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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 06/28/2011 3:06 PM

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B1G Difference: Shift of Power?
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Big Ten is changing, and not just because they added Nebraska and a conference championship game for the 2011 season.

For the better part of a decade, the conference has been dominated by one team, but that could be about to change.

Since taking over the program back in 2001, Jim Tressel led Ohio State to a BCS national championship and seven Big Ten titles. The Buckeyes went to more BCS bowl games over the last 10 years than the rest of the conference combined and they are coming off their sixth-straight regular season championship in 2010.

It has been complete and utter dominance by the scarlet and gray, but balance of power seems ready to shift, especially with Monday’s announcement that former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson would be joining forces with the Wisconsin Badgers this fall.

“Russell will come in and compete for the starting quarterback position,” Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema said in a statement.

“This is an unusual situation, especially for a program that prides itself on developing players throughout their careers, as we do here at Wisconsin. However, this is a special situation and Russell is the type of player and person that fits very well with our team.”

The Badgers are looking to replace all-Big Ten performer Scott Tolzien from a year ago, and in Wilson they get much more than a disgruntled player searching for a new home. Statistically, he has been one of the most dominant quarterbacks in the country over the past three seasons.

The Virginia native took a redshirt during his freshman season at N.C. State, but quickly became a dynamic force for the Wolfpack after beating out Daniel Evans and Harrison Beck for the starting job during the 2008 season.

He earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors that season, throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns with just one interception. He followed that year with back-to-back 3,000-yard passing seasons and amassed 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns through the air during his time in Raleigh.

A dual-threat quarterback with a bit of a free-wielding style of play, Wilson also ran for 17 touchdowns during his career at N.C. State and he led the ACC in total offense (307.5) per game last season. He is not the traditional Bielema quarterback at Wisconsin, but he could be the final piece that puts the Badgers over the top in 2011.

A year ago, the Badgers finished 11-1 during the regular season, knocking off then No. 1-ranked Ohio State in Madison on their way to a share of the Big Ten title. They had the second-most efficient quarterback in the country in Tolzien, thanks in large part to a 70-23 win over Northwestern in the regular-season finale, but they came up short against TCU in the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes took care of business in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, but the losses of Tressel and Terrelle Pryor have opened the door wide open for Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State or Penn State to seize control of the conference.

Despite his dominance on the football field, the addition of Wilson does not make Wisconsin a lock to win the Big Ten in 2010. N.C. State’s offense has always been a more-wide open attack than Wisconsin’s and Wilson may struggle to stay within the reigns of Bielema’s system in Madison.

We all saw how Jeremiah Masoli faired under similar circumstances at Ole Miss, with the Rebels losing to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt on their way to a 4-8 season a year ago. Wilson will have a lot more around him at Wisconsin.

Even without John Clay, the Badgers welcome back a pair of running backs in James White and Montee Ball who combined for over 2,000 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. They must replace star tight end Lance Kendricks and flashy return man David Gilreath, but Nick Toon returns at receiver along with sophomore Jared Abbrederis.

It seems like Wilson might rather spend his time on the diamond than the field, but if he can focus his attention on football for the upcoming season, the Badgers immediately become the favorites in the new Leaders Division.

They play an easy non-conference schedule, with Oregon State coming to Madison in week two, and get Nebraska at home in their Big Ten opener. If they can get past the Cornhuskers, the season might come down to Wisconsin’s back-to-back visits to East Lansing and Columbus in late October.

The Buckeyes may be without their three-year starter at quarterback, but there is still enough talent in Columbus for Luke Fickell to do some damage. The key will be finding the right fit at quarterback to keep Ohio State afloat until Boom Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams return in week six against Nebraska.

OSU plays at Miami (Fla.) in week two and home against Michigan State in week five. If they can come out of that with a 4-1 record, it could propel them into a huge showdown with the new-look Badgers in week eight of the season.

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