Tag Archives: Pat Fitzgerald

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 5 Through 1

Wisconsin and Penn State met in the 2016 Big Ten Championship game. Could they meet again in 2017? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 5 Through 1

The 2017 College Football season is starting this weekend and that means it is time to finish up predictions for the upcoming season. Despite what Nick Saban says about predictions, they are fun to make and see how they play out over an entire season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This is the fifth edition and we will finish predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 5 Through 1

5. (SEC) A 2nd year head coach will win the SEC East – To be clear, this prediction is referring to a coach in his second year at his current school. Three coaches actually fall under this one with Kirby Smart at Georgia, Will Muschamp at South Carolina, and Barry Odom at Missouri. We mentioned Missouri in our last article (we really like their offense going into 2017) so our main focus will be on Georgia and South Carolina.

Georgia went 8-5 last year in Smart’s first season. This year he is armed with seven starters back on offense and 10 on defense. One would expect improvements on both sides of the ball, but more so on defense given Smart’s background. The Bulldogs gave up 24 points and 327 yards per game, which is respectable, but another step forward would make them an even tougher opponent. It is very difficult to see this group getting worse.

On offense, Georgia has Jacob Eason (2,430 yards with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions) back at quarterback. Also returning are Nick Chubb (1,130 yards and 8 TDs) and Sony Michel (840 yards and 4 TDs) to form a formidable backfield duo. The offense put up 24.5 points and 385 yards per game in 2016 and those numbers are likely to climb this season.

The key is the schedule and Georgia’s toughest games are versus Tennessee (away), Florida (in Jacksonville), South Carolina (home), and Auburn (away). Yes, three games are away from home, but this team can win all of those and claim the East.

South Carolina is interesting heading into 2017. Muschamp has been around the SEC a long time and his second season in charge at Florida resulted in his best result with the Gators. They went 11-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC as Florida tied Georgia for the SEC East crown, but lost the head-to-head matchup to the Bulldogs. Things went downhill quickly for the Gators after that season, but one thing that remained was a very good defense.

Like Smart at Georgia, Muschamp has a strong defensive background. South Carolina allowed 26.5 points and 412 yards per game in his first season. Six starters return on that side of the ball and a step forward is expected from this unit.

On offense, the Gamecocks put up 20.8 points and 348 yards per game in 2016 with a quarterback carousel. 2017 sees 10 starters return including sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley (1,420 yards with 9 TDs and 4 interceptions after playing only 7 games). The top two running backs and top five receivers return, which should mean a vast improve in the performance of the offense. Of course, the big concern is if the offense does improve given some of the struggles Muschamp had at times in Gainesville.

South Carolina’s toughest SEC games are against Texas A&M (away), Arkansas (home), Tennessee (away), Georgia (away), and Florida (home). They too can win both games versus West opponents and a 2-1 split of the other games would go a long way to being the surprise in the East.

Both Georgia and South Carolina are set up for big moves in 2017 though Georgia looks a bit more ready to make the jump thanks to their offense. However, sometimes an excellent defense can carry a team, which may be what South Carolina needs in 2017.

4. (SEC) Auburn will win the SEC West – Let’s start by saying that Alabama is the team to beat in the West and entire SEC, but why make a prediction like that? We take a shot with the Auburn Tigers.

On offense, Auburn returns 8 starters though one of them will not be at quarterback. That will go to Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham who won the starting role earlier this month. He will have the luxury of Kamryn Pettway (1,224 yards and 7 TDs) and Kerryon Johnson (895 yards and 11 TDs) to run the ball. The passing attack should improve on the numbers of the last two seasons of 169 yards per game in 2016 and 174 yards per game in 2015. Stidham give this offense a boost and makes them even more potent.

The defense returns 7 starters from a unit that allowed 17.1 points and 362 yards per game. The top three tacklers and six of the top seven tacklers return to lead the defense. Keep in mind that 2016 was only the first year under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. In theory, the second season should be even better if the schemes are truly cemented into the players’ heads. Overall, this unit should allow similar numbers to the 2016 squad.

As usual in the SEC West, the schedule is tough with three straight road games at LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. There is a bye between the Razorbacks and Aggies, but that is still a brutal stretch when you consider that Georgia comes to town after the game versus Texas A&M. The final game is the Iron Bowl against Alabama and that comes at home, which should help the Tigers. It will be difficult for Auburn to defeat Alabama as well as win the West, but the Tigers are more than capable of doing both.

3. (Big 10) Northwestern will win at least 9 games – 2017 will mark the 12th season of Pat Fitzgerald in charge at Northwestern. In that time he has posted three seasons of nine or more wins (two of those were 10 win seasons). This year’s squad is loaded to give the Wildcats a shot at one of their big 9+ win seasons.

The offense will rely heavily on Justin Jackson and rightfully so. Jackson has 4,129 yards rushing in his career, which is already second best in Northwestern history. A 1,500 yard season would put Jackson at #2 all time in the Big 10. Also returning with Jackson are 7 other starters including quarterback Clayton Thorson (3,182 yards with 22 TDs and 9 interceptions). Thorson has come a long way since his 2015 season when he struggled at times. He will be missing his top target from last year in Austin Carr (90 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 TDs). The one to watch out for in 2017 is Jalen Brown, a former Oregon Duck.

The defense also returns 8 starters and this group did well in 2016 as they allowed 22.2 points and 404 yards per game. The front four and secondary return seven of the eight starters, which makes for a weaker linebacking group. Good thing they have a head coach in Fitzgerald who knows a thing or two about that position. In 2015 when Northwestern had 8 starters back they allowed 18.6 points and 319 yards per game. An improvement to those numbers in 2017 would make this team very dangerous.

Northwestern opens with three games they should win: Nevada (home), Duke (away), and Bowling Green (home). After a bye week, the Cats face Wisconsin (away) and Penn State (home) to start Big 10 play. The rest of the Big 10 schedule could result in wins: Maryland (away), Iowa (home), Michigan State (home), Nebraska (away), Purdue (home), Minnesota (home), and Illinois (away). Nebraska is the toughest of those games especially away from home, but 9 or 10 wins is definitely realistic.

2. (Big 10) Michigan State will miss a second straight bowl game – Between 2013 and 2015, the Spartans won the Rose Bowl and played in two Cotton Bowls, winning one. Then 2016 happened when they slumped to 3-9 winning just one game in the Big 10. The defense allowed 27.8 points per game, the most under Mark Dantonio. 

2017 sees four starters return on each side of the ball. Th offense loses quarterback Tyler O’Connor and top receiver RJ Shelton. LJ Scott does return after rushing for 994 yards and 6 TDs last year. Scott may burden a big load early in the season as new starters all over the field go through the learning curve. In 2016, the offense also had four returning starters and put up 24.1 points and 395 yards per game.

The defense has four starters back from a group that allowed 27.8 points and 365 yards per game. The biggest concern is the defensive line that allowed 159 yards rushing per game in 2016 and have just one returning starter after off the field issues saw two others dismissed. Similar numbers are expected, but with Dantonio the defense could surprise to the good side.

The schedule for the Spartans is filled with tough games. After a bye on September 16, they will face Notre Dame (home), Iowa (home), and Michigan (away) in three straight games. The end of October and beginning of November is another brutal stretch: Northwestern (away), Penn State (home), and Ohio State (away). The margin for error is small this year for Michigan State especially with the inexperience and off-season turmoil.

We will be honest, 2018 looks like it could be an exceptional season for Michigan State. Assuming that all the 2017 non-senior starters return, there would be 20 starters back in 2018 (10 on each side of the ball). That could be a team to watch next season.

1. (Big 10) The Big 10 will win the National Championship – There are three main contenders to win the Big 10: Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. And as we saw in 2016, you do not need to win your conference to make the Playoffs.

Ohio State had just 6 starters back in 2016 yet went 11-2 and made the Playoffs. Now they have 15 starters back and once again are the Big 10 favorites with all the firepower returning on offense an defense. Ohio State has three tough games in 2017: Oklahoma at in week two, Penn State at home at the end of October, and at Michigan to end the regular season. Expect the Buckeyes to be favored in all their games in 2017 barring some serious trouble.

Penn State is another contender to win the Big 10 after their awesome 2016 season. They went 11-3 while winning the Big 10 and made numerous comebacks in the second half of games throughout the season. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley make a dangerous backfield combination that is up there with any other backfield QB/RB duo in the country. Just imagine how good the Nittany Lions might be if they decide to not spot their opponents points in the first half.

Penn State has a brutal four game stretch over a five week span: Northwestern (away), Michigan (home), Ohio State (away), and Michigan State (away). The Spartans should not pose a serious threat, but given the game is after back-to-back games against the Wolverines and Buckeyes, there is the slight chance for a let down.

The third top contender is Wisconsin, who has an incredibly friendly Big 10 schedule. They do face BYU on the road September 16 before a bye week. The Big 10 schedules opens with Northwestern at home and Nebraska on the road. In November, they welcome both Iowa and Michigan to Madison while playing Minnesota in the finale. The Badgers have a good shot of going undefeated where they will probably meet up with either Ohio State or Penn State.

There are two dark horse contenders in Michigan and Northwestern. We discussed the Wildcats two predictions above and concede that they are a very long shot to even reach the Big 10 title game. Michigan will be in year three under Jim Harbaugh, but the losses are severe. Just four starters are back on offense and only one starter returns on defense. They have a brutal schedule of Florida (in Arlington, Texas), Penn State (away), Wisconsin (away), and Ohio State (home). The Wolverines are capable of getting to the Big 10 Championship and even the Playoffs, but it does not look likely in 2017.

It it tough to project the four teams in the College Football due to the multitude of matchup possibilities. Ohio State is probably the best of the trio mentioned above and loom as the Big 10’s best chance to win the National Championship. However, do not underestimate Penn State or Wisconsin from reaching the Playoffs where anything can happen.

That concludes our 25 predictions for the 2017 season, however, we will give one bonus prediction below.

Bonus: At least 10 FCS teams will defeat FBS teams – Does it seem like FCS teams upsetting FBS teams is happening more often? If so, that is because it is happening more often. Between 2004 and 2009, FCS teams averaged 4.3 wins per year against FBS teams with a high of 9 in 2007. Since 2010, that average has more than doubled to an average of 9.6 wins per season. 2013 saw the most FCS upsets with 16 and each of the last five seasons have produced at least 8 FCS wins against the FBS.

Here is a link to all the FCS versus FBS matchups in 2017. There are 98 matchups featuring FCS against FBS teams, which means roughly 10% of the games will require an upset for this prediction to be correct. With FCS teams becoming more and more competitive, it makes sense they would defeat FBS teams more often. Let’s hope that is the case in 2017 as well.

You have reached the end of our predictions. We hope you enjoyed reading them and hope you follow along  to see how they turn out for the 2017 season. Enjoy the start of the 2017 season!

2015 Week 12 Big Ten Roundup

Michael Geiger kicks the game winning field goal for Michigan State against Ohio State. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images North America)
Michael Geiger kicks the game winning field goal for Michigan State against Ohio State. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images North America)

2015 Week 12 Big Ten Roundup

The Big Ten had six conference games and one non-conference game in week 12. Once again, a team from Michigan was in the spotlight with Michigan State at Ohio State. Each game is looked at below.

Purdue Boilermakers at #5 Iowa Hawkeyes

Result: Iowa Win 40-20

Iowa got out to a big early lead and then kept the pesky Purdue Boilermakers at bay to keep their perfect season intact. The Hawkeyes also formally clinched the Big Ten West Division to reserve their spot in the Big Ten Championship Game against a yet to be determined team from the East division.

Purdue’s Austin Appleby had a solid game going 23 of 40 for 259 yards and a touchdown in relief after an injury to David Blough. Markell Jones ran for 87 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. DeAngelo Yancey led Purdue with 9 catches for 117 yards while Domonique Young had 4 grabs for 52 yards. Purdue did manage to put up 405 yards of offense thanks to playing from behind for the entire game. They went 4 of 18 on third down, but a solid 5 of 8 on fourth down.

C.J. Beathard was good again going 12 of 20 for 213 yards with 3 touchdowns and no picks. Jordan Canzeri had 95 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. LeShun Daniels ran for 2 touchdowns and 31 yards on 8 carries. Henry Krieger Coble had 4 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown while Tevaun Smith had 4 receptions for 73 yards. Iowa had 387 yards on offense and went 5 of 10 on third down.

Purdue (2-9, 1-6) will finish their season at home against Indiana battling for the Old Oaken Bucket. Iowa (11-0, 7-0) faces Nebraska on the road on Black Friday.

#12 Michigan Wolverines at Penn State Nittany Lions

Result: Michigan Win 28-16

Michigan had a consistent effort on the road to defeat Penn State and keep their hopes of a Big Ten East title alive.

Jake Rudock went 25 of 38 for 256 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. The Wolverines rushing attack was ineffective against Penn State. De’Veon Smith was the top rusher with 39 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries while Michigan had just 87 yards on 30 carries as a team. Jehu Chesson led the team with 4 catches for 69 yards, but Amara Darboh (7 catches for 68 yards and a touchdown) and Jake Butt (5 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown) also had good games. Michigan finished with 343 yards on offense and went 7 of 14 on third down.

Penn State struggled on offense and also struggled putting the ball in the end zone. Christian Hackenberg went 13 of 31 for 137 yards and a touchdown, but struggled mightily with accuracy. Saquon Barkley ran for 68 yards on 15 carries while also having 2 grabs for 19 yards. Chris Godwin led Penn State with 3 catches for 51 yards while Saeed Blacknall had a 25 yard touchdown catch in his only reception of the game. Penn State settled for 3 field goals in the red zone and only had 207 yards of offense. They went 3 of 14 on third down and 1 of 2 on fourth down.

Michigan (9-2, 6-1) will take on Ohio State at home next week. Michigan is tied atop the Big Ten East at 6-1 with both Ohio State and Michigan State. Michigan will need a loss by Michigan State as well as to beat Ohio State to make the Big Ten Championship Game.

Penn State (7-4, 4-3) will be on the road against Michigan State with a chance to ruin the Spartans Big Ten title hopes with a win.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Army Black Knights

Result: Rutgers Win 31-21

Rutgers was playing in the only non-conference game of the week and took care of Army on the road.

Chris Laviano went 13 of 21 for 105 yards with no touchdowns or picks. The rushing attack was excellent for Rutgers with Paul James leading the way. He had 116 yards and 3 touchdowns on 18 carries while Robert Martin had 99 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Janarion Grant had only 2 carries, but managed to run for 40 yards. Grant also had 3 catches for 31 yards while Leonte Carroo had 4 catches for 37 yards. Rutgers had 395 yards of offense, but struggled on third down going 3 of 10. They did managed to convert both of their fourth down attempts.

Rutgers defense struggled to stop the run, but that is expected against Army who runs the triple option. They allowed 261 yards on 52 attempts, but were burned on the six passing attempts by Army. Army went 4 of 6 passing for 140 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Edgar Poe had 2 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. Army also converted 9 of 13 on third down and 1 of 2 on fourth down. Rutgers gave up 401 yards of offense to Army.

Rutgers (4-7, 1-6) finishes their season next Saturday with Maryland coming to town.

Indiana Hoosiers at Maryland Terrapins

Result: Indiana Win 47-28

Indiana had big second and third quarters to propel them to a 47-28 win over Maryland and leave them one game from bowl eligibility going into the regular season finale. Indiana put up 37 points in the middle two quarters compared to just 7 for Maryland during the same time frame.

Nate Sudfeld had a big game going 23 of 35 for 385 yards and 4 touchdowns. He did not throw an interception and also ran for a touchdown. Devine Redding stepped up to rush for 130 yards on 24 carries after an injury knocked Jordan Howard out of the game early in the contest. Simmie Cobbs easily led the team and entire game with 9 catches for 192 yards. Andre Booker caught 2 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown while Mitchell Paige had 5 catches for 64 yards and 2 touchdowns. Indiana racked up 555 yards, but struggled on third down going just 4 of 14.

Maryland could not find any rhythm in the passing game between Caleb Rowe and Shane Cockerille. Rowe left the game in the second quarter after a concussion. Rowe finished 10 of 19 for 88 yards with a touchdown while also rushing for 27 yards on 4 carries. Cockerille went 10 of 21 for 87 yards while also rushing for 23 yards on 13 carries. Brandon Ross had a massive game rushing going for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground for the best game of 2015 and his career. Levern Jacobs led Maryland with 4 catches for 50 yards. The Terps went 3 of 16 on third down and also went 2 of 6 on fourth down.

Indiana (5-6, 1-6) faces Purdue next week on the road with their final chance at making a bowl in 2015. Maryland (2-9, 0-7) will face Rutgers on the road with neither team having a chance at making a bowl.

#20 Northwestern Wildcats at #25 Wisconsin Badgers

Result: Wisconsin Win 13-7

A defensive battle between Northwestern and Wisconsin saw a tight finish in a controversial game. The Badgers had a punt return touchdown called back due to an illegal fair catch and also had a touchdown overturned in the final minute.

Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson was largely ineffective going 9 of 20 for only 60 yards. Justin Jackson was the workhorse for the Wildcats with 35 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown. Garrett Dickerson had 2 catches for 24 yards as the Wildcats leading receiver. Northwestern finished with 209 yards of offense and went 7 of 20 on third down.

Wisconsin was led by Joel Stave going for 229 yards on 20 of 34 passing. He also threw 2 interceptions and also lost a fumble. He missed the final play of the game for Wisconsin as he took a sack with the Badgers on the 1 yard line of Northwestern and left due to concussion like symptoms. The Badgers were completely ineffective running the ball. Corey Clement went for 24 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, but the Badgers finished with NEGATIVE 26 yards rushing due to Stave taking so many sacks.

Jazz Peavy had 5 catches for 88 yards, but his touchdown catch in the final minute was overturned because he did not complete the process of a catch. Tanner McEvoy had 5 catches for 57 yards, but lost a fumble on one of those catches. Wisconsin finished with only 203 yards of offense, had 5 turnovers, and went a poor 2 of 13 on third down.

Northwestern (9-2, 5-2) faces Illinois at home on Saturday with a chance to get their second 10 win season under Pat Fitzgerald (2012). Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2) faces Minnesota on the road next week with a chance of winning 10 games for fifth time in the last 7 seasons. A win over Minnesota and their bowl opponent will get them to the 10 win mark.

#9 Michigan State Spartans at #3 Ohio State Buckeyes

Result: Michigan State Win 17-14

The game of the day for the Big Ten belonged to Michigan State and Ohio State. The Spartans won by a field goal despite not having quarterback Connor Cook.

Tyler O’Connor got the start in place of Cook and went 7 of 12 for 89 yards and a touchdown. Gerald Holmes ran for 65 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries while LJ Scott had 13 carries for 58 yards. The Spartans relied heavily on their rushing attack to the tune of 203 yards on 51 carries. Aaron Burbridge led the team with 4 catches for 62 yards while four others recorded a reception. Trevon Pendleton had the lone touchdown reception for the Spartans as they finished with 294 yards on offense and went 7 of 15 on third down.

Ohio State could hardly get anything going on offense. JT Barrett went 9 of 16 passing for 46 yards and a touchdown. Barrett was also the leading rusher for Ohio State with 44 yards on 15 carries. Ezekiel Elliott inexplicably had only 12 carries and went for 33 yards and a touchdown. Jalin Marshall was the top receiver with 2 catches for 22 yards and a touchdown. Ohio State had only 132 yards of offense and went 4 of 14 on third down.

Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) controls their destiny in the Big Ten East. They face Penn State at home on Saturday and a win would put them in the Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa.

Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) will face Michigan on the road next week. They need a win over Michigan and a loss by Michigan State to play in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Illinois Fighting Illini at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Result: Minnesota Win 32-23

The battle for two bowl hopefuls ended with Minnesota coming out on top as both teams now sit at 5-6 on the season.

Wes Lunt went 34 of 47 for 279 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception for Illinois. Josh Ferguson led the Illini in rushing with 105 yards on 20 carries while Kendrick Foster got his most significant playing time to post 56 yards rushing on 11 carries. Malik Turner led the team with 11 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. Illinois finished with 433 yards of offense and went 8 of 17 on third down, but also committed 3 turnovers.

Mitch Leidner did not have anywhere near the same passing efficiency in his past four games, but that did not hurt the Gophers. He finished 15 of 25 for 88 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 64 yards on 10 carries. Shannon Brooks ran wild all game with 174 yards and 3 touchdowns on 17 carries. KJ Maye had a quiet game going for 31 yards on 4 catches while Drew Wolitarsky had 2 catches for 26 yards and Brandon Lingen had 3 catches for 20 yards. Minnesota put up 343 yards of offense while going 7 of 13 on third down.

Illinois (5-6, 2-5) will need to beat Northwestern in Chicago to reach a bowl game in 2015. Minnesota (5-6, 2-5) is in the same position of needing a win against Wisconsin, but they will be at home.

Check back next Sunday for a roundup of the Big Ten’s final full week of the regular season.

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.