My College Football Magnum Opus Pt.2 of 11 (Big Ten West + Conference Championship Prediction)

So again, last year was a wild one (last time I’ll reference that) with crowds coming back to 100% capacity, this year’s college football season will be electric to say the least.  I won’t rattle on as much as I did in the intro in Part 1, so lets get into it folks.  Let’s Eat.

Last years standings :

WESTCONFOVR
Northwestern6-17-2
Iowa6-26-2
Wisconsin3-34-3
Minnesota3-43-4
Nebraska3-53-5
Purdue2-42-4
Illinois2-62-6
     

Northwestern

As Indiana was the surprise team in the East, Northwestern proved to be the same case in West.  It always seems that when people least expect them to do much, they come out and exceed expectations.  This year, there won’t be anyone looking past the folks in Evanston this upcoming year.  Outside of a game at Michigan State, they did they’re job (Bellicheck voice).  They played smart football, didn’t turn it over much and controlled the clock.  A keystone of a great coach in Pat Fitzgerald.  Let’s take a look at some of the key losses and upcoming schedule for this year.

Key Losses:

Let’s keep this simple – they lose last years starting QB Peyton Ramsey and bring in Hilinski, a transfer from South Carolina (more on that below). 

The thing that kept them in most games last year was their stellar defense, and this year they return only 5 of those 11 starters. (Fun Fact – Northwestern had 16 Rushing TDs last year and held opponents to 5)

2021-22 Schedule :

DATEOPPONENT
Fri, Sep 3vsMichigan State
Sat, Sep 11vsIndiana State
Sat, Sep 18@Duke
Sat, Sep 25vsOhio
Sat, Oct 2@Nebraska
Sat, Oct 16vsRutgers
Sat, Oct 23@Michigan
Sat, Oct 30vsMinnesota
Sat, Nov 6vsIowa
Sat, Nov 13@Wisconsin
Sat, Nov 20vsPurdue *
Sat, Nov 27@Illinois

As I wrote in Part 1 – Michigan and Michigan State aren’t the teams were used to seeing, so that being said, this team has a great chance to start the season 7-0 until their home matchup against Minnesota.  The biggest thing this season will hang on is the new South Carolina transfer QB Hilinski.  Let’s take a look at his stat line, he came in as the backup in SC his Freshman year and took over after an injury to the starter in game 1.  In 2019 he went 236-406, 2300 yds passing, 11 TD/5 Picks.  Then lost the job the following year to an incoming transfer from Colorado State.  The thing that rubs me wrong about this guy is that I bet he’s a great QB but he doesn’t fit NW scheme.  Mobile QB, control the game, game manager – that’s what wins this team games.  Outside of incoming WR from Kansas I don’t see NW offense changing overnight and this being a struggle strictly between the scheme and players involved.

Iowa

I’m just going to be straight up with y’all.  I’m an Iowa fan through and through, while I did graduate from Iowa State – I’ve been a Hawkeye fan from as far back as I can remember.  That being said, I’m going to try to be as unbiased as possible with this review.  Iowa started the year 0-2 with first time starter Spencer Petras (fun fact – he went to same school as Jared Goff and broke his HS records, NBD).  Alright, so after starting 0-2 they rattled off 6 wins in a row to end the season.  They lost their first two by a combined 5 points and won their last 6 by an average of 21 points per game.  Lets see who we lost and what our schedule looks like :

Key Losses :

We basically lose our D-Line including NFL Draft Picks – Daviyon Nixon & Chauncey Golston.

Both our #1 & #2 WR’s – Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette

2021-22 Schedule :

DATEOPPONENT
Sat, Sep 4vsIndiana
Sat, Sep 11@Iowa State
Sat, Sep 18vsKent State
Sat, Sep 25vsColorado State
Fri, Oct 1@Maryland
Sat, Oct 9vsPenn State
Sat, Oct 16vsPurdue
Sat, Oct 30@Wisconsin
Sat, Nov 6@Northwestern
Sat, Nov 13vsMinnesota
Sat, Nov 20vsIllinois
Fri, Nov 26@Nebraska

While they avoid Ohio State this year, I don’t like this schedule one bit for the Hawkeye fanbase.  You start off with Penix Jr. and the Hoosiers to open the season at home.  Then preseason Top 10 team in Iowa State (they’re extremely overrated so not too concerned).  The part that worries more is right after non-conference play.  You go to Maryland, get Penn State and Purdue at home, then off to Wisconsin and Northwestern.  Tough stretch there, with a bit easier end to the season with Illinois and little brother Nebraska to end the season.  While Kirk Ferentz is one of the most consistent coaches in the nation, Phil Parker leading the defense, and taking these 3 star recruits and sending them to the NFL, I have faith, but the schedule does us no favors whatsoever.  It’ll be a good test for Petras and the offense, with WR Tyrone Tracy (NFL comparison I can come up with is Antonio Brown) and RB Tyler Goodson (Alvin Kamara type).  I believe in the team, but will obviously have the final review at the end of the blog.

Wisconsin

Ever since I heard the news of Graham Mertz (5 star recruit) signing with Wisconsin, I always had that thought in the back of my mind about how I feel the Badgers have been just a QB away from the CFP each year.  Sure, they have a great O-Line, produce great RB’s, and overall a solid team year in, year out.  Then the year started and I was terrified, Mertz lit up Illinois and Michigan to start 2-0 and I thought here we go…… then he got the Rona and I like to think he had the “Cam Newton” effect thereafter, plus a tough second half of the schedule, and multiple games getting cancelled was hard to get a good rhythm for the young QB.  Barring any setbacks, I think this team has what it needs to make a run this year – this kid is good, that’s why I’m spending my entire intro just talking about him.  Lets take a look at key losses and upcoming schedule.

Key Losses :

They lost 3 starters on the Defensive end side of the ball.  And while a number of their outside threats and TE could’ve gone pro – they stayed put.  That’s all. 

2021-22 Schedule :

DATEOPPONENT
Sat, Sep 4vsPenn State
Sat, Sep 11vsEastern Michigan
Sat, Sep 25vsNotre Dame *
Sat, Oct 2vsMichigan
Sat, Oct 9@Illinois
Sat, Oct 16vsArmy
Sat, Oct 23@Purdue
Sat, Oct 30vsIowa
Sat, Nov 6@Rutgers
Sat, Nov 13vsNorthwestern
Sat, Nov 20vsNebraska
Sat, Nov 27@Minnesota

They don’t play Ohio State, Indiana, or Maryland (my top 3 in the East) and have Iowa, Notre Dame and Northwestern at Home.  This is a recipe for disaster for the rest of the West.  I do think we could see a surprise game at the end of the year for the Paul Bunyan axe AT Minnesota, otherwise this schedule fits them perfect, especially for the returning talent they have.  Their head coach is 5-1 in Bowl Games so if they do make a run, this guy apparently knows how to get his team motivated over the break and brings a great game plan.  Beware the Badgers this year, it all hangs on Mertz’s shoulders – will we see 1st half of last season Graham or post-Covid (granted it was against all top 25 teams for the most part).

Minnesota

What a weird year for Minnesota, after surprising the league in 2019 they took a noticeable step backward last year.  What I didn’t realize is that their 2019 O-Coordinator left after the season so last year was the new guys first year and it sure showed.  He was gifted a great Offense and didn’t follow-through on his end of things.  It also didn’t help that their #1 WR Bateman opted out halfway through the year and is now in the NFL.  HOWEVAH, they do return Mohamed Ibrahim, last years Big Ten RB of the year.  Dude had 200 carries, 1000+ yards, and 15 TD’s in SEVEN games.  Keep this guy on your radar especially with Bateman’s departure, defenses will definitely be able to focus more on Ibrahim, but dude is special – make sure to remember this guys name (shoutout Brennen).

Key Losses :

Outside of Bateman, who didn’t even play the 2nd half of the season, no real significant loses on either side of the ball.  They did pick up a Clemson DT transfer who was once a captain on that side of the ball during their championship run. 

2021-22 Schedule :

DATEOPPONENT
Thu, Sep 2vsOhio State
Sat, Sep 11vsMiami (OH)
Sat, Sep 18@Colorado
Sat, Sep 25vsBowling Green
Sat, Oct 2@Purdue
Sat, Oct 16vsNebraska
Sat, Oct 23vsMaryland
Sat, Oct 30@Northwestern
Sat, Nov 6vsIllinois
Sat, Nov 13@Iowa
Sat, Nov 20@Indiana
Sat, Nov 27vsWisconsin

It’s never a good thing when you open your season with Ohio State on Week 1, but with no more Justin Fields – who knows what we’ll get from that team this year (read Part 1 for analysis).  Otherwise, they do have a tough non-conference game mixed in there with a game AT Colorado.  Lastly, they end the season with AT Iowa and Indiana, and then a rivalry game with Wisconsin at home.  Expect this team to control the ball, play solid on the front 7, and control the clock.  Last year, (when Bateman played) 50% of passes went his way so they’re going to have to find a way to get some points on the board, otherwise this 2nd year O Coordinator might be out the door after the season ends.  Definitely an interesting team to watch this year though.

Nebraska

Wowza, what used to be.  This ain’t your fathers Nebraska team of the 90’s, and for you young’ns Eric Crouch ain’t showing up any time soon, and Scott Frost might not be the savior y’all were looking for (shoutout Bo Pellini).  Now upcoming 4th year starter Adrian Martinez is looking to be the under center come Week 1 now, especially with little McCaffrey transferring all over the nation a few times over this offseason.  Martinez freshman year he threw for 2600 yards and 17 TD’s.  In the following two years COMBINED he has 2900 yards and 14 TD’s with 12 picks.  Dude is certainly mobile, and I think that needs to be utilized more, even though Frost doesn’t jive well with that (IMO).  Freshman year he had 140 carries, 630 yards, and 8 TD’s.  Last year (his worst year) 90 carries & 520 yards.  When you don’t have the weapons, and you need to convert those 3rd and shorts – having that dual threat never hurts.  Anyways, lets take a look at what we got coming up for them this year.

Key Losses :

 Biggest thing I saw was their best WR and co-captain WR (only had 5 catches) but had that leadership quality for the team as a whole.  Otherwise, no significant loses (outside of Lil McCaffrey mentioned above who didn’t really do much anyways).

2021-22 Schedule :

DATEOPPONENT
Sat, Aug 28@Illinois
Sat, Sep 4vsFordham
Sat, Sep 11vsBuffalo
Sat, Sep 18@Oklahoma
Sat, Sep 25@Michigan State
Sat, Oct 2vsNorthwestern
Sat, Oct 9vsMichigan
Sat, Oct 16@Minnesota
Sat, Oct 30vsPurdue
Sat, Nov 6vsOhio State
Sat, Nov 20@Wisconsin
Fri, Nov 26vsIowa

I’ll be honest, their first half of the schedule favors this team greatly.  Now while most of the defense returns, these aren’t the “Blackshirts” we’re used to in the past – they still have trouble getting pressure on the QB and getting turnovers.  Regardless, what I think I’m looking forward to is all the Cornhusker fans with their pseudo-confidence going 3-0 into their game at Oklahoma then getting blown out LOL.  After that, the schedule does ease up a bit, but they end the season with Home against Ohio State, AT Wisconsin, then Big Brother comes to town on the greatest Thanksgiving hangover game there is.  Until they find someone to replace Martinez, I don’t see this team doing anything great, however, can sustain an average season.

Purdue

Purdue’s record last year doesn’t do it justice.  All their games were one possession games outside the finale against Nebraska.  That being said, they did play a fairly week schedule outside of Iowa (which they won) and against Northwestern.  I really thought they would be something last year, with their passing attack with Rondale Moore would do a number on some of these Big Ten teams, but after he put his name on the radar his Freshman year, especially his game against Ohio State that year, injuries/COVID/Opt Out-In really impacted last year for him as he wasn’t much of a presence when he did play.  He’s now off to the NFL where I think he’ll do great as he’s an explosive player, but lets take a look at what else they’re missing out and what’s upcoming for this season.

Key Losses :

Obviously Rondale Moore was a big loss, but they do have previously named B1G Freshmen of the year at WR Bell who consistently produces. 

The LT declared for the NFL leaving this pass heavy offense blind side in question.

2021-22 Schedule :

DATEOPPONENT
Sat, Sep 4vsOregon State
Sat, Sep 11@UConn
Sat, Sep 18@Notre Dame
Sat, Sep 25vsIllinois
Sat, Oct 2vsMinnesota
Sat, Oct 16@Iowa
Sat, Oct 23vsWisconsin
Sat, Oct 30@Nebraska
Sat, Nov 6vsMichigan State
Sat, Nov 13@Ohio State
Sat, Nov 20vsNorthwestern *
Sat, Nov 27vsIndiana

Yeah, this schedule is going to be rough.  Unlike most other B1G teams, they open against a Power 5 non-conference game at home against Oregon State.  They also have to go to Notre Dame, Iowa, & Ohio State.  Ending the season with Northwestern and Indiana at home.  I think the issue with this team is that they have about 5 different options at QB.  Without that consistency in a pass heavy offense with almost no running game, it’s going to be hard to build that momentum.  Even last year, they had 2 QB’s split reps throughout the season.  Going to be a tough road for this team but Brohm is a great coach and I believe they’ll be competitive.

Illinois

RIPIP Lovie Smith – it was fun while it lasted.  But with great loss, comes great gains, and with that being said, welcome back Brett Bielema LOL!  He had a good program in Wisconsin, got cocky and thought he could go take a bottom feeder in the SEC and turn them around and just was a disappointment all around.  They keep their QB who has been playing for some time, so definitely knows the ropes.  Return most of the OLine and have a few options at RB.  Going to keep this one short since I think we know where this is going.

Key Losses :

Top targets at WR and TE are gone to the NFL or transferred out.  Best OL went to the NFL.

2021-22 Schedule :

DATEOPPONENT
Sat, Aug 28vsNebraska
Sat, Sep 4vsUTSA
Sat, Sep 11@Virginia
Fri, Sep 17vsMaryland
Sat, Sep 25@Purdue
Sat, Oct 2vsCharlotte
Sat, Oct 9vsWisconsin
Sat, Oct 23@Penn State
Sat, Oct 30vsRutgers
Sat, Nov 6@Minnesota
Sat, Nov 20@Iowa
Sat, Nov 27vsNorthwestern

The schedule isn’t actually that bad, but this team is bad.  You have a tough non-conference with a game AT Virginia.  Otherwise I see about 2, maybe 3 wins on this schedule.  Bielema is going to try to implement his Wisconsin offense of Run the Ball and play Defense and this team just aint ready for that.  Pretty short review, but this team has some ways to go.

EOY Conference Predictions :

WESTCONFOVR
Wisconsin8-111-1
Iowa7-210-2
Minnesota6-38-4
Northwestern5-48-4
Purdue3-65-6
Nebraska3-64-7
Illinois1-83-8

Wisconsin has a solid schedule, returning starters, and a great QB.  I like them to ride the West and win the West.

Iowa has Petras and offensive weapons, always consistent – just don’t know if they have what it takes to beat out Wisconsin this year.

Minnesota had a down year offensively last year, but their RB (underdog Heisman candidate) will lead the way to a number of solid wins

Northwestern has the players, but their QB won’t mesh with Fitzgerald’s scheme.

Purdue needs to decide on one QB and stick with it so their can be some consistency on their Hawaii lite offense.

Nebraska has Adrian Martinez as their starting QB.  That’s all.

Illinois is going to try and make itself something it’s not with Bielema leading the way, and I don’t see them able to make that change this year or the next few unless some recruits land their way.

Conference Championship Game :

Wisconsin vs. Indiana

WINNER – Wisconsin

I really think this is the year that Wisconsin makes the CFP and rightfully so.  As always.  Let’s Eat folks