August 27, 2014 at 1:00 am

Big Ten West Division: Hawkeyes could soar past Cornhuskers, Badgers

Iowa's Jake Rudock completed 59 percent of his passes (204 of 346) last season for 2,383 yards and 18 TD. (Matthew Holst / Getty Images)

Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News breaks down the Big Ten West Division teams, in predicted order of finish.

1. Iowa

Trending up: The Hawkeyes bounced back from a dismal 2012 season to win eight games last year and reach the Outback Bowl. Junior quarterback Jake Rudock should build off a solid season, and the Hawkeyes have arguably the best offensive line in the conference, led by OT Brandon Scherff, a preseason All-American according to many media outlets. With a favorable schedule, the Hawkeyes could find themselves in a position to surprise some and win the West.

Trending down: The Hawkeyes were third in the conference in total defense last season and fourth in rushing defense but must replace three starters at linebacker. James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens are gone, and in their place will be a significant drop in experience with Quinton Alston, Travis Perry and Reggie Spearman.

Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-3 Big Ten

Coach: Kirk Ferentz, 108-79 at Iowa, 120-100 overall

2. Nebraska

Trending up: The Cornhuskers defense struggled mightily in 2012 and early in 2013 before finally showing some life last year in conference play. Defensive end Randy Gregory is one of the best in the conference. Running the ball will also be a strength, as usual in Lincoln, behind All-American Ameer Abdullah.

Trending down: Despite the talents of receiver Kenny Bell, the passing game continues to be a concern. Junior quarterback Tommy Armstrong was thrust into the starting role last season after Taylor Martinez was lost to injury and had trouble throwing the ball. His development will be key to the Huskersí success.

Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten

Coach: Bo Pelini 58-24 at Nebraska and overall

3. Wisconsin

Trending up: The Badgers have always had outstanding running attacks and that will again be no different in 2014. Melvin Gordon, who ran for more than 1,600 yards last season, is one of the best in the country and heíll be spelled by the explosive Corey Clement. They will again be running behind a physical offensive line that returns five players with starting experience.

Trending down: As consistent as the running game is, the passing game is just as unpredictable. Junior Joel Stave has started 19 games but injuries have played havoc with his consistency, and reportedly has lost the camp battle for the starting job with fellow junior Tanner McEvoy. The Badgers must also replace linebacker Chris Borland, but redshirt freshman Chikwe Obasih has been impressive.

Last season: 9-4 overall, 6-2 Big Ten

Coach: Gary Andersen 9-4 at Wisconsin, 39-35 overall

4. Northwestern

Trending up: After losing seven of its final eight games last season then going through a tumultuous offseason where Northwestern was at the center of the debate to unionize student-athletes, the Wildcats are convinced they have a more cohesive team. With 16 starters back from last season, including quarterback Trevor Siemian, the Wildcats could be a surprise team in the West.

Trending down: The Wildcats were dealt some difficult news early in camp when wide receiver Christian Jones was lost for the season to injury and running back Venric Mark, who was facing a two-game suspension, announced he was transferring. Itís a tough blow to an offense that will now look to unproven players to produce.

Last season: 5-7 overall, 1-7 Big Ten

Coach: Pat Fitzgerald 55-46 at Northwestern and overall

5. Minnesota

Trending up: The Gophers seem well on their way to a third straight bowl game and that could be because of a running game, led by senior David Cobb. The Gophers will lean on the running game again as an anemic passing attack looks to get better behind sophomore Mitch Leidner, but it should be enough to have them bowling again.

Trending down: The defense suffered a huge loss with RaíShede Hageman off to the NFL and his absence will put plenty of pressure on the rest of that unit. The schedule will also be a difficult one with November alone including matchups with Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten

Coach: Jerry Kill 17-21 at Minnesota, 144-94 overall

6. Illinois

Trending up: Things have not gone well in Tim Beckmanís first two years but there is reason for optimism. The biggest is sophomore quarterback Wes Lunt, a transfer from Oklahoma State who started there as a true freshman. And defensively, the Illini have bolstered things through the junior college ranks with linemen Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu.

Trending down: There are too many holes to fill on defense and questions about balance on offense to think the Illini can be a bowl team, but the biggest obstacle could be the difficult road schedule. Illinois faces Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Northwestern all away from Champaign.

Last season: 4-8 overall, 1-7 Big Ten

Coach: Tim Beckman 6-18 at Illinois, 27-34 overall

7. Purdue

Trending up: Thereís not a whole lot headed in the right direction at Purdue. The only solace Boilermakers fans have is that things canít get much worse. Second-year coach Darrell Hazell will have his hands full but at least brings back experience in the offensive backfield, including sophomore quarterback Danny Etling, for an offense that must improve on 15 points a game.

Trending down: Putting points on the board will be a big concern for the Boilermakers, who were outscored 158-17 during the first half of conference play last season. It will also be difficult for Purdue to keep opponents off the scoreboard, especially after losing cornerback Ricardo Allen from a defense that was 11th in points allowed.

Last season: 1-11 overall, 0-8 Big Ten

Coach: Darrell Hazell 1-11 at Purdue, 17-21 overall