Cleat Geeks

2017 College Football Big Ten Conference (West Division) Preview

Every College Football season, each team from each conference has a major question that circles around the preseason progress of their potential success. The Big Ten is the only conference other than the ACC and SEC that has had a team every year in the College Football playoffs. The West Division has not had the same success as teams from the East Division in terms of winning the Big Ten Championship and making it to the playoffs. Ohio State (2014 & 2016) and Michigan State (2015) have made it to the College Football Playoffs. The Wisconsin Badgers (2014 & 2016) and the Iowa Hawkeyes (2015) are the two teams to win the West Division of the conference within the past three years. Recruiting has been on a big downside with 5 teams of the 7 teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten conference coming from the West Division. Nebraska is ranked 5th in recruiting and Wisconsin is 7th in recruiting in the conference. If the competition continues to stay light then it could be a big chance for a team in the West to win the Conference and easily make the College Football Playoff.

Here are the biggest questions that each team will be facing in the upcoming 2017 College Football season.

 

Illinois Fighting Illini“Does the Illini have enough talent to get to a bowl game?”
3-9; 2-7 in Big Ten in 2016

It has been years since the Illinois Fighting Illini had legitimate talent to compete for a Big Ten division title. Of the 5 Offensive starters returning, the leading Running Back in Kendrick Foster has only run for 720 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2016. WR Malik Turner has recorded for 712 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. While on defense, the leading returning tackler, LB Tre Watson, has 102 tackles but they also only have two players to record a player with a sack and one player to account for an interception. If the Illini want to make themselves relevant in the Big Ten, their recruiting needs to be better especially a team coached by Lovie Smith.

Iowa Hawkeyes“Can the Hawkeyes be elite without an experienced passing game?”
8-5; 6-3 in Big Ten in 2016

Within the past couple of seasons, the Hawkeyes’ offense has never had the need to pass the ball deep down the field in a consistent manner. This season will be difficult to start that trend with a new Offensive Coordinator in Brian Ferentz, the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz. Not only do the Hawkeyes still have to find a starting Quarterback but they need to find a reliable set of first-string Wide Receivers with no starting experience. Last year under QB C.J. Beathard (a 3rd round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft), the Hawkeyes were 118th in the nation in passing yards per game (153.2). If their offense wants to be more successful in 2017, they will need to implement a more dynamic passing game.

Minnesota Golden Gophers“With so much potential, can P.J. Fleck lead his team to be Big Ten contenders?”
9-4; 5-4 in Big Ten in 2016

One of the biggest hires during the offseason was P.J. Fleck getting hired from Western Michigan. Considering the controversy, Minnesota hiring Fleck was not only a good move for the team but also for the University. Now Fleck has to take a program that has underperformed but has the potential for a Big Ten West Division title. The defense ranked 21st in points allowed per game last year (22.1), returns only 4 starters but one of them accounted for 7.5 sacks in LB Jonathan Celestin. Offensively, they return a Running Back who rushed for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns last year and 4 Offensive Line. Scheduling is questionable with easy games followed by a trip to Michigan and a Northwestern.

Nebraska Cornhuskers “Who will be the heart and soul of the Cornhuskers’ offense?”
9-4; 6-3 in Big Ten in 2016

Tommy Armstrong Jr. has been the leader for the Nebraska Cornhuskers for the past 4 seasons. Now he is gone as well is the leadership and high-power playmaking for Nebraska. This season, the Cornhuskers are looking for players at Quarterback and Running Backs that have experience in some way but doesn’t yet have the star potential. Former Tulane Green Wave QB Tanner Lee is expected to start over freshman Patrick O’Brien. The good news for the Cornhuskers is that they have a highly experienced and efficient Defensive Backs that will be great leaders for the Cornhuskers defense.

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Northwestern Wildcats“Is a great defense on the verge for Northwestern this 2017 season?”
7-6; 5-4 in Big Ten in 2016

Last season, the Northwestern Wildcats defense was ranked 24th in the nation in points allowed per game (22.2). This was with a defense, specifically at the Defensive Backs units, that was ranked 109th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (265.2). Now this season, the Wildcats return 3 of their 4 starting Defensive Backs from last season. On top of the 3 returning Backs, they also return 3 of their 4 starting Defensive Line. Overall, they return 7 players from last year’s team. If the pass rush and the Defensive Backs get better, the Wildcats can have one of the most dangerous defenses in the Big Ten.

Purdue Boilermakers“Can both sides of the ball be fixed during the off-season in time for the 2017 season?”
3-9; 1-8 in Big Ten in 2016

Purdue was ranked in the bottom half of the major stats in the Big Ten conference, both offensively and defensively. Offensively, the Boilermakers were 101st in the nation and 11th in the Big Ten in points per game (24.6) and 125th in the nation and 14th in rushing yards per game (96.2). Defensively, the Boilermakers are in the bottom half of the Big Ten conference in every category including 117th in points allowed per game (38.3) and tied for 92nd in total sacks with only 21 sacks. New Purdue Head Coach Jeff Brohm did come from a Western Kentucky team that was ranked 1st in the nation in points per game (45.5) last year. Purdue will need to be efficient and active on both sides of the ball to get better.

Wisconsin Badgers“Will Hornibrook be the elite Quarterback that can break other Big Ten defenses?”
11-3; 7-2 in Big Ten in 2016

Last season, the Wisconsin Badgers started and played two Quarterbacks throughout the 2016 College Football season in senior Bart Houston and freshman Alex Hornibrook. Despite the 11-3 record and the Cotton Bowl victory, the Badgers encountered an unsteady offense because of the two different Quarterback style and scheme. Wisconsin was 104th in the nation in passing yards per game (179.1). With a full offseason under the training and preparation under Hornibrook, the Badgers offense will be more efficient and be able to be successful with Hornibrook as the starting Quarterback. Once Hornibrook becomes the leader and profound QB for Wisconsin, he can be the QB that other Big Ten teams will be weary of.

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