1) Illinois: Sophomore Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase
Luckily for Ron Zook there wasn’t much of a drop-off at the QB position after Juice Williams’ departure at the end of the ’10 season. In fact, there was no drop-off at all. Statistically, Scheelhaase performed better in his first season as a starter, than Williams did in his final season at Illinois. It seemed as if Scheelhaase was prepared to handle the duties as soon as he stepped onto campus. Illinois exceeded a lot of people’s expectations in ‘10 and I believe Scheelhaase’s confidence level coupled with U of I’s potent running attack contributed to Illinois’ seven wins last season. I’m interested to see how Scheelhaase matures this season though, without workhouse Mikel LeShoure lined up behind him.
2) Iowa: Senior Wide Receiver Marvin McNutt
Iowa’s offense has almost been like a revolving door lately, especially at the running back position. However, WR Marvin McNutt has been a constant for this team for the last three seasons. I believe McNutt can help this Hawkeye squad put up some big numbers in ’11. McNutt is a big-play receiver who’s known for scoring touchdowns. He put 6 points on the board in each of the last six conference games of 2010. And his receiving totals improved from the previous two seasons combined. Even with a new quarterback under center for the Hawkeyes next season, McNutt should be the go-to playmaker. He only needs 6 more touchdowns to become Iowa’s career receiving touchdown leader.
3) Michigan State: The Backfield
This team has some holes to fill on its roster, but I still expect for this squad to be competitive in 2011 due in large part to the three-headed monster lining up a running back. A team is dangerous with one legitimate threat at RB, but when you have two other backs capable of putting up big numbers each time out, then that team becomes DEADLY. And that’s exactly what Michigan State aims to be this season. Junior Edwin Baker is the main guy and he’s also the leading returning rusher in the Big Ten (among RBs—Michigan’s D. Robinson put up an astounding 1700 yards!) with 1201 yards. Bruiser Le’Veon Bell also returns after posting 605 yards on the ground as a freshman! He played a key part in MSU’s thrilling OT victory over Notre Dame. He led all rushers in that contest with 114 yards. But don’t forget about Larry Caper, he saw his reps drop last season but he’s fully capable of carrying the rock. In 2009, he led the team in rushing and I think having another RB in your backfield with that type of big-game experience will only benefit the team in the long run.
4) Northwestern: Senior Wide Receiver Jeremy Ebert
The Wildcats return a veteran offense in 2011 and the player I’m interested in watching is All-Big Ten WR Jeremy Ebert. The 6-1 receiver has only gotten better after each of his three seasons in Evanston. Last year he just missed cracking 1000 total receiving yards (953) but Ebert still managed to snag in 8 touchdowns from QB Dan Persa. I’d be surprised if Ebert’s numbers drop this season.
5) Penn State: Junior Quarterback Matt McGloin
It’s definitely a blow losing the school’s all-time leading rusher Evan Royster, but I believe Penn State can still be productive. However first, old JoePa is going to have to name a starting quarterback for his Nittany Lions squad. I believe Matt McGloin is the man to lead Penn State to the promised lands in 2011. McGloin ended up inheriting the starting role after freshman Rob Bolden suffered a concussion in the Minnesota game last season. When called to duty, McGloin guided the Nittany Lions to 4 victories but also gave up 5 INTs to the Gators in the Outback Bowl. Rob Bolden may be the favorite, but I truly believe it’s McGloin’s job to lose.