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THE BIG 10

8/14/2008
The projected order of finish in the Big 10. ESPN The Magazine design

For the first time in years, this conference of 10 that's really 11 is all about a single team: Ohio State. The Buckeyes return 18 starters—including All-America LB James Laurinaitis and Thorpe Award favorite Malcolm Jenkins—from a squad that went to the BCS title game. Though he's never said it, Jim Tressel has long thought this will be his best unit since 2002's title team. And who might challenge OSU? Wisconsin, Penn State and Illinois are good, Michigan and Michigan State are dangerous and Purdue is a dark horse. QB Curtis Painter is good enough to beat anybody. Well, anybody except Ohio State.
- CHRIS SPIELMAN

THE ELIMINATOR

Here are four things that every Big Ten champion over the past five years has had in common. Looking at returning players and last year's stats, we predict which teams will pass which tests this year.

DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE

Ohio State had far and away the Big Ten's best defense last season, not only destroying the league average in each of the stats listed below but also crushing the conference's next-best D. Even worse news for opposing offenses: The Buckeyes return nine starters on D.

THE LEAGUE OF PLUS-SIZED RUNNING BACKS

Turns out Big Ten runners are the biggest in the country not only in reputation, but also in size. Even carrying extra baggage, the league's top three returnees still get more yards per pound than any of the top trios from the other BCS conferences.

TEAM BY TEAM

1. OHIO STATE
Wow, in past 32 polls Buckeyes have been voted No. 1 20 times. Equally wow, they've lost past two BCS title games by an average of 21 points.

2. WISCONSIN
New QB Allan Evridge has big gainers at RB (P.J. Hill, 2,781 career rushing yards) and TE (Travis Beckum, 1,885 career receiving yards)—but also has to play Michigan, OSU and PSU on three straight Saturdays.

3. PENN STATE
JoePa loves to take the air out of the ball. But with Big Ten's deepest wideout corps, he may have no choice but to pump it up.

4. ILLINOIS
Ron Zook has a reality-show crew trailing him all year. Spoiler alert: The Fighting Illini really miss Rashard Mendenhall.

5. MICHIGAN STATE
Since 2000, East Lansing has been no fun for opponents (MSU's 30—23). But away from home, the Spartans are only 14—27.

6. MICHIGAN
Bad news: UM QBs have only one career pass attempt. Good news: It was a completion!

7. IOWA
Hawkeyes offense scored only 18.5 ppg, worst among all BCS teams not named Syracuse, Duke, Baylor or Iowa State.

8. PURDUE
Always good enough to beat the bottom feeders, but 12 straight losses vs. ranked teams is not very good at all.

9. NORTHWESTERN
Give QB C.J. Bachér high marks for consistency. For each of his 19 TD passes, he made sure to throw an interception.

10. INDIANA
A streaking program. As in, Hoosiers haven't been ranked since '94 and have no plans to break that streak in '08.

11. MINNESOTA
Defense gave up 40 points six times during 2007's 1—11 debacle. But at least Gophers avoid North Dakota State this year.