Big Ten West: 2015 Preview
Prevailing sentiment is that the winner of the Big Ten West this season will be the recipient of a lovely parting gift at the conference championship game.
That's obviously because the juggernaut that is Ohio State will be its opponent.
Still, there are a few interesting teams in the division, so it should be a good race.
Wisconsin enters as the early favorite, with new coach Paul Chryst who needs QB Joel Stave to become more consistent and cut down on turnovers. The Badgers, who were ka-rushed by Ohio State in last years' title game, return RB Corey Clement, receiver Alex Erickson, and their usual strong defense.
Nebraska also has a new coach in Mike Riley and he welcomes back QB Tommy Armstrong, who like Stave, must be more consistent. The Cornhuskers have no real stars on offense, and their defense will have to improve for them to make a run.
Both Nebraska and Wisconsin have October 10 circled on their schedule as they meet up in Lincoln. The Badgers won last season, 59-24.
The rest of the division, frankly, should be content with soaking in the game-day experience that is college football and perhaps aiming for a warm-weather bowl bid.
Minnesota is coming off an 8-5 season and while they lost a lot of talent, coach Jerry Kill has a good thing going at a school that's struggled since winning its seventh national title in 1960. QB Mitch Leidner needs to improve if the Golden Gophers want to come close to a division title again. Their schedule is brutal, opening with TCU and having to play Michigan and Ohio State in crossover games.
The balance of this division has a long way to go to be in contention for anything.
While the quarterback position remains up for grabs, RB Justin Jackson and WR Christian Jones, if healthy, are a plus for the Wildcats. The defense should be improved and the schedule is manageable so coach Pat Fitzgerald could have this crew back in a bowl game this season.
The Boilermakers are now in year three of the Darrell Hazell's coaching tenure and they do return a slew of starters from last season's 3-9 squad. Austin Appleby is the quarterback and has Danny Anthrop as a target.
Those Fightin' Illini were 6-7 last season, and lost to Loiusiana Tech in a bowl game. They return Wes Lunt at quarterback and Josh Ferguson at running back but lost top receiver Mike Dudek to an injury. The schedule's tough and that, along with the abuse and racism allegations going on at the school, will hinder Illinois this season and for seasons to come.
The power in this conference is firmly in the East, but in August, anything is possible. And in college football, anything can and does happen. This will be the prevailing mantra for the Big Ten West.