Tag Archives: Dean Lowry

2015 Big Ten Week 3 Roundup

Northwestern had a big road win at Duke, but it was not all good for the Big Ten. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)
Northwestern had a big road win at Duke, but it was not all good for the Big Ten. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

2015 Big Ten Week 3 Roundup

The Big Ten opened the season with an 8-6 record in the first week of the season while the conference went 12-2 in the second week headlined by a massive win at home for Michigan State against Oregon. The Big Ten had its first conference game in week 3 with Penn State taking on Rutgers at home.

Illinois Fighting Illini at North Carolina Tar Heels

Result: North Carolina Win 48-14 (Saturday, September 19)

Illinois took a huge step up in competition from their first two games and it showed. They struggled in all phases of the game in a 48-14 blowout loss.

Wes Lunt struggled passing, as he connected on just 15 of 32 passes for 140 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The one bright spot was Josh Ferguson, who ran for 133 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

The defense was horrendous against Marquise Williams, who had 203 yards with 3 touchdowns and a pick on 17 of 24 passing. Williams also ran for 105 yards on 9 carries while Elijah Hood had 129 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

Ryan Switzer led the Tar Heels on the special teams front with a nice 85 yard punt return for a touchdown and he also caught 3 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown through the air.

Illinois found out they will need to be far better to contend in the Big Ten West division. They have their final non-conference game next week at home against Middle Tennessee. They will have to fix their big issues in that game before the Big Ten conference schedule begins in October.

South Florida Bulls at Maryland Terrapins

Result: Maryland Win 35-17 (Saturday, September 19)

Maryland fell behind 7-0 early in the game, but they rebounded nicely to end the game on a 35-10 run. It was not always pretty, however, as Caleb Rowe struggled at times behind center. Rowe went 21 of 33 for 297 yards with 4 touchdowns, but also threw 3 interceptions. Two of those picks led to touchdowns for South Florida

Maryland lost running back Wes Brown early in the second quarter due to a targeting call, but Brandon Ross stepped up for 68 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The duo of Levern Jacobs (8 catches for 107 yards) and Taivon Jacobs (2 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown) led the Terps in receiving. Avery Edwards had 3 catches for 36 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The defense looked better and the first touchdown was hardly their fault as the USF offense started at the Maryland four yard line. The Terps did struggle against the run as they allowed 240 yards and a touchdown on 50 carries. However, they allowed only 60 yards and a touchdown through the air to USF, which helped them win this game. Sean Davis picked off two passes for Maryland with his second setting up a touchdown for the offense.

Maryland looked better this week, but they are going to be tested again next week against rival West Virginia with the game in Morgantown.

UNLV Rebels at Michigan Wolverines

Result: Michigan Win 28-7 (Saturday, September 19)

The Wolverines improved to 2-1 on the season, but it was not pretty once again. Jake Rudock went a paltry 14 of 22 for 123 yards with a touchdown an interception. The interception did not lead to anything, but it was Rudock’s fifth of the season – the same amount he threw in all of 2014.

The Michigan running game was strong against UNLV with 39 rushes for 254 yards and 3 touchdowns as a team. Ty Isaac led the way with 114 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries. The touchdown came on a nice 76 yard dash to the end zone. Jehu Chesson had one rush that resulted in a 36 yard touchdown while De’Veon Smith was held to 33 yards on 13 carries. Smith did catch a five yard touchdown as well.

The Michigan defense was stout again this week giving up 235 total yards with 143 through the air and 92 on the ground. The defense allowed only 88 yards of offense in the first half while Channing Stribling’s interception on the opening drive allowed the offense to get a head start early on.

Michigan has played well at home the last two weeks and the defense looks particularly stingy. They will have to be really good next week with BYU coming into the Big House.

Air Force Falcons at #4 Michigan State Spartans

Result: Michigan State Win 35-21  (Saturday, September 19)

Michigan State played well in the first half to race out to a big lead over Air Force, but there were some concerns out of this game. One of them was not Connor Cook.

Cook threw for 247 yards and 4 touchdowns on 15 of 23 passing and found a new favorite target in Aaron Burbridge, who had 8 catches for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns. R.J. Shelton had a solid game with 5 catches for 68 yards as well. The Spartans did not run the ball well at all with just 77 yards on 42 carries as a team. Madre London was the top rusher with 40 yards on 17 carries.

The defense gave up a lot of yards on the ground to Air Force, which is not really a surprise given the triple option offense they run. What was shocking was the amount of passing yards they gave up. Karson Roberts only went 6 of 9, but had 149 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Several of those completions showed wide open Air Force receivers including two passes to Jalen Robinette, who had no one around him. Considering Robinette is the biggest passing threat for Air Force, that is inexcusable for the Spartans.

The defense did play well for most of the first half as they built a 28-7 lead at the break. Kicker Michael Geiger had a kick blocked late in the second quarter on a low attempt.

Michigan State stays home for their final non-conference game with Central Michigan visiting.

Kent State Golden Flashes at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Result: Minnesota Win 10-7 (Saturday, September 19)

Minnesota struggled mightily against Kent State in a sloppy 10-7 win. Both teams struggled on offense (as if the score was not an indication) with neither team have more than 300 yards of total offense.

Mitch Leidner went 17 of 27 for 184 yards with a touchdown, but also threw 2 interceptions. Both of those picks were in the first half and did not result in points for Kent State. Rodney Smith had a hard time getting big chunks of yards as he finished with 73 yards on 30 carries.

The defense did very well in this game giving up only 142 yards with 63 through the air and 79 on the ground. Incredibly, the Kent State offense did not run a play in Minnesota territory until the fourth quarter.

One Kent State player who deserves a massive shout out is Demetrius Monday. Monday had both of Leidner’s interceptions and also returned a fumble 80 yards for a touchdown. He played incredible during this game.

Minnesota faces Ohio next week at home in their final non-conference game.

#23 Northwestern Wildcats at Duke Blue Devils

Result: Northwestern Win 19-10 (Saturday, September 19)

It was an ugly win for Northwestern on the road at Duke, but all wins count the same. A massive second half from the offense and special teams spurred them to a 3-0 record. The Northwestern offense had only 57 yards on their first nine drives, which encompassed the entire first half. Their first drive of the second half resulted in 53 yards and a field goal.

Clayton Thorson struggled at times and he finished the game going 9 of 23 with just 70 yards through the air. He also had 2 interceptions, both of which were poor decisions with multiple defenders in the area. Justin Jackson ran for 120 yards on 35 carries while Warren Long’s 55 yard touchdown run helped put the Wildcats up for good.

The defense gave up a touchdown early in the first quarter after an interception by Thorson, but they allowed just a field goal the rest of the game. Defensive end Dean Lowry had a big game and picked off a pass with Duke in the red zone late in the second quarter to keep it a 7-0 game. The defense allowed 327 yards of offense to Duke, but did not allow them to get into a rhythm at all during the game.

The special teams were also huge as Solomon Vault took the opening kick of the second half 98 yards to the house. They missed the extra point on the ensuing try, but Jack Mitchell was also two-for-two on his field goal attempts.

The Wildcats continue to be stifling on defense and will face Ball State at home next week.

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Miami Hurricanes

Result: Miami Win 36-33 in 1 overtime (Saturday, September 19)

This was an odd game. Miami looked well on their way to a big win as they led 33-10 early in the fourth quarter. Nebraska made a furious rally to tie the game at 33 and send the game into overtime. However, Nebraska fell short in overtime as they lost 36-33.

Nebraska could not get anything going in the first half as they tallied 137 yards of offense and only three points. Tommy Armstrong had another good game with 309 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions on 21 of 45 passing. He also ran for 49 yards on 11 carries while Terrell Newby had 82 yards on 14 rushes. Armstrong was able to lead Nebraska to 23 fourth quarter points including the game tying drive with an 8 yard pass to Stanley Morgan (had 4 catches for 78 yards and a score) and the 2 point conversion to Jordan Westerkamp (5 receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown).

The defense looked lost early on as they were blitzed in the first quarter with 17 points allowed on Miami’s first three drives. They were better in the fourth quarter as the team made its comeback. The defense allowed 511 yards in this game, but held the Hurricanes to 3 of 14 on third down.

Nebraska will have to find a way to bounce back off a second devastating loss this year and they have Southern Miss next week at home to help.

Northern Illinois Huskies at #1 Ohio State Buckeyes

Result: Ohio State Win 20-13 (Saturday, September 19)

Ohio State played an ugly game against Northern Illinois, but survived in their bid to win a second straight national title.

The quarterback play was uneven once again with Cardale Jones going 4 of 9 for 36 yards, but also had two interceptions. He was replaced by JT Barrett, who did better, but was also not overwhelming. He went 11 of 19 for 97 yards with 1 touchdown and an interception. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 108 yards on 23 carries while Michael Thomas was the top wide receiver with 3 catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. The Buckeyes put up only 298 yards of offense while they committed five turnovers that led to 10 NIU points. It was an incredibly poor performance and the Buckeyes also went only 2 of 13 on third down.

The defense was strong in this game allowing only 190 yards of offense to NIU with 80 through the air and 110 on the ground. Darron Lee had a 41 yard pick six that ultimately proved to be the game winning score. The defensive line was disruptive as well during the game as the defense bailed out a putrid offensive performance.

Sometimes a team just has to win and survive and that appears to be the case for Ohio State. They have another MAC team next week at home again in Western Michigan.

Virginia Tech Hokies at Purdue Boilermakers

Result: Virginia Tech Win 51-24 (Saturday, September 19)

Purdue had a massive test at home against Virginia Tech and were clearly not up to par, but did show some flashes on offense.

Austin Appleby struggled going 9 of 28 for 110 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Appleby also ran 13 times for only 11 yards, but had a rushing touchdown. Markell Jones had a big day thanks to his 60 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The offense did struggle against the Virginia Tech defense as they only converted 2 of 15 third down conversions and had three turnovers with the fumble being returned for a touchdown by Virginia Tech.

The defense struggled as well giving up 471 yards of offense and allowing 7 of 16 third down conversions to Virginia Tech. The defense did get a 90 yard fumble return for a touchdown via Danny Ezechukwu that gave Purdue a 14-10 lead. The special teams unit had a punt blocked and it was returned for a touchdown by Virginia Tech.

Purdue has another stiff test next week at home against Bowling Green. It will test their defense again with the high-powered Falcons offense.

Troy Trojans at #24 Wisconsin Badgers

Result: Wisconsin Win 28-3 (Saturday, September 19)

The Wisconsin Badgers were without Corey Clement for a second straight game due to a groin injury, but they had little trouble defeating Troy. The score was not flashy, but they were dominant particularly on defense.

Joel Stave was very efficient going 13 of 17 for 202 yards and a touchdown while also having a rushing touchdown from 4 yards out. Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale split carries in the absence of Clement. Deal led the team with 84 yards on 16 carries while Ogunbowale had 75 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Tanner McEvoy saw some action at quarterback in the wildcat and he had a nice 32 yard touchdown run to finish the day with 41 yards on 2 carries.

Alex Erickson was the leading receiver with 3 catches for 87 yards while Robert Wheelwright had 2 grabs for 50 yards. Tight End Austin Traylor had 2 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown with both of those catches coming late in the fourth quarter. The offense will need to work on the 3 for 10 on third down conversions, but there was more signs of life on the offensive line and in the running game.

The defense was stout with only 255 yards of offense given up. They held Troy to 81 yards rushing on 33 carries and 174 yards passing through the air. The defense forced only one turnover and allowed 7 of 16 on third down conversions. Overall, the defense was very good in this game.

Wisconsin has Hawaii next week at home in their final non-conference tune up.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Indiana Hoosiers

Result: Indiana Win 38-35 (Saturday, September 19)

Indiana had a massive third quarter that allowed them to win another shootout. They survived a 35 of 46 for 484 yards and 3 touchdowns passing performance from Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty.

The offense looked good for Indiana as Nate Sudfeld threw for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns on 20 of 27 passing. Jordan Howard ran wild with 203 yards on 31 carries and Devine Redding had 79 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Ricky Jones had his second 100 yard performance of the season with 5 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. The offense finished with 639 yards and went 8 of 12 on third down.

As usual, the defense is the worry for Indiana. They allowed 9 catches for 196 yards and a score from Taywan Taylor while Tyler Higbee had 11 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. They allowed a total of 568 yards of offense, but did force two interceptions out of Doughty that were turned into 14 points.

It will probably need to be the offense that gets the job done for Indiana as their defense will struggle. They face Wake Forest next week on the road in a big game for Indiana’s bowl hopes in 2015.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Penn State Nittany Lions

Result: Penn State Win 28-3 (Saturday, September 19)

The first Big Ten conference game of the season resulted in an easy win for the Nittany Lions. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was not overly impressive going just 10 of 19 for 141 yards with no touchdowns and a pick, but the rushing game sure was for PSU.

Saquon Barkley carried the ball 21 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns while Akeel Lynch ran for 120 yards and a score on just 10 carries. Those two were very impressive as was the offensive line that paved the way for them.

Rutgers, on the other hand, could not run the ball as they managed just 43 yards on 32 carries as a team. Chris Laviano had a little success through the air, but was largely stymied by the Penn State defense. Laviano finished 27 of 42 for 251 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Rutgers defense was not very good as they allowed 491 yards to Penn State.

Rutgers faces Kansas next week in their third non-conference game. Penn State takes on San Diego State at home next week.

Pittsburgh Panthers at Iowa Hawkeyes

Result: Iowa Win 27-24 (Saturday, September 19)

I was able to take a 10 point lead into halftime, but needed a last second, 57 yard field goal from Marshall Koehn to win the game 27-24.

C.J. Beathard had a decent game going 27 of 40 for 258 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. It largely fell on him to get the big plays as the rushing offense managed 105 yards on 29 carries. Jordan Canzeri had 12 carries for 49 yards and 2 scores while Beathard had 39 yards and a touchdown. Beathard led the Hawkeyes late in the game to set up Koehn’s 57 yard field goal.

The defense played a solid game giving up 282 yards and held the Panthers to just 55 yards on the ground. They forced two picks from Pittsburgh on their first two drives including one in the end zone. Desmond King came up with both of the interceptions and now has three on the season. The defense will be important for Iowa to continue strong start.

North Texas will visit next week in Iowa’s final non-conference game.

Check back next week for the round up of the Big Ten action in week four.

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.