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An Overview of the Big Ten West
Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

An Overview of the Big Ten West

The Big 10 West has been very competitive over the years and four different teams have played in the conference championship game. Translation: Ohio State is not in this division. This year is shaping up as another season with several teams in the hunt and with a significant chance to win.

Wisconsin looks to bounce back from a season which was screwed up by the pandemic and they ended up playing only seven games while posting a 4-3 record. I think you can totally throw out what happened and start off anew. They have their QB returning with their usual stout offensive line and a host of receivers in the stable. If they can return to their punishing run game they should be fine on offense and improve on their offensive output in 2020. Their defense was one of the best in the Big Ten last year and returns eight starters so that shouldn’t be an issue. The conference schedule is kind and they dodge Ohio State from the other division. The road games are relatively easy and the tough games are in Madison.

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz is returning for his 23rd year in Iowa City and as long as he is around the Hawkeyes will be a tough out. The QB improved dramatically as the season progressed and and RB Tyler Goodson is a hoss. They have their usual fundamentally sound offensive line and a big tight end to go with adequate wide-outs. Defensively, they lost two great players but have 7 returning starters to build around. They are always good on defense. The conference schedule has some tough games and the game at Wisconsin will be one to watch. They also don’t have Ohio State on the schedule.

Northwestern gets more done with what they have as well as anyone in the country. Coach Pat Fitzgerald just keeps producing competitive, winning teams at a place where it is very difficult to do that. The offense lost a ton of players that were instrumental in the 7-2 season from 2020. How well the Wildcats are able to reload will go a long way in determining their season. The defense is in the same boat with only 5 starters back from a team that was very stingy and the most points they gave up was 29 against Michigan State. That is unheard of in today’s college football. On paper, Northwestern looks to be rebuilding but I’ve learned to doubt this team at your own risk.

Minnesota is a team that might head up the ladder in 2021. The Gophers return 17 starters including 10 on offense and look to rebound from a 3-4 season. Production was down considerably from the 2019,11-2 team so improvements have to be made there. Covid wrecked the team last year and they played one game with 33 players out. Look for them to bounce back.

Nebraska has been floundering around for several years now and several people are wondering if the Huskers will ever get back to being a powerhouse again. The offense returns several productive players and needs to show improvement after two lackluster seasons. The famed Blackshirt defense of old hasn’t been significant in years and needs a new nickname. Maybe the Blacksieves might be more appropriate. They should be a better but the schedule isn’t kind.

That leaves Purdue and Illinois bringing up the rear and both teams have issues that need to be addressed. The Boilermakers brought in four new assistants on the defensive side of the ball for 2021. That may or may not help. I think they probably need better players. Illinois has created some excitement with the hiring of Bret Bielema long-time successful coach at Wisconsin. He had limited success at Arkansas in the SEC but is a Big Ten type of coach. He will, at least, bring some interest to the Illini.

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