1. Penn State
3. Ohio State
The top two teams are no surprises. Penn State, who is currently ranked No. 9 nationally, won its 14th-straight Big Ten title last fall and returns a plethora of talent all around the pitch. Illinois slips in at second after upsetting the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten Tournament Championship. The Fighting Illini enter the season ranked No. 19 in the national preseason poll. Both teams have stars on the field as PSU tallies two players that were named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List in forward Maya Hayes and defender Christine Nairn while Illinois has one in midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo.
I feel that these were nearly given answers to which teams were going to start the season on top of the league.
No. 3 and 4 are Ohio State and Wisconsin. Both are teams that tied the Gophers in the 2011 regular season, despite the Buckeyes not making it to the Big Ten Tournament and the Badgers losing to Minnesota in the opening round. OSU, who is receiving votes in the national preseason poll, did not make the Big Ten Tournament, but they still qualified for the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet 16. The lone flag raised between these two is the fact Wisconsin returns only five starters from last season.
These two teams are necessarily surprises since both generally finish near the top of the conference year in and year out.
At the next three slots, we have Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State. These three field quality teams every year but struggle to consistently crack into the top tier of the league. All three have powerful attackers, so don't be surprised if one of these three makes some noise this fall.
At No. 8 sit the Golden Gophers, a squad that finished fifth in the regular season and made it to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota returns nine starters from last season along with the return of fifth-year senior Tamara Strahota, who sat out all of 2011 due to a leg injury. The Gophers have a youthful team, but with nine starters returning, they are a poised squad.
I feel that this ranking doesn't reflect as much on the team's ability as it does the late coaching change. There is a little shock that a team which returns so much from a semi-successful season, is listed in the bottom half of the league, but then again the Gophers have had to learn a new system in under a month..
Rounding out the final four are Purdue, Nebraska, Northwestern and Indiana. All four have nowhere to go up after faltering last season. At times in 2011, each team showed spurts of being feared program, but by the end of the year, the quartet of teams missed out on the Big Ten Tournament. Don't be surprised if Purdue or Nebraska plays a spoiler roll this season as they each posses a youthful and hungry squad.
All in all, the season starts in three days, and the coaches have spoken. But come Friday, everyone is 0-0-0, and how each team plays throughout the season will speak for itself.
2012 Big Ten Preseason Coaches' Poll Released
1. Penn State
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