It looked like it would never happen, but the conference-only Big Ten football season is set to kick off on Oct. 23 with another six games slated for the 24th. Five Big Ten teams — No. 5 Ohio State, No. 8 Penn State, No. 14 Wisconsin, No. 18 Michigan and No. 21 Minnesota — are currently ranked despite the conference’s delayed start.
To prepare for the return of Big Ten football, 110 Sports has identified the biggest question facing all 14 teams.
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Illinois: Will this be the best Illinois team in a decade?
It may seem like a bold question to pose, but it’s not like the Fighting Illini have had a lot of success recently. The last time they finished .500 in Big Ten play was 2010, exactly 10 years ago. Quarterback Brandon Peters has a year under his belt in Champaign and is playing behind a veteran offensive line. Former top-100 recruit Marquez Beason — who missed his freshman season with a torn ACL — joins All-Big Ten Third Team selection Sydney Brown in a secondary that looks extremely promising on paper.
Linebacker Jake Hansen (71 tackles, 3.5 sacks) tied No. 2 overall pick Chase Young for the most forced fumbles in the FBS last season while missing four games with a back injury. Lovie Smith’s group returns more experience than any team in the conference besides Northwestern. A pretty favorable schedule and the confidence gained from last season’s upset of Wisconsin make another 4-5 campaign a realistic possibility. An unexpected victory or two could result in the Fighting Illini finishing with a winning conference record for the first time since 2007.
On page 2: Indiana