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Jamzz

[2023] Big Ten West Season Preview

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Back with the West division preview.

 

Illinois Fighting Illini :illinois:

 

Players to Watch

QB Jordan Harrison 5-11 188 (So) Central Community (Breese IL) 5.0 of 5.0 [Pocket]

ILB Rakeem Phillips 6-2 231 So Cannon Valley Lutheran (MN) 3.5 of 5.0 [Mike]

 

The Illinois depth chart has a whole lot of talent on it right now and there is more coming up through the system. The crowned jewel of the team is the young QB Jordan Harrison who looks like he's ready to break out for a huge season this year. The inexperience of the Illinois roster was their weakness last year, and now they all have a full year under their belt. RB Terrell Swain had a good first season as a starter last year and will most likely bring a similar output this year. Harrison does lack an abundance of targets to throw to, true freshman TE Byron Hubbard looks like he might already be the best of the bunch. The OL has plenty of talent to go around and it all centers around OG Raphael Reed, who looks like a top prospect for next year's draft. The offense as a whole looks a bit young, but very, very talented. On defense it's more of the same for the most part. DT JaQuan Bland, DE Xavier Rawls, and ILB Rakeem Phillips are both young and full of potential. They are paired with some experienced vets in DE Anthony Howell, OLB Donald Longo, and CB Tavarreus Watson, among others. The only big weakness on the Illini defense is youth. Many players are young and not up to their high potential, abut there's no specific part of the defense that seems like it's going to be the one place that teams will want to exploit. The DL has lower current skill than the rest of the squad but if they play up to their potential right now it will be a big issue for any team that tries to run against them. Overall it's a very good squad for Illinois.

 

Biggest Game of the Season

Week 7 vs Ohio State

 

If you saw the preview I posted on the East you would know that I am very high on Ohio State. This game could prove to be a preview of the Big Ten Championship game if each team has a few things fall their way, much like Nebraska vs Ohio State was last year. It's needless to say that this is a huge game for Illinois. They have a few tough non conference games and then a tough game against Minnesota before this one, but many believe Ohio State is the best team on their schedule, if they win this one then the playoff seems possible.

 

Prediction: 10-2

 

I like Illinois a lot this season and I think they might just win the Big Ten, but my best guess would be that they are at least a season away from really challenging at the top level of CFBHC. Their chances of winning the division seem high, winning the conference is another beast though with the East looking to be much better than the West. I see them losing to Ohio State and one to Virginia, Washington, Minnesota, or Purdue. I think they're good enough to win three of those games but I bet at least one of those teams has what it takes to beat them.

 

Iowa Hawkeyes :iowa:

 

Players to Watch

WR DeMaurice Slone 5-10 177 Jr Minnesota State CTC (Fergus Falls MN) 4.0 of 5.0 [Speed]

DT Jacob Colbert 6-3 281 (Jr) Cheyenne-Eagle Butte (SD) 4.0 of 5.0 [1-Gap]

 

After some decent years Iowa was arguably the worst team in the Big Ten last year after losing Mikeal Black to the pros, and they really haven't recovered at all since the days of Jarius Jones and Ron Thomas. They appear to be improved this year but still a little ways away from being back near the top of the conference. QB Ryan Corbin and RB Kedaveon Vaughan will be good in a few years but as of right now it is hard to imagine them being able to put together a string of good games in a row. Luckily for Corbin he has DeMaurice Slone to throw to, the JUCO prospect might be the best player on the team right away. The OL is also pretty competitive compared to the rest of the roster. OG Coop Logan brings some leadership to the team and young OT Mike Brown will be a big part of the offense for years to come. On defense DT Jacob Colbert is going to have carry a lot of the team and then some. The front seven has him, ILBs Elias French and Joel Baumann, and not too much else unfortunately. The secondary might just be the strongest part of the team, with FS Khalil Spears and SS Ricky Chambers both seniors with pro potential. True freshman CB Marcedes Payton also will be on for the future, although as of this moment he still has a bit to go until he's one of the best corners in the conference. As I mentioned earlier though, the front seven is pretty weak. It probably won't be too difficult to run on Iowa this year unless Jacob Colbert can really take over. They have four players on the front seven that have a current skill of 3.0 or less.

 

Biggest Game of the Season

Week 2 vs Iowa State

 

Iowa has a tough schedule this year in which they are outmatched by many of the conference teams they will go up against. Iowa State is improved this year and while Iowa has controlled the state for a few years it looks like the Cyclones might be making a run at them this year. This is a very winnable game for Iowa however, and when they look back at the end of the season a win here could be more important to them than any conference win, outside of them picking up an unexpected upset against one of the top teams.

 

Prediction: 3-9

 

Iowa is a few steps behind the top of the Big Ten this year and their cross divisional opponents don't do them any favors this year. They get Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State which you have to imagine will mean being significant underdogs in all of those games for Iowa. Northwestern is probably the most winnable conference game, and while the non conference aren't world beaters, Iowa State should be better this year and can beat Iowa. In a year or two I expect to see Iowa back in a bowl but for now I would be surprised by it.

 

Minnesota Golden Gophers :minnesota:

 

Players to Watch

QB Robert Lynch 5-11 230 Sr Arkansas Baptist (Little Rock AR) 5.0 of 5.0 [Pocket]

OLB Jermon Pendleton 6-1 229 (So) Pine Island (Pine Island MN) 5.0 of 5.0 [Blitz]

 

After a few years of average football, Minnesota looks like they're ready to become one of the premier teams in the Big Ten. They're lead by a senior QB who may just be the most under the radar 5/5 QB ever in Robert Lynch. Part of that is because he hasn't gotten the attention he deserved, and part of that is because he's never really proven himself to be among the top quarterbacks in the country in his last few seasons. With that said, he looks like he's ready to have his best season yet. RB Tredaveon Jennings is a big piece to add to this offense and while Lynch will most likely got most off the accolades this year, Jennings will provide the much needed balance for this team to challenge for the Big Ten title. Minnesota also has an abundance of solid targets for Lynch, although no high end ones just yet. The OL is solid as well. It isn't amazing but it can definitely get the job done, with OT Ned Ellis leading the group. The offense is going to be very good this year, even if they have no one who's proved themselves at the highest level just yet. On defense they have some talent as well, lead by star sophomore OLB Jermon Pendleton and SS Kameron Myrick. ILB Shane Slade definitely deserves a shoutout as well as he looks like a big piece for that front seven who are a bit weaker on the DL. While young DE Malachi Pickett is one to look out for, he is a bit inexperienced and missing some help on the DL. CB Spencer Dick (great name) will lead a solid group there as well. Overall a very solid defense, with some minor holes.

 

Biggest Game of the Season

Week 8 vs Purdue

 

This is the season for Minnesota to make a run at the division title, and while they didn't win it last year, Purdue is still the team to beat in the West. They go to Illinois two weeks prior but if Minnesota wants any chance at the West this year they are going to have to beat Purdue. It's certainly a game they can win, as they are at home and Purdue is a bit down on talent compared to the past few years. A win here would put them in the national conversation and set them up for a Rose Bowl, or possibly something bigger at the end of the year.

 

Prediction: 9-3

 

Minnesota has an easy non conference schedule to get through, but games against Illinois, Purdue, and Michigan will be tough to beat this year. Additional games at Nebraska and at Michigan State will be hard ones as well, even if Minnesota has more talent than both on paper. I like them to beat Purdue but I also think they'll fall to one of MSU or Nebraska as many of their best players are young and Robert Lynch still has yet to prove himself to be able to carry a team when they need it. If things go the right way 10 or 11 wins is possible but I don't see it.

 

Nebraska Cornhuskers :nebraska:

 

Players to Watch

RB Hakeem Nixon 5-8 204 (Jr) Frankfort (Frankfort KS) 4.5 of 4.5 [Speed]

SS Jarvis Hargrove 6-1 189 (Fr) Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey NJ) 3.0 of 4.5 [Man Coverage]

 

After a huge year that finished just short of their ultimate goal the Big Ten champs are back and appear to have taken a few losses to the pros. The big one is RB Franklin Riggins, who is actually replaced be someone with a higher rating, Hakeem Nixon, but it is hard to imagine him producing like Riggins did. Nonetheless it is a great piece for Nebraska to have as they look to recreate last season's magic. Sean Connell is also gone and he gives way to QB Lucas Elizondo, who could best be described as a raw talent. It's hard to imagine Nebraska relying on him too much this year and if they have to then it could spell problems for them. He does have a stud at WR in Calvin McKay, however, who is arguably the best player on the team already, along with another standon wide out, Alshon Collier. There is some talent on the line as well, but it definitely has some holes there that will cause issues. The defense is not up to last year's standards though, and while it was far from a star studded lineup last year, it's hard to imagine them doing it again this year. The highest rated current skill on the Nebraska defense is 3.5, and while they do have some players yet to reach their potential, there are just four of them and they are all young. The most talented of those players is SS Jarvis Hargrove who will have a lot of work this season with a pretty weak secondary around him. I feel like I'm being a bit harsh on the Nebraska D but it really is hard for me to find a bright spot on this side of the ball for them. There many holes are having to be filled by very inexperienced, yet talented, freshman and it's hard to see them making it work.

 

Biggest Game of the Season

Week 14 at Wisconsin

 

Nebraska drew a pretty favorable conference schedule this year, but they did not do themselves many favors in the non conference schedule. Auburn seems like a longshot to say the least, and Texas Tech and UCF aren't exactly easy wins either. They do get Rutgers in a cross divisional matchup however, and the West does have some teams that are beatable for them. One of those is Wisconsin, which comes near the end of the season and might mean a bowl game for both of them. If that is the case, Nebraska has Ohio State and Minnesota after so this might be their last shot.

 

Prediction: 5-7

 

I feel like this record may not be fair to Nebraska this year but I'm not a huge fan of their roster despite their great performances last year. If Hakeem Nixon can produce like Riggins then a bowl will be almost certain but I'm not sure he's on that level. Outside of him and McKay they don't really have much talent at other skill positions and as I mentioned their defense looks like it will have problems. If they had an easier non conference schedule I probably would've said 6-6 or 7-5 but they don't have that so I think they just miss out on a bowl.

 

Northwestern Wildcats :nw:

 

Players to Watch

WR Cory Carradine 6-5 225 Sr East Peoria Community (IL) 4.5 of 4.5 [Target]

DE Victor Crosby 6-2 246 Sr East Peoria Community (IL) 4.5 of 4.5 [Contain]

 

Northwestern also lost a few of their best players to the pros, specifically their QB EJ McGuire after he managed to bring them a bowl game last year. The man expected to take over is freshman Nicola Rossi, and like the situation at Nebraska, there will be growing pains for sure. He does get WR Cory Carradine to throw to, who's been there forever it feels like, and hopefully RB Makai Denson can continue what he showed last year with what will surely be more carries. The OL will have some issues as well. The only player with a current skill above 3.0 is OG Leolani Lealofi, and there's only so much one lineman can do. Denson will certainly have a lot to do on his own this season, and if Rossi can learn to get rid of the ball quickly that would probably be for the best. On defense they are better, but it is far from a perfect situation there either. DE Victory Crosby should be very good for them this year, along with the emergence of ILB Griffin Paul who has the makings of a future star. The secondary is not very good, however, with 3.5 rated SS Tristan Hunt as their best player at the moment. Passing seems much easier on this Wildcat team, and if you have a good running game then it could mean a lot of points for you if you go up against them. They do have one of the best kickers in the country though. Garrett Strange was wonderful for them as he proved reliable from beyond 50 yards, so if they can get into range they should have an automatic three points.

 

Biggest Game of the Season

Week 13 at Iowa

 

This seems like the best chance for Northwestern to pick up a conference win this season, and outside of some surprises I really can't see them picking up many others. They play two FCS teams this year so that should get them some wins, but it will not help them if they finish the season at six wins as only one win against FCS opponents counts towards bowl eligibility. In my eyes the game against Iowa will be for the right to finish second to last in the division, and while I do like Iowa a bit better I would not be surprised with a Northwestern win.

 

Prediction: 2-10

 

I hate to only give them wins against FCS teams but I don't think they're better than anyone else they face. As I mentioned they could beat Iowa, and Ole Miss in week 7 is an opportunity, but both those games are away and I think Northwestern is too young at too many positions and not talented enough at the others to get it done those weeks. Northwestern is my pick for last in the division, and possibly the worst team in the entire conference.

 

Purdue Boilermakers :purdue:

 

Players to Watch

QB Graham Faulkner 6-3 218 Jr Blinn College (Brenham TX) 4.0 of 4.5 [Pocket]

DE Landon Crowder 6-0 242 Jr Rising Star (Rising Star TX) 5.0 of 5.0 [Contain]

 

After a few years and a national championship with Matt Jones and then an attempt to extend their window by a year with Kyle Jefferson, the Purdue offense now finds itself in the hand of Graham Faulkner for the next two years. He will have some help, but Purdue definitely finds themselves in a bit more limbo than usual. RB Nathan Ziegler was disappointing in his first season last year, and with presumably more carries coming his way he will need to improve if Purdue is going to win the division. There are some good, young WRs on the team in Andrew Bond and Logan Lawson but we haven't seen much out of either player yet. The line is solid. It isn't wonderful but it can absolutely get the job done. It is anchored by OT Milo Arndt who enters his junior season. The offense as a whole is unproven, but it does seem like it's ready to compete. The defense now finds itself as the more important side of the ball for the Boilermakers after a few seasons of relying on the offense. DE Landon Crowder is expected to be a top pick in the draft whenever he comes out, and ATH Jeremiah Butler, who plays corner, should be a huge piece for the secondary as he enters his final season with Purdue. The linebacking corp does appear to be a minor weakness in the team, but OLB Robert Devlin is one of the better linebackers in the conference, which goes to show the depth of the Purdue depth chart. Outside of Crowder they could use some help on the DL as well but it isn't something they should be very worried with.

 

Biggest Game of the Season

Week 11 at Michigan

 

Just like last season, Purdue does have competition atop the West. Some may even go as far to say that they are not the favorites this year, even with Nebraska expected to decline a bit. That said, going to the Big House in week 11 is going to be a huge game even if they fall to Illinois or Minnesota earlier in the season. Even if they beat one of those teams a loss to Michigan would mean that they could be in trouble for the division. Purdue's ceiling for this year could be decided by this game.

 

Prediction: 9-3

 

Purdue should win all their non conference games, with Notre Dame looking like the only real challenge for them this year. I don't know if they can match Illinois, Minnesota, or Michigan this year however. Other than that I think they're pretty clear favorites in the rest of their schedule but I don't see Faulkner or Ziegler bringing what Matt Jones, or even Kyle Jefferson brought to this offense. I think they'll need a big step up from the defense in order to compete for the conference title, which may come but I won't count on it for this article.

 

Wisconsin Badgers :wisconsin:

 

Players to Watch

C Jeremiah Glass 6-3 257 (So) Rice Lake (Rice Lake WI) 4.0 of 5.0 [Run Blocking]

DT Pete Douglass 6-1 297 (Jr) Shell Lake (Shell Lake WI) 5.0 of 5.0 [2-Gap]

 

After years of relying solely on Jamal Trufant, the Wisconsin offense finds themselves without many answers this year, at least according to their roster. QB Nathan Abrams was not the man for the job last year, but he is back and still the starter as of right now. They're starting true freshman Ian Hill at RB, and while he should be solid down the road, no one expects him to be Trufant, especially not right now. They have some decent options to throw the ball to but the question lies more on whether Abrams can get it to them. The OL has some holes in it as well, although they do have a very good center in Jeremiah Glass. The tackles and guards are not up to the standard they need to be however. This offense might be one of the worst the Big Ten has to offer this year. On defense it is better for sure, but they will have to hold some teams to very few points if they hope to win. The DL has some studs on it, DT Pete Douglass looks like a future first rounder, and DE Blake Ryan is no slouch either. They have some solid up and comers like true freshman ILB Grant Morrison, DE Andrew Rowe, and FS Jermaine Ringo. There are some holes though as they don't have a cornerback with a potential higher than 3.5 on the roster. Their youth could also be an issue in some areas, but they do have the advantage of one of the top run defenses in the conference, which they desperately need. If they have any hopes of making a bowl it will need to be behind the defense.

 

Biggest Game of the Season

Week 14 vs Nebraska

 

Wisconsin didn't do themselves many favors in the non conference schedule, and they will probably be underdogs in many of the conference games. It may be for a bowl game against Nebraska, which is something I mentioned in the Nebraska write up as well. I can't see the Badgers competing for the division at all, so six wins should be their priority this season. They may need some help to get to four or five wins by week 14, and they do play Iowa the final week of the season, but this game could make or break their season.

 

Prediction: 4-8

 

It's a shame to see a once great team fall to a 4-8 record but they lose Trufant and I don't see them making any huge strides this year anywhere. Georgia and San Diego State in non conference games seem like pretty likely losses, and then games against Michigan, Illinois, Purdue, etc. don't seem like they favor Wisconsin either. They do have some winnable games on the schedule. Akron, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, and Northwestern but I don't see them winning all of them and I predict a disappointing year in Madison.

 

Some predictions for the division as a whole.

 

Offensive Player of the Division: QB Jordan Harrison 5-11 188 (So) Central Community (Breese IL) 5.0 of 5.0 [Pocket] :illinois:

Defensive Player of the Division: DE Landon Crowder 6-0 242 Jr Rising Star (Rising Star TX) 5.0 of 5.0 [Contain] :purdue:

Special Teams Player of the Division: K Garrett Strange 5-10 194 Sr Simeon Career Academy (Chicago IL) 5.0 of 5.0 [Power] :nw:

Non Conference Game of the Division: :uw: @ :illinois:

Game of the Division: Week 10 :purdue: @ :illinois:

Division Champs: :illinois:

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Seems like the West is a lot of haves v have nots. 

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Completely agree with your analysis of Nebraska. We caught lightning in a bottle last year I think, but really are at a stage where we will be retooling for a year or two. My first full class is coming in, and while it's decent, I'm gonna be starting a lot of raw players and have no idea how they'll perform. 6 wins is the goal, but we'll see if I can get there. Nice write up!

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Big drop off for Northwestern. Purdue is still the team to beat. Illinois has the better QB but the Boilermakers still have the better roster. Should be a fun battle to watch though.

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4 hours ago, Jamzz said:

DT Pete Douglass 6-1 297 (Jr) Shell Lake (Shell Lake WI) 5.0 of 5.0 [2-Gap]

I really hope this guy ends up going in the 1st eventually, I tried to recruit him to Central Michigan, (and breaking the role play, IRL Shell Lake plays 8-man and I had to scout one of their games last year to watch their opponent, and the whole (small) community came out to that game, there was a HUGE supportive atmosphere and they almost beat at the time the #1 8-man team in the state that game. It'd be cool to imagine Pete being a part of that team.)

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Thank you for these excellent media pieces Jamzz.

I think this year Minnesota and Purdue are the two strongest teams in the division. Illinois is probably a couple years away from being good, so I don't expect to challenge for any titles yet. Although crazier things have happened in the B1G West, so who knows. 

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Great write up! Reading about Northwestern made me sad, but I can't disagree with your analysis. I really focused on adding a lot of depth during my tenure as I simply didn't have the points to take down other P5 schools. Hopefully @MasonAsher has enough depth to really try and attack some higher end recruits this season. The West is one of the most difficult divisions in all of CFBHC so winning at NW is going to take patience. Adding Wardwell at QB would have made life a bit easier. I'm still salty that he went FCS.

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