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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 18, 2015 at 7:00 PM

You saw yesterday that Ohio State and Michigan State are likely to be serious national players over in the Big 10 East. And, Michigan has a chance to become a developing story thanks to new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Today we look at the West…where Wisconsin is at the head of a much weaker pack.

 

Wisconsin

2014 Record: 11-3

2014 Rankings: 21 on offense, 4 on defense

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Paul Chryst (first year)

Notebook: Chryst takes over for Gary Anderson (who fled for Oregon State after a limited tenure in Madison). He certainly knows what Wisconsin football is all about. But, the offense may have too many new faces in new places to be a top 10 caliber program this season. We’ll learn a lot in the season opener against Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX on September 5. Joel Stave returns at quarterback. He’s not a dynamic passer though. Just enough here to continue running over a weak division before facing a juggernaut in the conference championship game. As always…invest in Wisconsin against teams who can’t stop the run…fade them against opponents who can!

 

Nebraska

2014 Record: 9-4

2014 Rankings: 31 on offense, 52 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Mike Riley (new coach)

Notebook: Riley’s the guy that Gary Anderson is replacing at Oregon State! The turbulent Bo Pelini era has come to an end for better or worse. Nebraska expects to be a college football power. The stat rankings above show that it just wasn’t happening any more. Riley will at least modernize the offensive approach. It remains to be seen if he has what it takes to contend for the conference crown. He could never do much more than play spoiler in the Pac 12. Early tests vs. BYU and at Miami will be worth monitoring closely.

 

Minnesota

2014 Record: 8-5

2014 Rankings: 103 on offense, 39 on defense

Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Jerry Kill

Notebook: Minnesota has a chance to throw a monkey wrench into the national picture right off the bat with a home opener against TCU. The offense is going to be in big trouble this season though, as limited experience returns from a unit that was bad to begin with. It’s a telling sign for the West that Athlon is picking the Gophers third in the Division when they don’t have an offense!

 

Iowa

2014 Record: 7-6

2014 Rankings: 63 on offense, 22 on defense

Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Kirk Frerentz

Notebook: We’ve been asking “why is Kirk Frerentz still the head coach at Iowa” for about a decade. He does just enough every season vs. a soft schedule to stay employed. This year’s team was hurt by graduation. And, we’re talking about a unit that was waxed by Tennessee in a bowl game last year anyway. We’ll know quickly if the team is going to matter. Their conference opener is the first Saturday of October at Wisconsin. Generally speaking, avoid these guys as favorites. They have a chance to compete as underdogs because of their defense and tendency to shorten games by running the clock.

 

Northwestern

2014 Record: 5-7

2014 Rankings: 104 on offense, 53 on defense

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 10 on defense

Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald

Notebook: Last year’s team beat Wisconsin…and beat Notre Dame…but couldn’t qualify for a bowl! Injuries are usually an issue at undersized programs. It’s a good sign that so many starters return on defense. You can’t assume any good news though until it’s clear that the team has a quarterback who can get something done. Last year’s offense was pathetic. Tough opener at home against Stanford. Week Three at Duke may provide a more relevant test. Capable of at least one upset.

 

Illinois

2014 Record: 6-7

2014 Rankings: 94 on offense, 109 on defense

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Tim Beckman

Notebook: The Illini did qualify for a bowl last year. But, getting waxed by Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl made it clear that they weren’t really a “bowl caliber” team. Those stat rankings were atrocious for a team that played such a soft schedule. Very hard to be optimistic this year about real quality. Playing in a weak division might make them bowl eligible again. Toughest September test will be at North Carolina in Week Three. When all these bad teams play each other, somebody has to win.

 

Purdue

2014 Record: 3-9

2014 Rankings: 108 on offense, 80 on defense

Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Darrell Hazell

Notebook: Purdue had better stat rankings than Illinois, and their only conference win was over the Illini. So, maybe there’s a chance that the Boilermakers can crawl out of the cellar. You get the sense that the players care. There’s just not enough raw talent here for the program to compete week-in and week-out. Returning experience a plus.

Goodness…what an ugly division! The Big 10 is going to be on TV a lot this year. Pick your spots with the handful of truly important matchups. Ohio State was a legit champion last year…and Michigan State is certainly for real. The league as a whole is still a long way from being a truly compelling conference.

That ends our Big 10 coverage. College football resumes next weekend with the SEC. Between now and then, let’s build some bankroll with BASEBALL! You can purchase BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 early Sunday before the games begin…or during normal business hours Monday through Friday. The summer is flying by, so get locked in for football packages NOW!

Back to baseball tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK. Here’s what’s on the immediate agenda…

Monday: MLB Series Preview…Pittsburgh at Kansas City

Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…Baltimore at NY Yankees

Wednesday: MLB Big Game Preview…to be determined

Thursday: MLB Series Preview…Washington at Pittsburgh

Friday: MLB Series Preview…Houston at Kansas City

Saturday: College Football Preview…SEC “East”

Sunday: College Football Preview…SEC “West”

Huge weeks for both the Pirates and the Royals. Then we’ll see if the SEC has a chance to grab the national trophy back from the Buckeyes. Nobody’s going to grab any trophies from JIM HURLEY…he’s a perennial handicapping WORLD CHAMPION!

 

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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

Vegas-Sports-Masters on twitter @vsmasters

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