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Monday, August 29, 2011
Big Ten power rankings: Week 1

By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett

The 2011 season is right around the corner, and it means the power rankings are back. Every Monday morning. Mark it down.

This year's rankings are a collaborative effort, so when you have complaints, as I'm sure you will, feel free to direct them to both of us. As a reminder, the power rankings are a snapshot of where we see the league at this very moment. They are fluid and will change throughout the course of the season.

The Big Ten can be separated into three groups entering the fall: the top four, the next five and the bottom three. There's virtually nothing separating Nos. 5-9 right now. You can easily arrange these teams in any order, and we expect some shuffling there.

Let's get to it.

1. Wisconsin: Russell Wilson looks as good as advertised, and his smooth transition in Madison could put the Badgers over the top in the Big Ten. The offense could be just as powerful as it was in 2010, and if linebacker Chris Borland stays healthy, the defense has a chance to make plenty of plays.

2. Nebraska: The Blackshirts are the biggest reason to believe in Big Red, as All-America candidates Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard lead a unit that might rank among the nation's best. Quarterback Taylor Martinez drew good marks in camp and should have plenty of help in the backfield with Rex Burkhead and others.

3. Michigan State: The defense showed promise during camp, as Michigan State should have more depth along the defensive line and retain playmaking ability in the secondary. A new-look offensive line could be the key to the season, but quarterback Kirk Cousins is surrounded by plenty of weapons.

4. Ohio State: It's a close call between Ohio State and Michigan State for the No. 3 spot, but the Buckeyes have a few more holes to fill. Quarterbacks Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller emerged in camp, but both men have plenty to prove on Saturdays. The Buckeyes displayed good depth at running back, and the defense should once again be stout.

5. Penn State: There's no word yet on a starting quarterback, as Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin continue to compete. Penn State appears to have more answers on defense, particularly in the back seven, which boasts talent and very good depth. There's are question marks up front on both sides of the ball, and line play likely will determine how big a step Penn State can take in 2011.

6. Iowa: Despite some key personnel losses from 2010, Iowa isn't a team that should be overlooked this season. We expect big things from sophomore running back Marcus Coker, who will run behind a seasoned offensive line. There's uncertainty along the defensive line and quarterback James Vandenberg must prove himself again, but Iowa has a good chance to exceed expectations.

7. Illinois: Ron Zook's squad had a high-tempo camp where several players emerged on the offensive side, including receiver Darius Millines and running backs Jason Ford and Donovonn Young. As long as quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase stays healthy, Illinois should have one of the Big Ten's most powerful offenses this season. The defense still must fill several big holes.

8. Michigan: There likely will be an adjustment period, but the Wolverines could take a significant step in Brady Hoke's first season, especially on defense. The unit will benefit from a new scheme and a veteran coordinator in Greg Mattison, although depth is a concern. Quarterback Denard Robinson still will get some freedom to make plays, but he has to show he can execute a new offensive system.

9. Northwestern: The uncertainty surrounding quarterback Dan Persa is the main reason why the Wildcats aren't higher. Northwestern must prove it can win if Persa is limited, and while backup quarterback Kain Colter had a good camp, the run game still looks spotty. The defense should be stronger up front, but there are questions at linebacker.

10. Purdue: Is there a more snakebitten team in America than the Boilers? The loss of quarterback Rob Henry to a torn ACL is a significant blow, as he made significant strides during the offseason and had the trust and respect of the locker room. With Robert Marve still hobbled, Purdue now turns to Caleb TerBush for answers. It will be very interesting to see how the Boilers respond to their latest major injury setback.

11. Minnesota: New coach Jerry Kill is being realistic about the expectations in his first season, citing the team's youth and lack of depth at several positions. The good news is Kill knows what it takes to turn programs around, and Minnesota should show some flashes on offense behind quarterback MarQueis Gray. A trip to USC is a tough first assignment.

12. Indiana: Kevin Wilson didn't sound too jazzed about his quarterbacks last week, and there likely will be some growing pains with whoever starts the opener against Ball State. Wilson has brought a new attitude to Bloomington and could elevate the program's profile, but it will take a bit of time. There are too many issues on both sides of the ball.