Big Ten West Preview: Part I

After sending 10 of 14 teams to bowl games last season, the Big Ten is getting ready for another season in hopes to prove that they can still keep up with the SEC as the dominant Conference in College Football. This will include key games like Ohio State at Oklahoma, LSU at Wisconsin, UNC at Illinois, and Oregon at Nebraska. The Big Ten will need these out-of-conference games if they want to be taken seriously come bowl season. The podcast version of this article can be found here.

Big Ten West Preview: Part I

The Big Ten was able to send 10 teams to Bowl Games last season, their record was not as impressive. They went 5-5 in these games with notable wins in the Fiesta Bowl with Ohio State handling Notre Dame 44-28. However, there were several notable losses including Alabama shutting out Michigan State in the Sugar Bowl and Stanford running Iowa out of the Rose Bowl 45-16. The Big 10 was outclassed when put into tough situations despite having a record six teams with 10 or more wins. If the Big Ten wants to prove they are the best conference, it will involve winning these types of games, and 2016 will give them several opportunities to do this.

Now how will each team do in the 2016 season? For the most part, Big Ten teams are not losing much and will be returning with a solid core group from the 2015-2016 season. In this series of articles, we will rank each team and predict their record for this upcoming season, including why they will finish there. We will also look at the key games that each team will have this upcoming season. If you have not read the Big Ten East Preview, you can find it here.

Wisconsin: 9-3 (10-3 in 2015)

While Wisconsin spent eight weeks out of the Top 25 last season, they were still a solid team. Two low scoring losses to Northwestern and Iowa were the only things that kept them from the Big Ten Championship. However, the Badgers were able to still finish the year with a win against USC in the Holiday Bowl. It is clear that the West is below the East but it doesn’t mean that you can count them out. Wisconsin still has a solid group returning and this may stir some trouble for the Big Ten favorites.

The main reason that Wisconsin was not a top-tier team was due to their quarterback, Joel Stave. He was one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the Big Ten, throwing 34 interceptions in the past three seasons. Only one of these seasons had more touchdowns than interceptions. Now fifth year senior Bart Houston will take the reigns and cannot do much worse than Stave. Four of the top five receiving targets from 2015 are returning and will likely be able to help Houston adapt quickly. The main question remains however, how will Houston play? If he can produce a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio, Wisconsin will be in a good position to win the West.

Key Games

Like last season, Wisconsin will start the year against a tough SEC opponent. This year, it is LSU. While this is not a game that Wisconsin should expect to win, they can use this as a learning experience. If the Badgers keep it close, even a loss will not hurt them down the road. Wisconsin will also have to play Ohio State and Michigan. Both of which are projected to run the table with the Big Ten this season. If these are the only three losses that Wisconsin suffers this year, they could still find themselves in the Top 10 like Ole Miss did this past year.

Northwestern: 9-3 (10-3 in 2015)

Northwestern had a lot to be proud of last season. They upset #21 Stanford in Week 1 and beat #25 Wisconsin on the road. However, this success did not result in a bowl win. Northwestern was demolished by Tennessee 45-6 in the Outback Bowl. Now that Clayton Thorson has a year under his belt, he will look to help Northwestern make their first Big Ten Championship appearance. Justin Jackson will be returning after a 1400 rushing season to help aid his sophomore quarterback in doing this.

Northwestern focused mainly on stellar defense and a strong rushing game to get them where they were last year. While Thorson will likely be much better this year, his receiving targets are not the most reliable. Austin Carr is the only returning receiver with over 300 yards last season. The offensive line is much more experienced this year and will have four upperclassmen on the line. This may help give Thorson time to make better reads and actually utilize his receiving core.

Key Games

The main reason that Northwestern will have a chance of making the Big Ten Championship game is their schedule. They will not have to face Michigan and face several of the worst teams in the Big Ten. The games that will be a challenge are the reason that Northwestern will not make the Championship game. The Wildcats will travel to face Ohio State and Michigan State on the road and will face an improved Wisconsin team that will ultimately decide who goes. Northwestern may not have as good of a regular season as last year but they may be able to play an easier team in a bowl game and get their third bowl win in their history.

Iowa: 8-4 (12-2 in 2015)

2015 was a shocking season for Iowa. The Hawkeyes found themselves as high as 5th in country in the rankings. Iowa found ways to win with both the offense and defense stepping up at different times and were a team that was nearly impossible to predict. Whether it was C.J. Beathard throwing the ball down the field, or Jordan Canzeri cutting between linebackers, Iowa’s offense was solid. However, 2016 will be a different season. With Canzeri going to the NFL Draft, along with two starting lineman and three members of the front 7 on defense, they will be a young team. Drew Ott was also denied his sixth year of eligibility, which will really hurt the pass rush. So how will Iowa respond?

While Iowa may still have hope of making the Big Ten Championship for a second straight year, it will be difficult. They will be losing a faster Canzeri for a slower LeShun Daniels and lost Tevaun Smith. This means that Iowa will have to play closer to the line and will be unable to spread the ball down the field as well. If Iowa cannot find some targets to help get the ball down the field and open up the field, it will really hurt their offense’s effectiveness.

Key Games

Iowa’s out-of-conference schedule is not anything that will help them down the road. Miami (OH) and Iowa State both only won three games last year. North Dakota State is also on the schedule. They may be a solid FCS team, but are simply outmatched in the FBS. In conference is where the issues will really be brought out. Teams like Northwestern and Wisconsin that have the ability to move the ball down the field quickly will outmatch Iowa. Iowa will also need to face Michigan and Penn State who will both be looking to establish themselves as Top 15 teams. These games may be upsets if Iowa really steps up but as of now, it seems unlikely.

 

You can find Part II Here.

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