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2015 Big Ten Week 4 Roundup

De'Veon Smith had a spectacular 60 yard touchdown run (pictured above). The defense for Michigan was also impressive. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)
De’Veon Smith had a spectacular 60 yard touchdown run (pictured above). The defense for Michigan was also impressive. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)

2015 Big Ten Week 4 Roundup

The Big Ten had a full week of non-conference games before starting its conference schedule next week. It was a positive Saturday overall with the conference going 12-2, but, as always, there is room for improvement. Each game is broken down below.

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles at Nebraska Cornhuskers

Result: Nebraska Win 36-28 (Saturday, September 26)

Nebraska improved to 2-2 on the season, but it was another poor performance from the defense that should cause concern in Lincoln. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong went 23 of 35 for 368 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. He was also effective in the running game with 63 yards and a touchdown on 7 carries.

Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp had another big game with 11 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Reilly had a few big plays, as he caught 3 passes for 112 yards. Terrell Newby had 76 yards on 18 carries to lead the Huskers in rushing. Andy Janovich was quietly effective with just five carries, but went for a total of 68 yards.

While the offense was good by racking up 610 yards, it was not very effective when it needed to be. Kicker Drew Brown attempted 7 field goals and connected on five. An 8 point win could have been a lot more comfortable had they converted two or three of those field goals into touchdowns. The offense went 4 of 13 on third down.

The defense largely held the Southern Miss running game in check with only 11 yards allowed, but gave up 447 yards through the air. Most worrisome is that the defense gave up three touchdown drives of at least 53 yards and 21 points. It has been a constant them for the Huskers that their defense is giving up quite a few points in the fourth quarter and we have already seen it cost them one game on the final play.

Nebraska faces Illinois next week on the road in their conference opener.

Kansas Jayhawks at Rutgers Scarlet Knight

Result: Rutgers Win 27-14 (Saturday, September 26)

Rutgers took care of business against Kansas, one of the weakest (if not the weakest) teams in all of FBS. That makes it hard to judge the performance, but a win is a win.

Chris Laviano had a decent game going 18 of 25 for 201 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The rushing game was very good for the Scarlet Knights as they rushed for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns on 58 carries as a team. Josh Hicks led the way with 113 yards and 2 touchdowns on 21 carries while Robert Martin also broke the century mark at 102 yards on 17 carries. Overall, the offense was very effective with 513 yards, but converted on 8 of 12 third downs as well.

Defensively, it is hard to gauge this effort. They held Kansas to 342 yards of total offense including 64 yards on the ground. They forced just one turnover, but did not have a lot of trouble overall. Perhaps this will give them some confidence as they continue on in the Big Ten conference schedule.

The Scarlet Knights are off next week. Rutgers will have a stern test at home in two weeks against Michigan State.

#22 BYU Cougars at Michigan Wolverines

Result: Michigan Win 31-0 (Saturday, September 26)

Michigan looked incredible on Saturday against BYU, a team that had impressed the first three weeks. The defense was particularly impressive for the Wolverines.

Jake Rudock had a solid game with 14 of 25 passing for 194 yards and a touchdown. There were no interceptions or fumbles from him and he accounted for another two touchdowns on the ground (10 carries for 33 yards). De’Veon Smith had 125 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries while his bruising 60 yard touchdown run was the highlight of the game. Smith did leave the game in the second half and did not return, but he is expected to be fine for next week’s game.

Amara Darboh had 4 catches for 57 yards and a touchdown including a wonderful one handed catch in the first half. Nine different players caught a pass for Michigan in a very equal passing game by Rudock.

The real story for Michigan was the defense. They allowed 105 total yards of offense to BYU with 55 through the air and 50 on the ground. BYU went 4 of 15 on third down and had just 8 first downs the entire game. The Wolverines did not allow them to get into a rhythm and this is what we expect from a Jim Harbaugh coached defense.

Michigan travels on the road next week to face Maryland.

Central Michigan Chippewas at #2 Michigan State Spartans

Result: Michigan State Win 30-10 (Saturday, September 26)

Michigan State looked far from the #2 team in the nation on Saturday against Central Michigan, but they got the job done.

Connor Cook went 11 of 19 for 143 yards and a touchdown, but the offense did not always look great. Madre London ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries while Gerald Holmes rushed for 22 yards and 2 touchdowns (both coming in the fourth quarter) on 4 carries.

The defense also had its issues against the Central Michigan offense. Cooper Rush threw for 285 yards and a touchdown on 26 of 39 passing. The trio of Jesse Kroll, Anthony Rice, and Corey Willis all had at least 5 catches and 57 yards.

Shilique Calhoun was disruptive for the Spartans on defense and also blocked a field goal. That was one of two blocked field goals by the Spartans. More worrisome for Michigan State is the possible losses of Jack Conklin, RJ Williamson, and Josiah Price.

Michigan State takes on Purdue next week at home in their Big Ten opener.

Bowling Green Falcons at Purdue Boilermakers

Result: Bowling Green Win 35-28 (Saturday, September 26)

Purdue slumped to 1-3 this year thanks to a loss to MAC opponent Bowling Green. It was not the worst loss for Purdue, as there was a good sign of improvement at quarterback.

David Blough was named the starter for this game and he did well. He went 29 of 39 for 340 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for a touchdown, but the Boilermakers were not good rushing with just 77 yards on 38 carries as a team.

The defense was all or nothing in the first half. Bowling Green scored a touchdown, then lost a fumble, scored a second touchdown, was intercepted, and ended the first half with a third touchdown. Purdue was able to turn one of the turnovers into a touchdown, but missed a field goal on the other.

The defense was better overall in the second half, but still could not do enough to hang on for the win. They allowed 539 yards of offense and also allowed Bowling Green to convert 11 of 16 third downs.

It will be a tall task next week for Purdue with a road trip to Michigan State.

Indiana Hoosiers at Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Result: Indiana Win 31-24 (Saturday, September 26)

Indiana got a road win to open the season 4-0 and sit just two games away from bowl eligibility. The defense was improved, but there is still plenty of concern on that side of the ball.

Nate Sudfeld had pedestrian numbers considering his normal output. He went 19 of 34 for 205 yards with 2 touchdowns. Jordan Howard had another big rushing game with 168 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. The offense converted 7 of 17 third down opportunities.

The defense played well early on for Indiana. The first three drives for Wake Forest yielded just one yard. The Hoosiers did allow 10 points in the second quarter, but held a 17-10 lead at the break. The defense played well again after halftime. A 20 yard pick six early in the fourth quarter by Kendall Hinton put the Hoosiers up 31-10. The concern is that Wake Forest scored two touchdowns on the next two drives. They did hold the Demon Deacons to 363 yards of offense including 99 on the ground and 4 of 18 on third down.

Indiana goes from facing Wake Forest on the road to Ohio State at home next weekend.

Maryland Terrapins at West Virginia Mountaineers

Result: West Virginia Win 45-6 (Saturday, September 26)

The worst Big Ten performance of the week belongs to Maryland. It was terrible performance, particularly from the quarterbacks.

Caleb Rowe went 10 of 27 for only 67 yards, no touchdowns, and 4 interceptions (!). Daxx Garman came in and threw for 86 yards with one touchdown and one pick. Brandon Ross did well to pick up 130 yards on 15 carries, but he was the lone bright spot in a dismal offense.

The defense struggled to put up any resistance to the West Virginia offense. The Mountaineers put up 601 yards of offense and it was nearly even with 297 through the air and 304 on the ground.

Maryland may find themselves struggling to get offense going again next week. They face Michigan at home, a team that has been solid on the defensive side of the ball.

North Texas Mean Green at Iowa Hawkeyes

Result: Iowa Win 62-16 (Saturday, September 26)

Iowa completely crushed North Texas to finish their non-conference schedule 4-0. It was a complete domination by both sides of the ball for Iowa.

C.J. Beathard was deadly accurate and efficient. He went 18 of 21 for 278 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Jordan Canzeri had a field day running the ball as well. He had four rushing touchdowns to go along with 115 yards on 22 carries. Tevaun Smith had 4 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.

The defense had only two turnovers, but both were interceptions returned for touchdowns. First, it was Josey Jewell for a 34 yard pick-six late in the third quarter. The second one came late in the game with Bo Bower taking a pick 88 yards to the house.

Big Ten play begins next week with one of the toughest games on their schedule. Iowa travels to play Wisconsin in Madison with the winner having an early inside track on the Big Ten West.

Ohio Bobcats at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Result: Minnesota Win 27-24 (Saturday, September 26)

For the second week in a row, Minnesota escaped at home against a MAC foe. This week, at least there was more scoring.

Mitch Leidner had a solid day going 22 of 32 for 264 yards with no touchdown or interceptions. He also ran for 22 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries. Rodney Smith had a solid day as well with 94 yards on 16 carries, but Shannon Brooks emerged with 10 carries for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns including the game winner late. The offense looked much better this week and they put up 468 yards of offense and had only one turnover.

In an odd twist, the defense did not play as well as we have seen. They certain were not terrible, but it was not as stout as they were in the first three games. They allowed 8 of 16 on third down conversions and also gave up 345 yards of offense. They allowed 10 points in the fourth quarter that made it way too uncomfortable for the Gopher faithful.

Another worry, at least late, was the special teams. A muffed punt by Cody Grilliot was recovered by Ohio and led to a touchdown. They also gave up a massive kick return with less than 30 seconds remaining to Ohio after they just took the lead.

Minnesota finished their non-conference slate at 3-1 and they will have a defensive battle next week against Northwestern on the road.

Western Michigan Broncos at #1 Ohio State Buckeyes

Result: Ohio State Win 38-12 (Saturday, September 26)

Ohio State may have decided on a quarterback, but it still does not look like the Buckeyes we saw in 2014.

Cardale Jones went 19 of 33 for 288 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. His second half left a lot to be desired as he completed only 6 of 14 passes. Ezekiel Elliott, unsurprisingly, was good with 124 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Curtis Samuel had 2 carries for 55 yards including a 40 yard run for a touchdown just before the midway point of the fourth quarter. The offense still managed to put up 511 yards with 288 passing and 223 on the ground. They did go 8 of 13 on third downs, which is a big improvement over the 2 of 13 they managed against Northern Illinois last week.

The defense was very good for Ohio State. They did not allow Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell to get into a rhythm. He finished 18 of 33 for 169 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. That interception was returned 20 yards for a touchdown by Adolphus Washington. The Buckeyes did allow Daniel Braverman to catch 10 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, but they clamped down in the second half.

Ohio State begins the defense of their Big Ten title next week on the road at Indiana.

San Diego State Aztecs at Penn State Nittany Lions

Result: Penn State Win 37-21 (Saturday, September 26)

Penn State relied on their running backs last week to get the offense going, but it was Christian Hackenberg that woke up the dormant offense this week. Hackenberg threw for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns on 21 of 35 passing.

Saeed Blackwell led the Nittany Lions with 4 catches for 101 yards while Chris Godwin had 5 receptions for 78 yards with a touchdown. The running game was dealt not one, but two blows, thanks to injuries. Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch both left leaving Nick Scott and Mark Allen to try and pick up the slack. Allen ran for 5 yards on 5 carries, but did catch 2 passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. Scott had 6 carries for 9 yards. Those numbers will surely need to improve or Hackenberg will be primary target number one if Barkley and Lynch miss any time.

The defense was decent, but the highlight went to Austin Johnson. The defensive tackle ran (rumbled?) 71 yards for a fumble return touchdown that put Penn State up 34-21 early in the fourth quarter. The defense did only allow 242 yards of offense to SDSU including a poor 10 of 29 for 141 yards throwing.

The special teams is still a question mark after week four’s performance. They gave up a 100 yard kick return, fumbled a punt return that led to a touchdown, and also missed a field goal.

Unlike much of the Big Ten, they have not completed their non-conference schedule. Army visits next week in an early kickoff.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at Illinois Fighting Illini

Result: Illinois Win 27-25 (Saturday, September 26)

Illinois bounced back from last week’s thrashing at North Carolina, but it was not easy by any means. They needed a last minute field goal from Taylor Zalewski and also needed a missed field goal from Middle Tennessee with seconds remaining to pull out the win.

Wes Lunt went 29 of 49 for 238 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. The large amount of incompletions are a bit worrisome, especially after he went 15 of 32 against North Carolina a week ago. Josh Ferguson ran for 83 yards on 20 carries while Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

Geronimo Allison easily led the team in receiving with 10 catches for 128 yards. Desmond Cain was also involved in the passing game with 7 catches for 48 yards. Coming into the game, Cain had 8 catches for 53 yards on the year.

The defense gave up only 38 yards rushing to Middle Tennessee thanks largely to -30 yards rushing by the Middle Tennessee quarterback on sacks. They allowed 330 yards through the air as well as 3 touchdowns. The defense allowed 13 fourth quarter points as the Blue Raiders moved down the field with ease.

The special teams unit was good overall. There was a missed field goal, but a blocked punt subsequently allowed Illinois to build a 14-3 in the second quarter. Clayton Fejedelem fell on the ball in the end zone for the score.

Illinois enters Big Ten play 3-1 and they immediately get Nebraska next week at home. It is a potentially big game, as Illinois needs three wins to make bowl eligibility.

Ball State Cardinals at #17 Northwestern Wildcats

Result: Northwestern Win 24-19 (Saturday, September 26)

Northwestern was able to hang on against Ball State in a deceivingly good second half from the offense. The first half left a lot to be desired from the Wildcats, especially at the quarterback position.

Clayton Thorson looked like a freshman during the first half. He lost a fumble after a nice run, which led to a field goal for Ball State. He also threw an interception (led to a missed field goal), but his fumble late in the first half allowed Ball State to score a touchdown and take a 10-7 lead at halftime.

The second half was like a whole new ball game for the Wildcats on offense. Their first three drives resulted in 17 points and a 24-10 lead. Thorson finished the game going 18 of 31 for 256 yards with 3 touchdowns and the interception. He also ran for 45 yards on 9 carries. Justin Jackson had a big game rushing the ball with 184 yards on 33 carries. Dan Vitale easily had his best game of the year with 5 catches for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns. His emergence really helped Thorson in the final 30 minutes.

The defense played solidly and it is worth noting that they kept the game close while the offense struggled in the first half. They recovered a fumble deep in their own territory and forced a total of four field goals from Ball State. Ball State missed two field goals, which would have been the difference.

Northwestern is likely to have a defensive battle next week at home in their Big Ten opener against Minnesota.

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at #22 Wisconsin Badgers

Result: Wisconsin Win 28-0 (Saturday, September 26)

Wisconsin finally looked like the rushing team we all expect from them. And it was done without Corey Clement, who was the biggest piece of news this week. Clement will miss the next four to six weeks due to sports hernia surgery.

Taiwan Deal rushed for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns on 26 carries while Dare Ogunbowale had 15 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. The Badgers rushed for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns as a team on 54 carries. Most importantly, the offense looked to have gotten their running game back, if only for this week. The offense nearly held a 2-1 advantage in time of possession, another good sign.

Joel Stave was not overly impressive, but he was smart with the ball and did not force unnecessary throws. He went 14 of 23 for 164 yards and a touchdown. In no surprise, Alex Erickson was his top target with 9 catches for 87 yards. Austin Traylor had 2 catches for 23 yards and a touchdown and is quietly becoming a big red zone target for Stave.

The defense did not make any big plays, but they did not allow any type of rhythm for the Hawaii offense. Hawaii’s longest drive was 60 yards, but the defense held firm on fourth and three at the Wisconsin 33. Another drive got as close to the Wisconsin 1 yard line, but a series of penalties by Hawaii resulted in a missed 49 yard field goal. In the last three games, Wisconsin has allowed a total of 3 points and has two shutouts.

Wisconsin faces Iowa at home in their Big Ten opener next week.

Check back next Sunday for a look at the Week 5 Big Ten Roundup. There will be plenty of Big Ten Conference action that is dissected.

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 West

Corey Clement has big shoes to fill in replacing Melvin Gordon while Wisconsin has been to three of the first four Big 10 Championship Games. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America)
Corey Clement has big shoes to fill in replacing Melvin Gordon while Wisconsin has been to three of the first four Big 10 Championship Games. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 West

Part fourteen of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview delves into the Big 10’s West Division. There are only three conferences left in the preview series with the Pac-12 and SEC still a few weeks down the road. Below is the schedule of conference previews completed and those still to come.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

The Big 10 West Division is broken down below.

1. Wisconsin Badgers

Bret Bielema bolted Wisconsin after the 2012 season to go to Arkansas while Gary Andersen came in for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He led the Badgers to a 9-4 record in 2013 before a double digit win season in 2014 including a 59-0 destruction at the hands of Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship. He too bolted Madison and went West to Oregon State. Paul Chryst returns to his alma mater where he played quarterback from 1986 to 1988 and was the offensive coordinator from 2005 through 2011. He was also the head coach at Pittsburgh from 2012 t0 2014.

The offense was very good under Andersen where they had nearly identical output over his two years. In 2013, they put up 34.8 points and 481 yards per game and it was 34.6 points and 469 yards in 2014. The offense has five starters back with Joel Stave not having to worry about another QB. Stave threw for 1,350 yards with 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Melvin Gordon is gone after his monstrous season with 2,587 yards with 29 touchdowns, but Corey Clement is willing to try and fill the void. Clement had 949 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing while Dare Ogunbowale had 193 yards and a touchdown on only 34 carries. The go to guy last year, Alex Erickson, is back after recording 55 catches for 772 yards and 3 touchdowns. Troy Fumagalli caught 14 passes for 187 yards last year and a second wide receiver will need to develop in 2015. The offensive line also has only two starters returning, but the quarterback numbers should be better with Chryst in charge. The loss of Gordon will hurt, but the offense should be solid even with Chryst coming in.

The defense for Wisconsin is constantly solid. Between 2009 and 2014, the defense has not yielded more than 22 points and 325 yards per game. The defense had only 3 starters back in 2014 and allowed 20.8 points and 294 yards per game. There are six starters back including most of the secondary. Chikwe Obasih had 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks in seven starts. The depth is also better after plaguing them the past two seasons. The linebacker unit has the two outside ‘backers returning in Vince Biegel (56 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) and Joe Schobert (69 tackles, 3 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 7 pass breakups). The secondary has three starters back led by Michael Caputo. Caputo was the top tackler last year with 106 stops while also recording 1 sack, 5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and an interception. Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton will be at the cornerback spots, but need to interception more passes after those two failed to record any in 2014. Tanner McEvoy has also moved to safety after splitting time at quarterback and safety in 2014.

Wisconsin opens with a daunting game in Arlington, Texas against Alabama that will surely test them to their highest capability. After that, it is much easier with the trio of Miami (OH), Troy, and Hawaii all coming to Madison. In conference, Wisconsin faces Iowa, Purdue, and Northwestern at home while playing Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota on the road. From the East division, the Badgers take on Rutgers (home) and Maryland (road). The Badgers will surely make a bowl game in 2015 and can expect to be the team to beat for the West, but they have their question marks.

2. Northwestern Wildcats

Pat Fitzgerald did something that only Bob Voigts was able to do: win a bowl game. Voigts won the 1949 Rose Bowl while Fitzgerald won the 2012 Gator Bowl after losing the previous four bowl games. Since that 2012 season, Northwestern has not been back to a bowl game after back-to-back 5-7 seasons that have been filled with injuries. 2015 must result in a bowl game for the Wildcats and Fitzgerald.

The offense sputtered last year after putting up 23 points and 353 yards per game despite eight starters back. This year, the offense will have six starters back, but one of them will not be at quarterback. That may not be a bad thing as Trevor Siemian only threw for 2,214 yards with 7 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Zack Oliver threw for 367 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, but he will be battling with Clayton Thorson and Matt Alviti for the starting job. Justin Jackson is back after a stellar freshman season. Despite only starting five games, Jackson ran for 1,187 yards with 10 touchdowns while also catching 22 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. There is plenty of talent back at wide receiver with Dan Vitale leading the way. He had 40 catches for 402 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cameron Dickerson (24 catches for 318 yards and a touchdown) and Miles Shuler (23 catches for 190 yards) back as well. The biggest returner is Christian Jones, who had a solid 2013 season with 668 yards, but missed all of 2014. The offensive line has three starters back and the entire offense should be able to perform better this year.

The defense was decent in 2014 with seven starters back, giving up 25.2 points and 384 yards per game. Eight starters are back in 2015, the most for Fitzgerald since 2009 (gave up 24.5 points and 350 yards per game). The entire defensive line is back led by Dean Lowry, who had 41 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 8 pass breakups. The linebacking unit is the worry for Northwestern with only Anthony Walker returning (51 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions). The secondary is another strength with three starters back. Traveon Henry had 73 tackles (#2 on team) and 2.5 tackles for loss while Matthew Harris had 70 tackles (#3 on team), 3.5 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense should be solid once again for Northwestern and should improve on the numbers the allowed last season.

Northwestern does not have an easy start to the season with Stanford coming to town followed by Eastern Illinois. A road trip against Duke comes before their final non-conference game against Ball State at home. In conference, the Wildcats will face Minnesota, Iowa, and Purdue at home while taking on Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. They also face Illinois in Chicago on the final weekend in November. From the East, they will have the pleasure of facing Michigan (road) and Penn State (home) in two tough games. All around, Northwestern should be better in 2015 and could have a chance to take the division with a win over Wisconsin (Nov. 21).

3. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska was led by Bo Pelini starting in 2008 and going through 2014. During that time, Pelini led Nebraska to at least 9 wins each year including three 10 win seasons. Pelini, however, did not make a BCS or Group of Five bowl in that time and was let go after the 2014 season. Mike Riley comes over from Oregon State after 15 years there and only once led the Beavers to at least 10 wins (2006).

The offense has six starters back from a group that put up 37.8 points and 452 yards of offense per game. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw for 2,695 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while also rushing for 705 yards and 6 touchdowns as the teams second leading rusher. Ameer Abdullah will not be back, which leaves Imani Cross (384 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Terrell Newby (297 yards and 5 touchdowns) as the top returning running backs. Nearly all of the receivers return led by Jordan Westerkamp (44 catches for 747 yards and 5 touchdowns) and De’Mornay Pierson-El (23 catches for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns). The offensive line has two starters back at the tackles. The offense will probably not put up the same numbers as they did last year with a new coach and new schemes.

The defense has six starters back from a unit that allowed 26.4 points and 384 yards per game. Three starters are back on the defensive line that gave up 178 yards and 4.7 yards per carry last year. Greg McMullen (4 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups), Maliek Collins (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss), and Vincent Valentine (45 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 pass breakups) are the returners. David Santos is the lone returning linebacker after recording 50 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. The secondary has two starters back led by Nathan Gerry (#1 tackler), who had 88 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 5 interceptions en route to making the 2nd Team Big 10 squad. There may be some growing pains in 2015, but the numbers should not fluctuate too much.

Nebraska opens with BYU and South Alabama at home before traveling to face Miami (FL) on the road and getting Southern Miss at home. The Cornhuskers face Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue on the road while playing Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa at home. From the East, Nebraska will take on Michigan State (home) and Rutgers (road). Nebraska should be in a bowl game in 2015 and could even make the Big 10 Championship Game with a few stumbles and surprises.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Ron Zook was in charge of Illinois from 2005 through 2011 and led the Illini to three bowl games including the 2007 Rose Bowl. Zook was let go before the 2011 bowl game that Illinois won 20-14 over UCLA. Tim Beckman came in starting with the 2012 season and went 2-10 followed by a 4-8 record in 2013. The Illini had to make a bowl game in 2014 for Beckman to keep his job and they did, but lost to Louisiana Tech 35-18. 2015 is another chance for Illinois to make a bowl game.

The offense put up 25.9 points and 367 yards per game in 2014 with Wes Lunt taking over at quarterback. Lunt had injury issues throughout the season while finishing with 1,763 with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Josh Ferguson is returning at running back after a sub par year with only 735 yards and 8 touchdowns. Ferguson also was the team’s third leading receiver with 50 catches for 427 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mike Dudek led the team in receiving as a freshman in 2014 with 76 catches for 1,038 yards and 6 touchdowns, but tore his ACL in April. He status for 2015 is still up in the air. Geronimo Allison (41 catches for 598 yards and 5 touchdowns), Malik Turner (25 catches for 256 yards and a touchdown), and Justin Hardee (19 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown) all return in case Dudek is unable to go. Three starters are back on the offensive line to bring the total up to eight for the offense. A healthy Lunt will mean higher numbers for the Illini offense even if Dudek is out for the year.

Defense has been an issue for Illinois under Beckman, as the unit has not allowed less than 32 points per game in his tenure. Last year, the defense gave up 34 points and 456 yards per game with seven starters back. That same number is back this year with Jihad Ward and Rob Bain back on the line. Ward had 51 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss last year. Two linebackers return in Mason Monheim and TJ Neal, which is good news for Illinois. Monheim had 111 tackles (#1 on team), 1 sack, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions while Neal had 98 tackles (#4 on team) and 6.5 tackles for loss. The secondary has three starters back including Taylor Barton, who had 100 tackles (#3 on team). V’Angelo Bentley is back in the secondary as well, but he will also be utilized in the return game. The defense should improve in 2015 with seven starters back.

Illinois opens with home games against Kent State and Western Illinois before traveling to face North Carolina on the road. They close out the non-conference portion of their schedule against Middle Tennessee at home. Within their division, Illinois will play Nebraska and Wisconsin at home while facing Northwestern in Chicago. They also play Iowa, Purdue, and Minnesota on the road. From the East, the Illini play Penn State (road) and Ohio State (home), which is a tough draw. There is enough offense and defense on this Illinois squad to make a second straight bowl game under Beckman.

5. Iowa Hawkeyes

Kirk Ferentz is entering his 17th season at Iowa. In that time, Iowa has 11 winning season and four season with at least 10 wins. Since going 11-2 in 2009, however, Iowa has not reached that success with their best recording being 8-5 in both 2010 and 2013. The pressure may be on Ferentz to get Iowa back to double digit wins sooner rather than later.

The offense will return five starters from a group that put up 28.2 points and 400 yards per game. CJ Beathard is taking over at quarterback for the now transferred Jake Rudock (went to Michigan). Beathard threw for 645 yards with 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while also not having Mark Weisman (812 yards and 16 touchdowns). Jordan Canzeri (494 yards), Akrum Wadley (186 yards and a touchdown), Jonathan Parker (141 yards and a touchdown), LeShun Daniels (49 yards and a touchdown), and CJ Hilliard will all see some looks at the running back spot. Tevaun Smith (43 catches for 596 yards and 3 touchdowns), Jake Duzey (36 catches for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Matt VandeBerg (14 catches for 256 yards and 1 touchdown) are back. The line has three starters back while the offense could put up similar numbers in 2015 as they did last year.

Last year’s defense was not as effective as an Iowa defense usually is. They gave up 25.6 points and 344 yards per game with only five starters back. The number of starters returning increases by two, to seven, which is good news. Drew Ott (57 tackles, 8 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception) and Nate Meier (57 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) are back to anchor the defensive end positions. Bo Bower and Josey Jewell are the two starters returning at linebacker while the secondary has three starters back. Jordan Lomax will be at one of the safety spots after recording 92 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and an interception last year. 2015 should see Iowa’s defense improve.

Iowa opens the season against Illinois State at home before facing in-state rival Iowa State on the road. The non-conference schedule ends with Pittsburgh and North Texas both coming to Iowa City. Iowa will face Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Nebraska on the road while playing Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue at home. From the East, Iowa has Maryland (home) and Indiana (road) in two winnable games. Iowa should be back in a bowl game this year, but will that be enough to keep Ferentz around another year?

6. Purdue Boilermakers

Darrell Hazell came in from Kent State in 2013 and had a rough first year. The Boilermakers went 1-11 with their lone win against FCS Indiana State in a game they only won 20-14. The offense (14.9 points and 345 yards per game) and defense (38 points and 460 yards allowed per game) were dreadful. 2014 was a very good step in the right direction with a 3-9 record and 2015 should continue that trend.

The offense in 2014 had 8 starters back and shot up to 23.8 points and 345 yards per game. There are eight starters back again in 2015 with the quarterback position in the air between freshmen David Blough and Elijah Sindelar and Austin Appleby (1,449 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions). Running back is not settled with DJ Knox, Keyante Green (199 yards), David Yancey, and Markell Jones all having a chance to win the top duties. Danny Anthrop is back as the top wide receiver after grabbing 38 passes for 616 yards and 4 touchdowns. The offensive line has all the starters back, which is great news for whoever wins the quarterback and running back battles. The offense should be better in 2015 with even better numbers than last year.

The defense was awful in 2013 by giving up 38 points and 460 yards per game. Year two was better with the defense allowing 31.7 points and 416 yards per game. Seven starters return in 2015 including the second through fifth top tacklers from last year. Ryan Watson (17 tackles, 4 sacks, 1.5 tackes for loss) and Jake Replogle (40 tackles, 3 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss) return on the line that improved from 235 rushing yards allowed per game in 2013 to 192 yards per game in 2014. That number should drop in 2015. The strength of the defense is at linebacker with the top three starters back. Ja’Whaun Bentley (76 tackles; #2 on team), Jimmy Herman (56 tackles, #4 on team), and Danny Ezechukwu (43 tackles; #8 on team) all back after starting last year. The secondary has three starters back led by Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams at the corner spots. Like the offense, the defense should improve in year three of Hazell’s tenure.

Purdue opens the season on the road at Marshall in a tough game before facing Indiana State, Virginia Tech, and Bowling Green at home. In their division, Purdue will play Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois at home while facing Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa on the road. From the East, they will have to play Michigan State (road) and Indiana (home). Purdue is going in the right direction and will probably need two upsets to reach a bowl game.

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Jerry Kill has been at Minnesota since 2011 and has made them into a gritty team that is not easy to defeat. After going 3-9 in his first year, the team improved to 6-7 in 2012 and lost by a field goal, 34-31, to Texas Tech in the bowl game. 2013 saw them finish 8-5 and they did the same in 2014 as they had a chance to win the Big 10 West in the final week against Wisconsin. 2015 will be an interesting test for Minnesota and Kill.

The offense for Minnesota is run-based and will have five starters back in 2015. Mitch Leidner threw for 1,798 yards with 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while rushing for 452 yards and 10 touchdowns. Backup Chris Streveler ran for 235 yards and 1 touchdown as well. David Cobb has exited after rushing for 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns leaving a big void at running back. Berkley Edwards (140 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Rodrick Williams (114 yards and 3 touchdowns) will be vying to start at running back. Top target Maxx Williams (36 catches for 569 yards and 8 touchdowns) is gone as well, leaving KJ Maye as the top wide receiver. Maye had 16 catches for 298 yards and a touchdown as the #2 receiver. The offensive line has three starters back, but it will probably be tough for the Gophers to match last year’s production of 28.4 points and 357 yards per game with Cobb and Williams gone.

The defense has been solid for Minnesota the last three years. In 2014, the defense gave up 24.2 points and 368 yards per game and returns seven starters from that group. Theiren Cockran (23 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss) and Steven Richardson (23 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) will be teaming up with the Ekpe brothers of Scott and Hendrick. De’Vondre Campbell (75 tackles, 2.5sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception) and Jack Lynn (57 tackles, 1 sack, and 6 tackles for loss) will be the returning linebackers. In the secondary, three starters are back led by Eric Murray at corner. Murray had 69 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and an interception last year. The defense should be solid once again for Minnesota.

Minnesota opens with TCU at home before facing Colorado State on the road. Kent State and Ohio both travel to Minneapolis to close out the non-conference slate. In division, Minnesota will play Northwestern, Purdue, and Iowa on the road while taking on Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin at home. From the East, Minnesota draws Michigan (home) and Ohio State (road). It will be a challenging year for Minnesota if the offense sputters and will need a couple of upsets to make a bowl game, but they are more than capable of getting those upsets.

Overview

The Big 10’s West division is quite the conundrum with every team having questions. Wisconsin has a new coach and lost a star in Melvin Gordon while Northwestern has some offensive worries. Nebraska is in the same boat as Wisconsin with a new coach and lost Ameer Abdullah. Illinois has worries on defense while Iowa is constantly underachieving. Purdue is still learning Hazell’s system and Minnesota lost a lot of offensive production in David Cobb and Maxx Williams.

We will go with Wisconsin to win the division, but Northwestern or Nebraska could also finish on top. Illinois is likely to make noise with a more veteran team along with Iowa. Purdue and Minnesota will both be close to bowl eligibility and could easily finish higher than predicted, especially the Gophers. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Wisconsin

2. Northwestern

3. Nebraska

4. Illinois

5. Iowa

6. Purdue

7. Minnesota

Check back on Friday for a preview of the Big 10 East Division as well as a look at the Big 10 Championship Game prediction.