The Big Ten West is the conference that has seen the most change in recent years. With Michigan and Ohio State joining the conference, it’s no surprise to see a lot of movement in both conferences.

The big ten west teams are the 10 schools that make up the Big Ten West division of college football. These teams are all members of the Big Ten Conference and will be playing each other for conference supremacy.

Wisconsin football is played in Wisconsin. Iowa will always be Iowa. Northwestern is known for doing Northwestern things. Minnesota is becoming more and more Minnesota. The Big Ten West has more proven players than any other college football conference. However, for such a consistent split, the West has proven particularly difficult to predict in recent years.

In 2018, reigning champion Wisconsin was seen as the overwhelming favorite to win again, with only Iowa posing a serious threat. Northwestern came up on top of the division by a three-game margin.

In 2019, upheaval caused a reshuffle, and Nebraska was rated a small favorite over Iowa, with Scott Frost appearing poised for a UCF-like second-year jump. Wisconsin and Minnesota finished in a tie for first place.

Wisconsin and Minnesota were chosen to lead the way once again in 2020. Northwestern, on the other hand, defeated Iowa by a half-game.

Soon enough, we’ll find out who is the media’s favorite. With the majority of last year’s starters returning — with both Iowa and, particularly, Northwestern losing a number of important players — I believe Wisconsin will be given the nod once again. The Badgers and Iowa are the most probable teams to make a run, according to SP+.

So, congratulations to Purdue on winning the division. Let’s take a look at the Big Ten West!

Bill Connelly will preview a different division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 every week for ESPN+ during the summer, eventually covering all 130 FBS schools. In one convenient graphic, the previews will contain 2020 breakdowns, 2021 previews, and a short history of each club. The Conference USA East and West, the MAC East and West, the MWC Mountain and West, the Sun Belt West and East, the top and bottom half of the AAC, the seven Independents, the ACC Atlantic and Coastal, the Pac-12 North and South, and the top and bottom half of the Big 12 have all been covered thus far in the series.

Select a team from the list below: Illinois | Northwestern | Purdue | Minnesota | Nebraska | Iowa | Wisconsin

Big-Ten-West-college-football-offseason-preview

Illinois was rated 94th in SP+ in Lovie Smith’s first year as coach. In his last season, the Fighting Illini were ranked 89th. They had to start over then, and they had to start again today.

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 83rd

The average number of predicted victories is 3.9. (2.2 in the Big Ten)

  • Charlotte is the most likely winner* (81 percent win probability)

  • Rutgers (65%), UTSA (60%) and Northwestern (60%) are relative toss-ups (53 percent )

  • At Virginia (28 percent), Maryland (24 percent), Purdue (21 percent), Nebraska (21 percent), Minnesota (14 percent), Wisconsin (10 percent), Iowa (8 percent), and Penn State (8 percent) are all likely to lose (7 percent )

* Likely wins are games in which SP+ predicts a scoring margin of more than seven points, or a victory probability of more than 65 percent. Likely wins are the polar opposite, while relative toss-ups are everything in between.

Bret Bielema takes over a squad with few guaranteed matchup advantages, but the Illini do play five opponents ranked below the top 50 in the SP+ rankings. There are several chances to win.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about Illinois.

Smith was never the right person for the job. Smith, unlike other NFL-turned-college coaches, never established a recruiting base or gained any momentum. UI has never finished better than 70th in offensive SP+ and just once in defensive SP+. Bielema, a former head coach at Arkansas and Wisconsin, has also coached in the NFL, although he has much more (and more recent) college experience.

The linebackers and running backs are excellent. Bielema like meaty, powerful offensive lines, and although he inherits plenty of bulk (five key OL returnees weigh 310 pounds or more, while defensive tackles Roderick Perry II and Calvin Avery weigh a combined 650 pounds), the dominance aspect has been lacking.

The men that line up behind those lines, on the other hand, are rock solid. Despite their inefficiency, Chase Brown and Mike Epstein each averaged over five yards per run, while Jake Hansen leads a strong group of aggressive linebackers.

There are more questions than answers beyond that. Brandon Peters is the most probable starting at quarterback, but he’s been wildly unreliable in the past, and he’ll be missing leading wide out Josh Imatorbhebhe. (Tight end Daniel Barker is a good player.) The secondary has more experience than the passing personnel, but it is no more stable.

Illinois in 2020: What We Didn’t Learn

Is Illinois a school that “zigs while everyone else zags”? Illinois selected someone who has a history of being a Big Burly Manball purveyor in a division with a lot of them. Tony Petersen, the new offensive coordinator, has some passing experience on his resume, while Ryan Walters, the new defensive coordinator, is an aggressive, contemporary defensive coach (though he likes to play more man coverage than his charges might be able to offer in 2021). Can Bielema, on the other hand, find a way to stand out?

In a single graph, you can see the whole history of Illinois.

ESPN/Bill Connelly

  1. Illinois finished 8-1-1 and won the Rose Bowl in 1963, led by linebacker Butkus. In the 57 seasons since, the Illini have only gone to Pasadena twice, losing both times.

  2. Purdue transfer Jeff George passed for 2,738 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1989, leading John Mackovic’s Illini to their first bowl victory since 1963.

  3. The Illini, led by Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy, were in the top 10 in defensive SP+ in both 1994 and 1995… but went a combined 12-10-1 due to a lackluster offense.

  4. Illinois moved from 0-11 in 1997 to 10-2 (with a Big Ten championship) in 2001 and 1-11 in 2003 under Ron Turner. Only a few institutions have the potential and the inconsistency to pull it off.

  5. From 2007 through 2011, Ron Zook led Illinois to three consecutive winning seasons. Since then, there have been no winning seasons.

1626782708_588_Big-Ten-West-college-football-offseason-preview

Northwestern does not produce at the same level as the rest of FBS. Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats will be his most remarkable coaching performance yet if they compete for another West championship.

Projections for 2021

Rank in SP+ expected: 75th

The average number of predicted victories is 4.9. (2.7 in the Big Ten)

  • Indiana State has a 94 percent chance of winning, whereas Rutgers has a 94 percent chance of winning (68 percent )

  • Ohio (65 percent), Duke (63 percent), Illinois (48 percent), and Michigan State are all relative toss-ups (43 percent )

  • Purdue (33%) is the most likely team to lose, followed by Minnesota (24%), Nebraska (16%), Iowa (15%), Michigan (14%), and Wisconsin (14%). (7 percent )

The Wildcats have won two West championships in the last three years, with a 3-9 season in between. This season may represent a reversal of fortunes.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about Northwestern.

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Mike Hankwitz was incredible. Hankwitz resigned at the pinnacle of his 13-year tenure as defensive coordinator, with Northwestern ranked third in defensive SP+. The pass defense was almost flawless: the Wildcats were sixth in the nation in passing success rate allowed and surrendered just a few huge plays. They virtually never blitzed, instead forcing QBs to make frequent errors.

Jim O’Neil, the former NFL defensive coordinator, has big shoes to fill. He’ll be replacing two outstanding cornerbacks in Greg Newsome II and Cameron Ruiz (backups A.J. Hampton, Rod Heard, and Cameron Mitchell all performed well when given the chance) as well as two explosive run defenders in end Earnest Brown IV and linebacker Blake Gallagher. Fitzgerald’s defense has a high floor, but there will be a drop-off.

In 2020, we won’t know what we didn’t know about Northwestern.

Is it possible for the offense to stay in the double digits? Northwestern has perfected the art of winning despite a lackluster offense, but the Wildcats’ offensive SP+ ranking of 123rd in 2019 proved too much to overcome.

They climbed to 93rd place in Mike Bajakian’s first year as offensive coordinator. Northwestern’s inability to run the ball was still a problem, but QB Peyton Ramsey often bailed the Wildcats out on passing downs. Ramsey and his top four targets are no longer in the picture. Cam Porter and Evan Hull, all sophomores, and Bowling Green transfer Andrew Clair have showed promise, but run game consistency is a necessity. It may possibly be too much to ask.

Ryan Hilinski, a former blue-chip quarterback from South Carolina, and receivers JJ Jefferson, Bryce Kirtz, Malik Washington, and Kansas transfer Stephon Robinson Jr. will most likely lead the rebuilt passing game. Last year, those quartet caught a total of 13 balls.

In a single graph, Northwestern’s history may be shown.

ESPN/Bill Connelly

  1. Ara Parseghian had NU rated in the AP top 10 during portions of five seasons, and the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 for a short while in 1962. In 1964, he went for Notre Dame, and everything soon fell apart.

  2. From 1976 through 1990, NU averaged 1.5 victories each season. In hindsight, which was worse: the 34-game losing run or Dennis Green being named Big Ten Coach of the Year after finishing 3-8?

  3. Gary Barnett led the Purple to Pasadena in 1995 after winning eight games in each of his previous three seasons in command. The next year, they again went 9-3.

  4. Randy Walker and Kevin Wilson led one of the most important early iterations of the spread offense in 2000. Their victory against Michigan, 54-51, was a classic.

  5. Fitzgerald, a former great linebacker, was appointed head coach at the age of 31 after Walker’s untimely death in 2006. NU has been steadily increasing over the last fifteen years.

1626782708_940_Big-Ten-West-college-football-offseason-preview

Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers have gone 8-16 after demolishing Ohio State in 2018. They’re always competing, but they’re no closer to turning the corner than they were three years ago.

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 40th

5.8 victories are expected on average (3.9 in the Big Ten)

  • UConn (95 percent chance of winning), Illinois (79 percent), Northwestern (67 percent), and Oregon State are all likely to win (66 percent )

  • Michigan State (65%), Minnesota (45%), and Indiana are relative toss-ups (43 percent )

  • At Nebraska (33%), Notre Dame (31%), Iowa (22%), Wisconsin (18%), and Ohio State (18%) are the most likely to lose (14 percent )

Take a look at that road map! Even if they play at a top-40 level, the Boilers face five projected top-30 opponents away from West Lafayette, which may keep their win total tamped down significantly.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about Purdue.

The nibbles haven’t lost their potency (ish). Brohm’s utilization of a wide variety of quick throws as a supplement to the traditional run game is one of his trademarks. Purdue’s 43.5 passes per game in 2020 were completed inside eight yards of the line of scrimmage. The Boilers had a lot of ways to gain 5 yards on you, thanks to a good run game.

That’s critical! However, getting 20+ yards is also beneficial, and Purdue didn’t accomplish much of that until standout receiver Rondale Moore decided to enter the NFL draft.

The efficiency game will be strong once again with quarterbacks Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer, wideouts David Bell and Milton Wright, and running backs Zander Horvath and King Doerue. But unless there’s a fresh, youthful weapon in the form of Marshall WR transfer Broc Thompson? Long drives will be Purdue’s sole way of scoring unless redshirt freshman Collin Sullivan? — gives a lift in the big-play area.

Purdue in 2020: What We Didn’t Know

Will the defense be able to recover? Purdue’s average defensive SP+ rating has risen from 32nd in Brohm’s first year to 76.7 this year. The Boilermakers tackled effectively and stopped huge plays, but their passing success rate allowed was 99th. After star end George Karlaftis was lost to injury/COVID, the pass rush was non-existent (126th in sack rate), and despite good production from end DaMarcus Mitchell, they had little chance of causing disruption.

This year, three co-coordinators, headed by former Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert, will try to wreak havoc on the equation. Karlaftis’ comeback, along with the return of seven other starters, may result in some improvement, but how much?

In a single graph, Purdue’s history may be shown.

ESPN/Bill Connelly

  1. Purdue’s best years as a program were from 1966 to 1968, when Jack Mollenkopf led the Boilers to three consecutive AP top-10 rankings and a Rose Bowl victory in 1966.

  2. Purdue’s success in the 1960s was largely due to excellent quarterback performance and the contributions of Leroy Keyes, who combined for 1,989 running yards and 1,186 receiving yards while scoring 36 times in 1967-68.

  3. Purdue had 15 losing seasons in 16 years from 1981 to 1996, while having strong individual skill (Jim Everett, Rod Woodson, Chris Dishman).

  4. Joe Tiller arrived in 1997 and quickly turned things around. Purdue made their first Rose Bowl appearance in 34 years in 2000, with Drew Brees as quarterback.

  5. When Brohm came, the Boilers had just nine victories from 2013 to 2016. They were back to pre-Tiller lows. He made immediate progress, but he is still working hard to achieve much more.

1626782709_125_Big-Ten-West-college-football-offseason-preview

Last season, PJ Fleck’s Golden Gophers were two points away from being 5-2 and two scores away from going 1-6. They’re not far from a playoff berth in the West, but only if the defense regains its consistency.

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 31st

The average number of predicted victories is 7.3. (4.7 in the Big Ten)

  • At Northwestern, BGSU has a 98 percent chance of winning, Miami (Ohio) has a 96 percent chance of winning, and Illinois has an 86 percent chance of winning (76 percent )

  • Colorado (62 percent), Maryland (59 percent), Purdue (55 percent), Nebraska (55 percent), Indiana (42 percent), and Wisconsin are all relative toss-ups (36 percent )

  • Iowa (31%) and Ohio State (31%) are the most likely to lose (30 percent )

Minnesota’s games are expected to be decided by six points or less in half of them, and eight of them by nine points. The outcome of the tossups will have a significant effect on the West race.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about Minnesota.

Rashod Bateman is probably not the end of the world. The Gophers lost offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, top receiver Tyler Johnson, leading rusher Rodney Smith, and massive lineman Curtis Dunlap Jr. (injured) and Daniel Faalele after being sixth in offensive SP+ in 2019. (opt-out). They still scored 34 points three times, avoiding bad plays, and relied on quarterback Tanner Morgan’s passing downs wizardry when it was needed (though he did suffer a couple of sketchy performances).

After standout receiver Bateman opted out, they dropped a notch in the final two games, averaging 5.8 yards per play with him and 5.3 without him. But, with the exception of Bateman, the Gophers will return every starter in 2021, and Dunlap and Faalele are also expected to return. Out wide, Morgan has big-play receivers Chris Autman-Bell and Daniel Jackson, and in the backfield, Mohamed Ibrahim, who ran for 100 yards or more in every game last season (and 200 yards twice). This offensive should be among the top 30.

What Minnesota didn’t teach us in 2020

On D, what the hell happened? Minnesota’s defensive SP+ averaged 32.0 during Fleck’s first three seasons. However, after reaching a high of 26th place in 2019, the Gophers dropped to 64th place last autumn. (Had they played the whole season, the collapse would have been much worse.) They were rated 121st in terms of success rate and 98th in terms of explosive play rate. And this despite having the third-best tackle success rate in the league and receiving outstanding performances from defensive end Boye Mafe (4.5 sacks) and cornerback Coney Durr (33.7 QBR allowed)!

The tackles were unable to hold up, the linebacking corps was non-existent in terms of playmaking and play-stopping, and the Gophers dominated third-and-longs but were unable to force any. Fleck added two tackle transfers, Nyles Pinckney (Clemson) and Val Martin (NC State), while linebacker Braelen Oliver returns from injury to become Minnesota’s most experienced blitzer right away. But this was a major setback. It’s difficult to forecast a quick recovery.

A timeline of Minnesota’s history in one graph

ESPN/Bill Connelly

  1. Minnesota, a late-thirties powerhouse, won its first national championship in 19 years (and last since) in 1960, due in part to final polls conducted before a Rose Bowl defeat.

  2. From 1960 to 1962, the Gophers had three consecutive top-10 finishes, thanks to a pair of hall of fame (both pro and collegiate) defenders in Bobby Bell and Carl Eller.

  3. Lou Holtz was just the head coach for two years, but he took over a Gophers team that was coming off of maybe its worst season ever and had them bowling by year two.

  4. Glen Mason had several solid teams from 2002 to 2005, notably a 10-win club powered by running backs Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney in 2003.

  5. UM’s 2019 team was the first to win 11 or more games since 1904, and the first to finish in the AP top 10 since Bell and Eller’s 1962 team.

1622038987_583_Ranking-the-best-college-football-teams-that-didnt-win-a

Nebraska looked well against Ohio State, defeated Penn State, and then were blasted out by Illinois in 2020. Scott Frost’s whole term has been marked by “two steps forward, two steps back.”

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 30th

The average number of predicted victories is 7.0. (4.9 in the Big Ten)

  • Fordham (99 percent), Buffalo (86 percent), Northwestern (85 percent), Illinois (79 percent), and Purdue (79 percent) are the most likely winners (67 percent )

  • Michigan State (65 percent), Michigan (53 percent), Minnesota (45 percent), and Iowa are all relative toss-ups (43 percent )

  • Ohio State (31 percent), Wisconsin (26 percent), and Oklahoma (26 percent) are the most likely to lose (17 percent )

Six of the Huskers’ first seven games are expected to be favorites… and one of their final five. Recommendation: Get started right away.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about Nebraska.

There is reason to believe that the defense has a chance. NU improved from 63rd to 38th in defensive SP+ due to a mix of excellent red zone performance and disruptive run defense. There were still flaws, such as the lack of a pass rush and the ineffective pass defense that resulted, but it was a start.

Nine starters return, but NU’s greatest pass rusher, linebacker Will Honas, may be gone for the season (knee). End Ben Stille and JoJo Domann are capable run stoppers, while safety Marquel Dismuke and Deonta Williams, as well as cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, provide depth in the secondary. Cracking the top 30 will be tough unless the pass rush improves.

What Nebraska didn’t teach us in 2020

Adrian Martinez, will it ever click for him? McKenzie Milton went from a good true freshman starter to one of the greatest players in the nation in two years at UCF under Frost. Martinez, who was named the starter from the outset when Frost arrived in Lincoln, faced an unfair challenge. He hasn’t done anything about it.

Martinez has struggled with injuries and inconsistency in recent seasons (his passer rating was above 140 10 times and below 105 seven times in 20 games in 2019-20), and with the departures of leading rusher Dedrick Mills and leading receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, he’ll have to deal with uncertainty in the skill corps once again. Receivers Zavier Betts and Levi Falck, tight ends Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek, and USC RB transfer Markese Stepp all have efficiency potential, but big plays were few last season. A couple big plays and easy touchdowns would help a club that has lost six of its last eight games by one score.

Is Frost ever going to get it? Frost, the former NU quarterback, returning home to turn the program around seemed like one of the most no-brainer choices of the last decade after what he had done at UCF. He has a 0.375 victory % after three years. You can still turn things around as long as you’re employed, but Frost shouldn’t wait much longer.

Nebraska’s whole history is shown in a single graph.

ESPN/Bill Connelly

  1. NU had only had one winning season in the previous nine years before Bob Devaney came in 1962. In 11 seasons, he would win two national championships and place in the top ten seven times.

  2. To freshen things up after a 12-8 season in 1967-68, Devaney elevated Tom Osborne to offensive coordinator. Over the following four years, they went 42-4-2 with two national championships.

  3. When Devaney resigned in 1972, Osborne was the obvious option. In his first 21 seasons, he managed 14 top-10 finishes but never won a national championship…

  4. Until 1994, that is. His Huskers broke through to win the championship that year, followed by a second-place finish in 1995 with one of the greatest teams ever, and a third-place finish in 1997, his last season.

  5. Frank Solich, Osborne’s replacement, had three top-10 finishes in six years before being dismissed. NU hasn’t finished in the top ten since 2012, and hasn’t been rated at all after then.

1626782710_88_Big-Ten-West-college-football-offseason-preview

Iowa has won six straight games after starting 0-2 and is now ranked 10th in SP+, its highest position since 2008. Is it time to start talking about the Hawkeyes as legitimate Big Ten contenders?

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 16th

8.3 victories are expected on average (6.0 in the Big Ten)

  • Kent State (98 percent), Colorado State (96 percent), Illinois (92 percent), at Northwestern (86 percent), Purdue (78 percent), Minnesota (69 percent), and Indiana (69 percent) are the most likely winners (67 percent )

  • Maryland (61 percent), Nebraska (57 percent), Penn State (54 percent), Wisconsin (38 percent), and Iowa State (38 percent) are all relative toss-ups (37 percent )

  • Losses are unlikely to occur.

The Hawkeyes will have to replace three starters on each line, but if the trenches hold up (as they typically do for Iowa), there will be no regular-season losses.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about Iowa.

Ferentzball has a chance to win. Pass rush with a low blitz? Zone defense is a pain, isn’t it? Is it possible to have a run-first, efficiency-based offense? Ferentz’s cautious strategy paid off for the Hawkeyes, who won five games by a margin of 14 or more and thrashed both Penn State and Wisconsin. The run game was as good as it’s been in a long time, and RB Tyler Goodson and two probable all-conference lineman (Tyler Linderbaum and Cody Ince) give them a chance to do it again.

It stings to lose both offensive and defensive tackles, as well as ace pass rusher Chauncey Golston. Zach VanValkenburg returns as a strong end, but anything less of trench dominance will need greater contributions from the other units. This may be a problem.

They need more from the quarterback position. The Hawkeyes don’t need much from their signal-caller if everything else goes well. Last season, though, they just received the bare minimum from Spencer Petras.

With WRs Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith, the Hawkeyes rated 92nd in passing-downs success rate and Petras ranked 64th in total QBR. They’re both gone, and although junior Tyrone Tracy Jr. has showed promise, the receiving corps is still inexperienced. If Iowa fails to win the West, it will very likely be due to the passing game’s inability to deliver when it was required.

In 2020, we won’t know what we didn’t know about Iowa.

Is this the greatest Ferentz defense we’ve seen so far? In 13 seasons, the Hawkeyes have finished sixth or higher in defensive SP+ five times, but they hadn’t finished higher than second until last season. They may have a chance at first if solid tackles emerge — junior Noah Shannon is the only DT who has played more than 40 plays. Linebacker Jack Campbell seems primed for a breakout season, and the whole secondary, which includes explosive safety Jack Koerner and Dane Belton, is back in tact.

This summer, coordinator Phil Parker became Iowa’s first million-dollar assistant coach, and he may have the talent to back up his pay.

Iowa’s history in a single graph

ESPN/Bill Connelly

  1. Iowa had five top-10 finishes and two Rose Bowl victories under Forest Evashevski from 1953 to 1960. Late in 1960, the Hawkeyes reached No. 1 but were defeated by Minnesota.

  2. When Evashevski left to become AD in 1961, everything rapidly fell apart. Between 1962 and 1981, the Hawkeyes did not have a single winning season.

  3. Hayden Fry helped turn things around, reaching his pinnacle in 1985. QB Chuck Long came close to winning the Heisman Trophy, and the Hawkeyes were ranked No. 1 for more than a month before ending 10-2.

  4. The lengthy Fry reign came to an end on a sour note (3-8 in 1998), but Iowa nailed his replacement choice. Ferentz has five top-10 finishes and six years with ten or more victories.

  5. Ferentz’s most successful team (the 12-2 club from 2015) was also one of his lowest, placing 42nd yet coming within a whisker of the CFP after a series of tight victories.

1626782710_849_Big-Ten-West-college-football-offseason-preview

We may have learned less about Wisconsin than any other FBS team in 2020 because to a new quarterback, injuries, and more COVID issues than others. At least, that’s what the Badgers hope.

Projections for 2021

SP+ projected rank: 9th

9.4 victories are expected on average (6.8 in the Big Ten)

  • Eastern Michigan (98 percent chance of winning), Rutgers (94 percent), Northwestern (93 percent), Army (93 percent), Illinois (90 percent), Purdue (74 percent), Michigan (71 percent), and Notre Dame (71 percent) (67 percent )

  • Minnesota (64 percent), Iowa (62 percent), and Penn State are all relative toss-ups (60 percent )

  • Losses are unlikely to occur.

In 2020, we learnt a lot about Wisconsin.

Jim Leonhard is incredible. Leonhard has just one official year of coaching experience when he was elevated to defensive coordinator by head coach Paul Chryst in 2017. He’s shown that he made the right decision. The Badgers have finished in the top 15 in defensive SP+ in three of the past four seasons, including fourth last year.

On early downs, the Badgers stifle the run and dominate the throw on passing downs. They blitz well, particularly with inside linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal, and corners Faith Hicks and Caesar Williams can handle the man coverage Leonhard demands. Leonhard will have to replace two of the four main offensive linemen, but he may start up to ten juniors and seniors overall.

Graham Mertz could be, as well (with help). It’s all-or-nothing territory: The Badgers averaged 39 points per game in four victories, while Mertz, a blue-chip redshirt freshman, had a raw QBR of 79.6. In his debut against Illinois, he completed 20 of 21 passes.

The Badgers, on the other hand, averaged 6.7 points in their three defeats. QBR of Mertz: 24.6. A shifting RB corps provided him with less assistance than anticipated, while top receivers Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor hardly touched the field. Against strong Iowa, Northwestern, and Indiana defenses, Wisconsin was completely outmatched.

Davis and Pryor, as well as sophomore Chimere Dike and tight end Jake Ferguson, are all back. Mertz should have fewer blunders, but the run game still has a lot of work to do.

Wisconsin in 2020: What We Didn’t Learn

The run game isn’t perfect. Wisconsin has a strong ground game, but the Badgers were 72nd in rushing success rate, with virtually no big-play potential. The offensive line was continually changed, and blue-chip RB Jalen Berger struggled to stay on the field. He hit the corner nicely but didn’t do much damage between the tackles; he’ll have competition from Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi and a group of freshmen, but if he’s ready, he’ll be the Wisconsin Workhorse Back.

Wisconsin, if he’s ready, is likely to be as well.

Wisconsin’s whole history is shown in a single graph.

ESPN/Bill Connelly

  1. Milt Bruhn’s Wisconsin Badgers led the country with 32.2 points per game, finished second in the AP poll, and pushed No. 1 USC to the wire in a 42-37 Rose Bowl thriller.

  2. For decades, the Badgers would not be invited to another Rose Bowl game. They won 3.4 games per year on average from 1964 to 1977, with one winning season.

  3. Things went apart again after a promising start to the 1980s. After winning nine games in four years, Washington turned to Notre Dame defensive coordinator Barry Alvarez for help.

  4. From 1993 through 1999, Alvarez’s Badgers won six bowl games, three top-10 finishes, three Rose Bowl victories, and a Heisman Trophy (via Ron Dayne in 1999). What a 180-degree turn.

  5. UW has had five more top-10 finishes and three more Rose Bowl appearances since Alvarez’s departure in 2005. One of the sport’s most consistent forces.

The big ten expansion is a big topic in college football. This article will look at the Big Ten West and talk about what they have to offer for the upcoming season.

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  • big ten predictions 2021
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