Badgers Favored To Win Big Ten West
The Big Ten has announced that they are going to only play conference games this season. How does that impact the West Division where Wisconsin is currently favored? Let’s take a closer look at the odds.
The Badgers are the heavy favorites to win the Big Ten West this year. First of all, they wiped out Minnesota last year in Minneapolis, crushing a Golden Gopher team which was one win away from a division title and a Rose Bowl appearance. Wisconsin and Minnesota were relative equals last year, and Wisconsin dominated on the road. This year, Minnesota loses key receivers and defensive backs to the NFL Draft. Moreover, Wisconsin brings back starting quarterback Jack Coan and a veteran offensive line. It is true that Wisconsin loses one of its greatest running backs of all time, Jonathan Taylor, but the Badgers have a lot of their offense intact and return everyone in their secondary from 2019. Wisconsin’s pass defense is going to be very, very good this season. The Badgers do have to replace a few important members of their defensive front seven, Zack Baun and Chris Orr, but they have most of their important defensive players returning for 2020. It is all lined up for Wisconsin to do extremely well this coming season.
In addition to losing receivers and cornerbacks, the Gophers also lost offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who was head coach P.J. Fleck’s right-hand man for several seasons dating back to when Fleck was head coach at Western Michigan. Ciarrocca was the offensive coordinator for Fleck at Western Michigan and remained in that capacity in Minnesota. Ciarrocca caused a stir when he left Fleck but stayed within the Big Ten Conference to join Penn State’s coaching staff as the offensive coordinator under head coach James Franklin. Fleck might be good enough as a coach to replace Ciarrocca without much damage, but that remains to be seen. Minnesota was outclassed by Wisconsin last year and doesn’t have a noticeably better team than the 2019 version. It is very hard to pick the Golden Gophers to win the Big Ten West in 2020.
The Hawkeyes might be the better pick than Minnesota to challenge Wisconsin for the division title. First, Iowa plays Wisconsin at home. Second, while starting quarterback Nate Stanley isn’t returning, he wasn’t an especially consistent quarterback in the first place. Iowa struggled on offense a lot of times in recent seasons, so that won’t hurt too much. The Hawkeyes lost some key players from 2019, but they have good replacements in each of those position groups. Depth might be a concern, but Iowa’s starters are almost as good as Wisconsin’s. Iowa has a real chance to win the division this season.
Last year, Nebraska was voted into the preseason top 25… but the Huskers were nowhere close to being a top-25-caliber team. They didn’t even make a bowl game, finishing 5-7 on the season. Nebraska is not about to be “back,” a renewed force in college football. Coach Scott Frost has realized just how high he has to climb to merely contend for the Big Ten West title, let alone winning the division. Nebraska is not a legitimate division contender this year. If everything goes well, the Huskers – who are not intimidating on the defensive line and need to be a lot tougher – will develop their line play and will enter 2021 thinking they can make a splash. The 2020 season will involve a lot of continued growing pains for the program.
The Wildcats’ offense was terrible in 2019. It will have to be miles better in 2020 for the Wildcats to go to a bowl game. Northwestern has done really well under coach Pat Fitzgerald, but the bottom fell out last season, and the Wildcats would do well to merely get back to .500 and a bowl game. It will take work to get to that point.
The Boilermakers have been torn apart by injuries in recent seasons. They might have more talent than Northwestern, but players have to stay healthy, chiefly receiver Rondale Moore, one of the most electric playmakers in the Big Ten. If Purdue can stay healthy, it can make a run at an eight-win season. Moore could mean that much to the team in 2020.
The Illini beat Wisconsin last season and improbably made a bowl game, coming from 28-3 down to beat Michigan State on the road. The Illini will have to pull off a few surprises to get back to a bowl game. The school has to succeed this year in order to prove that it is truly on the way up. Last season felt like a fluke at times; the Illini have a lot to prove in 2020.