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GI Publisher Zach Johnson predicts the results of the Big Ten West in 2016

The Big Ten West is wide open as we enter the 2016 season. A case could be made for up to five teams to represent the West and advance to Indianapolis to square off against the East champion.

Big Ten West Champion:  Iowa

Wins:  Miami (Ohio), Iowa State, North Dakota State, Rutgers, Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois and Nebraska

Losses:  Penn State and Michigan

Big Ten:  7-2

Overall:  10-2

Outlook:  As I have previously pointed out, and many other have as well, Iowa struggles in years where the expectations are high in Iowa City.  So, I fully expect Iowa to represent the West in Indianapolis.  I don't think Iowa has the schedule to repeat the success they had last year but they still have plenty of quality seniors on both sides of the ball to be a major factor in the Big Ten.  C.J. Beathard and LeShun Daniels should lead the way on offense, with Desmond King highlighting the Hawks on defense.  In all Iowa returns 16 starters (8/8) from their division championship team of 2015, will they return with a score to settle or was their confidence bruised when they lost to Sparty in the final seconds for the Big Ten title and then completely outclassed and embarrassed in the Rose Bowl.  I have Iowa going 4-2 in swing games this year, beating Northwestern, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

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Big Ten West Runner Up:  Minnesota

Wins:  Oregon State, Indiana State, Colorado State, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin

Losses:  Iowa and Nebraska

Big Ten:  7-2

Overall:  10-2

Outlook:  As I have stated all summer the key to Minnesota in 2016 will be the play of senior quarterback Mitch Leidner.  If Leidner can stay healthy throughout the season and improve his play the Gophers will be legit and will be in contention for the West crown.  If Leidner is injured for a significant period of time or struggles to be efficient in Jay Johnson's new offense the Gophers will struggle and snuggle up just above Illinois and Purdue in the standings.  I have Minnesota going 3-2 in swing games this year, beating Penn State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

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Big Ten West T3:  Northwestern

Wins:  Western Michigan, Illinois State, Duke, Nebraska, Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois

Losses:  Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State and Minnesota

Big Ten:  8-4

Overall:  5-4

Outlook:  I have shared numerous times that I feel Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald is the Big Ten's best coach, when you consider the degree of difficulty that he has in Evanston my case could be heard and considered by even those in Columbus and Ann Arbor.  It also wouldn't be too difficult for one to name Northwestern as the best team in the Big Ten West this year, but their difficult schedule could get in the way.  The Cats crossover with the East to make road trips to East Lansing and Columbus, plus need to travel to both Iowa and Minnesota.  I expect Northwestern's defense to once again be the face(s) of the program and also expect Clayton Thorson to improve under center for his sophomore season.  I have Northwestern going 2-4 in swing games this year, beating Nebraska and Wisconsin.

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Big Ten West T3:  Nebraska

Wins:  Fresno State, Wyoming, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota and Maryland

Losses:  Oregon, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa

Big Ten:  7-5

Overall:  5-4

Outlook:  I have never been a hug fan of Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong, as he has been inconsistent throughout his Nebraska career and despite the fact he has been "the guy" in Lincoln for several seasons the senior quarterback hasn't lifted his play to be considered an elite college quarterback.  With that said, Armstrong does have a skill set that could damage many Big Ten defenses and he could be saving his best year for his last. It wouldn't shock me if Nebraska was planning for an early December trip to Indianapolis, but the schedule didn't do them any favors.  Nebraska will make or break their season with road trips to Evanston, Bloomington, Madison, Columbus and Iowa City.  I have Nebraska going 2-4 in swing games this year, beating Indiana and Minnesota.

Bruce Thorson, USA Today

Big Ten West 5:  Wisconsin

Wins:  Akron, Georgia State, Nebraska, Illinois and Purdue

Losses:  LSU, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota

Big Ten:  3-6

Overall:  5-7

Outlook:  To give Wisconsin major credit I will say this.  Several times over the past 10 years I (and many others) have predicted a season in which Wisconsin will finally struggle and have an off year.  Some years it was due to a coaching change.  Some years it was due to losing key players across the board.  Some years it was due to a killer schedule.  It never happened.  Wisconsin has been one of the most consistent teams in the Big Ten for years.  However, 2016 will finally be different in Madison.  The Badger's schedule is brutal and it's brutality doesn't wait long to kick in as Bucky takes on LSU at Lambeau Field during opening weekend.  Wisconsin's brutal schedule kicks in Week 4 with a six game run that includes games at Michigan State, at Michigan, v. Ohio State, at Iowa, v. Nebraska and at Northwestern.  Ouch.  I have Wisconsin going 1-3 in swing games, beating Nebraska and losing to Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota.

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Big Ten West 6:  Illinois

Wins:  Murray State, Western Michigan and Purdue

Losses:  North Carolina, Nebraska, Rutgers, Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern

Big Ten:  1-8

Overall:  3-9

Outlook:  While many are ecstatic over the hiring of Lovie Smith and basically handing the Illini ownership of the Big Ten West beginning in 2018, I am a little more reserve.  Sure, I think it was a smart hire and a big move by Illinois.  I think Illinois will have success with Lovie Smith once he is able to flip the roster and get his players to Champaign. In the meantime I feel Smith's Illinois teams will struggle to compete in the Big Ten and we will find out just how much Smith wants to stay in college.  Illinois will try to use the arm of Wes Lunt to run an high powered offense and that could lead to some late season upsets if Lunt meshes with his core of questionable receivers.

USA Today // Reese Strickland

Big Ten West 7:  Purdue

Wins:  Eastern Kentucky and Nevada

Losses:  Cincinnati, Maryland, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Indiana

Big Ten:  2-10

Overall:  0-9

Outlook:  More and more every year the respect I have for what Joe Tiller was able to accomplish at Purdue grows exponentially.  The fact that not only did Tiller take Purdue to a Rose Bow, but was a solid factor for several seasons is remarkable.  That is not the case anymore in West Lafayette.  Purdue will be nasty bad in 2016 and will be looking for new leadership at the end of the year.  The only thing that surprised me when researching Purdue was that a change wasn't made after last season.

USA Today // Brian Spurlock

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