Know Your Other Conferences: B1G West (I’m Sorry)
This was mentioned in yesterday’s Big XII preview, but I was really not looking forward to doing this one. When I think Big XII West, I think bone-chilling cold, corn, cheese, and schools’ most attractive co-eds wearing sweatpants.
I’m going to do my best to inform you about a division where the presumptive favorite lost its coach to Oregon State, the best program is about 20 years removed from national relevance, aaaaaand….
What Happened Last Year?
The division’s champion (and this year’s expert favorite) got beat by 59 points in the league championship game. Their coach left for the greener pastures of Corvallis, Oregon. Their Heisman contender was the first first-round running back drafted in three years (non-Todd Gurley division).
That’s…that’s all I got.
7-6: Teams who will get their coaches fired this year: Misleading subhead, as one team’s coach is doing his best to get himself fired. I’m taking the Illinois Fighting Illini and
embattled possibly abusive coach Tim Beckman to bottom out and finish last, on the strength of #6 Purdue getting them at home. Purdue did improve in 2014 from 0-8 (-241 yards per game in conference) to 1-7 (-90). That is infinite improvement there, folks. Oh, and Illinois draws Penn State and Ohio State from the East.
5-3: Teams who could possibly garner some top 25 votes at some point (but probably not):
5) Iowa: When Phil Steele says that he can’t name 10 players on their roster, yikes. They only have two players on his four all-B1G teams. I look forward to making all of the Kirk Ferentz buyout jokes this season.
4) Minnesota: Their nonconference slate opens with TCU and a trip to Colorado State, so 0-2 seems fairly likely. They open the B1G schedule with Northwestern and Purdue on the road, and later travel to Ohio State from the East. They should be hard-pressed to match last year’s 8 wins.
3) Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald is a good coach. He’s (famously?) made Northwestern the go-to school in Illinois for recruits. They only play three conference road games, but won’t win any of them. Their other five conference games are winnable, however. They’ve got upperclassmen littering both lines, the secondary, and the skill positions, and a highly-touted redshirt freshman QB who HAS to be an improvement over last year (see players to watch below). That’s more than most of the division can say.
The Cream Corn/Cheese of the Crop:
2) Wisconsin: I’ll say this for continuity: Wisconsin keeps finding coaches to run their massive-road-grader-and-running-game philosophy. Paul Chryst almost got it going at Pitt. Corey Clement is the next big name in Wisconsin’s running back factory.
1) Nebraska: Here’s my argument for Nebraska- the player’s coach effect. They trade noted asshole (link audio probably NSFW) Bo Pelini and his five straight 9-4/10-4 finishes for former Oregon State coach Mike Riley. All four of their conference road games (Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, Rutgers) are all imminently winnable.
Top Five Games:
Yeesh. Amazingly, I seriously doubt any of these make the list for the East.
1) Wisconsin at Nebraska, Oct. 10: I’m obligated to put the game that decides the division crown at number 1, right?
2) Wisconsin vs. Alabama, Sept. 5: What better way to Chrysten the Chryst era than to play Christ’s team in Arlington?
3) Michigan State at Nebraska, Nov. 7: If Nebraska doesn’t hold serve against Wisconsin, they can still sneak in to the B1G championship beatdown by beating Sparty.
4) Wisconsin at Illinois, Oct. 24: Ha, not really, but this is the Illini’s best shot at a home conference win. Thus, ITS THEIR HOMECOMING GAME! (other options were Nebraska and Ohio State, as Northwestern is now a neutral-site game at Soldier Field).
5) TCU at Minnesota, Sept. 3: Probably the most hype you’ll ever see surrounding a game of Minnesota football if you weren’t born in the 1930’s. I’m hoping for a TCU blowout to validate the overall tenor of this post.
Five Players to Watch:
I had to leave it at five for this division, because I just sat down for 5 minutes trying to name 5 without cheating. I got two.
– Corey Clement, Wisconsin: We may find out pretty quickly that Melvin Gordon was a system back in the ilk of Ron Dayne, Brian Calhoun, and James White. He’s gonna push for 2000 yards with Joel Stave still manning the QB position. Fun fact: he’s the only guy in this division listed on Steele’s first team All-B1G offense.
– Vince Biegel, Wisconsin: Biegel was the rare star recruit that stayed in the West, and tallied 7.5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss in 2014 as a true sophomore.
– Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska: Without Ameer Abdullah in the backfield, Armstrong takes over as the point man in Riley’s West Coast offense. He ran for 700 yards and threw for another 2700 last year. A step forward for him makes my Nebraska pick look a lot stronger.
– Wes Lunt, Illinois: Remember him from Oklahoma State? He was actually pretty good last year once he took over, with a 14:3 TD:Int ratio.
Justin Jackson, Northwestern: If this list were ranked, he would probably come in at #2 or #3. As a true freshman last year, he ran for 1187 yards and 10 TD’s while playing with quarterbacks who threw for 14 interceptions and just 9 touchdowns.
Hey. Hey, you, yes, you. Still reading?
If so, you have no life. The more fun part of the B1G comes next. I promise to try to bury this one with the East later today.