in the opener: beat a power conference team. Maxwell is picked off twice and the offense struggles in the 21-7 loss to the Broncos. Two weeks later, Notre Dame beats the Spartans for the second straight year, turning the tables on Dantonio with their own trick play named after a goofy sports movie. "Cool Runnings" involves four running backs in a tightly-bunched, bobsled-like formation and .. well, you really have to see it to believe it.

The Big Ten schedule gets off to a bad start when Ohio State invades East Lansing and comes away with a win, fueling speculation that the Spartans run atop the Big Ten standings is about to dry up when Urban Meyer gets the Buckeyes going. Michigan State bounces back with two straight victories before going to the Big House, where its four-game winning streak against the Wolverines comes to a screeching halt. Denard Robinson runs behind Lewan and right past Gholston for four touchdowns in the 28-10 Wolverines victory as Michigan fans chant, "Here's the threat!"

The Spartans fall again to Wisconsin after Danny O'Brien completes a Hail Mary touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis on the final play. Nebraska, which pushed the Spartans around in Lincoln last year, does it again in East Lansing as Maxwell and the offense are shut out.

The team finishes 6-6 and is sent to Detroit for the Little Caesars Bowl. Michigan goes 13-0 and plays for the BCS title while collecting commitments from the top high school and junior high players in the state. Tom Izzo retires.

More Best Case/Worst Case:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan

Best Case/Worst Case: Michigan

August, 16, 2012
8/16/12
4:00
PM ET
Our look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for every Big Ten team moves on to Michigan today. These scenarios should not be viewed as predictions; rather, we're illustrating the extreme highs and lows that are possible for each team while having a little bit of fun with it.

Let's see where the Wolverines' scenarios range:

Best Case

Hail to the victors. Michigan's 11-2 season in Brady Hoke's first year was just a warmup act. Now, the Wolverines are truly back where they belong.

It all starts on Sept. 1 in Arlington, Texas, where the Maize and Blue shock the world by beating defending national champion Alabama 24-20. Hoke and his staff use the offseason to their advantage to design a masterful game plan, and Denard Robinson scoots by the fearsome Tide defense for three touchdowns. Michigan doesn't even miss the suspended Fitz Toussaint, as Thomas Rawls has a big game.

The Wolverines avoid a letdown the following week and easily take care of Air Force. They end September with a drama-free win at Notre Dame as Robinson racks up 500 total yards in prime time. Easy wins over Purdue and Illinois set up the showdown with Michigan State at home on Oct. 20. This time, Michigan is the more physical team, led by a breakout performance from Will Campbell and the defensive line. Taylor Lewan pancakes Will Gholston early, and Gholston yells, "No mas!" Following the 28-10 win, Hoke bellows, "That was 60 minutes of necessary roughness!"

Michigan is ranked No. 1 in the country going to Nebraska the next week. In an unexpected snowstorm, they lose on a last-second Brett Maher field goal. Now angry, the team responds to roll up blowout victories over Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa before heading to Ohio State.

Hoke improves to 2-0 against "Ohio" with a 31-0 shutout. Every recruit in the stands that day commits to Michigan. The NCAA finds more Jim Tressel violations and adds another year to the Buckeyes' bowl ban. Urban Meyer retires, citing health and family reasons. Arizona finishes 0-12 under Rich Rodriguez.

The Wolverines roll past Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game to finish 12-1. With Alabama winning the SEC championship, Michigan's schedule is strong enough to earn the team a berth in the BCS title game against USC. Robinson, who edged out Matt Barkley for the Heisman Trophy, shows why as he completes 20-of-22 passes for 300 yards and runs for another 200 in the 38-31 victory. Michigan is a champion once more.

Worst Case

Hoke's first season was magical, but it was also greatly aided by an advantageous schedule and a wildly overrated Sugar Bowl opponent. It doesn't take long for Michigan to see how much it misses Mike Martin up front, and the depth issues on both lines are quickly exposed as the team's injury luck from 2011 is reversed.

The Wolverines learn just how far away they are from national contention in a 31-10 loss to Alabama in the opener. The school also receives national criticism when Hoke plays Toussaint despite his DUI arrest. Beat up physically and mentally from the Crimson Tide game, Michigan falls prey to Air Force's option attack at home as its defensive line gets crossed up over and over again. A preseason Top 10 team is now 0-2.

Notre Dame extends the pain as the Irish finally manage to slow down Robinson and hold onto a lead in this rivalry. Robinson falls back on his poor passing mechanics, and all those jump balls that magically paid off last season turn into turnovers in 2012.

The team gets back on track against Purdue and Illinois, but with freshmen starting on both lines, Michigan is no match for the deep and physical Spartans on Oct. 20. Lewan gets tossed trying to bait Gholston, who keeps his cool and registers five sacks in the 24-3 Michigan State win. The Spartans will go on to win the Big Ten title.

The Wolverines are 3-5 after Nebraska exacts revenge for last season in Lincoln. This team is too good to stay down, however, and they battle back to win the next three and clinch a bowl bid.

But the season ends on a sour note in Columbus, as Meyer scores his first victory in The Game with ease. That caps a 12-0 season for the probation-saddled Buckeyes, and half of Michigan's recruiting class decommits as Meyer turns their allegiance his way. Arizona wins the Pac-12.

Michigan stumbles into the Little Caesars Bowl in nearby Detroit where a MAC team awaits: Ohio. The Bobcats win as Hoke is wildly confused. So are the fans who thought this would be a championship season.

More Best Case/Worst Case:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa

Best Case/Worst Case: Iowa

August, 15, 2012
8/15/12
5:05
PM ET
Our look at the best and worst possible outcomes for each Big Ten team (in alphabetical order) rolls on with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Remember these are not actual game-by-game predictions, and we're having a little fun here while trying to illustrate the ceilings and floors of each team. Iowa, your case will now be heard.

Best Case

Yes, the Hawkeyes are frightfully young on the defensive line. Yes, they are replacing three starters on the offensive line. And, yes, the Iowa running back curse could mean that a school janitor is taking carries by the end of the season. Still, why are you still doubting Kirk Ferentz's ability to get the most out of his players? Ferentz has a standout senior quarterback in James Vandenberg, some promising receivers and tight ends and soild players in the back end of the defense. And a pretty good schedule to boot.

The Hawkeyes come out firing right away in Greg Davis' new offense, putting up 40 points against both Northern Illinois and rival Iowa State to give the young defensive front plenty of room to grow. They exact revenge on Minnesota in the Big Ten opener with an easy romp, going into the bye week at 5-0 and ranked in the Top 25. The week off gives them time to prepare an excellent game plan and beat Michigan State on the road, just as they did in 2009. In fact, it's starting to look a lot like '09 as Iowa then takes down Penn State at home, Northwestern and Indiana on the road and then Purdue at home for a 10-0 record. Fans fall in love with a team that plays an up-tempo offense and throws the ball all over the field.

The Hawkeyes are in the Top 5 heading into the Nov. 17 game against Michigan, where they suffer their first loss. But that's quickly forgotten the following Friday with a Heroes Game victory over Nebraska on Vandenberg's last-second touchdown pass to Keenan Davis. That clinches the Legends Division title, and a blowout win over Wisconsin brings home not just the Big Ten championship but the Heartland Trophy as well. Iowa goes on to the Rose Bowl.

Worst Case

Here's the difference between the 2012 Hawkeyes and the 2009 version: there's no Adrian Clayborn or Christian Ballard on the defensive line. Or, at least, there's no one mature enough to play like those guys yet. Iowa usually succeeds on the basis of strong play in the trenches and a powerful running game. Guess where the biggest questions are for this year's team?

The offense has Vandenberg, but he's missing Marvin McNutt. And Davis wasn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard in his final seasons at Texas. The Hawkeyes are upset in Week 1 at Soldier Field by a solid Northern Illinois team, and afterward Ferentz announces that starting running back Damon Bullock has been dismissed from the team. Iowa State makes it two in a row in Week 2; Ferentz announces the following Monday that new starting running back Barkley Hill has transferred. Iowa wins its next two but then loses its third straight Floyd of Rosedale game against Minnesota as MarQueis Gray runs wild. During the bye week, new starting tailback Greg Garmon is kidnapped by the Russian mafia. Michigan State blows out the Hawkeyes for the second straight year to send them to 2-4. The team rallies to beat Penn State at home but loses to its thorn in the side Northwestern on the road. Back-to-back wins over Indiana and Purdue are marred when A) new starting running back Jordan Canzieri, just back from an ACL injury, defects to Cuba and B) new starting running back Nate Meier is swept away by a tornado.

The season concludes with a three-touchdown loss at Michigan and a dispiriting four-touchdown loss to Nebraska in a half-red Kinnick Stadium. In the finale, new starting running back Todd Smith -- formerly a school janitor -- spontaneously combusts. Iowa finished 5-7 and misses a bowl for the first time since 2007.

More Best Case/Worst Case:

Illinois
Indiana

Best Case/Worst Case: Indiana

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
3:05
PM ET
Our Best Case/Worst Case series continues today with Indiana, which experienced pretty close to a worst-case scenario in 2011 by going winless against FBS competition. Can the Hoosiers expect better things in 2012? Let's review their best and worst outlooks.

Best Case

As the old adage goes, the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. And Indiana played more freshmen last year than any major-conference school in the country. So things understandably get better this fall. The offense improves as multi-talented Tre Roberson figures things out his second year at quarterback, surrounded by more depth at running back and a stable corps of receivers. New offensive coordinator Seth Littrell airs it out, and the Hoosiers average more than 28 points per game. Meanwhile, the defense takes baby steps forward, helped by junior college imports Jacarri Alexander and David Cooper at linebacker and veterans Adam Replogle and Larry Black up front.

The Hoosiers start to get some positive publicity with a 3-0 start against a manageable schedule that includes games at home against Indiana State and Ball State and a road trip to UMass. They ride that momentum to a surprising upset at Northwestern in the Big Ten opener, as Roberson throws for 400 yards in a 51-49 shootout. IU comes back to earth the following two weeks against Michigan State and Ohio State but manages to win at Navy on Oct. 20 in another high-scoring contest. Suddenly, bowl eligibility is on the horizon. After a disappointing four-game losing streak, the Hoosiers get to 6-6 by winning at Purdue in the regular-season finale, bringing the Old Oaken Bucket back to Bloomington and clinching a trip to the Little Caesars Bowl. No one has ever been happier to see a Little Caesars in Detroit than hungry Hoosiers fans.

Worst Case

There's a reason Kevin Wilson played so many freshmen last year, and why more freshmen are getting long looks in training camp right now: Indiana's roster just isn't where it needs to be. So even though the team makes progress, it still remains a long way from competing in the Big Ten, especially on defense. Roberson struggles under a new coordinator, and a three-way quarterback controversy develops just like last year as Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld battle for playing time. The Hoosiers' offensive line doesn't offer much in the way of protection, and opponents dice up Indiana's defense for a second straight season.

Wilson's team wins the opener against Indiana State on a last-second field goal but loses at UMass and falls to Ball State for a second straight year, meaning Indiana is no better than the fourth-best college football team in its own state. The Hoosiers give up 150 points total in losses to Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State and are thoroughly befuddled by Navy's option game in another defeat. The only home games remaining are against Iowa and Wisconsin, so prospects for another victory are bleak. IU staggers into the season-ending game against Purdue and gets blown out before watching the Boilermakers celebrate a surprise Leaders Division championship on the Ross-Ade Stadium field. A second straight 1-11 season makes Wilson 0-22 against FBS competition, putting him on the hottest of hot seats in 2013.

More Best Case/Worst Case:

Illinois

Best Case/Worst Case: Illinois

August, 13, 2012
8/13/12
4:00
PM ET
Now that the season is just around the corner, it's time to take our annual look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team.

Last year, we did this in video form, but you'll have to read words this time around. We'll go in alphabetical order in this series, and try to have a little fun along the way. First up is Illinois.

Best Case

It's Beck-mania! The Illini have long been seen as underachievers, but first-year coach Tim Beckman is able to wring the best out of the talent Ron Zook collected in Champaign. Beckman inherited a strong defense that turns things up a notch in 2012, and his spread system is the cure to what ailed the offense in the second half of 2011. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase fully embraces the spread, using his legs and arm to become one of the Big Ten's most dynamic playmakers. The skill position question marks become answers as Josh Ferguson, Donovonn Young and Darius Millines all make the leap. Defensive end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Jonathan Brown battle for the national lead in sacks, while defensive tackle Akeem Spence plays up to his first-round potential.

The Illini cruise through the nonconference schedule, waxing another first-year coach at a major program by winning handily at Arizona State. They beat Penn State by two touchdowns in the Big Ten opener, after which several Nittany Lions players are seen talking to Illinois assistants about a possible 2013 transfer. Illinois loses at Wisconsin the following week but pulls a stunner in Ann Arbor by catching Michigan looking ahead to the Michigan State game. It loses at Ohio State on Nov. 3, but ends the season with a four-touchdown win at Northwestern as Rahm Emanuel presents Beckman a key to the city. Since Wisconsin finishes with three losses, the Illini clinch the title in the probation-saddled Leaders Division. Hungry Illinois fans flock to Indianapolis, where their team knocks off Michigan a second time to advance to the Rose Bowl. Just like that, it's a football school again.

Worst Case

They fired Ron Zook for this? Beckman finds that he's not in Toledo anymore, as his transition to the Big Ten is a rough one. While the defense is solid, it misses Whitney Mercilus and Vic Koenning more than anyone realized. The spread system is an odd fit for a team that lacks many playmakers at receiver or running back, and neither Scheelhaase nor Reilly O'Toole is fully able to master it in a seesaw quarterback competition. Much like the second half of last year, Illinois simply can't score, and its special-teams play hasn't improved much.

The Beckman era gets off to a shaky start when Western Michigan -- which played a close game in Champaign a year ago -- springs the upset in the opener. The Illini are 0-2 after a loss at Arizona State. They rebound to win the next two but are crushed at home by a Penn State team that's angry about all those Illini assistants sniffing around State College this summer. That begins a spiral of losing, as the next two games are blowouts on the road at Wisconsin and Michigan. Illinois beats Indiana but falls at Ohio State, drops another home game to Purdue and ends the year getting pushed around by resurgent Northwestern. The Wildcats somehow win the Big Ten and prompt Chicago to dye the river purple. Meanwhile, the Illini sit at home after a 4-8 season, wondering what the future holds.

SPONSORED HEADLINES