The 2018 season was pretty distinctive for the Huge Ten West, and never simply because Northwestern received it regardless of ending fifth in S&P+ within the division.
Wisconsin has been the category of the West because the division was established in 2014. The Badgers have completed with the very best S&P+ margin each season and received the West 3 times, with their defeats coming in 2018 and 2015, after they equally misplaced to Iowa by 4 factors and Northwestern by six. In different phrases, when Wisconsin will get issues proper, they have an inclination to dominate the West.
Nevertheless, for those who survey the Vegas odds, the West is thought to be fairly open in 2019. Gauging by the percentages on successful the B1G title, the West shakes out as:
Tier 1: Nebraska and Wisconsin at +1600
Tier 2: Iowa at +2000, Northwestern at +2200, and Purdue at +2500
Tier 3: Minnesota at +6600 … and Illinois at +8000
There are a number of the explanation why the B1G West must be rather more entertaining this season than in prior years.
The Badgers is perhaps excellent in 2019, however they’ve some fairly huge query marks.
The draft took a pair of linebackers and two OL, commencement took one other All-B1G OL the NFL didn’t draft, and the switch portal took two-year beginning QB Alex Hornibrook. It appears Hornibrook additionally noticed the writing on the wall, with the spring enrollment of blue-chip QB prospect Graham Mertz.
If Mertz is the person, he’ll nonetheless have an enormous, all-Wisconsin OL, a number of skilled receivers and tight finish Jake Ferguson, and a pair of,000-yard RB Jonathan Taylor. However for a program that’s dominated the division by working the ball and enjoying protection, handing the keys to a freshman sign caller would definitely be a departure.
The protection additionally slipped in 2018, which was the rationale the Badgers didn’t repeat as division champs. Issues are promising there, because the DL is more healthy, the LB corps will characteristic Zack Braun and Alabama switch Christian Bell, and the secondary has been retooled with new gamers.
Betting odds clarify that Nebraska is predicted to lastly give Wisconsin a run for its cash.
Nebraska is 1-7 in opposition to Wisconsin since becoming a member of the Huge Ten, with some actual stinging defeats in there.
However Scott Frost has invigorated this system, and the Huskers appeared feisty sufficient in 2018 to generate a superb bit of pleasure. There are Heisman odds out there for sophomore QB Adrian Martinez, who threw for two,617 yards and ran for 629 extra final yr, and everybody remembers how Frost turned UCF from a 6-7 workforce to 13-0 “national champions” in yr two.
It is perhaps a bit early to crown the Huskers. Their OL might be devoid of seniors, and that breakthrough UCF workforce had 4 gamers chosen within the following draft, together with first-round CB Mike Hughes. The Nebraska protection was 55th within the nation final yr and remains to be on the lookout for a star.
Nonetheless, there’s no doubting Frost’s offensive acumen, and there’s purpose for the excitement about what a second-year Frost offense with a dynamic Martinez may seem like.
The 2-man possibility video games, during which Martinez can both throw …
… or hand off …
… to fellow sophomore/Californian Maurice Washington might be actually lethal in 2019.
Even Northwestern has a five-star QB now.
Northwestern’s components in 2018 was a bend-don’t-break protection, a four-year beginning QB in Clayton Thorson, and discovering methods to win all of the video games they needed to win. When the Wildcats performed the category of the Midwest (Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State) they went down, however they beat all their West rivals and Michigan State by slim margins.
The foremost loss is Thorson, however they’ve already deliberate forward. Former five-star QB Hunter Johnson is ready in line after he fled the Clemson competitors when Trevor Lawrence arrived. The remainder of the Northwestern offense figures to be not less than pretty much as good as in 2018, significantly with RB Isaiah Bowser again after taking up as a real freshman.
For Northwestern, the return of seven or eight defensive starters (relying on the way you rely) is the stronger level. Star DL Joe Gaziano is again after 12.5 TFL and seven.5 sacks, however the true concern for opponents is the center of the backfield, the place Blake Gallagher (127 tackles), Paddy Fisher (116 tackles), J.R. Tempo (82 tackles), and Travis Whillock (57 tackles) return at security and linebacker.
Northwestern employs an Iowa-like method on protection, sometimes enjoying off at cornerback (until blitzing and eager to deny straightforward launch throws), however then enjoying one or each safeties shallow sufficient to disrupt slot receivers and get tacklers to the run. It makes for a unit that’s robust to maneuver the ball in opposition to constantly, until you possibly can harm them outdoors within the passing recreation. That’s not a typical attribute on this division.
The West is particularly totally different than it was just some years in the past, now that unfold advocates Frost, Jeff Brohm, and P.J. Fleck are round.
Purdue has some punching energy that hasn’t been seen since Drew Brees was in West Lafayette.
The Boilermakers have arguably the perfect participant within the division (convention? nation?) in WR Rondale Moore, who had 135 complete touches for 1,471 yards and 14 TDs final season as a real freshman. Brohm introduced plenty of intelligent ways, however with Moore on the sector, issues could be fairly easy and nonetheless work out simply nice:
Fleck’s Minnesota quietly put one thing collectively over the course of 2018. Fleck hit the jackpot when Minnesota native and IMG attendee Zach Annexstad handed up scholarship presents from G5 applications to not solely stroll on and play QB for the Gophers, however to recruit two of his blue-chip teammates from IMG to do the identical. These two OL, Daniel Faalele (6-9, 400) and Curtis Dunlap (6-5, 350), give Minnesota the largest proper facet in faculty soccer.
Behind these behemoths and a TE, Fleck will discover it straightforward to construct his RPO schemes that pressure groups to defend a downhill run. Simply outdoors, star slot WR Tyler Johnson runs a fast route that Annexstad can hit if the secondary crashes to assist the beleaguered entrance:
The general firepower throughout the West is significantly elevated by the additions of unfold offensive coaches like Fleck, Brohm, and Frost.
Wisconsin’s capacity to run the division with a ground-and-pound offense and prime protection might be significantly examined this yr, now that UW’s opponents received’t all simply attempt to line up and outmuscle the Badgers.