NCAA Football 2017 Season
Big Ten West Preview
The Badgers have earned a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game in two out of the last three seasons. All signs point to another appearance in December. While Wisconsin is a heavy favorite in the West Division, selecting the order of teams in the next tier (2-4) is a little more challenging. Little separates Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks
The Badgers have won 21 games over Paul Chryst’s first two seasons as head coach despite inconsistency on offense. The defense, on the other hand, has been terrific. A return to the days where the offensive line wore down opponents would take some of the pressure off that the defensive core.
One positive development for Wisconsin: Its schedule appears much more manageable than in 2016, when the opening two months included games against LSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa.
After recording multiple 10-win seasons and multiple bowl wins since 2012, Northwestern now hopes to contend in the Big Ten West. The return of 15 starters and a fairly favorable schedule (no Ohio State nor Michigan) suggests that this is the season to make a move. But a larger indicator, according to head coach Pat Fitzgerald, is how many starters will be pushed or displaced by others. Northwestern must show it can handle inevitable injuries as well as underperforming play better than it did early last season.
Consecutive games against West Division winner Wisconsin (road) and league champion Penn State (home) on September 30th and October 7th should show whether Northwestern is for real or not.
There is lot to be encouraged about on both offense and defense. Unfortunately, for every strength, there seems to be a matching weakness. Iowa is loaded on the offensive line and also has a star running back in Akrum Wadley. But there is little proven depth at receiver. Also, none of the quarterbacks has started a game. Combine that with having to replace three starters in the secondary, along with the starting punter, and much of the team is unproven at this point.
The schedule also could be tricky. Iowa hosts a respectable Wyoming team in the season opener before facing Iowa State in Ames. Ohio State also returns to the schedule for the first time since 2013. A winning record coupled with yet another bowl game appearance seems within reach. But Iowa has too many uncertainties at this stage to be considered a contender in the Big Ten West Division.
The Huskers improved from 6–7 to 9–4 in head coach Mike Riley’s second season, although the improvement could be partially attributed to better breaks. Plus, the four losses came in the final six games. After battling Wisconsin to overtime, they lost at Ohio State 62–3, at Iowa 40–10 and to Tennessee in the Music City Bowl 38–24. They’ve allowed a combined 1,519 yards of offense in those games. This led to former defensive coach Mark Banker being fired. A year ago, Riley fired defensive line coach Hank Hughes. Despite his nice-guy personality, Riley has shown a hard edge in trying to get this team to where he wants it.
Nebraska hasn’t won a conference championship since 1999 and has played in only one Big Ten Championship Game — a 70–31 loss to Wisconsin in 2012. With so many changes on offense, defense and special teams, the Huskers would seem to be long shots to play in a second this season.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Gophers went 9–4 and beat Washington State 17–12 in the Holiday Bowl last season, but this year’s squad could take a step back. They’ll face a harder schedule, as Michigan essentially replaces Rutgers on the slate.
There’s also uncertainty with a lack of experience at quarterback and a lack of depth along the offensive and defensive lines as well as in the secondary. If they can shore up those questions and can get past Oregon State in Corvallis on September 9, a 5–0 mark is attainable heading into the home game against Michigan State on October 14.
New head coach P.J. Fleck has a track record for taking teams to unforeseeable heights. He took Western Michigan from 1–11 in 2013 to back-to-back 8–5 campaigns before a breakthrough to 13–1 and a Cotton Bowl berth against Wisconsin in 2016.
Jeff Brohm was hired as the Boilermakers head coach in December to replace the fired Darrell Hazell. A 9–33 in three-plus seasons for Hazell with the Boilermakers wasn’t good enough to let him keep his job. The former coach was also 3–24 in the Big Ten and a horrific 0–14 in the month of November.
While Brohm has a talented and experienced quarterback in junior David Blough, Purdue’s September schedule isn’t exactly conducive to a quick turnaround. The Boilermakers open on September 2nd against Louisville in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium. The follow up that by playing Ohio University in West Lafayette. They then finish their travel to Missouri before entertaining Michigan on September 23rd.
Brohm will have to rely on young players on the offensive line and transfers at wide receiver. Purdue likely will feature an exciting offense and an improved defense, but winning more than three or four games will be a challenge for Brohm and his coaching staff.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois regressed across the board in Year 1 under head coach Lovie Smith. The Illini won two fewer games, averaged 57.6 fewer yards per game and allowed 54.3 more yards per game. More troubling: Their final five losses came by an average of 30 points.
Smith will rely heavily on underclassmen in 2017. There are just six seniors on the projected two-deep depth chart. The schedule includes an early trip to AAC favorite South Florida but isn’t overly daunting. The Illini travel to Ohio State but don’t play Michigan or Penn State. Still, getting to six wins will be a challenge.