1. Race to Indy

  2. Pole position

    How else would you break down the road to the conference championship game in Indianapolis? Big Ten coaches hope to drive their teams to a league title, so The World-Herald's Sam McKewon has assigned each Legends and Leaders team their corresponding equivalent from automobile history. Also, staff writer Lee Barfknecht breaks down the divisional races for each team before offering up his season predictions.

    Legends Division

    1. Nebraska

    Nothing wrong with a souped-up 1997 Camaro. It's fast. It can burn up some country roads. But NU's fan base remains stuck in an era when it was indisputably the nation's premier program. It's not now, even if a number of the updates on the vehicle are new.

    Coach: Bo Pelini, sixth year, 49-20

    2012 record: 10-4, 7-1 (first)

    Returning starters: 12 (7 off., 5 def., 0 k/p)

    Overall: There is a lot to like. A four-year starting quarterback, Taylor Martinez, dealing the ball to several explosive playmakers. The best offensive line in several years, led by All-America candidate Spencer Long. The defense is young, but we're told is filled with better talent. And the schedule couldn't have been handcrafted any better.

    Offense (Rank: 1): Martinez will finish high on the NU records list in several categories. If he reduces his turnovers, the Husker title chances go way up. TB Ameer Abdullah must stay healthy, and the wideouts need to be heavily involved.

    Defense (Rank: 7): The massive meltdowns last year (63 points to Ohio State, 70 to Wisconsin, 45 to Georgia) hang over the program like thick fog. The front four is a major concern, but Pelini says he's not worried.

    Coaching (Rank: 6): What keeps this staff from a higher ranking is having added five more years to Nebraska's droughts for conference titles and BCS bowl appearances. Questions about the caliber of recruiting also linger.

    Intangibles (Rank: 1): This is the year we've all been told to wait for. The transition into the Big Ten is done. There isn't a first-year coordinator on either side of the ball. And all of the players were recruited by this staff.

    Prediction: 11-1, Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)

    Schedule

    Aug. 31: Wyoming
    Sept. 7: Southern Mississippi
    Sept. 14: UCLA
    Sept. 21: South Dakota State
    Oct. 5: Illinois
    Oct. 12: at Purdue
    Oct. 26: at Minnesota
    Nov. 2: Northwestern
    Nov. 9: at Michigan
    Nov. 16: Michigan State
    Nov. 23: at Penn State
    Nov. 29: Iowa

    Coachspeak: "We like where we are as a football program. I'm proud of our kids and how they represent our program not only on the field but more importantly in the classroom and in the community.''

    2. Michigan

    Michigan football screams opulent luxury, so the 2011 Cadillac Escalade is a fine fit. Big and imposing like coach Brady Hoke, befitting of a team moving back to a slower, pro-style offense.

    Coach: Brady Hoke, third year, 19-7

    2012 record: 8-5, 6-2 (second)

    Returning starters: 13 (5 off., 6 def., 2 k/p)

    Overall: Just as in Hoke's first two years, the Wolverines will challenge for the Legends Division title. But winning it remains another matter. The schedule is kinder, but the majority of the talent is young or not heavily experienced. The turnover problem also must be fixed. UM was 96th last season in taking care of the ball.

    Offense (Rank: 5): For five games last season, QB Devin Gardner looked like a potential star upon replacing Denard Robinson. He'll have other stars around him (OT Taylor Lewan, RB Fitz Toussaint). But to declare Gardner a star, more results are needed.

    Defense (Rank: 4): Leading tackler Jake Ryan (torn ACL) says he'll be back in October, but that's iffy. UM really needs some breakthroughs from DE Frank Clark, CB Blake Countess and an untested but talented group at linebacker.

    Coaching (Rank: 2): The threesome of head coach Brady Hoke, offensive coordinator Al Borges and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is extremely strong in practice and on game day. Now, the recruiting is picking up steam, too.

    Intangibles (Rank: 6): Hoke likes to say every season is a failure if it doesn't result in a Big Ten title. This group of Wolverines really looks like it is a year away, but that doesn't rule out a championship run for "Team 134.''

    Prediction: 9-3, Capital One Bowl (Orlando, Fla.)

    Schedule

    Aug. 31: Central Michigan
    Sept. 7: Notre Dame
    Sept. 14: Akron
    Sept. 21: at Connecticut
    Oct. 5: Minnesota
    Oct. 12: at Penn State
    Oct. 19: Indiana
    Nov. 2: at Michigan State
    Nov. 9: Nebraska
    Nov. 16: at Northwestern
    Nov. 23: at Iowa
    Nov. 30: Ohio State

    Coachspeak: "We're a young team. We've got to replace some guys who have been very important to Michigan football. The expectations, though, never change. And that's to win Big Ten championships.''

    3. Michigan State

    They make American cars in the state of Michigan, where Buick is a household name. The 1987 Grand National was one of the maker's fastest cars, yet it kept a blue-collar look and fits the Spartans like a glove. Is MSU fast? Its defense certainly is.

    Coach: Mark Dantonio, seventh year, 51-28

    2012 record: 7-6, 3-5 (fourth)

    Returning starters: 17 (9 off., 7 def., 1 k/p)

    Overall: Michigan State's challenge is to blend a Top 10-in-the-nation defense with a bottom 10 offense and try to win a Big Ten title. The likelihood? Not good, despite five losses last year by a total of 13 points. New weapons on offense are in short supply, and the QB situation is expected to go into the first month of the season.

    Offense (Rank: 10): When your offense already struggles and the only two legitimate playmakers go early to the NFL (RB Le'Veon Bell, TE Dion Sims) what happens? Sparty doesn't know, which is why this looks like a middle-of-the-pack team again.

    Defense (Rank: 1): Seven starters are back from a unit that finished in the top 10 nationally in all four major statistical categories. One of the newcomers, LB Taiwan Jones, is a star in the making. The only concern is forcing more turnovers than in 2012.

    Coaching (Rank: 7): Dantonio is a defensive guy and has done an excellent job building a strong staff on that side under coordinator Pat Narduzzi (who'd better be first in line when Dantonio retires). But the recent old-line offensive hires make no sense.

    Intangibles (Rank: 5): The Spartans admit they got a little ahead of themselves last season with some big talk. Now, almost no one is touting them as a title threat, which might be just what MSU needs to make a move.

    Prediction: 8-4, Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.)

    Schedule

    Aug. 30: Western Michigan
    Sept. 7: South Florida
    Sept. 14: Youngstown State
    Sept. 21: at Notre Dame
    Oct. 5: at Iowa
    Oct. 12: Indiana
    Oct. 19: Purdue
    Oct. 26: at Illinois
    Nov. 2: Michigan
    Nov. 16: at Nebraska
    Nov. 23: at Northwestern
    Nov. 30: Minnesota

    Coachspeak: "Six straight bowl games for us. The last two we were able to win. There is a feeling among our football team of a foundation that has been laid. But we're still chasing a dream right now."

    4. Northwestern

    Pat Fitzgerald's a smart guy, and the 1960 Aston Martin is a smart guy's car for autumn rides up the Chicago shoreline. He's Northwestern's best coach since Ara Parseghian in the 1950s and 1960s. Can the Wildcats hold on to Fitz? They hope so.

    Coach: Pat Fitzgerald, eighth year, 50-39

    2012 record: 10-3, 5-3 (third)

    Returning starters: 17 (8 off., 7 def., 2 k/p)

    Overall: Optimism is almost out of control. There are 17 returning starters. Former players go to practice and come away raving at the improvements in size and speed. The depth of talent also has improved. But the schedule has turned nasty, and being on the other side of the expectation meter is an adjustment.

    Offense (Rank: 2): Points shouldn't be a problem. QBs Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian are back. So is All-America KR/RB Venric Mark. The receivers have improved. Now, the O-line has to develop three new starters and stay healthy.

    Defense (Rank: 8): The defense was much improved last season, going from 66th in points allowed per game in 2011 to 29th. But the Wildcats gave up 39 points to Penn State, 38 to Michigan and 29 to Nebraska. Better showings against better foes are imperative.

    Coaching (Rank: 4): Fitzgerald is the smoothest of the smooth with his recruiting and player and media relations. His in-game decision-making has improved. Some have criticized him for stubbornly hanging on to a few veteran assistants.

    Intangibles (Rank: 10): The players wore "5:03" T-shirts to show how close they were to an undefeated season in 2012. But the Wildcats also struggled mightily in three of their wins. Question marks in both interior lines are a major concern.

    Prediction: 8-4, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Tempe, Ariz.)

    Schedule

    Aug. 31: at California
    Sept. 7: Syracuse
    Sept. 14: Western Michigan
    Sept. 21: Maine
    Oct. 5: Ohio State
    Oct. 12: at Wisconsin
    Oct. 19: Minnesota
    Oct. 26: at Iowa
    Nov. 2: at Nebraska
    Nov. 16: Michigan
    Nov. 23: Michigan State
    Nov. 30: at Illinois

    Coachspeak: "We're not satisfied with just going to bowl games anymore. That's the expectation -- to be a consistent winner, a consistent postseason team and to win championships."

    5. Minnesota

    Jerry Kill started his career in 1985 in Division II, and he's put a lot of miles on the 1985 LeBaron since then. Mostly in the Midwest, driving wherever he could find a player for his system. Will his shoe-leather/tire-rubber method pay off? Hard to say.

    Coach: Jerry Kill, third year, 9-16

    2012 record: 6-7, 2-6 (T-fifth)

    Returning starters: 18 (10 off., 7 def., 1 k/p)

    Overall: At most of Kill's coaching stops, Year Three was a breakthrough. So will the Gophers be a lot better in Kill's third season at UM? Most think the answer is yes, though the record might not show it because of a tougher schedule. Still, Minnesota is gaining in key program-building areas such as playmakers, quality depth and confidence.

    Offense (Rank: 8): What you saw in the 34-31 bowl loss to Texas Tech will be Gopher Ball into the future -- 54 snaps of a power running game with two big backs and a play-action passing game of 19 snaps. But a young QB must step up.

    Defense (Rank: 5): This unit went from 77th nationally in total defense in Kill's first season to 33rd last season. More improvement is expected behind DT Ra'Shede Hageman, a possible NFL first-rounder, and an experienced secondary.

    Coaching (Rank: 8): Kill is admired for his work while dealing with epilepsy. But he wants to be known just for coaching, not overcoming adversity. His staff doesn't have big names, but has been with Kill a long time and works well together.

    Intangibles (Rank: 9): Getting into a bowl game in Kill's second season was a big boost. Improvement in this program is noticeable from week to week and year to year. The Gophers now need to find a couple of difference-maker athletes.

    Prediction: 6-6, Heart of Dallas Bowl

    Schedule

    Aug. 29 UNLV
    Sept. 7: at New Mexico State
    Sept. 14: Western Illinois
    Sept. 21: San Jose State
    Sept. 28: Iowa
    Oct. 5: at Michigan
    Oct. 19: at Northwestern
    Oct. 26: Nebraska
    Nov. 2: at Indiana
    Nov. 9: Penn State
    Nov. 23: Wisconsin
    Nov. 30: at Michigan State

    Coachspeak: "The kids took the momentum out of the bowl game on to the offseason and did an outstanding job. Then we felt like we had our best spring ball. So we're excited. We got better a year ago, and I look forward to seeing us get better this year."

    6. Iowa

    The old Ford truck, classic and inspiring, is showing some rust. Kirk Ferentz may need a new way to win, but he's not ready for a trade-in. For now, he's sticking to some oil changes and clinging to the pickup that's always gotten him there.

    Coach: Kirk Ferentz, 15th year, 100-74

    2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 (T-fifth)

    Returning starters: 16 (6 off., 8 def., 2 k/p)

    Overall: If ever a program were stuck in a rut with no clear path to get out, it is Iowa. The Hawkeyes are stuck with the dumbest coaching contract ever offered by an A.D. They are stuck with no quarterback with any college snaps because said coach played no backups a year ago. And they are stuck with the nationwide perception that they are stuck.

    Offense (Rank: 12): When you still have a three-way quarterback race three weeks into fall camp, you have a big problem. RB Mark Weisman, an All-Big Ten candidate, provides hope for a ground game. Now, what will OC Greg Davis do to complete passes?

    Defense (Rank: 9): The LB trio of James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens is strong. DT Carl Davis might emerge. But the lack of difference-maker talent on defense is glaring. U of I was 115th in sacks and 78th in interceptions.

    Coaching (Rank: 10): Only three assistants are left from Iowa's 2009 Orange Bowl season. Whatever fresh air those coaches have tried to inject into the program have been met by Ferentz's old way of doing things.

    Intangibles (Rank: 11): Look no further than Cedar Falls offensive line recruit and Iowa fan Ross Pierschbacher reneging on his commitment to go to Alabama. That's just the latest sign that belief and hope are in short supply in Iowa City.

    Prediction: 4-8, no bowl

    Schedule

    Aug. 31: Northern Illinois
    Sept. 7: Missouri State
    Sept. 14: at Iowa State
    Sept. 21: Western Michigan
    Sept. 28: at Minnesota
    Oct. 5: Michigan State
    Oct. 19: at Ohio State
    Oct. 26: Northwestern
    Nov. 2: Wisconsin
    Nov. 9: at Purdue
    Nov. 23: Michigan
    Nov. 29: at Nebraska

    Coachspeak: "Last year was obviously very disappointing for all of us. As soon as the season ended in November, we encouraged our players to turn the page and to look forward. I am enthused about how the players have handled each step."

    Leaders Division

    1. Ohio State

    Urban Meyer pitches himself a straight-arrow, boxy Volvo kind of guy, but there's a Corvette under a tarp in his garage. Corvettes are sharp, fast and get your attention. So does his Buckeye team. Can OSU make it through a season without a scratch?

    Coach: Urban Meyer, 2nd year, 12-0

    2012 record: 12-0, 8-0 (first)

    Returning starters: 14 (9 off., 4 def., 1 k/p)

    Overall: To go from 6-7 to 12-0 under a first-year coach while under NCAA postseason sanctions is just short of miraculous. Did the Buckeyes use up all of their good fortune in 2012? It doesn't look that way. With a premier QB returning, the wraps coming off the offense and a star-powered defense, more good things lie directly ahead.

    Offense (Rank: 3): QB Braxton Miller is getting a lot of Heisman Trophy love and rightfully so if his growth as a game manager and leader is as good as advertised. Dontre Wilson is also a breakaway threat.

    Defense (Rank: 2): Call this "the plethora of playmakers." If LB Ryan Shazier isn't the league's defensive player of the year, CB Bradley Roby will be. And DEs Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington may be the league's best sophomores.

    Coaching (Rank: 1): Whether you like his style and tactics or not, Meyer is a proven national championship coach. And his staff of assistants is outstanding. Eight of them he had never worked with before hiring them to OSU.

    Intangibles (Rank: 2): Even after going undefeated last season, the Buckeyes have a chip on their shoulder. Talk that going 12-0 was a fluke hasn't set well in Columbus. This group has that mission mentality to prove it is for real.

    Prediction: 12-0, BCS title game (Pasadena, Calif.)

    Schedule

    Aug. 31: Buffalo
    Sept. 7: San Diego State
    Sept. 14: at California
    Sept. 21: Florida A&M
    Sept. 28: Wisconsin
    Oct. 5: at Northwestern
    Oct. 19: Iowa
    Oct. 26: Penn State
    Nov. 2: at Purdue
    Nov. 16: at Illinois
    Nov. 23: Indiana
    Nov. 30: at Michigan

    Coachspeak: "There has been zero conversation about anything other than competing for a championship. This year's team has high expectations riding off the coattails of what those kids did last year."

    2. Wisconsin

    Whereas the Badgers were once driving around the biggest, most lumbering SUV on the market, a new spread, no-huddle look means a new hybrid vehicle is in order. The 2013 Ford Explorer is faster, sleeker and still pretty big.

    Coach: Gary Andersen, first year

    2012 record: 8-6, 4-4 (third)

    Returning starters: 17 (8 off., 7 def., 2 k/p)

    Overall: Three straight Big Ten titles for the Badgers, but also three straight Rose Bowl losses. So coach Bret Bielema packed up for Arkansas in search of bigger success. A.D. Barry Alvarez's hire of Andersen from Utah State was masterful. Guys who win big at places that don't care about football are legit. And he is an Urban Meyer offshoot.

    Offense (Rank: 6): The two returning QBs (Curt Phillips and Joel Stave) don't fit the zone read system, but juco transfer Tanner McEvoy does. The O-line isn't as big and deep as usual, but RBs James White and Melvin Gordon are back.

    Defense (Rank: 3): Coordinator Dave Aranda brings an attacking 3-4 alignment to Madison -- a sharp change from the old bend-but-don't-break 4-3. This seems to fit UW's personnel well, setting up all-league LB Chris Borland for a big year.

    Coaching (Rank: 5): Andersen's challenge is to put his imprint on a program that isn't broken without going backward. That's trickier than it sounds, especially when changing systems on both sides of the ball. But this is a respected staff.

    Intangibles (Rank: 3): Bielema had good success at Wisconsin, but wasn't the most likeable guy. Andersen has used his smooth, genuine personality to quickly win over his players and pump energy into a group wanting to move up a level.

    Prediction: 9-3, Outback Bowl (Tampa, Fla.)

    Schedule

    Aug. 31: Massachusetts
    Sept. 7: Tennessee Tech
    Sept. 14: at Arizona State
    Sept. 21: Purdue
    Sept. 28: at Ohio State
    Oct. 12: Northwestern
    Oct. 19: at Illinois
    Nov. 2: at Iowa
    Nov. 9: BYU
    Nov. 16: Indiana
    Nov. 23: at Minnesota
    Nov. 30: Penn State

    Coachspeak: "Trust is a big thing with us. We talked about it Day One, and I think after 6½ months we've got it within players to coaches and coaches to players."

    3. Penn State

    The Nittany Lions were a far more competitive and classier program last year than anyone expected — hence the snazzy Chrysler 300 — but let's face it: The penalties left over from the Sandusky scandal may soon have them trading down.

    Coach: Bill O'Brien, second year, 8-4

    2012 record: 8-4, 6-2 (second)

    Returning starters: 16 (8 off., 6 def., 2 k/p)

    Overall: O'Brien wasn't national coach of the year in 2012 for no reason. To take over a program in utter turmoil and go 8-4 was unbelievable. But was that all done on emotion and pride? What is left in Penn State's tank? The Nittany Lions are down to 67 scholarship players. The margin for error is microscopic.

    Offense (Rank: 7): Freshman Christian Hackenberg was the No. 1 QB recruit nationally, but likely will back up juco transfer Tyler Ferguson early. PSU has a wealth of receiving talent, a good run game and a sound O-line.

    Defense (Rank: 6): Very thin and very inexperienced after the departure of three players to the NFL and two other starters. Sophomore DE Deion Barnes might be an All-American some day. But the rest of the front seven is a huge question mark.

    Coaching (Rank: 3): O'Brien had to hire a new D coordinator after Ted Roof left for his alma mater, Georgia Tech. The staff has done yeoman's work under NCAA sanctions, but recruiting will get tougher the next three years.

    Intangibles (Rank: 8): Talk about dealing from a short deck. With 18 fewer scholarships than other FBS schools, Penn State will need many things to go right to get close to last season's success. A new QB in a complicated system won't help.

    Prediction: 7-5, no bowl (NCAA sanctions)

    Schedule

    Aug. 31: Syracuse*
    Sept. 7: Eastern Michigan
    Sept. 14: Central Florida
    Sept. 21: Kent State
    Oct. 5: at Indiana
    Oct. 12,: Michigan
    Oct. 26: at Ohio State
    Nov. 2: Illinois
    Nov. 9: at Minnesota
    Nov. 16: Purdue
    Nov. 23: Nebraska
    Nov. 30: at Wisconsin
    * — East Rutherford, N.J.

    Coachspeak: "We're in a situation at Penn State right now that is unprecedented. But our players are tough. They are resilient. They're good kids. ... The rules are what they are, and that's what we play under."

    4. Indiana

    The Hoosiers aren't the worst team in the Big Ten this year. But, traditionally, they have been simply awful. Just 11 winning seasons and one Rose Bowl in 50 years? That's the 1985 Yugo in candy stripes. IU is going to have to earn a better ride.

    Coach: Kevin Wilson, third year, 5-19

    2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 (fifth)

    Returning starters: 21 (10 off., 9 def., 2 k/p)

    Overall: Despite only five wins in two seasons, Wilson has injected life into a moribund program. The former Northwestern and Oklahoma assistant has done it with a wide-open offense that last year hung 49 points on Ohio State. Heavy lifting remains D, but a spark has been lit.

    Offense (Rank: 4): Three good QBs are available, now that Tre Roberson, who started as a freshman, has healed from a broken leg. IU led the league in passing a year ago and has everyone from that attack returning. And the O-line is very good.

    Defense (Rank: 12): Out of eight league games last season, IU gave up 31 points or more six times. If this unit can make any progress, a bowl bid is likely. But talent is thin. The top returning tackler came to IU as a walk-on baseball player.

    Coaching (Rank: 9): Wilson is known as a strong offensive mind. His defensive staff will remain hamstrung until Indiana goes through a couple of more recruiting classes. Still, progress is evident.

    Intangibles (Rank: 4): Into late October last year, the Hoosiers actually were in position to win the battered Leaders Division. It didn't happen, but to even get a taste of playing in meaningful games at that point in the season was a huge boost.

    Prediction: 6-6, Meineke Car Care Bowl (Houston)

    Schedule

    Aug. 29: Indiana State
    Sept. 7: Navy
    Sept. 14: Bowling Green
    Sept. 21: Missouri
    Oct. 5: Penn State
    Oct. 12: at Michigan State
    Oct. 19: at Michigan
    Nov. 2: Minnesota
    Nov. 9: Illinois
    Nov. 16: at Wisconsin
    Nov. 23: at Ohio State
    Nov. 30: Purdue

    Coachspeak: "The difference between our offense and defense is competition. We have quality players on offense fighting to get on the field. Our challenge is with defensive recruiting."

    5. Purdue

    The Boilermakers have long had a vehicle — of sorts — to stand for the program. Purdue has finished in the back half of the Big Ten for several years. Even if there's been pockets of success for the program, the old steam engine huffs and puffs.

    Coach: Darrell Hazell, first year

    2012 record: 6-7, 3-5 (fourth)

    Returning starters: 16 (5 off., 9 def., 2 k/p)

    Overall: Hazell is a Jim Tressel disciple, having worked under him at Ohio State. That means his top priorities are defense and special teams, which isn't going to excite a fan base looking for a reason to go to games. Hazell did turn around Kent State in two years, but that was the MAC.

    Offense (Rank: 9): Only five starters are back, and top receiving threat O.J. Ross got booted last winter. Oft-injured QB Rob Henry is expected to start, but touted freshman Danny Etling enrolled in January. Look for a power running game.

    Defense (Rank: 10): Other than senior CB Ricardo Allen, who needs one interception to tie the league's all-time record, there is zero star power on defense. For a team that will be built on defense, success looks a few years away.

    Coaching (Rank: 11): It's the classic story of whether a coach who had mid-major success can move up in rank and win. Hazell will have to show his recruiting acumen quickly as this is another roster far short of the talent needed to contend.

    Intangibles (Rank: 7): The schedule is too big a mouthful. The Boilermakers could be 1-7 by early November, by which time any buzz for the season will be dead. Hazell's first challenge will be to finish as strong as possible.

    Prediction: 4-8, no bowl

    Schedule

    Aug. 31: at Cincinnati
    Sept. 7: Indiana State
    Sept. 14: Notre Dame
    Sept. 21: at Wisconsin
    Sept. 28: Northern Illinois
    Oct. 12: Nebraska
    Oct. 19: at Michigan State
    Nov. 2: Ohio State
    Nov. 9: Iowa
    Nov.16: at Penn State
    Nov. 23: Illinois
    Nov. 30: at Indiana

    Coachspeak: "Purdue was always a team that was perceived in the middle of the Big Ten. We're going to climb ourselves out of the middle, and we're going to put this program in national prominence for a long time."

    6. Illinois

    The 1983 Pontiac Fiero. Cool before the inevitable breakdown. That's Illinois football. An occasional Rose Bowl or big season before plunging, hard, into remarkable badness. The Illini didn't win a Big Ten game last year and may not win one this year.

    Coach: Tim Beckman, second year, 2-10

    2012 record: 2-10, 0-8 (sixth)

    Returning starters: 15 (9 off., 4 def., 2 k/p)

    Overall: For a program on a 14-game Big Ten losing streak, there is nowhere to go but up, right? Not necessarily. There are five new assistants and 31 new players on this year's roster. That's not the formula for immediately fixing a program that was 119th in scoring offense, 93rd in scoring defense and 115th in combined kick returns.

    Offense (Rank: 11): During the 14-game league skid, Illinois averaged 11.4 points a game. Yes, injuries were a problem. Senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase says he's healthy. New coordinator Bill Cubit offers some hope for improvement.

    Defense (Rank: 11): Only four starters are back. And the pipeline that produced seven NFL draftees the past five years has run dry. Other than LB Jonathan Brown, there isn't a recognizable name on defense.

    Coaching (Rank: 12): Beckman hired five new assistants after his first season. At least he won't have co-offensive coordinators, with one calling plays on first and second down and the other on third down. That's a true story. Intangibles (Rank: 12): Big Ten Network analysts rarely offer a discouraging word. But this was Gerry DiNardo's take after spring ball: "Fans will have to be patient. This whole roster needs to be rebuilt." Wow!

    Prediction: 2-10, no bowl

    Schedule

    Aug. 31: Southern Illinois
    Sept. 7: Cincinnati
    Sept. 14: Washington*
    Sept. 28: Miami (Ohio)
    Oct. 5: at Nebraska
    Oct. 19: Wisconsin
    Oct. 26: Michigan State
    Nov. 2: at Penn State
    Nov. 9: at Indiana
    Nov. 16: Ohio State
    Nov. 23: at Purdue
    Nov. 30: Northwestern
    * — Chicago

    Coachspeak: "We're not going to let negativity infiltrate our program. We're going to be positive with a great passion toward what we want to get accomplished."