2. Q: Who the hell is going to win the West?
Like you saw Northwestern coming.
Start with this – Illinois isn’t going to win the Big Ten West title.
It’ll be a whole lot stronger in what seems like Lovie Smith’s 14th-straight youth movement season, and the schedule works out, but no, Illinois isn’t going to win the Big Ten West title.
Purdue would need something amazing to happen for it to take down the division championship. It’ll be dangerous, and Jeff Brohm has assembled a ton of good young talent, but no. Purdue isn’t going to win the Big Ten West title.
Northwestern is going to be even better. It upgraded at quarterback, the lines are strong, and the defense should be every bit as good as last year’s version, but no. Northwestern isn’t going to win the Big Ten West title – it’s not winning all the close games again.
So who’s in the mix?
Does Nebraska have the defense to hold up enough so the offense can do its thing? The Huskers might have to get into a whole lot of shootouts, but they don’t have to go 10-2 to pull this off. A few well-timed wins – they get Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa in Lincoln – and with no Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State to deal with, they’ll be dangerous.
Iowa is going to be really, really good. Great coaching, great lines, and a veteran quarterback with fringe NFL skills. That’s all a good place to start.
Minnesota doesn’t have to play Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State from the East, and it gets Wisconsin and Nebraska at home. The star power might not be there on a national scale, but PJ Fleck has the guys – the running backs are great and WR Tyler Johnson is a real, live top 50 pro prospect. Throw in the attacking defense and good lines, and yeah, the Gophers are going to be dangerous.
And then there’s Wisconsin.
Last year’s team underachieved at a huge level, and now the national love appears to have gone away. It all comes down to the quarterback situation.
The offensive line will be fine, It lost a ton of talent, but it’s Wisconsin – there won’t be any massive issues.
Jonathan Taylor is the reigning Doak Walker winner, the receiving corps is the best the Badgers have had in years, and the no-name defense is going to put a ton of names on the post-season all-star teams.
Going back to Question 3, this might be the key to the Big Ten West season. Is star recruit Graham Mertz really that good right out of the box? Jack Coan got in some work, and he was serviceable, but Wisconsin is too big and too good a program to think about anything less than a Big Ten title, and Mertz has the talent to be the missing piece.
And then watch as Northwestern makes everyone look silly again by making it back-to-back titles.
NEXT: Coach Harbaugh … about Ohio State … ?