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Wisconsin Badgers 2016-17 Football Season Report Card

T.J. Watt had a big 2017 finishing with a double digit sack total. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images North America)

Wisconsin Badgers 2016-17 Football Season Report Card

The Wisconsin Badgers have finished the 2016-17 season with a 24-16 win over the Western Michigan Broncos to end at 11-3 overall. It was another double digit win season for the Badgers as 2016 marked the sixth time in the last 8 years they have won at least 10 games.

We will give a grade to each unit on the team as well as an overall team grade and a grade for head coach Paul Chryst. For a measuring stick, here is the midseason report card and we will include the midseason grade for each unit below. Let’s start with a quick glance at the results of each game for the Badgers.

Wisconsin Results

Week 1 (9/3) – Defeated #5 LSU 16-14 (Green Bay, Wisconsin)

Week 2 (9/10) – Defeated Akron 54-10 (Home)

Week 3 (9/17) – Defeated Georgia State 23-17 (Home)

Week 4 (9/24) – Defeated Michigan State 30-6 (Away)

Week 5 (10/1) – Lost to Michigan 14-7 (Away)

Week 6 (10/8) – Bye

Week 7 (10/15) – Lost to Ohio State 30-23 in 1 OT (Home)

Week 8 (10/22) – Defeated Iowa 17-9 (Away)

Week 9 (10/29) – Defeated Nebraska 23-17 in 1 OT (Home)

Week 10 (11/5) – Defeated Northwestern 21-7 (Away)

Week 11 (11/12) – Defeated Illinois 48-3 (Home)

Week 12 (11/19) – Defeated Purdue 49-20 (Away)

Week 13 (11/26) – Defeated Minnesota 31-17 (Home)

Week 14 (12/3) – Lost to Penn State 38-31 (Big 10 Championship)

Bowl (1/2/17) – Defeated Western Michigan 24-16 (Cotton Bowl)

Head Coach Paul Chryst

Midseason Grade: B+

2016 was not an easy year for Paul Chryst in his second season. He had to juggle two quarterbacks, a new defensive coordinator, and what looked like a daunting schedule. Looking at the entire season, he did well switching between Bart Houston (began the season as the starter) and Alex Hornibrook.

The hire of Justin Wilcox as the defensive coordinator already looks like a steal. The Badgers allowed 13.7 points per game in 2015 and saw that increase only marginally to 15.6. The yardage allowed per game do go up from from 268.5 in 2015 to 301.4 yards per game. Still, the defense played well this year, but Wilcox has departed for the California Golden Bears’ head coaching vacancy. The Badgers will have their third defensive coordinator in three years for the 2017 season.

The schedule before the season looked imposing. They had LSU, Michigan State (away), Michigan (away), Ohio State, Nebraska, and the potential for a Big 10 Championship Game. The Badgers ended up facing 7 teams that were ranked in the top 15 at the time of the game for the 2016-17 and went 4-3 in those games. Granted, some of those teams were far from being top 25 material by season’s end, but the Badgers navigated the season well under Chryst.

Final Grade: B+

Quarterbacks

Midseason Grade: C-

Bart Houston began the season as starter, but was replaced in the Georgia State contest by Hornibrook. After that game, the duo split time behind center though Hornibrook was injured versus Minnesota and subsequently missed the Big 10 Championship game. Many pundits lament the two quarterback system, but these two actually worked pretty well though they were far from game changers.

We noted that on the midseason report card that Hornibrook had looked like the better of the two quarterbacks after five games. By the end of the season it was far more even as Houston gained confidence and was more efficient. Houston finished the year with 1,245 yards (68.1%) with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. After being benched versus Georgia State and not playing the next three games, Houston threw 70 passes and completing 52 of those (74%) for 718 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 pick.

Hornibrook finished the season with 1,262 yards (58.6%) with 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. In the Badgers’ final eight games, he went 52 of 85 (61%) with 4 touchdowns against 1 interception (remember he missed the Big 10 Championship). He has some things to work on like his reads, throwing the ball into coverage, etc., but he has a bright future as long as he continues to improve.

Final Grade: C+

Running Backs

Midseason Grade: B

It is not hard to see how the running game changed over the Badgers’ season. Over the first five games Wisconsin averaged 161.6 yards per game on the ground. In the final 9 games the Badgers averaged 226.1 yards rushing per game. Corey Clement easily led the team in rushing with 1,375 yards (4.4 yards per carry) with 15 touchdowns. In addition, the final 9 games saw Clement have at least 100 yard performances 7 times.

Dare Ogunbowale had a few big games against Nebraska (120 yards and a touchdown) and Illinois (103 yards) to finish with 506 yards (5.6 YPC) and five touchdowns. He also played a big role in the passing game with 24 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown, but it felt like he was a go to receiver on third down for much of the year.

Both Clement and Ogunbowale are seniors, which means that freshman Bradrick Shaw could feature prominently in the future. He had 457 yards and 5 touchdowns on 88 carries (5.2 YPC). He did have some fumble issues, but his strength, power, and quickness could make for a scary sight in the next few seasons. He could be in a backfield with Taiwan Deal (164 yards rushing) and Pittsburgh transfer Chris James (690 yards rushing in two seasons) in 2017.

Wide receiver Jazz Peavy had a big impact in the rushing game as well. He was used almost exclusively on the end around to finish the season with 318 yards rushing and a touchdown on just 21 carries (15.1 YPC). He came up big throughout the season when called upon and he could see a familiar role in 2017.

Final Grade: A-

Wide Receivers

Midseason Grade: B-

As with any run-heavy Badger offense, the wide receivers are not likely to put up big numbers. There were some stars that emerged in Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli. Peavy finished as the leading receiver with 43 catches for 635 yards and 5 touchdowns (along with the aforementioned rushing impact). Fumagalli had 47 catches for 580 yards and 2 touchdowns, but bookended his season with very good performances against LSU (7 catches for 100 yards) and Western Michigan (6 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown). Both players are juniors and if either of them leave for the NFL, that would create a big void in the passing attack.

Ogunbowale was instrumental in the passing game, but he will move on as a senior. Robert Wheelwright caught 34 passes for 448 yards and 1 touchdown, but is a senior. George Rushing had just 12 catches for 136 yards and was spotty throughout the season. With more consistency he could be a possible #2 opposite of Peavy, but he has a ways to go to fill that void.

Three freshmen who saw some playing time in 2016 and worth keeping an eye on in their development were Kyle Penniston (6 catches for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns), Quintez Cephus (135 total offensive yards), and A.J. Taylor (72 total offensive yards).

Final Grade: B-

Offensive Line

Midseason Grade: C+

The offensive line had a slow start this season. Injuries and new quarterbacks hurt them. It took until after the Michigan game for the line to assert itself. The first five games saw the Badgers average just 3.8 yards per carry while that number shot up to 4.6 yards per carry over the final nine games. For the season, the Badgers averaged 4.3 yards per carry, which was better than 2015’s number of 3.8, but still less than the lowest output between 2009 and 2014 of 4.6. Tackle Ryan Ramczyk was named as a first team All-American. Ramczyk will move on to the NFL creating a massive void to refill.

The offensive line had allowed 8 sacks in the first five games, but gave up another 16 the final 9 games to make it 24 on the season. To be fair, the sacks are not always the fault of the line and both Houston and Hornibrook had a tendency to hold on to the ball too long from time to time. In 2015, the Badgers allowed 23 sacks. The offensive line did make good progress over the course of the season particularly in the running game.

Final Grade: B

Overall Offensive Grade

Midseason Grade: C+

There was a clear change in the offense between the Michigan and Ohio State games. It is worth mentioning that between those games was the Wisconsin bye week, which probably allowed them to re-focus the offense. The running game came alive after the bye week while Houston looked more efficient. The Badgers averaged 28.4 points, 382.1 yards, 203.1 rushing yards, and 179.1 passing yards per game. The total yardage was similar to 2015 (378.6 per game), but the emphasis was more on the run (150.3 yards rushing per game), which was not surprising given a new quarterback.

The offense will need to work on being far more efficient in the red zone. They had 58 red zone trips and converted 49 of those into points (84.4%), which ranked 63rd in the country. However, only 37 of those trips resulted in a touchdown (63.8%). This is a big area of improvement for the Badgers in 2017.

Final Grade: B

Defensive Line/Linebackers

Midseason Grade: A+

The linebackers had a great year in 2016 led by the T.J. duo. T.J. Watt led the team in sacks (11.5) and tackles-for-loss (15.5). His partner T.J. Edwards led the team in total tackles with 89 while also recording 3 sacks and 8.5 tackles-for-loss. Jack Cichy was on his way to a stellar year after 7 games before a torn pectoral ruled him out the rest of the season. Cichy recorded 60 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles-for-loss. Ryan Connelly (59 tackles and 7 TFL), Garret Dooley (40 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 6.5 TFL), and Vince Biegel (44 tackles, 4 sacks, and 6 TFL) were big contributors to an incredible linebacker group.

Only Biegel is a senior though Watt (a second team All-American) or Edwards could bolt for the NFL after stellar campaigns. Chris Orr will also return after missing 2016 with a torn ACL.

Defensive ends Connor Sheehy and Alec James, both juniors, had similar seasons on the stat line. Sheehy had 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4 tackles-for-loss while James finished with 23 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles-for-loss. Also returning on the defensive line are Chikwe Obasih (31 career starts along with 22 tackles in 2016), and Olive Sagapolu (14 tackles and 1 sack).

The possibility of everyone outside of Biegel returning is tantalizing, but the NFL is a loud call this time of year. Still, the front seven should be a deep and talented group for the Badgers next season.

Final Grade: A+

Defensive Backs

Midseason Grade: A-

One clear area of regression as the season went on was in the secondary. Perhaps the Georgia State game was a sign of things to come for the final few games, particularly the Big 10 Championship. The Panthers were able to put up 269 yards through the air that day and a few other teams had some success as well. Northwestern threw for 277 (they played from behind the whole game), Purdue had going deep, and then Penn State gashed the back four with ease in the second half.

Sojourn Shelton had 4 picks and 12 pass breakups (most on the team) while Leo Musso recorded 74 tackles and 5 interceptions (led the team). Derrick Tindal had 3 picks and 11 pass breakups and Lubern Figaro finished with 7 pass breakups.

Tindall and Figaro will both be seniors in 2017 as will D’Cota Dixon (60 tackles and 4 interceptions) and Natrell Jamerson (mainly a return guy, but he did have 19 tackles and 4 pass breakups). Those four, along with others, will need to step up to replace Shelton and Musso. This group faltered down the stretch and in the pivotal second half of the Big 10 Championship Game versus Penn State. Look out to see if the secondary plays with a chip on their shoulder in the next year after how they finished the season.

Final Grade: B

Overall Defensive Grade

Midseason Grade: A

The defense did play very well for most of the season. The secondary had documented struggles, but they did play well for stretches of the season. The linebackers led the way for this side of the ball and there were some stars we hope return in 2017 to make this another top defense in the nation.

Final Grade: A-

Special Teams Grade

Midseason Grade: B

The loss of Rafael Gaglianone in late September really hurt then, but after seeing the season play out, that is even more evident now. Gaglianone went 7 of 8 on his field goals and was a perfect 10 for 10 on extra points. Andrew Endicott replaced him and from the start was uneasy. He finished the season 13 of 19 with a long of 46 yards. He made 35 of 37 extra points, but even a few of those were barely inside the uprights. Gaglianone will be back in 2017, which will be a boost to the kicking game.

The punting game left some room for improvement. Anthony Lotti averaged 37.7 yards per punt and put 25 punts inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, but he had a few games where he struggled (see the Michigan game). P.J. Rosowski averaged 36.7 yards per punt and also handled kickoff duties. He had 79 kickoffs with 51 touchbacks and just one kick go out of bounds. Lotti was only a freshman in 2016 so he will have a few seasons left as Badgers to get better.

Natrell Jamerson had 12 kick returns for an average of 21.1 yards per return while Dare Ogunbowale had 10 returns for an average of 21.3 yards per return. Jamerson had a long of 39 and Ogunbowale had a long of 41 and neither had a touchdown. Jazz Peavy returned punts for the Badgers and averaged a paltry 5.8 yards per return on 17 returns. The Badgers can afford to work on the return game going into the 2017 season.

Final Grade: C+

Overall Team Grade

Midseason Grade: B+

2016 was a very good year for the Wisconsin Badgers. Expectations were subdued with the loss of Joel Stave, Alex Erickson, Michael Caputo, and Tanner McEvoy among others. A new starting quarterback turned into two new starters at that position and both players handled it well.

The running game got off to a slow start, but turned it on after the bye week. In turn, the quarterbacks performed more efficiently and the team was able to shake off back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State to claim the Big 10 West. The defense had breakout stars in T.J. Watt and T.J. Edwards under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox while Corey Clement remained healthy to have a solid season.

Overall, it is hard to argue with the results produced by the Badgers. Many (including this author) thought 10 wins were out of the question, but the Badgers did one better than that and won their first Cotton Bowl.

Final Grade: A

2015 Week 5 Big Ten Roundup

Illinois celebrates their victory, as Nebraska suffers another crushing last-minute loss. ( Michael Hickey/Getty Images North America)
Illinois celebrates their victory, as Nebraska suffers another crushing last-minute loss. ( Michael Hickey/Getty Images North America)

2015 Week 5 Big Ten Roundup

The Big Ten started conference play in Week 5 with six conference games. Only Penn State (at home versus Army) and Rutgers (idle) did not play a conference game. A look at each game is below.

Purdue Boilermakers at #2 Michigan State Spartans

Result: Michigan State Win 24-21 (Saturday, October 3)

In a theme across the Big Ten, it was a day of concern for some teams and that includes the second ranked Michigan State Spartans.

The Spartans looked well on their way to an easy win with their rushing game leading them to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. That was the score at halftime, but the offense sputtered to just 3 points the final 40 minutes of the game. The offense lost one fumble and missed a field goal on back-to-back possessions that led to 14 points for Purdue.

Connor Cook had a pedestrian game going 13 of 19 for 139 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 48 yards on just 5 carries. LJ Scott had a big game, particularly in the first half with 146 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries. Madre London got his share of playing time with 17 carries for 97 yards.

The Michigan State defense forced three turnovers in the first half, but did not force any in the second half. One drive did begin right outside the red zone, which was not the fault of the defense. They were susceptible to the big play at times as well.

Purdue could not get anything going on offense in the first half due largely to their turnovers. The second half saw the narrative completely flip and the offense looked much more comfortable. Two of their touchdown drives went for 79 and 80 yards while Markell Jones had a big day including a long touchdown on one of those. He rushed for 157 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries while David Blough looked okay going 15 of 31 for 136 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 pick.

If Purdue’s defense can play each game like they did in the second half, they will be a tough opponent for the rest of the season.

Purdue faces Minnesota next week at home while Michigan State takes their perfect record on the road to face Rutgers.

Minnesota Golden Gophers at #16 Northwestern Wildcats

Result: Northwestern Win 27-0 (Saturday, October 3)

This game was all about defense, specifically Northwestern’s defense.

The Northwestern defense stymied Minnesota at every turn. The Gophers could only managed 173 yards of offense the entire game with 99 through the air and 74 on the ground. Minnesota converted only 4 of 16 third downs and were 0 of 4 on fourth down. It was a dominating performance from Northwestern on defense.

Mitch Leidner was ineffective going 10 of 21 for 72 yards with an interception. Shannon Brooks mustered just 33 yards rushing on 10 carries while Rodney Smith had just 32 yards on 11 carries.

Northwestern’s offense was not out of this world, but they were effective. Clayton Thorson looked better this week going 14 of 19 for 128 yards. He also had 2 rushing touchdowns and was once again aided by Justin Jackson’s running attack. Jackson had 120 yards on 20 carries.

Anthony Walker was responsible for a 13 yard fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown to put the exclamation point on the defense dominance Northwestern showed.

Minnesota will face Purdue next week on the road in a game that will need to see the offense have some sort of spark. Northwestern will go to Ann Arbor to face Michigan in what is setting up to be a classic Big Ten defensive struggle.

Iowa Hawkeyes at #19 Wisconsin Badgers

Result: Iowa Win 10-6 (Saturday, October 3)

If you are a fan of defense, this was the game for you. That is in large part due to the inept offenses that both Iowa and Wisconsin provided in this contest.

Wisconsin never seemed comfortable at any point in this game on offense. They were able to get a field goal on their opening drive, but only were able to get 3 points the rest of the way. Joel Stave had 234 yards passing on 21 of 38 attempts, but had two interceptions and lost two fumbles including one at the Iowa one yard line.

The rushing attack was virtually non-existent for Wisconsin. They had 86 yards on 34 carries as a team and Taiwan Deal was the top back with only 59 yards on 15 carries.

The one positive for Wisconsin was their defense and Joe Schobert shined. He made tackles, constantly was in the backfield, had two forced fumbles, and also recovered one of those forced fumbles. He was in full beast mode, but unfortunately his performance was wasted in the loss.

As bad as Wisconsin was on offense, Iowa was worse and still managed to win this game. C.J. Beathard had only 77 yards passing on 9 of 21 passing. He had a touchdown pass late in the second quarter, but also threw a pick that was intercepted by Michael Caputo. Jordan Canzeri was a workhorse with 125 yards rushing on 26 carries.

The Iowa defense gave up 320 yards of offense, but they stood tall when put up against their backs. They forced four turnovers including several that kept points off the board. They also held the Badgers to 3 field goal attempts with them going 2 of 3 on those kicks. Desmond King had the two interceptions and he was impressive in coverage.

Iowa improved to 5-0 with this win and they will continue their Big Ten schedule with Illinois at home next week. Wisconsin has a tough road trip to Nebraska in another crucial Big Ten West matchup.

#22 Michigan Wolverines at Maryland Terrapins

Result: Michigan Win 28-0 (Saturday, October 3)

Michigan’s defense continues to look impressive this year with another shutout performance.

The Michigan offense was okay, but they did not have to do much with their defense continuing to shut down the opponents. Jake Rudock went 16 of 32 for 180 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Drake Johnson was the main running back with 13 carries for 68 yards and a score, but a plethora of others got a chance to run the ball. Jehu Chesson had a wonderful 66 yard touchdown run for his only rushing attempt of the game.

The story, though, is about the defense and the Maryland offense. Maryland put up a total of 105 yards of offense for the entire game! They were an awful 1 of 18 on third down. The quarterbacks combined to go 10 of 36 passing for 76 yards with 3 interceptions. Brandon Ross had 44 yards on 14 rushes, but the rest of the team was so bad they finished with 29 yards rushing on 26 attempts as a team. All of those stats are a combination of Michigan’s defense and Maryland’s offense.

Michigan has a big defensive battle next week at home against Northwestern. Maryland has to face Ohio State at home with the hope that they can get something, anything positive going.

Army Black Knights at Penn State Nittany Lions

Result: Penn State Win 20-14 (Saturday, October 3)

Penn State was the only Big Ten team in action to not play another conference member. They took on Army in an offensive struggle for them again. To be fair, the Nittany Lions were without their top two running backs.

Christian Hackenberg went 10 of 19 for 156 yards and a touchdown through the air. Nick Scott led the rushing attack with 12 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown. Chris Godwin was the top received easily with 4 catches for 66 yards. The offense only converted on 5 of 15 third downs, but did not turn the ball over.

The defense had some issues against the triple-option, but played well in the first half. They recovered three fumbles that the offense was able to convert into 10 points. The second half is when they struggled against the option giving up two touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer. Perhaps they were beginning to wear down against the run, as Army had 55 rushing attempts and only 1 passing attempt for the entire game.

Penn State faces Indiana at home next week in their second Big Ten game. They beat Rutgers two weeks ago 28-3 in their conference opener.

#1 Ohio State Buckeyes at Indiana Hoosiers

Result: Ohio State Win 34-27 (Saturday, October 3)

The Big Ten opener for both Ohio State and Indiana showed both teams quite a bit on both sides of the ball.

For Ohio State, the offense continued to look disheveled at times, but they did get back to one tenant that made them so good in 2014: pound the rock with Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott was explosive against Indiana with 274 yards and 3 touchdowns on 3 touchdowns. Elliott’s touchdown runs were from 55, 65, and 75 yards and helped to repel the upset bid of Indiana.

Cardale Jones went 18 of 27 for 245 yards with 1 touchdown and a pick, but also looked bad at times. He will have to play way better for Ohio State to repeat this year. Jalin Marshall had 6 catches for 110 yards, but also lost 2 fumbles.

The defense was not great against Indiana, but they got the job done. They held the Hoosiers to 17 of 36 passing (226 yards) and also allowed only 176 yards on 55 carries (3.2 average). They did not force a turnover, but held Indiana to only 7 of 22 on third downs. This is another part of the team that will need to improve from this game.

For Indiana, this was actually a solid game. They were ultimately hurt by injuries that may have prevented them from the upset, but that is part of the game.

Nate Sudfeld left the game with an ankle injury, but went 10 of 21 for 134 yards and did not have a turnover. Star running back Jordan Howard ran for only 34 yards on 14 carries before he too suffered an ankle injury.

Zander Diamont had a solid game in place of Sudfeld going 6 of 14 for 76 yards. He was also elusive when running the ball with 7 carries for 98 yards and a score. That touchdown run was a 79 yarder that made the game 34-27 with 10 minutes left to play. Devine Redding carried a bulk of the load with Howard gone. He had 30 carries for only 45 yards, but two went for touchdowns.

Ultimately, it was the defense that struggled for Indiana and cost them the game with those long runs by Elliott. It is a common theme for the Hoosiers, but if they can improve slightly over the course of the final 7 games, they could win 7 or 8 games and improve their bowl slot.

Ohio State will have a chance to remedy some of their issues next week against Maryland at home. Indiana will face Penn State on the road next week.

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Illinois Fighting Illini

Result: Illinois Win 14-13 (Saturday, October 3)

Nebraska suffered another heartbreaking loss in a theme that has been all too common for the Husker faithful this year.

Let’s start with Illinois on offense, which had opportunity after opportunity to score early in the game. A muffed punt gave them a chance to get points, but they missed a field goal. They were stopped on fourth and one at the Nebraska 10 and missed another field goal on the next two drives.

The Illini finally broke through early in the fourth quarter with a 22 yard touchdown pass from Wes Lunt to Marchie Murdock. Lunt also threw a touchdown pass on fourth down to Geronimo Allison with seconds left to tie the game before the extra point gave them the win. Lunt finished the game going 23 of 45 for 251 yards with those two touchdown passes.

The Illini were hurt on offense when Josh Ferguson left in the first quarter due to injury. He had 4 carries for 50 yards prior to that. Ke’Shawn Vaughn ended up getting most of the carries the rest of the way finishing with 98 yards on 24 rushes.

Nebraska will rue the loss, but there is plenty of blame to go around. Tommy Armstrong went a putrid 10 of 31 for 105 yards with an interception. He also had 8 rushes for 38 yards while Devine Ozigbo had 7 rushes for 70 yards and a score. The offense went 4 of 17 on third down and also had 2 turnovers with neither coming back to haunt them.

Nebraska falls to 2-3 and has a good game next week against Wisconsin at home. Illinois moved to 4-1 and has to go to Iowa in another Big Ten West clash that could determine the winner by season’s end.

The Week 6 edition will be up next Sunday so be sure to check back for thoughts on the game’s from next weekend.

2015 Big Ten Week 1 Roundup

It was not a good day for Christian Hackenberg and Penn State in their opening game. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images North America)
It was not a good day for Christian Hackenberg and Penn State in their opening game. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images North America)

2015 Big Ten Week 1 Roundup

Below are some thoughts from each game that a Big Ten team participated in from the opening week of College Football. One thing to keep in mind is that was only week one, which means there is plenty of room for improvement for both winners and losers in the game.

Michigan Wolverines at Utah Utes

Result: Utah Win 24-17 (Thursday, September 3)

The most visible thing about Michigan’s opening week loss and Jim Harbaugh’s debut to Utah was the three interceptions by quarterback Jake Rudock. His most egregious was the pick 6 he threw midway through the fourth quarter that gave Utah a 24-10 lead.

Outside of the interceptions, Rudock played solidly. He missed some wide open throws, but his touchdown pass to Jake Butt late in the third quarter (into triple coverage) showed he has the ability to make good. Speaking of Butt, he had a good game by making 8 receptions for 93 yards. Also playing well was Amara Darboh, who had 8 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Another concern for Michigan was the running game and offensive line. The Wolverines gained just 76 yards on 29 carries as a team for only a 2.6 yards per carry average. The offensive line also has issues getting a good push, especially in short yardage situation.

Overall, it was not the worst start for Michigan. There were positives and they have three consecutive home games versus Oregon State, UNLV, and BYU.

#2 TCU Horned Frogs at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Result: TCU Win 23-17 (Thursday, September 3)

There is a lot to take out of this game for Minnesota. They played a top ranked offense from 2014 and held them to 23 points and forced two turnovers.

The Gophers were able to get a solid game from Rodney Smith, who ran for 88 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. That was good considering their opponent and they lost David Cobb from last year’s squad. Mitch Leidner played well with 197 yards and 1 touchdown through the air, but he also lost a fumble midway through the first quarter that led to a TCU touchdown. One final note is that Rodrick Williams had a fumble as he was about to score that cost the Gophers points.

Then there was the Gophers’ defense that played a bend, but do not break style. They gave up 449 yards to TCU’s offense and were able to get an interception off Trevone Boykin that stopped a scoring threat. They also forced a fumble inside their own red zone to save more points. It was a really good performance for Minnesota given how many yards they allowed.

Minnesota will be on the road next week to play Colorado State.

#5 Michigan State Spartans at Western Michigan Broncos

Result: Michigan State Win 37-24 (Friday, September 4)

Michigan State had a tricky game to open the season against a talented Western Michigan squad. Connor Cook looked good throwing for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns, but completed only 15 of 31 passes. The running game for the Spartans looked really good between freshman LJ Scott (13 carries for 77 yards), Madre London (13 carries for 59 yards and 2 touchdowns), and Gerald Holmes (9 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown). Aaron Burbridge had an excellent showing at wide receiver catching 4 passes for 117 yards.

There will probably be some worry about Michigan State giving up 24 points to Western Michigan, but the duo of quarterback Zach Terrell and running back Jarvion Franklin are good. The Spartans were solid in the running game holding Franklin to just 23 yards on 8 carries before he left midway through the third quarter with a head injury. Overall, the Spartans allowed only 18 yards on 23 carries. The Spartans did give up over 100 yards to the receiving couple of Corey Davis (10 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown) and Daniel Braverman (13 catches for 109 yards). However, the Spartans played well on the road and shut down the running game forcing the Broncos to play catch up.

Michigan State has a massive game next weekend against Oregon at home.

#21 Stanford Cardinal at Northwestern Wildcats

Result: Northwestern Win 16-6 (Saturday, September 5)

The high point for the Big Ten was right around 2 PM Central Time on Saturday with Northwestern’s 16-6 victory over Stanford. It was a dominating performance from the Wildcats in a statement game for a team that is coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons.

The Wildcats decided to let freshman Clayton Thorson handle the quarterback duties and he played mistake-free in his first start. He threw for 105 yards on 12 of 24 passing, but was impressive with a 42 yard dash for the lone touchdown of the game. He finished with 8 carries for 68 yards and that touchdown. Also helping Thorson out was running back Justin Jackson, who had 28 carries for 134 yards.

On both sides of the ball, Northwestern was the more physical and dominant team. The Wildcats rushed for 225 yards as a team compared to just 85 for Stanford. The defense for Northwestern had a rough first drive giving up 64 yards and a field goal, but were clearly best after that. The defense was led by Anthony Walker’s impressive performance. He finished with 10 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and 2 pass breakups.

Northwestern already looks like a handful after one game, but it is useful to remember that is has been only one game. The Wildcats have Eastern Illinois at home next weekend.

Illinois State Redbirds at Iowa Hawkeyes

Result: Iowa Win 31-14 (Saturday, September 5)

Most games against FCS competition do not yield much in the way of impressions, but this is different. Illinois State made the FCS National Championship in 2014, but lost narrowly to North Dakota State 29-27. They have a high powered offense, but were held to just 14 points and 231 yards.

C.J. Beathard looked good for Iowa going 15 of 24 for 211 yards and 1 touchdown. His top two targets were Jordan Canzeri (4 catches for 80 yards) and Matt VandeBerg (6 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown). The nice surprise was LeShun Daniels‘ 123 rushing yards on 26 carries.

The defense was very good for Iowa until the final quarter. They gave up 152 yards in the fourth quarter as well as the 14 points that Illinois State scored. However, they were able shut down Tre Roberson, who had just 49 yards on 5 of 12 passing before leaving with cramps. Marshaun Coprich had only 32 on 13 carries.

Yes, it was only the FCS Illinois State Redbirds, but this was a good start. Iowa has an in-state rivalry game next week on the road at Iowa State.

Richmond Spiders at Maryland Terrapins

Result: Maryland Win 50-21 (Saturday, September 5)

Maryland took a while to get going against Richmond, but eventually all phases of the games got in gear. Quarterback Perry Hills had an okay game going 12 of 21 for 138 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.

The running game was excellent for the Terps by gaining 341 yards on 45 carries and scored 3 touchdowns. Brandon Ross led the team 150 yards and a touchdown, Ty Johnson had 83 yards and 1 touchdown, and Wes Brown ran for 74 yards and a touchdown.

The star on Saturday for Maryland was return man William Likely. He had 2 kickoff returns for 63 yards, but did his damage on punt returns. He had 8 returns for 233 yards including a 67 yard return for a touchdown.

The defense is a bit of a concern having given up a lot of yards in the first half, but they settled down nicely in the final 30 minutes. The Terps will be playing Bowling Green next week at home.

Norfolk State Spartans at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Result: Rutgers Win 63-13 (Saturday, September 5)

Of all the games this weekend, this was the hardest to decipher if anything significant happened. Rutgers demolished a sub par Norfolk State team, but they looked good doing it. Both quarterbacks were excellent with Chris Laviano going a perfect 4 for 4 with 138 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hayden Rettig threw for 110 yards and a touchdown on 9 of 11 passing. Neither passer hurt their chances of winning the job against Norfolk State.

Josh Hicks ran the ball well with 118 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries while Paul James had 15 carries for 82 yards. Leonte Carroo had a field day by catching 3 passes for 129 yards and 3 touchdowns.

The defense was pretty solid after giving up 75 yards and a touchdown to start the game. For the game, Rutgers allowed only 196 yards and actually held Norfolk State to -3 yards rushing.

It was a good performance given the Scarlet Knights dismissed 5 players from the team. Rutgers will be at home next week with Washington State coming to town.

Kent State Golden Flashes at Illinois Fighting Illini

Result: Illinois Win 52-3 (Saturday, September 5)

Another Big Ten team that was in turmoil to start the season was Illinois. They were originally scheduled to play on Friday night, but constant lightning forced the game to Saturday afternoon. That proved to be no issues as the Illini crushed Kent State.

Wes Lunt was efficient by throwing for 162 yards and 4 touchdowns on 11 of 19 passing. The offense scored touchdowns on both of the first 2 drives courtesy of Lunt’s arm. Josh Ferguson ran for 76 yards and a touchdown to lead the Illini while Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 43 yards and a score. 10 different receivers caught a pass with the most catches by one player being 2 (four different receivers had two catches). Geronimo Allison led the team in receiver with 57 yards and a touchdown on 2 catches.

The defense was determined for Illinois as they forced 4 turnovers and allowed only 245 yards. Mason Monheim, Eaton Spence, and Taylor Barton were the trio that picked off passes. V’Angelo Bentley looked dangerous in the return game with 3 punt returns for 85 yards with a long of 48.

The Illini showed no effects of losing Tim Beckman as their head coach and Bill Cubit had them ready. They will take on Western Illinois at home next week.

Penn State Nittany Lions at Temple Owls

Result: Temple Win 27-10 (Saturday, September 5)

This game marked a negative turning point for the Big Ten for the opening weekend. Penn State was out of sorts against Temple as they suffered a bad defeat.

By now, most people know how this went. The offensive line was horrendous by giving up 10 sacks. Christian Hackenberg had no time to throw and it showed by his stat line of 11 completions on 25 attempts for 103 yards and an interception. That interception was a terrible throw by Hackenberg that nearly resulted in a pick 6. The Owls did score a touchdown as a result.

Akeel Lynch was decent for Penn State by gaining 78 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Brandon Polk was electric on his two carries with a total of 50 yards including a 33 yarder. The Nittany Lions finished the game with 77 yards rushing and only 180 yards of total offense.

Penn State’s defense was not terrible early on was they forced 4 punts and a fumble to start the game. They did give up a 93 yard drive that ended in a touchdown for Temple in the second quarter. The second half was much worse as they were constantly on the field.

Penn State has a chance to fix their issues next week at home with Buffalo going to Happy Valley.

BYU Cougars at Nebraska Cornhuskers

Result: BYU Win 33-28 (Saturday, September 5)

The Penn State game was bad for the Big Ten, but the ending to this game was brutal. A Hail Mary by BYU’s Tanner Mangum fell into the waiting arms of Mitch Mathews for the 33-28 win and a crushing blow to Nebraska in Mike Riley’s Nebraska debut.

Nebraska’s offense was pretty good especially Tommy Armstrong. He threw for 319 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception on 24 of 41 passing. The Cornhuskers ran for 126 yards as a team, but Terrell Newby was the high mark at 43 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Jordan Westerkamp was all over the field with 7 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Reilly also had 5 catches for 70 yards.

The real issue for Nebraska, as it has been for many years now, was the defense. They allowed 511 yards to BYU and that includes a stretch when the Cougars were without Taysom Hill. It has to be disconcerting to see Nebraska’s defense constantly be unable to finish a game. Another worrisome issue has to be kicker Drew Brown, who missed both of his field goals on Saturday.

Nebraska welcomes South Alabama to Lincoln next week.

Southern Illinois Salukis at Indiana Hoosiers

Result: Indiana Win 48-47 (Saturday, September 5)

Indiana did everything they could to not win against Southern Illinois, but managed to win 48-47 thanks to stopping a 2 point conversion in the final minute of the game.

The Indiana offense was scoring at will with Nate Sudfeld throwing for 349 yards and a touchdown. UAB transfer Jordan Howard ran for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns and wide receiver Ricky Jones caught 6 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown.

As usual, the worry is all about the defense for Indiana. They allowed a whopping 659 yards off offense including 411 through the air. Mark Iannotti threw for all 411 of those yards as well as 4 touchdowns on 24 of 31 passing. He also led the Salukis in rushing with 106 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries bringing his offensive yardage total up to 517 for the game.

The Hoosiers did have 9 players suspended for the game on Saturday, but defense has been an issue for a while. The defense will need to get better in a hurry as they face Florida International at home next week.

#20 Wisconsin Badgers versus #3 Alabama Crimson Tide

Result: Alabama Win 35-17 (Saturday, September 5)

The main showcase for the Big Ten on Saturday was Wisconsin and Alabama squaring off in Arlington, Texas. It was not a good showing for Wisconsin as they wilted in the second half.

The Badgers were crushed in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They managed just 40 yards rushing on 21 carries for the entire game with Alex Erickson’s 25 yard rush making him the leading rusher. Corey Clement had 16 yards on 8 carries, but was hampered by injuries that caused him to miss significant playing time.

Despite the poor rushing performance, the Badgers got to see a pretty good game out of Joel Stave. He went 26 of 39 for 228 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception (which came late in the fourth quarter with the outcome determined). He still has a good target in Alex Erickson, who also led the team in receiving with 73 yards and a touchdown on 6 grabs.

The defense for Wisconsin gave up 502 yards, but the game was all about Derrick Henry for Alabama. He ran 147 yards and 3 touchdowns on 13 carries and made the Badgers’ defenders look silly. The defense will need to get much better, especially on the line. It is also worth noting that safety Michael Caputo left after getting hit in the had making a tackle in the first half.

The Badgers get some serious competition relief with Miami (OH) going to Madison next week. The Badgers will be delighted to have them in town to work on their issues.

Purdue Boilermakers at Marshall Thundering Herd

Result: Marshall Win 41-31 (Sunday, September 6)

Purdue continued the Big Ten’s downward slide, but they had a chance to pull the upset as a touchdown underdog. A couple of interceptions thrown by Austin Appleby were returned for a pick six. The first happened on the opening play of the game and the other happened as the Boilermakers were mounting a drive to have a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Both times it was Tiquan Lang who brought the ball back to the house for Marshall.

If you take away the two pick sixes, Appleby played pretty well. He went 29 of 45 for 244 yards with 1 touchdown and he also had another touchdown on the ground on a sneak. He made smart decisions for the most part (again outside of the two pick sixes). He did throw two other interceptions with one coming late in the game after the pick 6 put the game beyond a doubt.

DeAngelo Yancey led the team in receiving with 5 catches for 78 yards while Anthony Mahoungou was second with 4 catches for 59 yards. Nine different receivers caught a pass for Purdue, which is good news for the depth.

The rushing game for Purdue was good with D.J. Knox leading the team with 102 yards and a touchdown while making himself very difficult to tackle. Markell Jones ran for 72 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries as well. Overall, the offense seemed to have a good rhythm going between the two pick sixes, but it fell apart with those turning points.

The defense was okay for Purdue. They gave up 397 yards, but were able to recover two fumbles and got an interception. However, the interception was squandered by the offense with a missed field goal. In crunch time, the defense allowed Marshall to go down the field on an 11 play, 84 yard drive to make it a 34-31 lead for Marshall. It was a decent performance that is better than the 41 points would indicate.

Purdue faces Indiana State at home next weekend.

#1 Ohio State Buckeyes at Virginia Tech Hokies

Result: Ohio State Win 42-24 (Monday, September 7)

Ohio State ended the bad run for the Big Ten, but they were not without some nervous moments. The Buckeyes rushed out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a touchdown pass from Cardale Jones and an 80 yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. After that, the offense stalled for the rest of the first half thanks to adjustments by Virginia Tech and turnovers. Virginia Tech came back to scored 17 unanswered points while the Hokies took a 17-14 lead at halftime.

Elliott finished the game with 122 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, but the game plan was not conducive to him running a lot. Jones settled down after his interception and finished with 186 yards and 2 touchdowns on 9 of 18 passing. He also ran the ball for 99 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

The biggest performance came from former quarterback Braxton Miller who was in the wildcat and catching passes. His first catch was an excellent diving grab for 24 yards before he caught a 54 yard touchdown pass early in the second half. Then there was his incredible spin on a rushing play that went for 53 yards and a touchdown. JT Barrett also saw action in the fourth quarter at quarterback. He had a 26 yard touchdown pass and also had a nice run of 40 yards.

The offense was solid early and in the second half, but Jones will need to cut down on the turnovers and bad decisions (his interception was tipped and intercepted on a bad decision to throw). The Buckeyes finished with 572 yards of total offense and were only 3 of 9 on third down. Nevertheless, the offense is going to be incredible the rest of the year.

The Ohio State defense was solid early on, even with the absence of Joey Bosa. They did let some receivers get free on the touchdown drives, but were pretty good outside of those. One area of concern is that Virginia Tech was 8 of 17 on third down conversions and also lost contain at times. The latter will be helped with the return of Bosa next week.

Ohio State has a quick turnaround with a home game against Hawaii in week two.

Check back next week for thoughts from the Big Ten performances in week two.

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.

Austin Hudson Transferring From Wisconsin

Austin Hudson wants to be closer to his home in Tampa, Florida (Dan Sanger)
Austin Hudson wants to be closer to his home in Tampa, Florida (Dan Sanger)

Austin Hudson Transferring From Wisconsin

Sophomore defensive back Austin Hudson has decided to transfer away from Wisconsin and closer to his home. He hails from Tampa, Florida, but there is no indication which school he is transferring to. Hudson is waiting on that school to announce his transfer.

“I have nothing negative to say,” Hudson told BadgerNation. “It was a journey I needed to make to understand where I belong and Wisconsin just wasn’t the right fit. Football wise it may have been but in terms of what I idealize, the school itself wasn’t the right fit.”

“The new staff was great,” said Hudson. “It had no effect on me leaving … It was more of a family thing why I wanted to leave and just a culture thing. I just never fit at Wisconsin.”

Hudson played in all 14 games in 2014 as a freshman. He had 19 tackles including a sack and a forced fumble. The sack came against Nebraska while Hudson recorded a career high 4 tackles against Maryland.

While Hudson was expected to see more playing time in 2015, the loss will not hurt too much with the amount of depth present. Quarterback/defensive back/wide receiver Tanner McEvoy will have snaps at both receiver and defensive back this spring. Wide receiver Natrell Jamerson is also moving to cornerback for the Badgers.

Safeties Michael Caputo and Lubern Figaro return from last season where they were both starters at the back end of the secondary.