Michigan 2006 Record: 11-2, 7-1 Big Ten (2nd)Coach: Lloyd CarrKey Players: Mike Hart (RB), Chad Henne (QB), Jake Long (OT), Adam Kraus (OG), Mario Manningham (WR)Outlook: Although Michigan returns the fewest starters from last year’s team in the Big Ten, losing consensus All-Americans Leon Hall and LaMarr Woodley in the process, it heads into the 2007 season ranked No. 5 nationally and is favored to win the Big Ten title. That’s because the Wolverines were able to retain one of the nation’s premiere left tackles, Jake Long, and therefore the Big Ten’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year favorite, Mike Hart. Hart disclosed to members of the media at the Big Ten Football Media Days that had Long decided to go pro, he would have as well. With Hart coming out of the backfield and star signal caller Chad Henne having a formidable deep threat in Mario Manningham, Michigan’s offense will be tough to beat. The defense isn’t bad either; two of the four returning starters were All-Big Ten selections. With eight of 12 games at home, and some of the nation’s best athletes, Michigan could find itself winning more than just a Big Ten title. Wisconsin2006 record: 12-1, 7-1 Big Ten (3rd)Coach: Bret BielemaKey Players: P.J. Hill (RB), Nick Hayden (DT), Travis Beckum (TE), Jack Ikegwounu (CB). Outlook: The Badgers set sail for the 2007 season with high expectations after a surprising 2006 campaign. Senior Tyler Donovan was given the nod over junior Allan Evridge in a very tight off-season quarterback competition, and will lead a passing attack that returns its top five receivers from last season, including top-target Beckum. Regarding the running attack, the workhorse Hill reshaped his body in the off-season and will attempt to be more elusive by using his surprising speed to run past, instead of through, opposing defenders.On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin will once again boast one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. Nick Hayden, Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk comprise the three-headed monster that anchors the middle of the UW defensive line, and the linebacking corps could very well be the best in the Big Ten. In the defensive backfield, both starting safeties were lost to graduation, but Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant look like very suitable replacements. Carter, in particular, has the instinct and natural ability to make big plays from his free safety spot. Penn State2006 Record: 9-4, 5-3 Big Ten (T-4th)Coach: Joe PaternoKey Players: Anthony Morelli (QB), Derrick Williams (WR), Dan Connor (LB), Anthony Scirotto (S)Outlook: Despite some question marks on the offensive and defensive lines, Joe Paterno once again has the Nittany Lions poised for a successful season. With the very talented, but sometimes confused Anthony Morelli at quarterback, the Lions’ passing attack should be strong, especially if Derrick Williams’ play can finally live up to the talent he’s shown over his first two seasons. The departure of running back Tony Hunt, though, as well as All-American offensive tackle Levi Brown, could put too much pressure on Morelli, who won’t be able to carry the offense by himself. Though the defensive line is inexperienced, a very strong, deep corps of linebackers and defensive backs means teams are going to have a hard time putting up points against the Lions. With Notre Dame, Michigan and Wisconsin all having to venture into Happy Valley this season, Penn State will have an opportunity to finish the year among the nation’s best.Ohio State2006 record: 12-1, 8-0 Big Ten (1st)Coach: Jim TresselKey Players: James Laurinaitis (LB), Chris Wells (RB), Malcolm Jenkins (CB), Vernon Gholston (DE)Outlook: There is an almost entirely new crew under Tressel’s direction this year. Gone is the high-powered offensive weaponry of Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Troy Smith, wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez and running back Antonio Pittman. The Buckeyes will rely heavily on their defense, at least early in the season, as new quarterback Todd Boeckman gets his feet wet. Big Ten Pre-season Defensive Player of the Year Laurinaitis leads that group, which should rival Wisconsin as the conference’s top unit. Offensively, OSU will get back to its roots that include pounding out victories on the ground, rather than playing with flash like it did last season. Running back Chris Wells will benefit from that approach, and the sophomore will have an opportunity to put up some big numbers on the ground. Boeckman will be throwing to two new wide receivers. One of them, Ray Small, could emerge as a big play threat in the mold of the departed Ginn. Purdue2006 Record: 8-6, 5-3 Big Ten (T-4th)Coach: Joe TillerKey Players: Curtis Painter (QB), Dorein Bryant (WR), Jordan Grimes (OT), Jared Armstrong (P)Outlook: Purdue is going to have to score often and fast if it wants to have any chance of returning to a bowl game this season. Led by strong armed quarterback Curtis Painter and his top target Dorien Bryant, who compliment a duo of talented running backs in juniors Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor, Purdue features one of the Big Ten’s most dynamic offenses. The strength of the defense will come in the secondary where all four starters return, including safety Justin Scott, who intercepted three passes last season. After that, however, Purdue must rely on an inconsistent and inexperienced front seven to try and stop the competition. Purdue resembles last year’s Michigan State team, and that didn’t turn out great for the Spartans. Although the Boilermakers should find success against lesser Big Ten foes, a difficult schedule and questionable defense will prevent them from finishing in the top four. Iowa2006 Record: 6-7, 2-6 Big Ten (T-8th)Coach: Kirk FerentzKey Players: Albert Young (RB), Damian Sims (RB), Mike Klinkenborg (LB), Adam Shada (CB)Outlook: The second half of last season was one to forget for Hawkeye fans, as the team concluded the year 1-5. For Iowa to rebound, it must find reliable replacements for tackle Marshal Yanda, guard Mike Elgin and tight end Scott Chandler, who were selected in the 2007 NFL Draft. Furthermore, for the first time in four years someone other than Drew Tate will be under center and the starting safeties will sport two new faces. Sophomore Jake Christensen will take over for Tate. While he develops, more of the burden will be placed upon Iowa’s dual running attack, Albert Young and Damian Sims. The two combined for 1,443 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Should one of them get hurt, as was the case last year, and should some of the young, inconsistent starters from last year fail to develop, Iowa could be in for another long season despite a favorable schedule that doesn’t feature Ohio State or Michigan. Indiana2006 record: 5-7, 3-5 Big Ten (7th)Coach: Bill LynchKey Players: James Hardy (WR), Tracy Porter (CB), Kellen Lewis (QB), Greg Brown (DE)Outlook: 2006 was an emotional season for the Hoosiers, and 2007 looks to be much the same. Head coach Terry Hoeppner, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2005, passed away in mid-June, leaving offensive coordinator Bill Lynch as the new head coach. Unfortunately for Lynch, he doesn’t have many tools to work with to try to resurrect the struggling Indiana program. Perhaps the most skilled player on the Hoosier roster is 6-foot-7-inch junior wide receiver James Hardy. Hardy brought in 51 catches for 722 yards last season, including 10 touchdowns. Indiana hopes he will be a consistent threat and develop into one of the top receivers in the conference. The IU defense returns eight starters, including defensive backs Porter and Leslie Majors. Porter was named to the second-team All-Big Ten team last season. The Hoosiers managed to avoid having Ohio State and Michigan on their schedule, but will have tough games against Penn State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks.Minnesota 2006 Record: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten (6th)Coach: Tim BrewsterKey players: Amir Pinnix (RB), Willie VanDeSteeg (DE), Mike Sherels (LB), Dominique Barber (SS)Outlook: A new look at quarterback, a new coach and a new stadium in the works, Minnesota looks to be a team that is planning for a more prosperous tomorrow. But presently, many questions remain, including how seamlessly anyone can replace last year’s starting quarterback Bryan Cupito and whether this year’s team will hold a lead; the Gophers ended last season with a 44-41 overtime loss to Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl after holding a 38-7 advantage midway through the third quarter. Returning 10 starters on defense will give Minnesota the experience advantage over nearly everyone in the Big Ten, and running back Amir Pinnix should have another terrific year as the starting tailback. But don’t get your hopes up; Minnesota is not ready to be a contender. A tough conclusion to the schedule doesn’t help its Big Ten chances, although a weak non-conference schedule should secure Minnesota a Bowl game birth. IllinoisRecord: 2-10, 1-7 Big Ten (10th)Coach: Ron ZookKey Players: Juice Williams (QB), Arellius Benn (WR), J Leman (LB), Vontae Davis (CB), Rashard Mendenhall (RB)Outlook: With the players Zook recruited, Florida won the national championship last season. Now with Illinois, Zook has worked to get some talented recruits to come to one of the mainstays at the bottom of the Big Ten over the past four seasons. His latest group of recruits include some very impressive players, and that could mean instant improvement for an Illinois team that has only won seven games in the past three seasons. Wideout Arellius Benn headlines the 2007 class. He should give sophomore quarterback Juice Williams an option so that he doesn’t have to create by running the ball. Running back Rashard Mendenhall should build on a strong campaign last season and help provide the Illini with some offensive balance. Butkus Award candidate J Leman headlines the defense, averaging over 12.5 tackles per game, and despite some holes in the secondary, sophomore cornerback Vontae Davis should make an impact. Although Illinois is certainly showing signs of life, Zook’s team is still a couple years away from getting out of the Big Ten cellar.Michigan State2006 record: 4-8, 1-7 Big Ten (T-10th)Coach: Mike DantonioKey Players: Javon Ringer (RB), SirDarean Adams (LB), Otis Wiley (FS), Kellen Davis (TE)Outlook: Dantonio takes the helm at Michigan State after three years at Cincinnati, where he brought the Bearcats to respectability. His first job will be to build up a defense that last season ranked second-to-last in the Big Ten. To win at all, the defense will have to be the driving force of the team, as the offense will likely struggle with the departure of last year’s quarterback, second-round draft pick Drew Stanton. Justin Kershaw and Ervin Baldwin anchor the defensive line, and Wiley roams the defensive backfield looking to make plays. Offensively, the Spartans will recommit to running the football behind a big offensive line that averages almost 310 pounds. Running back Javon Ringer will be looking to bounce back from a knee injury that derailed his season last year. Jehuu Caulcrick will be the change of pace back for the Spartans and could see some carries in short yardage and goal line situations.Northwestern2006 record: 4-8, 2-6 Big Ten (T-8th)Coach: Pat FitzgeraldKey Players: Tyrell Sutton (RB), Adam Kadela (LB), Corey Wotton (DE), Trevor Rees (C)Outlook: Four wins for the Wildcats was certainly a disappointment last season after coming off a seven-win campaign in 2005 and an appearance in the Sun Bowl. Fitzgerald became the youngest coach in college football when he replaced the late Randy Walker, who died of a heart attack. Northwestern’s main offensive weapon is junior running back Tyrell Sutton. Although his numbers were down last year compared to 2005 — 1,474 yards two years ago and just 1,000 last season — he is still a dangerous weapon. C.J. Bachér returns at quarterback and will need to do a much better job taking care of the ball if the Wildcats are to be successful this season. In just six games in 2007, he threw eight interceptions. Senior Adam Kadela, a middle linebacker, will need to provide leadership on defense. Games against Ohio State, Michigan, and Purdue will be the Wildcats’ toughest tests of the season.