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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 7:00 PM

As the Big 10 begins its first season as a 14-team league split into Eastern and Western halves, it looks like the West will be the weaker of the two halves out of the gate. There’s no guarantee it will stay that way because college football is always in a state of flux. But, THIS YEAR, Wisconsin may be at least a touchdown better than everyone else even after getting hit hard by graduation.

Yesterday we studied Ohio State, Michigan State, and the rest of the East. Today, it’s Westward Ho as Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska move into the spotlight…

 

Big 10 West

Wisconsin

2013 Record: 9-4

2013 Rankings: 18 on offense, 7 on defense

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 3 on defense

Head Coach: Gary Anderson

Notebook: Joel Stave is back at quarterback, but the team as a whole lost a lot of talent to graduation. You can see that on the defensive side in particular. Can that unit get ready for the season opener against LSU in Houston? If the Badgers impress vs. the Tigers, then the Western race could be a piece of cake. If not, then the door is open for a spoiler to rise up and make things interesting. A gift schedule has Wisconsin missing Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan from the other half of the league…though in the division the Badgers must visit Iowa and Northwestern.

 

Iowa

2013 Record: 8-5

2013 Rankings: 84 on offense, 6 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense

Head Coach: Kirk Frerentz

Notebook: The Hawkeyes also return their starting quarterback, but Jake Rudock only led the #84 offense in the nation. And, this is a team that got to play a lot of soft defenses in 2013. The team will still have to win with defense, which means winning “ugly” even when things are going well. This year’s schedule is very soft, and the potential divisional decider will be in Iowa City on November 22 when Wisconsin comes to visit. We’re likely to have Iowa lower this season in our Power Ratings than the media will in the poll rankings.  

 

Nebraska

2013 Record: 9-4

2013 Rankings: 58 on offense, 40 on defense

Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 5 on defense

Head Coach: Bo Pelini

Notebook: The program has seemed on the verge of implosion of late. A New Year’s bowl win over shorthanded Georgia helped erase the bad vibes that had been brewing from a bad September home loss to UCLA through a bad November home loss to Iowa. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong saw some action last season, but was turnover prone. The returning starter tally is low, tying Wisconsin for lowest in the whole conference. September games at Fresno State and vs. Miami should provide decent testers for league play. For now, you have to assume Nebraska is still a go-against” team against good teams in games that matter.

 

Northwestern

2013 Record: 5-7

2013 Rankings: 73 on offense, 88 on defense

Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald

Notebook: The Wildcats are always a potential sleeper…and always a potential disaster. They play smart, and bring peak intensity. But, talent depth isn’t there…and the defenses usually wears down over the course of the season. We like their chances to make a run this year because they return more starters than anyone else in the division…and likely quarterback Trevor Siemian is a good match for the planned system. We’ll watch the openers with California and Northern Illinois closely before making any bold predictions about the league race. The Cats do get Wisconsin in Evanston on October 4, and also host Iowa. Our initial Power Ratings have NW second in this division, though most of the media has them further off the pace.

 

Minnesota

2013 Record: 8-5

2013 Rankings: 105 on offense, 43 on defense

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Jerry Kill

Notebook: Minnesota had one of those offenses that bullied soft defenses with a run game, but couldn’t do anything against teams who knew how to stop the run. That’s very likely to continue this season because preferred quarterback Philip Nelson transferred to Rutgers (because he didn’t want to spend his career handing off!). Simple handicapping approach with this group, take them at value prices vs. soft run defenses, fade them or take the Under vs. good run defenses.

 

Illinois

2013 Record: 4-8

2013 Rankings: 46 on offense, 110 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense

Head Coach: Tim Beckman

Notebook: That 4-8 record overstates the Illini’s quality last year. Among their victims were Southern Illinois, horrible Miami of Ohio, and horrible Purdue. The defense was atrocious even against a soft schedule. The good news is that promising quarterback Wes Lunt has transferred in from Oklahoma State. That and a good number of returning starters shows the potential for legitimate improvement. A road game at Washington on September 13 will be the best test for what’s ahead in league play. Road games at Wisconsin and Ohio State will probably prevent any sort of true breakthrough season.

 

Purdue

2013 Record: 1-11

2013 Rankings: 119 on offense, 104 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Darrell Hazell

Notebook: Last season was horrendous, with the only win coming over Indiana State (and it was close!). Young quarterback Danny Etling was hyped coming out of high school. He was given the starting job midway through last season so he could learn how to swim in the deep end right away. Young quarterbacks often do make big leaps forward in this scenario…but it’s less likely to happen in doormat programs. Reasonable tests (class-wise) come right out of the gate against Western and Central Michigan. Week three against Notre Dame in Indianapolis (home field of the Colts) will tell us what we need to know about hopes for competitiveness in the Big 10.

That wraps up the Big 10. Don’t forget that the best way to prepare for the coming football season is to build your bankroll with BIG, JUICY BASEBALL WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK! You can purchase BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about baseball or football service, call us in the office 1-888-777-4155. Representatives are available during normal business hours on weekdays, and before first pitch on Saturdays and Sundays.

We’ll spend a couple of days with baseball before resuming our college football conference previews on Wednesday. Here’s the coming schedule…

Monday: MLB Series Preview…LA Dodgers at Pittsburgh Pirates

Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…Tampa Bay at St. Louis

Wednesday: College Football…Pac 12 “North” Preview

Thursday: College Football…Pac 12 “South” Preview

Friday: MLB Series Preview…LA Dodgers at San Francisco

Saturday: College Football…Big 12 Preview

Sunday: College Football…American Athletic Conference Preview

 

Hope you’re having a great summer weekend. You can always TURN UP THE HEAT on Vegas sportsbooks with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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