2014 Big Ten Conference Preview: West Division

Not content to only preview Ohio State’s schedule, Patrick is taking a two part look at the B1G for 2014. Here’s a look at the newbies and our Western Division brethren; after lunch the East gets due scrutiny in addition to the championship game predictions.

Motivation Fuel

When the dust settled on the 2013-14 season, the B1G had a Rose Bowl champion and……another bad bowl record as a conference.

Michigan State and Nebraska were the lone winners (Rose and Gator Bowls respectively) and the conference was 2-7 overall. Yet even after that showing, many pundits feel like the B1G is poised to be a top tier conference this season. When the season opens, they will more than likely have two top 10 teams (Michigan State and Ohio State) as well as a slew of others ranked in the top 25.

The B1G welcomes two new members this season as well. Maryland and Rutgers will make their football debuts in 2014. The B1G received a ton of criticism for the recent additions. Other conferences such as the SEC are adding schools like Texas A&M and Missouri while many people feel the B1G adding “schedule padders” for football. What people won’t tell you is that these two schools gets the B1G into markets (Washington DC and New York) that they haven’t been in since its inception.

The non conference schedules for a lot of the B1G schools is very very good this season. Defending champion MSU will travel west to Eugene, Oregon to take on the Ducks, Ohio State welcomes Va Tech into Columbus, Wisconsin takes on LSU in Houston, Nebraska travels to Fresno for a battle with Fresno St and then back home the following week to take on the Miami Hurricanes, Michigan will try to avenge a loss to Appalachian St (did I really just type that) as well as take on Notre Dame for the last time and welcome the Utes of Utah to Ann Arbor, and Minnesota will travel to Texas to battle TCU. The B1G as a conference will need a lot of wins from these non conference tilts in order to gain some respect from the rest of the country and the national media

2014 will also mark the first year of new conference alignment. Gone are the awful Leaders and Legends divisions and we finally get a traditional East/West divisions.

*2014 will also mark the 3rd year that Penn State will be ineligible for post season play.

2014 WEST PREVIEW

Even though the B1G divided up the divisions by east/west location, many feel the west is by far the weaker of the two. Nebraska and Wisconsin should battle for the next few years for the west crown with little challenge.

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Nebraska
  3. Iowa
  4. Northwestern
  5. Minnesota
  6. Illinois
  7. Purdue

What Will Year 2 Bring?

WISCONSIN 9-4 (6-2)

Wisconsin has the luxury of not having Ohio State, Michigan State, or Michigan on their schedule this season. With road games at Northwestern and Iowa being their only tough road tilts, a trip to Indy may come down to the week 10 matchup at home versus Nebraska. This will be the first matchup of these two since the 70-31 thrashing at the 2012 B1G Championship Game. I think Montee Ball and company are still running over the Black Shirts. The Badgers have only 8 returning starters, so Melvin Gordon and Joel Stave will have to be strong and score a lot of points while Gary Andersen’s defense gels.

Best In The West… Best In The B1G?

NEBRASKA 9-4 (5-3)

Nebraska did fair as well with the schedule Gods as the Badgers. The Huskers have road games at Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Iowa. If Nebraska can dodge that gauntlet of road games, they may very well find their way to Indy. Turnover machine Taylor Martinez is gone and they have a Heisman candidate in Ameer Abdullah and possible first overall pick in the 2015 draft, Randy Gregory. Many feel that Bo Pelini may be coaching for his Nebraska life after a rather disappointing and hectic year for the coach. Pelini redeemed himself somewhat with a win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl. Pelini may need more than just a cute cuddly cat and a bowl win to make it on to the 2015 season.

Due For Another “Hot” Year?

IOWA 8-5 (5-3)

Iowa looks to build off of what ended up being a very strong 2014 season. After losing close games to Michigan State and Ohio State, the Hawkeyes went on to win 4 of their next 5 B1G games but lost 21-14 to LSU in the Outback Bowl. The Hawkeyes schedule shapes up very good for them. They miss OSU, MSU, and UM as well this year and have the two toughest games of their B1G season in weeks 11 and 12 when they take on Wisconsin and Nebraska, both at home. Despite the losses on defense and a rather easy schedule, Kirk Fehrentz has qb Jake Rudock, left tackle Brandon Scherff (projected 1st round pick), and running back Mark Weisman headlining his offense and should improve on last years 8 wins.

He’s Back…

NORTHWESTERN 5-7 (1-7)

The wildcats were kings of the world heading into their week 5 matchup against the Buckeyes last year. Game Day was in the house, every national writer and talk show host was talking up the Wildcats and how they could end Urban Meyer’s winning streak to start his Buckeye career and how Northwestern could finally become a national power. That all came to a screeching halt as the Wildcats collapsed in the second half only previewing the collapse that was about to come. Northwestern went on to lose their next 6 in a row, albeit almost all close games, and ended the season by beating Illinois. They won’t have to deal with the Buckeyes this season and get Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan at home. Road games against Penn State and Iowa seem to be the only B1G road challenges. A return to a bowl game is quite likely, but to approach 10 wins again, as they did in 2012 and were supposed to do in 2013, they’ll need to get back that old close-game form (or luck). They’ll need to prove that last year’s breakdowns have forged better leadership and wisdom.

Hoping For A Healthy Campaign

MINNESOTA 8-5 (4-4)

The Gophers look for more consistency in 2014. They began the 2013 B1G season with 2 losses only to win their next 4 B1G games only to lose to Wisconsin and Michigan State. The good news is that they were very competitive in their losses to both of those schools. Many wonder if Jerry Kill’s health is more of a distraction than a motivation for the Gophers. Their 2014 B1G schedule is nothing short of, well, hard. They close out the season with Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Short of overachieving in 2014, the Gophers may not find themselves bowling for a third straight season.

TPBU Transfer Gunslinger

ILLINOIS 4-8 (1-7)

As Tim Beckman enters his 3rd year as head coach, many think and expect Illinois to improve for a 3rd straight year. The fighting Illini got off to a great start in 2013 starting 3-2 including a win over Cincinnati and a close defeat to Washington on the road. Then the B1G part of the schedule hit and it all fell apart. Other than a close win over Purdue late in the season, Illinois was nothing more than an after thought for most B1G teams. 2014′s schedule is, well, brutal, and this is the reason I have them so low. Their road B1G schedule has them traveling to Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Northwestern. You’d assume the home tilt would be easier…..not so fast my friend. Iowa, Penn State, and Minnesota will make the trek into Champaign (okay, so does Purdue) to round out a brutal B1G schedule. The fighting Tim Beckman’s will have a tough time improving on the 4-8 record of 2013.

We Heart The Hat

PURDUE 1-11 (0-8)

Let’s call the 2013 football season a “redshirt” year for head coach Darrell Hazel. It took a last second INT to give Hazel his only win in 2013 against Indiana State. A 4 point loss to Illinois was his only close B1G game of the season. When Hazel arrived in 2013 the cupboards were basically bare. The Boilermakers get Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Northwestern at home, still, how do you look at that schedule and see anything more than about a 3-9 or 4-8 record? It would take a pretty significant upset for PU to do any better than 1-3 in conference home games, and while trips to Illinois, Minnesota, and perhaps Indiana are in no way intimidating, all three of those teams are still projected quite a bit higher than Purdue in 2014. Granted, three or four wins would represent improvement, but you’d still like the ceiling to be higher than that. And it’s hard to see Purdue’s ceiling getting too much higher in 2014 or, perhaps, even 2015.

Check back later today for a look at the East and my guesses for the B1G Championship Game.

Patrick

About Patrick

University of Akron grad helping the disabled of NE Ohio. Ohio high school official for football, baseball, and wrestling. Have loved my Buckeyes from the time I remember them taking the field against Texas A&M in 1986 (I was 11, who sits and watches sports before 11 anyways?) Cotton Bowl.

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