A lot has changed in the past year in the Big Ten. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State’s tenure of dominance in their respective divisions may be coming to an end, as Wisconsin only won nine games last year and Ohio State lost legendary head coach Urban Meyer. The West looks to be anyone’s division with drastic improvement from many of the middling teams of the past few years look poised to do something big.
Teams like Purdue, Minnesota, and Nebraska all have something to prove, while teams like Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa look to stay at the top. With two months left to go before the first kickoff, let’s take a look at how the Big Ten West might play out.
1. Wisconsin (10-2 Overall, 7-2 Conference)
While this team performed fairly poorly for their standards last year, there’s plenty to be excited about for this year. Wisconsin has its first good QB since Russel Wilson, in the form of four-star recruit Graham Mertz. Johnathon Taylor, recipient of last year’s Doak Walker award, should continue to play at his historic level behind a very solid O-line despite some departures. The young defense, led by Isaiahh Loudermilk and Chris Orr, has an opportunity to mature and reach the next level.
2. Northwestern (9-3 Overall, 6-3 Conference)
Pat Fitzgerald has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in College football and Northwestern’s star running back Isaiah Bowser is returning. This team outperformed expectations last year, but proved itself to be one of the best in the Big Ten last year behind lots of depth, a solid running game, and good coaching. Look for them to repeat this year, especially with an unproven but likely great quarterback in Hunter Johnson, a five-star recruit who transferred from Clemson.
3. Purdue (8-4 Overall, 5-4 Conference)
It brings me pain to rate a Purdue team this good so low. Purdue has brought itself back from awfulness these past few years with the introduction of head coach Jeff Brohm, who can actually recruit unlike his predecessor. There’s a lot to be optimistic about on this Purdue team, especially sophomore standout wide receiver Rondale Moore, who could very well be one of Purdue’s best all-time players by the time he graduates and/or leaves or the NFL. This team has a ton of potential, but I’m not so sure this is their year just yet. With the departure of David Blough, Elijah Sindelair takes his place at QB and while he is serviceable, he’s not the quarterback that Blough was. However, the Boilermakers are fully capable of proving me wrong. This Purdue team is very dangerous, and has a fairly easy schedule, look for them to pull off upsets against Northwestern, Wisconsin, or Penn State.
4. Nebraska (8-4 Overall, 5-4 Conference)
2019 will be Scott Frost’s second year as head coach of the Cornhuskers, it’ll be very interesting to see if he can mirror the same success that he created at UCF. For now, however, I’m not as hot on Nebraska as many others are. This team did just go 4-8, and winning more than ten games is a much different story in the Big Ten than in the AAC.
5. Iowa (8-4 Overall, 5-4 Conference)
QB Nate Stanley is back, but two of Iowa’s best offensive players, tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, have gone onto the NFL. This team still looks good, and Iowa always seems to find a way to contend, but will probably miss the Big Ten championship game this year.
6. Minnesota (6-6 Overall, 4-5 Conference)
Last year, Minnesota pleasantly surprised its fans by winning Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 14 years, and the team surprisingly won seven games. They are improving dramatically under PJ Fleck, and as his recruits start to roll in look for this year to be a stepping stone for the future. There are big things in the future for this program.
7. Illinois (2-10 Overall, 1-7 Conference)
Illinois managed to get to four wins last year, doubling its previous win total from the previous season. Still, this Illinois team is bad and doesn’t have much to be enthusiastic about. The bottom line is that they’re terrible. Their most competitive game in the Big Ten this year will probably be against Rutgers. Lovie Smith hasn’t done much with this team in three years and should probably be gone by the end of next year if they’re still unable to reach five or more victories.