Things are looking up for the Wildcats with former linebacker Pat Fitzgerald leading the charge as head coach. An opportunistic defense coupled with an explosive spread offense has given top programs fits and NU is beginning to earn opponents’ respect. Mike Kafka’s graduation means a new quarterback is taking the reins and that could limit the Wildcats a bit, but this a gritty team that seems to find ways to pull off upsets. The energetic coach has the team in purple playing with a ton of confidence and Northwestern should be in the thick of things once again in 2010.7. Michigan The Badgers redeemed themselves a year ago with a 10-3 record after a disastrous 7-6 season in 2008, and in 2010, many in Madison and around the country expect UW to make a run for its first conference title in over 10 years. UW has had good teams over the course of the last decade, but they will need to be great to surpass Ohio State and Iowa. Wisconsin certainly has the talent to win the Big Ten, with John Clay headlining an explosive offense that returns ten starters and a playmaking defense on the other side of the ball, but ultimately, UW’s fate will come down to their performance in big games against Ohio State and Iowa – two teams that have had the Badgers’ number as of late.4. Penn State The winningest program in all of college football hasn’t been doing a lot of winning lately. In two years under Rich Rodriguez, the Wolverines have just three victories in conference play and it looks like the maize and blue will be out of the bowl picture once again this year. Freshman quarterback Tate Forcier showed glimpses of potential last season, but inconsistency has opened up the opportunity for mobile-backup Denard Robinson to step in full time. Michigan’s defense will have to find a way to replace defensive end Brandon Graham and a host of veteran linebackers in 2010, which means a disappointing unit must now turn to unproven youngsters. The transition from Lloyd Carr to Rodriguez hasn’t been easy for Michigan, and the upcoming season will be another stiff challenge for the storied program.8. Purdue Can anyone stop the Buckeyes?That has become a redundant question in Big Ten country lately, as Ohio State has continually dominated the conference. The Buckeyes have had at least a share of the conference crown in each of the last five seasons, and with budding superstar Terrelle Pryor returning, OSU has once again been tabbed as the early favorite.But ten other teams are ready to take their shot at a Big Ten title, and a couple have the talent to compete with the powerhouse in Columbus.Let’s take a look at the state of the conference with a ranking of the 11 programs heading into 2010.1. Ohio StateNo surprise here, as Ohio State is ready for another run at a national title. Pre-season polls have the Buckeyes in the top-3 nationally and for good reason. OSU dominated a high-powered Oregon team in the Rose Bowl last year and a solid core returns in 2010. A tough defense led by stud defensive lineman Cameron Heyward will be brutally tough to score on, and if Pryor can improve as a passer, the Bucks will have the components of a national power. However, two road trips could cause trouble. OSU has to travel to both Madison and Iowa City, and Pryor is going to have to be at the top of his game to escape those hostile environments with wins. 2. Iowa Change is never easy, especially at the quarterback position. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, multi-year starter Daryll Clark has exhausted his eligibility, meaning an inexperienced signal caller is about to take over. Clark was a prolific passer for PSU tearing up secondaries with a deep group receivers, so a new starter is going to need some time to create that chemistry in a timing offense. Running backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green will have to carry the load to take some pressure off the passing game and you can always expect to see good defense played in Happy Valley. There is plenty of ability in the PSU locker room, but some growing pains on offense could hold them back from challenging for a title.5. Michigan State Three seasons ago, Illinois was playing for the Rose Bowl. Now, head coach Ron Zook needs to prove he’s worthy of keeping his job. After a dismal 3-9 campaign in 2009, the Illini basically have nowhere to go but up. Quarterback Juice Williams, and his go-to target, Arrelious Benn, have moved on, meaning it’s redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase’s turn to run the show. There isn’t much proven talent around him and it’s the same story on defense. Last year, stopping the run was especially difficult for the Illini. If linebacker Martez Wilson can recover from an injury and anchor the center of the defense, the Fighting Illini might scratch out a few wins. However, expect Zook’s seat to get hotter in 2010 as Illinois once again finishes in the cellar of the Big Ten. Miami transfer Robert Marve is the new starting quarterback for Purdue and he was looking forward to utilizing some prolific weapons this fall. Unfortunately, Ralph Bolden, the Boilermaker’s star running back, suffered a serious knee injury in the spring and he might not see the field. Luckily, Marve still has wide receiver Keith Smith to throw to. The senior led the Big Ten in both yards and receptions in 2009 and if Marve gets into a groove early in the year, Purdue will put up plenty of points through the air. Purdue has a talented d-line and a determined new signal caller, but a re-tooled secondary and Bolden’s injury will be difficult to overcome.9. Minnesota The Golden Gophers are trying to figure things out on offense with three offensive coordinators in three years, but losing Erik Decker certainly won’t help a team that went 6-7 last season. Decker was Mr. Everything for Minnesota from his wide receiver position but he has moved on to the NFL. Quarterback Adam Weber needs to limit mistakes in Decker’s absence if the Gophers want to be competitive and Duane Bennett will need to show he can provide consistent production on the ground. Almost the entire defense is getting a makeover due to graduation so don’t expect much improvement on that side of the ball.10. Indiana Teams love seeing Indiana next on the schedule. That’s the harsh reality of Hoosier football, but quarterback Ben Chappel will try to change things this fall after recording just a single conference victory last season. He has a terrific wideout in Tandon Doss, and IU will try to spread teams out and get the ball in the hands of their receivers. The defense is below average but the Hoosiers are playing with more toughness under head coach Bill Lynch and that’s a step in the right direction.11. Illinois It looked as though Iowa was a team of destiny last season – until they met the pesky Northwestern Wildcats. But the Hawkeyes, 9-0 at one point last season, got a shot in the Orange Bowl and made it count, beating Georgia Tech 24-14. Expect Iowa to be near the top of the conference once again this time around. Ricky Stanzi returns to lead a balanced offense and Adrian Clayborn anchors a stout defensive line. Tough losses to the NFL in the linebacking corps and secondary will sting, but Iowa has enough talent to compete for a conference title.3. Wisconsin Years of improved recruiting is paying off in East Lansing, as Michigan State continues to field talented teams. Returning starter Kirk Cousins is back to lead the Spartan offense, which is always loaded with quick receivers. Linebacker Greg Jones, the conference’s defensive player of the year a season ago, is a tackling machine, but the rest of the MSU defense needs to raise its level to compete with the Big Ten’s elite. Unfortunately, off-field problems and numerous arrests have haunted the Spartans and raised questions about the team’s maturity. That is not what you want to see heading into a new season.6. Northwestern
The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team turned heads in the recruitment world this past week with the addition of Minnesota native Ryder Donovan to play for the Badgers next year.Donovan, a talented center from Duluth East High School, will join other forwards — Alex Turcotte, Cole Caufield and Owen Lindmark — in next season’s talented incoming freshman class. Donovan will also have the opportunity to play with returning players such as Sean Dhooghe and K’Andre Miller.Donovan signed his National Letter of Intent Monday after backing out of his original commitment to North Dakota last fall. After attending Coach Tony Granato’s hockey camp at UW in the summer of 2016, the two built a strong relationship that was enough for Donovan to commit to UW for his journey through college hockey.Men’s hockey: A look back at Mark Johnson’s legendary careerThousands of Wisconsin fans packed the Kohl Center last Saturday night as the University of Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team was Read…Granato was very excited and optimistic about Donovan’s play and how he would fit in with the Badgers next season.“[He has] lots of great potential to be a big impact player similar to the other players we’re are bringing in,” Granato said in a Wisconsin Hockey press release. “They’ll complement each other well.”He also called Donovan “an elite talent and a hard-working kid.”The six-foot-four, 185-pound centreman averaged two points a game last season. He notched 62 points in 31 games for Duluth East High School and captained the team to the third seed in Minnesota’s high school state championship, before losing to the No. 1 seeded Minnetonka.As this season’s playoffs approach, he has 12 goals and 25 assists in 23 games.Men’s hockey: Badger seek late season momentum to raise Big Ten tournament rankingWith only four games remaining, the University of Wisconsin Men’s hockey team’s (10-15-5, 6-9-5 Big Ten) 2018-19 regular season is Read…Donovan ranks 46th in the top 50 of North American skaters for the 2019 draft by NHL Central Scouting.He represented the U.S. on the Under-18 Select Team at the 2017 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he scored the game-winning goal in overtime against Finland to win the U.S. fifth place.Ryder brings the Badgers an impressive amount of speed and his stats show his excellent ability to finish at the net. His advanced hockey sense and vision allow him to benefit his teammates to a momentous extent. Overall Donovan’s game can complement the skills of other incoming freshmen and returning Badgers next season. This skill, along with the many more on his resume, will help him achieve his potential as an elite power forward for Wisconsin.Moving into the 2019-20 season, Granato and the Badgers can look forward to a player who is going to put forth his best effort and also play a major role for Wisconsin in the future.