While in Chicago, Scout had a chance to speak with not only the contingent that the Iowa Hawkeyes brought for Big Ten Media Days but also other coaches and players around the Big Ten Conference. One of the hot topics was the favorite in each division. In the West, the favorite is Iowa and actually in quite lopsided fashion.
A few coaches and players agreed with that sentiment and feel that the Hawkeyes are the team to beat in the West or at least had very complimentary words to use about Kirk Ferentz's squad.
"They had a lot of success last year," Purdue defensive lineman Jake Replogle said. "They were a good team. I think as a team we understand we have the abilities to win the Big Ten West and it's a goal of ours. Thinking of favorites, we don't think about it too much. We're just focused on our game."
"I would think (that they're the favorite)," Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys stated. "They have a lot of people back. They have their starting quarterback back. They do a nice job and are fundamentally sound. They don't beat themselves. So I would have to say in my opinion that they would be the ones you have to beat."
One of the star defensive players for the Badgers shared his thoughts on Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard. Despite Wisconsin having the most success in defending the Hawkeye signal caller, he had lots of praise to offer.
"C.J. is a tremendous quarterback," defensive back Sojourn Shelton explained. "He can make all the throws. His run game presents a lot of threats to defenses. You try your best to contain him inside and he'll break off a run here and there. That's what opens up so much for their offense. If you get too conservative, he'll take off and pick up some yards. C.J. is a fun quarterback to play against and we look forward to playing him again this year. He's someone that presents a challenge to the defense and someone you know you'll have to work hard for coming into the week."
That was all the praise but those feelings weren't shared by everyone. Some clearly stated that they did not feel that Iowa was the convincing favorite to win the division.
"No," Minnesota senior linebacker Jack Lynn answered when asked if he felt Iowa was the top dog in the division. "It's a clean slate. Everyone is equal right now. I wouldn't say the (Big Ten West Championship) goes through anyone. You just have to go through it game by game."
"I really don't have much to say about Iowa," Illinois running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn admitted. "I really haven't heard their name in the locker room. The main thing is to get the wins, the big games we need to win, and our home games. Doing those two steps right there and the bowl game. And then getting the road wins. I feel like it's wide open. Everybody is 0-0. We have a wide open chance to win the Big Ten West."
The harshest words about the Hawkeyes were spoken by Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner. He still holds a grudge against Iowa for their recruiting approach of him.
"I'll always have a chip on my shoulder against Iowa because of the way they recruited me," he noted. "I felt like they strung me along a little bit. They ended up telling me that they wouldn't offer me until the end of my senior season if I played well. I wanted to go there and showed a lot of interest in going there."
"I know they'll have a good team," Leidner added. "They'll give us a good game at home. It's definitely a game you're always looking forward to win, especially for our fans. We know the hatred they have for the state of Iowa."
New Illinois head coach Lovie Smith stayed neutral on the topic and focused on his program and what they needed to do. But he did show his admiration for all the schools in the league.
"In the West, there's a group of Big Ten teams to play," Smith had to say. "We know who our rival is. That's how we have broken it down. The goal at the end of the year is to have a chance at the Big Ten Championship. That's how we look at it. There's excellent coaches on both sides, the east and west. And we'll deal with whoever is next on the schedule."
Two players did reflect on their experience playing Iowa a year ago, both falling in defeat as every team did to the Hawkeyes during the regular season.
"Yeah, there's still a bad taste," Boilermakers' lineman Jake Replogle admitted. "Playing at Iowa was fun and it was a good atmosphere. We left a lot on the field. We're forgetting about last year. It'll be an exciting game and it always is. It's going to be a tough grinder of a game. We host them this year and it will be a fun game."
"I remember that game," Illini running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn pointed out. "It was a very intense game. I believe it was my first start. We took that game all the way to the last drive which was very good for us. I feel like we'll have to do more this year."