CHICAGO — This is not your grandfather’s Big Ten Conference.
A league once known for its deliberate approach is entering a new season with some of the nation’s flashiest playmakers.
“I think the days of 3 yards and a cloud of dust are pretty much gone,” Iowa linebacker James Morris said. “Schemes have changed. Teams play with the whole field, and that creates more points.”
Last season, no Big Ten offense ranked among the top 25 nationally in yards per game.
And none cracked the top 20 when it came to scoring.
But that figures to change with talented returners such as Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, Wisconsin running back James White and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.
“We’ve got all types of good players,” Miller said. “We can compete with anybody.”
Miller is the pacesetter for a more up-tempo conference, gaining a total of 3,310 yards while helping the Buckeyes finish 12-0 in 2012.
“He’s one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever been around,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “I go back to Percy Harvin (formerly of Florida). I used to say he has the best first step I’ve ever seen.
“Braxton’s in that category. When he plants his foot, he has tremendous acceleration. Where most guys take one or two steps to change direction, he’s going with one step.”
Miller’s mobility and moxie make him an early favorite for the Heisman Trophy.
“He does something in practice every once in a while, and you just shake your head,” Meyer said.
If Miller stumbles, Martinez could step into the spotlight.
The 6-1, 210-pound senior has 9,449 total career yards, helping the Cornhuskers average 460.8 per game last season — ranking them 26th out of 120 major college programs.
“I guarantee you we have probably the fastest offense in the country,” Martinez said. “If they want to line up and race, I guarantee you we’d probably beat any team in the country.”
Helping Martinez back up that boast are receivers Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner, who combined for more than 120 catches and 1,750 yards last fall.
“I really like our offense,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “It starts with the quarterback position, having a four-year starter and some really dynamic weapons around them.”
White rushed for a relatively modest 806 yards and 12 touchdowns while backing up Montee Ball.
The Badgers have a new coach, Gary Andersen, but still expect to run for more than 5 yards per carry.
“I think often times we’re overlooked and thought of as just slow,” White said when ask about people’s perception of the Big Ten. “We have a lot of great athletes who come out of here.
“There’s no way to tell which conference is better. But the Big Ten has just as great of athletes as the SEC.”
For nearly a decade, the Southeastern Conference has boasted the best teams. The wide-open Big 12 offenses tend to provide more glitzy highlights.
“The Big Ten is more traditionally a physical league,” Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson said. “We still have athletes. You still have burners, guys who can run fast.”