Big Ten West Preview: Because It's There
It's July, which means it's well and truly time for that summertime college football tradition, the 'optional' workouts.
If nothing else, they offer the first hint since spring practice of what's to come in the fall.
Take the Big Ten, for instance. At first glance, the Eastern Division appears to be much stronger than the West, but injuries and newcomers can quickly change a team's fortunes.
Wisconsin is the clear favorite in the division, coming off a 9-4 season. The Badgers lost to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl and are looking for bigger and better things, like a trip to the Big Ten title game. They have depth at quarterback and a great runner in Melvin Gordon.
Iowa, disappointing in recent seasons, could be ready to make a run, coming off an 8-5 season and a 21-14 loss to LSU in the Outback Bowl. The Hawkeyes have Jake Rudock returning at quarterback, and he's got a stable of experienced receivers along with a good running back in Mark Weisman. The Badgers and Hawkeyes meet on 22 November in Iowa City.
Nebraska is always in the mix, but the Cornhuskers have faded lately and look to be in the middle of the pack. The Huskers return running back Ameer Abdullah but need to find a quarterback to get back where Nebraska needs to be.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are improving, coming off an 8-5 season. However, they started 8-2 before dropping their final three, including a tough 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl. Mitch Leidner is now the full-time quarterback, as the Gophers continue their elusive attempt at consistency year in and year out.
The Wildcats lost their final eight games last season, most of them close, and could possibly move up with a little luck. Trevor Seimian is the quarterback now, and the key to their season will be health; they were ravaged by injuries last year. Illinois is coming off a four-win season, and things may even get worse this season. Purdue, 1-11 last year, has nowhere to go but up. And that may be hard, as the Boilermakers still have Nôtre Dame on the schedule, along with a tough -- for them -- Big Ten slate.
Comparably, the West is weak this season. It looks like the winner will be a huge underdog on 6 December in the championship game. Again, there's always the chance of a miracle in the making somewhere, but teams like Ohio State and Michigan State will be licking their chops if they win the East.