Svoboda: Looking at the Big Ten West

Big Red Report contributor Matt Svoboda gives his thoughts on the Big Ten West.

The Big Ten is starting to get a bit more respect nationally.

Ohio State enters the 2015 season as the defending National Champions.

Michigan State recorded their second top five finish in consecutive seasons.

James Franklin has Penn State going in the right direction and Michigan brought in Jim Harbaugh this offseason.

Recruiting is going much better for the conference this year than it has in quite some time, with 11 of their 14 teams in the top 40 of the recruiting rankings and four in the top ten. 

The problem? Not one of the teams mentioned in the national discussion is from the Big Ten West. Only Wisconsin is ranked in the USA Today Coaches preseason poll, coming in at No. 18, and none of the teams with a top 10 recruiting class come from the Big Ten West. 

With all that said, football will be played and the little brother division will have opportunities to win games. Let’s see how the season could end up for the western division.

(The following are the opinions of Matt Svoboda and do not reflect those of Big Red Report or Scout.com)

1.)  Nebraska (9-3)

Not a lot of people are picking the Huskers to win the division. The reality is no one really knows what to expect from this team. What will the offense look like? Where will the balance between personnel on hand and the system that head coach Mike Riley is used to be found? Can Tommy Armstrong be accurate enough to make the offense work? How will this defense look with a more simple system?

With those things in mind, Nebraska is the most talented team in the division and have an experienced coaching staff that has shown to get a lot of their talent. The Huskers have great weapons on offense, starting with wide receiver DeMornay Pierson-El (hopefully he can make it back soon), receiver Jordan Westerkamp and a deep running back unit. They also boast a couple elite defensive playmakers in defensive tackle Maliek Collins and safety Nate Gerry.

The Huskers also get Wisconsin and Iowa at home this year.

 

2.)  Minnesota (8-4)

Surprised the Golden Gophers could be number two in the division? Don’t be. Head coach Jerry Kill has improved his team every year that he has been in town. He just received a $300,000 raise for the job he has been doing. It wouldn’t even be a surprise if Minnesota managed to win the division, the difficulty with that is their road game against Ohio State, a team both the Badgers and Huskers get to avoid.

In the Gophers favor, they get Nebraska and Wisconsin at home this year. Too bad they have to travel to Ohio State. They are also trying to replace running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams, whom they lost to the NFL.

 

3.)  Wisconsin (8-4)

Ranked No. 18 going into the season, but this year will not go according to plan. We won’t see the offensive line we are used to from the Badgers, as they only return two starters. Quarterback Joel Stave has struggled at times in his career and doesn’t have the same weapons he did last season. The offense will be as one-dimensional as it was a year ago, but Melvin Gordon is no longer around. Corey Clement is a fine running back, but he is no Gordon and a drop off will be felt.

This doesn’t mean Wisconsin will be awful. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a great coach and the Badger defense will be formidable once again. They have a tough week one against Alabama and have Nebraska and Minnesota on the road. Under new head coach Paul Chryst, their lack off offense will be what sets them back this year.   

4.)  Iowa (7-5)

The Hawkeyes look to be more of the same from a season ago. As the seat gets warmer and warmer for head coach Kirk Ferentz and the fan base losses more and more interest , Iowa will continue to post mediocre seasons. The Hawkeyes had trouble running the ball last season and now lost both of their offensive tackles.

Thankfully for them, they have a workable schedule. They get Maryland and Indiana from the East division. Iowa has six very winnable home games and play Indiana, Iowa State, and Northwestern on the road.

5.)  Northwestern (6-6)

The Wildcats had a disappointing season a year ago. This year, head coach Pat Fitzgerald will get his boys bowling again. Running back Justin Jackson had quite the impressive true freshman season and looks to build on it. The question is who will the starting quarterback be? Will Fitzgerald go with the low ceiling, senior Zack Oliver or one of his more talented young arms, Matt Alviti and Clayton Thorson? Either way, they have to get more from the position than Trevor Siemian was able to give.

The good news for Northwestern is an experienced defensive line and secondary. The defense should take a little step forward to help out the Wildcat offense that we had grown accustomed to.

 

6.)  Purdue (4-8)

When was the last time Purdue wasn’t near the bottom of the conference? The Boilermakers are improving, really. It just won’t show fully in the record this year. Head coach Darrell Hazell seems to have them going in the right direction and this third year will be his best with the program.

Purdue is returning some key players and have a lot of experience coming from the defense. It will be an improved team, but the record and bowling chances are another year away.

 

7.)  Illinois (3-9)

The hot seat will get hotter for head coach Tim Beckman. Wait, he’s already gone? Illinois lost their best weapon on offense, wide receiver Mike Dudek for the season because of injury. Dudek bailed this team out a lot last year with great plays. He was the only one that could help the Fighting Illini consistently move the ball. With that said, they do bring back their starting quarterback, Wes Lunt, and starting running back, Josh Ferguson. Even with Dudek out they return four of their top six receivers from last year. So, the weapons are there, but how badly will they miss their star?

Defensively, Illinois was 112th in yards per game. While they return quite a bit on that side of the ball it is hard to imagine a big jump. Poor defense with no Dudek spells 3-9.


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