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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.

Wisconsin Badgers Hold Off Illinois Behind Gordon’s 4 Touchdowns

This article originally appeared on VAVEL USA.

Melvin Gordon

(Photo credit to Mike McGinnis / Getty Images)

 

Another game for the Wisconsin Badgers, another similar story. The passing game was ineffective, but Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement had big totals running the ball to lead the Badgers to a 38-28 win over Illinois. However, the Illini were stubborn and never let Badgers feel comfortable even as Wisconsin led 38-14 at one point.

The game started with Wisconsin running six straight times and Gordon’s 15 yard touchdown made it 7-0. Wisconsin’s second possession started at their own 1 thanks to a great punt from Justin DuVernois. A three and out led to great field position for the Illini, as they started at Wisconsin’s 31 yard line. Four plays later, Reilly O’Toole found Matt LaCosse wide open in the end zone to tie the game at 7.

Another punt by Wisconsin led to more good field position for Illinois. Darius Mosely returned the kick 11 yards to the Badgers’ 42. Five plays later, O’Toole connected with Geronimo Allison on a 5 yard touchdown and the Badgers suddenly found themselves trailing at 14-7.

A sustained drive by the Badgers led to a tie game. The 10 play, 75 yard drive in 5:11 was topped off by Gordon’s second touchdown of the game, this one from 6 yards out. The Badgers had a chance to take a 17-14 lead, but Rafael Gaglianone‘s 47 yard field goal was just barely left of the goal post.

Illinois subsequent drive was stopped on fourth and two at the Wisconsin 36 yard line. It took all of two plays for the Badgers to score. First, Kenzel Doe ran 34 yards on an end around followed up by Gordon doing the rest from 30 yards out. The Badgers took a 24-14 lead into half time after Gaglianone made a 44 yard field goal with seconds remaining.

The second half got off to a slow start with both defense playing well. Wisconsin’s second drive started at their own 10 yard line, but that changed when Corey Clement ran 51 yards on the first play of the series. A steady dose of Gordon and Clement led to Gordon’s fourth rushing touchdown of the game. This one was from a yard out to make it 31-14.

The first play of the fourth quarter extended Wisconsin’s lead even further. Clement took the hand off and burst through the opening and no one was going to catch him. He ran 72 yards for the score and it was 38-14 just 10 seconds into the fourth quarter.

At this point, it appeared to be over, but Aaron Bailey made an appearance at quarterback and he performed well. On his second drive of the fourth quarter, he ran 29 yards for a touchdown to make it 38-21. The field position was set up by V’Angelo Bentley‘s 30 yard punt return.

After stopping the Badgers on the ensuing drive, the Illini would cut the deficit to 10 points. Bailey’s legs and arm led Illinois 83 yards in 3:02. Donovonn Young pounded the ball in from a yard out to make the score 38-28.

The Illini tried and converted an onside kick to give them the ball back to produce some nervy moments for Badger fans. After getting down to the Wisconsin 37 yard line, Bailey’s pass was overthrown and Peniel Jean picked it off, which allowed the Badgers to run out the clock.

The Illini struggled at times on offense and finished with only 288 total yards. Reilly O’Toole went 12 of 19 for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns. Aaron Bailey went 2 of 5 for 39 yards and a pick. Bailey was the leading rusher for the Illini with 75 yards and a touchdown on 12 rushes. Josh Ferguson only had 33 yards on 11 carries in another subpar game for him.

Mike Dudek led the team with 4 catches for 59 yards. Ferguson had 3 catches for 30 yards out of the backfield.

The Badgers struggled passing again. Joel Stave went 7 of 14 for 73 yards and missed some wide open receiver. Tanner McEvoy played one series in the second quarter. He finished 3 of 4 with 24 yards and also ran for 12 yards.

Melvin Gordon finished with 175 yards and 4 touchdowns on 27 carries. Corey Clement played most of the fourth quarter and finished with 164 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. As a team, the Badgers rushed for 401 yards with an average of 8.5 yards a carry.

Sam Arneson was the top target for the Badgers. He had 4 catches for 48 yards. Alex Erickson caught 2 passes for 18 yards.

Illinois (3-4, 0-3) is on a 3 game losing streak and has lost 4 of their last 5 games. They have a bye next week and will face Minnesota (5-1, 2-0) at home on Saturday, October 25.

Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) will also be on a bye next week. They will welcome Maryland to Madison on October 25.