tBBC Guest Roundtable: B1G West Division

Unlike the frenetic B1G East, the folks in the B1G-W are a bit more laid back. Maybe it’s because they’re an hour closer to California. I sat down over coffee with two fine blogs, Madtown Badgers and Lake The Posts.

Madtown Badgers is a once-source site for All Things Wisconsin. At least, that’s what their business cards said. For some reason, MTB’s Andy Coppens has a relationship with our Joe Dexter, but neither one is willing to reveal the nature of the relationship. I’d suggest that you stop over to MTB to find out the latest news in Wisconsin sports. Go ahead, I dare you.

roundtableIn full disclosure, a few years ago after I’d figured out that folks actually write blogs (whatever they were) that were somewhat interesting (read: sports) I frequently read two Big Ten blogs. One was tBBC (of course) and the other was LTP. Seriously. I was taken with LTP’s take on sports at a university where “student” and “athlete” were held in equal esteem, in that order. It was an enjoyable, informative read back in the “aughts” and it continues to be that now. It is well worth putting LTP on your blog rota.

Also joining us are our friends from the esteemed Purdue community, Boiled Sports. They got here a couple minutes after coffee was poured, claiming that traffic was horrendous. It may have been, but I’m inclined to think that they were still test-driving their new Purdue Pete Party Pavillion. If so, then my hat is off to the BS’ers. Well done! Welcome to our B1G-W chat.

I’ve been a fan of theirs for several years. Their take on Purdue athletics is insightful, on-point, humorous and well written. Of course, their recurring Friday articles were a good draw, as well. It’s a good read, I suggest that you swing by to find out for yourself.

OK, so much for the introductions. The business at hand is; what do MTB and LTP think of the upcoming B1G football season. To set the context of this discussion, our coffee klatch was more congenial than usual since Ohio State does not play Northwestern nor Wisconsin during the regular season.

I had several questions where I wanted MTB’s, LTP’s and BS’s thoughts.

First up, providing thoughts on Northwestern, LTP.

Who are the returning players that will need to step up for the team to have success?

This answer seems to expand daily. Now that All-American Venric Mark (PR, RB) has transferred and the ‘Cats #1 WR, Christian Jones is out for the year (knee), we start there. ‘Cats fans seem comforted by our depth at WR, but to lose Jones may actually hurt worse. I’d say senior WR Kyle Prater, the five star transfer from USC who has yet to come close to reaching expectations, has the step-up tag clearly on his shoulders. The same can be said for Rutgers transfer and speed demon WR, Miles Shuler.  Make no mistake about it though, the make or break unit for the offense is the offensive line which was woeful in 2013. Everyone returns and a lot of stock is being placed on being more experienced. We’ll see.

Who are the newcomers that could have an immediate impact on this season?
Fitz is usually loathe to play true freshmen and even RS freshmen, but these past two classes have been such a step above for NU that there are several instant impact players. The two biggest instant impact players will be at RB. Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year, RB Justin Jackson will be getting touches from day one. Also, RB Solomon Vault, who may remind some of Venric based on his sub 4.4/40 speed will also be in the mix at RB behind senior Treyvon Green. Keep an eye on DE Xavier Wasington, whom Fitz said will be playing, as he’s impressed this fall camp.

Will the offense or the defense lead the team and what is the reason?

Defense. The back seven are the best we’ve had in Evanston since 1995. Our secondary is rock solid, which never happens. The only question marks on this defense are big ones – the interior D-line, which we’ll know a lot about as most B1G West teams like Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska will run right at this.

We’ve been promised a return to the more traditional NU spread (read: dink and dunk) and with one QB – senior Trevor Siemien, we should be able to be less predictable and have a more consistent passing game – that is if the line gives him any time. NU has struggled mightily in terms of converting red zone appearances in to TDs and our special teams is as uncertain as it has been in Fitz’s tenure, so the hope is we’re more aggressive and take a four down mentality there.

Now, here’s MTB’s take on Wisconsin.

Who are the returning players that will need to step up for the team to have success?

Offensively the biggest returning player that needs to step up is quarterback Joel Stave. His numbers weren’t bad on paper, but there were plenty of mistimed balls and bad throws that need to be cut down on. No play typified Stave’s season last year more than him simply trying to throw a dead screen pass away, only to see it bounce off an offensive lineman and go for an interception (bowl game against South Carolina).
He’s in a major battle right now with fellow junior Tanner McEvoy, and if Stave doesn’t win it its because UW has something special on its hands in McEvoy.

Defensively, I’m looking at outside linebacker Vince Biegel. UW’s pass rush was not exactly stellar last season, and a lot of it was because they just didn’t have the personnel with the experience to play what the 3-4 is supposed to be at OLB. Now Biegel got his feet wet last season and by all indications he’s already stepped up the pass rushing game in fall camp. Let’s see it in action on Saturday’s this fall before I totally believe it, but his emergence will be a real key to UW’s success on that side of the ball.

Who are the newcomers that could have an immediate impact on this season?

There are three names that immediately jump out to me, and first on that list is kicker Rafael Gaglianone. He has been impressive in camp, making nearly everything the staff has thrown at him and is deadly accurate from deep (45-plus yards). That’s what UW was missing in the kicking game last season and he could be a real weapon for UW over the next four years.
Secondly, you have to look at the wide-open wide receiver position and look to Natrell Jamerson and George Rushing as two newcomers that will have an immediate impact. Both have become steady playmakers in practice, showing that one or two good days weren’t a fluke with good performances in the first scrimmage. The Badgers need vertical help and both seem to provide that in spades.

Will the offense or the defense lead the team and what is the reason?

I think you have to look at the offense as the potential leader of this team, but that’s not to slight the defense at all. It’s more about the fact that the offense is full of veteran linemen and you’ve got perhaps the best 1-2 tandem of running backs in the Big Ten behind that veteran offensive line. Add that to what appears to be a much deeper and more talented wide receiver group than the team had a season a go and this could be a special year for UW on the offensive side of the ball.
On the opposite side of things, Wisconsin’s defense is replacing so much up front that it may take them a few games to really get rolling. By that time the offense will be taking this team where it needs to go.

Here’s Boiled Sports‘ take on Purdue:

Who are the returning players that will need to step up for the team to have success?
It’s not just returning players, it’s also the return of the new coaching staff. Last year was year 1 and they had a lot of Danny Hope stink to get off the program. Many of Hope’s players seemed to not like the new regime, which took no prisoners and seemed to simply not play the guys who wouldn’t get on board. Lots of young guys played which will hopefully pay off as they get older. As far as players, Danny Etling will be a sophomore and begins the season as QB. Etling took over for Rob Henry last year when it became, uh, clear that the season wasn’t headed where we might like. Etling then beat out Austin Appleby and David Blough to retain the starting job. He ended last season throwing for over 450 yards against Indiana (yeah, we know it was Indiana) and he has a great arm and we have high hopes for him. On the defensive side, Ryan Russell is a senior defensive end who has always had all the tools but has just never seemed to put it together and be the beast he needs to be. Purdue needs beast mode from him this year, without a doubt. If it happens, he’s a surefire NFLer in 2015.

Other guys to look for are Raheem Mostert on offense and Frankie Williams at corner.

Who are the newcomers that could have an immediate impact on this season?
Purdue’s LB corp has been dreadful in recent years. Currently, one of the team captains is LB Sean Robinson who began his time at Purdue as a slightly-built QB. So…yeah. However, the coaches have attempted to rectify this and there are several freshmen and RS freshmen in the stable that we’re excited to see. The top two are Gelen Robinson and Ja’Whaun Bentley. Robinson is the son of Glenn Robinson (The Big Dog) who played basketball at Purdue in the early ‘90s and is one of those guys we love seeing in black and gold because he seems to really want to be a Boilermaker. Bentley is a big MLB who may finally begin to keep teams honest about just running up the gut.
Will the offense or the defense lead the team and what is the reason?
The defense was deplorable last year, but then again, so was the offense. However, there are tools on offense to give Purdue fans hope. The mitigating factor, of course, will be how much Coach Hazel allows the offense to open up. He learned under Coach Tressel and we know how wild he was with offenses.

Finally, I asked LTP, MTB and BS to make player predictions for Northwestern, Wisconsin and Purdue, as well as some Conference player recognitions.

                                              Northwestern                   Wisconsin                  Purdue

Your Offensive MVP- QB Trevor Siemian               Melvin Gordon, RB        Raheem Mostert
Your Def MVP – LB Chi Chi Ariguzo              Michael Caputo, S                       Ryan Russell
B1G Off MVP – Wisc – Mel Gordon          Mel Gordon, Wisc                  Mel Gordon, Wisc
B1G Def MVP – MSU Shilique Calhoun         Joey Bosa, Ohio State       Randy Gregory, Neb
West Division CHAMPION – Iowa                            Wisconsin                         Nebraska
East Division CHAMPION – Michigan State            Michigan State                Michigan State
B1G Title Game Winner – Michigan State               Michigan State                 Michigan State

About Ken

Trifecta winner: husband, father, Ohio State fan. A native of Ohio living on the East Coast of...Lake Erie. Has been mistaken for George Clooney. Doesn't mind golfing when he gets the chance.