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2015 College Football Preview: SEC West

Nick Saban has brought Alabama back to prominence and the Tide are always a Championship Contender with him at the helm. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America)
Nick Saban has brought Alabama back to prominence and the Tide are always a Championship Contender with him at the helm. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: SEC West

We have reached our final preview in the 2015 College Football Preview series here at Sports Enthusiasts. The SEC West, along with the SEC Championship, are in the crosshairs and what a final division we have to look at. Below are all the previews done to this point, so please feel free to check those out.

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

Let’s take a look at the one of the toughest divisions in college football, the SEC West.

1. LSU Tigers

Les Miles has been wonderful at LSU. In his 10 years, he has won at ten games 7 times and his “worst” year has been an 8-5 recorded in both 2008 and 2014. LSU lost the 2011 BCS Championship to Alabama 21-0 and followed that with back-to-back 10-3 seasons. 2014 was plagued by inconsistency at quarterback and both return in 2015.

The offense will have nine starters returning from a group that put 27.6 points and 387 yards per game. Brandon Harris is expected to win the starting quarterback job after throwing for 452 yards with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He will have Anthony Jennings (1,611 yards with 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions) behind him if he cannot handle those duties. Leonard Fournette was hyped as the next-coming in 2014 and he finished the year with a solid 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns while better production is expected of him in 2015. The top four receivers all return, however, their numbers are hardly overwhelming. Travin Dural had 37 catches for 758 yards and 7 touchdowns, Malachi Dupre had 14 receptions for 318 yards and 5 touchdowns, John Diarse caught 15 passes for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Trey Quinn finished with 17 catches for 193 yards. With three starters back on the offensive line as well as better quarterback play in 2015, the offense should produce better numbers than they did last year.

LSU’s defense is usually pretty good. 2014 was no exception with the team yielding 17.5 points and 317 yards per game. In 2015, there will be six starters back with two on the defensive line. Those two will be Christian LaCouture (40 tackles and 2.5 sacks) and Davon Godchaux (42 tackles). LSU loses linebacker Kwon Alexander (90 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss), but does have Kendall Beckwith (77 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss) and Lamar Louis (29 tackles) returning. The secondary has two starters back as well with Jalen Mills leading the way (62 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 interception), but he will miss at least the first four weeks due to leg surgery. The other returning starter is Tre’Davious White, who had 33 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions while Jamal Adams was integral in 2014 with 66 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 tackles for loss. The defense will be stingy again in 2015, especially when Mills returns.

LSU has a non-conference schedule of McNeese State (home), Syracuse (road), Eastern Michigan (home), and Western Kentucky (home), which makes them very likely to go 4-0 in those games. In their division, they will face Mississippi State, Alabama, and Ole Miss on the road in three very tough games while playing Auburn, Arkansas, and Texas A&M at home. From the East, they will play South Carolina (road) and Florida (home) in two winnable games. The games against Alabama on November 7, Arkansas on November 14, and Mississippi on November 21 are sure to determine whether LSU wins the SEC West.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

We all know that Nick Saban has been great at Alabama. After a 7-6 record in his first year during the 2007 season, Alabama has won at least 10 games every year since 2008. He has won three SEC Championships as well as three National Titles for the Crimson Tide. The one concern (if you can call it that) is the defense has given up 45 points and 42 points, respectively, in the past two years during the Sugar Bowl. Alabama lost both of those games including last year when they were eliminated the College Football Playoff Semifinals by eventual national champion Ohio State.

The offense put up 36.9 points and 485 yards per game in 2014 with Lane Kiffin at the helm, but 2015 will be interesting with only three starters returning. Jake Coker will be at quarterback after throwing for 403 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions last year, but has plenty of talent after battling Jameis Winston when he was at Florida State. Derrick Henry was the top running back in 2014 with 990 yards and 11 touchdowns in a deep backfield while Kenyan Drake (112 yards and 4 touchdowns) is back after a broken leg last year. The biggest loss was at wide receiver with Amari Cooper (124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns) going on to the NFL. There is a lot of talent here (Robert Foster, Calvin Ridley, Daylon Charlot) and a bit of experience in OJ Howard (17 catches for 260 yards), Chris Black (15 catches for 188 yards), and ArDarius Stewart (12 catches for 149 yards), but that production will be impossible to replace. There will also be only two starters back on the line so the work will be cut out for Saban and Kiffin. It is hard to see the offense producing the same numbers in 2015 as they did in 2014.

The defense is almost always spectacular under Saban. Their worst year since 2008 was actually last year when they allowed 18.4 points and 328 yards per game, which is still a very good season. Seven starters are back in 2015 including all three on the defensive line. Jonathan Allen had 33 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss, A’Shawn Robinson had 49 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, and Jarran Reed had 55 tackles, 1 sack, and 5.5 tackles for loss. Returning at linebacker will be the duo of Reggie Ragland (95 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) and Denzel Devall (11 tackles) who made seven starters and was out with injury for six games. The secondary is led by Cyrus Jones, who had 46 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. Also returning in the secondary is Eddie Jackson (41 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and an interception). Look for another big year from the defense that could have even better numbers than they had in 2014.

Alabama opens the year with the tough neutral site game against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. They will also face the trio of Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, and Charleston Southern at home to close out their non-conference schedule. They will have to play Ole Miss, Arkansas, and LSU at home while facing Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Auburn on the road. From the East, Alabama will play Georgia (road) and Tennessee (home). The offense is the obvious concern for Alabama, but their defense should be good enough to keep them in every game while the offense finds its feet.

3. Mississippi Rebels

Ole Miss went 4-8 in 2010 and 2-10 in 2011 in Houston Nutt’s last two years. They decided to bring in Hugh Freeze, who has steadily turned around the Rebels. He paid immediate dividends by taking the Rebels to a bowl game in his first season and then went 8-5 in 2013. 2014 was a really good season for them with a 9-4 record including a 23-17 victory over #4 Alabama at home, but were blown out by an excellent (and angry) TCU squad in the Peach Bowl.

The offense has been good under Freeze in all three seasons. In 2013, they put up 30 points and 473 yards per game while those numbers dropped a bit in 2014 to 28.3 points and 419 yards per game. There will be nine starters back for Ole Miss this year, but quarterback Bo Wallace is gone. The good news for the Rebels is they have Clemson transfer Chad Kelly ready to take over immediately after a year in the junior college ranks. They will also have the top two running backs from last year in Jaylen Walton (586 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Jordan Wilkins (361 yards and a touchdown). The receiving unit looks to be in good shape even without their top man from 2014. Evan Engram (38 catches for 662 yards and 2 touchdowns), Cody Core (41 receptions for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns, and, of course, the return of LaQuon Treadwell (48 catches for 632 yards and 5 touchdowns). The entire offensive line returns and despite the loss of Wallace, the offense should be able to put up good numbers again in 2015.

The defense was very good in 2014 by giving up only 16 points and 329 yards per game. Seven starters will be back from that defense led by the trio of Robert Nkemdiche (35 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss), Isaac Gross (37 tackles, 1 sack, and 7 tackles for loss), and Marquis Haynes (31 tackles and 7.5 sacks) on the line. Also in the mix on the line are junior college transfer DJ Jones, redshirt freshman Breeland Speaks, and senior Channing Ward (30 tackles and 2.5 sacks). CJ Johnson is back at linebacker (38 tackles, 4 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) and will be joined by Denzel Nkemdiche (28 tackles and 1 sack), who missed the final five games of the year due to a broken ankle. The secondary will have three starters back led by Tony Conner (69 tackles, 1 sack, 8 tackles for loss, and an interception), Mike Hilton (71 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions), and Trae Elston (59 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception). The defense will be good again in 2015, but may not match the same numbers from 2014.

Ole Miss has an easy non-conference schedule with Tennessee-Martin, Fresno State, and New Mexico State at home and a single road game at Memphis. In division, they face Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State on the road and Texas A&M, Arkansas, and LSU at home. From the East, Ole Miss will take on Florida (road) and Vanderbilt (home). The Rebels will have a really good shot at a double digit win season and are in contention for the SEC West title.

4. Arkansas Razorbacks

Bret Bielema came to Arkansas in 2013 and the Razorbacks had a rough first year under him. They went 3-0 to start the season, but lost the final nine games. However, the final three games saw an improved Arkansas team that nearly upset #15 LSU on the road as a 26 point underdog. 2014 was better with Arkansas going 6-6 in the regular season including back-to-back upset shutouts of LSU (17-0) and Ole Miss (30-0). They also nearly upset Alabama at home and lost by a touchdown to the trio of Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Missouri.

The offense for Bielema will have nine starters back. In 2013, they averaged only 20.7 points and 357 yards per game while 2014 saw the numbers improve to 31.9 points and 406 yards per game. Brandon Allen is back after throwing for 2,285 yards with 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but the focus will be on the running game. There are four starters back on the offensive line to pave the way for the Alex Collins. Collins had 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in 2014, which was second the team. The top rusher was Jonathan Williams, who had 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns, but will miss all of 2015 due to surgery on his foot. The top two receivers are back in Keon Hatcher (43 catches for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Hunter Henry (37 catches for 513 yards and 2 touchdowns). If a viable second back can be developed behind Collins, the Arkansas offense could be really dangerous, but at the least they should be able to match year’s numbers.

The defense took a major step forward in 2014 when compared to 2013. In 2013, the defense gave up 30.8 points and 413 yards per game while the numbers plummeted to 19.2 points and 323 yards per game last year. There will be six starters back with two on the line in JaMichael Winston (26 tackles) and Taiwan Johnson (26 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss). The line gave up only 115 yards rushing per game and 3.5 yards per carry. The linebackers will have only Brooks Ellis back, but he was second the team in tackles with 72 while also recording 5 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The secondary returns mostly intact with three starters back with the trio of Jared Collins (53 tackles and 13 pass breakups), DJ Dean (29 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions), and Rohan Gaines (59 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 interception). The defense should be stout again in 2015.

Arkansas opens the season with games against UTEP, Toledo, and Texas Tech with all those games in the state of Arkansas. They also face Tennesssee-Martin at home in October. They will face Texas A&M in Arlington as well as Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU on the road. They will play at home against Auburn and Mississippi State and take on Tennessee (road) and Missouri (home) from the East. Arkansas’ games against Alabama and LSU both fall on the road, but they are dangerous team in the West.

5. Auburn Tigers

Auburn won the BCS National Championship in 2010, but quickly fell to 8-5 in 2011 and then 3-9 in 2012. 2013 saw Gus Malzahn come in and nearly win another National Championship for Auburn, but they lose to Florida State in the BCS Championship 34-31. They went to 8-5 last year and are hoping to bounce back to another double digit win season in 2015.

The offense has only four starters back from a group that put up 35.5 points and 485 yards per game in 2014. Of course, Gus Malzahn is known for his offenses and he will have Jeremy Johnson slinging the ball around. Johnson threw for 436 yards and 3 touchdowns while starting the first half of the opener against Arkansas. He will have three of the top five receivers from 2014 led by Duke Williams, who had 45 catches for 730 yards and 5 touchdowns. Also back are Ricardo Louis (21 catches for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Melvin Ray (8 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown). The top running back in 2014 was Cameron Artis-Payne (1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns), but he has moved on to the NFL. He will be replaced by Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas (214 yards and 2 touchdowns). There are three starters back on the offensive line to give Johnson some time as well as create lanes for Robinson and Thomas. The offense will be just fine in 2015 despite only four starters back.

The defense will have eight starters back from a unit that allowed 26.7 points and 399 yards per game. The defensive line will have DaVonte Lambert (24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss) and Montravius Adams (43 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss) back. The Buck position will be handled by Carl Lawson (out for 2014) and Gimel President (30 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 tackles for loss). At linebacker, the duo of Cassanova McKinzy (91 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss) and Kris Frost (87 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss) returning. The secondary will have three starters returning led by Johnathan Ford, who had 93 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. Also returning is Jonathan Jones, who was a ball hawk in 2014 with 11 pass breakups and 6 interceptions to go along with 36 tackles. The defense should be very solid in 2015.

Auburn opens the season with a neutral site game in Atlanta, Georgia against Louisville. They will also face Jacksonville State, San José State, and Idaho at home for their other non-conference games. Auburn will have to play LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M on the road while taking on Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Alabama at home. From the East, the Tigers play Kentucky (road) and Georgia (home). While it is hard to pick the Tigers this low, they are not without a chance to win the West.

6. Texas A&M Aggies

Kevin Sumlin came to Texas A&M in 2012 with two things against him: his first year in charge and the Aggies’ first year in the SEC. He did quite well by going 11-2 overall including the marvelous 29-24 upset of #1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. 2013 saw them slip slightly to 9-4 while they went 8-5 in 2014. 2015 will be Sumlin’s fourth year and he has some serious quarterback prospects in his stable.

The offense was a bit underwhelming in 2014 by Sumlin’s standards. They averaged 35.2 points and 455 yards per game, which is great for most teams, but it was nearly 10 points and 100 yards per game than in 2013. Kyle Allen will be at quarterback after getting some playing time in 2014 when he threw for 1,322 yards with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He will be throwing to Josh Reynolds (52 catches for 842 yards and 13 touchdowns), Speedy Noil (46 catches for 583 yards and 5 touchdowns), Ricky Seals-Jones (49 catches for 465 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Edward Pope (30 catches for 454 yards and 4 touchdowns). Tra Carson was the top running back in 2014 with 581 yards and 5 touchdowns and returns alongside Brandon Williams (379 yards and 3 touchdowns). Three starters are back on the offensive line and the numbers should go up for the offense in 2015.

The defense will have eight starters back in 2015 from a group that allowed 28.1 points and 451 yards per game. The trio of Daeshon Hall (29 tackles and 4.5 sacks), Hardreck Walker (35 tackles), and Alonzo Williams (57 tackles and 4.5 sacks) will be returning on the line. The linebackers were hit hard, but the hybrid spot, Rush, will be manned by Myles Garrett, who had 53 tackles and 11.5 sacks. Only Shaan Washington returns at one of the traditional linebacker spots after recording 64 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss last year. The secondary has De’Vante Harris (53 tackles and 1 interception) and Armani Watts (59 tackles, 8 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions) back. It is hard to imagine the defense not improving in 2015 with the amount of experience returning.

Texas A&M opens the year with Arizona State in Houston, Texas. After that, they will play Ball State, Nevada, and Western Carolina at home in their non-conference schedule. In division, they have to take on Arkansas in Arlington, Texas before playing Mississippi State, Alabama, and Auburn at home. They will play both Ole Miss and LSU on the road. From the East, they have the duo of South Carolina (home) and Vanderbilt (road) in two winnable games. The Aggies are immensely talented and will have a better offense, which makes it tough to put them this low. They do have a chance to make noise in the West and make the SEC Championship game.

7. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Dan Mullen has been pretty consistent since taking over Mississippi State in 2009. They went 5-7 in that first year, but have made five straight bowl games since then and have also had a winning season each year since 2010. 2014 was nearly a magical season for MSU, as they opened 9-0 before losing three of their last four games. Their two regular season losses were on the road to Alabama and Ole Miss and were then walloped in the Orange Bowl, 49-34. 2015 looks like a rough year with only seven total starters returning.

The offense will have four starters back from a group that put up 36.9 points and 514 yards per game in 2014. The good news is that quarterback Dak Prescott is one of those returning after throwing for 3,449 yards with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while also rushing for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns. Prescott will be leaned on heavily all season with the top returning running backs in Brandon Holloway (294 yards and 1 touchdown) and Ashton Shumpert (274 yards and 2 touchdowns). The top two receivers also return with De’Runnya Wilson (47 catches for 680 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Fred Ross (30 catches for 489 yards and 5 touchdowns) leading the way. There will be only two starters back on the line as well. Despite just four starters returning, they are in a good spot with the quarterback and top two receivers back, but it will be tough for them to match last year’s output.

The defense has only three starters back from a unit that allowed 21.7 points and 424 yards per game. Ryan Brown is the lone returning starter on the line after recording 39 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss. He will be joined by Chris Jones (26 tackles and 3 sacks) and AJ Jefferson (28 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss). At linebacker, Beniquez Brown is back after recording 62 tackles (#2 on team) along with 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. Richie Brown saw playing time in every game in 2014 and recorded 50 tackles and 3 interceptions as well. The secondary has just Taveze Calhoun (53 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and 1 interception) back at starter, but Will Redmond had a solid year as well with 51 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. It will be hard for the Bulldogs to have as good a year as they did in 2014 on the defensive side of the ball.

MSU will have Southern Miss on the road to start their non-conference slate, but finish up with Northwestern State, Troy, and Louisiana Tech at home. In conference, they will play Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas on the road while taking on LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss at home. From the East, they will play both Kentucky (home) and Missouri (road). In a very deep SEC West, it is tough to put the Bulldogs down here with Dak Prescott returning as well as Dan Mullen at the helm. At the very worst, MSU should be back in a bowl game for 2015, but can cause some serious problems for the other teams in the West.

Overview

How difficult is it to predict the SEC West? All seven teams made a bowl game in 2014 and all seven teams have a legit chance at winning the division this year. If you are a fan of one of the teams picked at the bottom, do not fret because this was the hardest preview to write given the quality and depth of all the teams. The predicted order of finish below is sure to be wrong, but that is a testament to the SEC West.

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Mississippi

4. Arkansas

5. Auburn

6. Texas A&M

7. Mississippi State

SEC Championship

For the SEC Championship, we had Tennessee winning the SEC East to set up a contest against LSU, the winner of the SEC West. If that were to be the SEC Championship, we will go with LSU to capture yet another for the West Division, which would be the 7th straight against the East.

That concludes the 2015 College Football Preview here at Sports Enthusiasts. Be sure to check back for more news and information regarding all the divisions in College Football, but also for standings and schedules.

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.

Arkansas Suspends Linebacker Randy Ramsey

Randy Ramsey prior to Arkansas' game against Auburn in 2014 (WholeHogSports.com)
Randy Ramsey prior to Arkansas’ game against Auburn in 2014 (WholeHogSports.com)

Arkansas Suspends Linebacker Randy Ramsey

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema has suspended linebacker Randy Ramsey indefinitely while Ramsey gets his academic house in order.

“I removed Randy Ramsey, as well, and let him focus on academics,” Bielema told Arkansas News. “If he does that, then we will see where that goes, but as of right now he is not with us, either.”

“He has got to have some urgency in the classroom immediately,” Bielema said of Ramsey. “No off-the-field (stuff), just got to get him going in the classroom because we invest a lot in them and we hope to have our biggest returns when they are sophomores, juniors and seniors and getting better.”

Ramsey played in 7 games including a start against Northern Illinois as a true freshman in 2014. He finished with 8 tackles and half a tackle for loss on the year.

Ramsey, as well as wide receiver Kendrick Edwards, could return to the team in summer if they are up to Bielema’s academic liking. Edwards was reportedly leaving Arkansas in March.

Juan Day Tears ACL For Second Time

Juan Day at a football camp (247 Sports)
Juan Day at a football camp (247 Sports)

Juan Day Tears ACL For Second Time

Arkansas running back Juan Day has suffered a torn ACL for the second time according to head coach Bret Bielema.

The second ACL injury occurred prior to spring break at a practice for the Razorbacks. He had surgery on the torn ACL on Monday. Day will definitely miss the rest of spring practice and will be out six to nine months.

Day could also go the route of not playing in 2015 and applying for a medical hardship to provide him an extra year of eligibility in the future. That, however, is only a mere suggestion and there is no word on whether he will play in 2015 at this time. It is safe to say coach Bielema will keep a close eye on Day’s rehab as the year progresses

Day’s first ACL injury occurred as a senior in high school, which is not the same knee he injured this time around. Day redshirted in 2014 in his first season with Arkansas.

Even without Day, Arkansas returns their top rushing duo of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Williams rushed for 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns on 211 carries while Collins ran for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns on 204 rushes.

Kendrick Edwards Leaving Arkansas

Kendrick Edwards will be playing elsewhere in the future (247Sports)
Kendrick Edwards will be playing elsewhere in the future (247Sports)

Kendrick Edwards Leaving Arkansas

Wide receive Kendrick Edwards is no longer with the Arkansas Razorbacks according to head coach Bret Bielema. There was not a specific reason provided for his decision to leave the team.

Edwards saw time on the field in 2014 as a true freshman, but he played sparingly. He caught 4 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown while playing in 11 games. His 70 yards were ninth on the team and his catches ranked eleventh on the team.

Edwards is free to look at other schools to transfer to. At 6 feet, 6 inches he is a big target and could play a big part in the offense at whichever school he winds up at. He was expected to see more action in 2015 had he stayed at Arkansas.

Arkansas still returns three of their top 4 receivers from 2014. Top receiver Keon Hatcher had 43 catches for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns. Tight end Hunter Henry was the second leading receiver with 37 catches for 513 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jared Cornelius was fourth on the team in receiving last year as a freshman with 212 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 catches.

The Razorbacks spring practice ends on Saturday, April 25 with the Red-White game.