A capsule look at the football teams in the Big Ten West
Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News breaks down the teams in the Big Ten West for the 2019 season.
In predicted order of finish.
► Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten; beat Miami (Fla.), 35-3, in the Pinstripe Bowl
► Coach: Paul Chryst, 42-12 in four seasons at Wisconsin, 61-31 overall
► Outlook: The Badgers were left to search for a quarterback after Alex Hornibrook decided to transfer. But that is much easier to do when Jonathan Taylor is your tailback. He ran for 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore and gained more than 200 yards in a game five times. However, offense isn’t the problem for the Badgers. Improving on a defense that allowed more than 344 yards a game will be vital to the Badgers being in the mix to win the Big Ten West
► Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten; beat Mississippi State, 27-22, in the Outback Bowl
► Coach: Kirk Ferentz, 152-101 in 20 seasons at Iowa
► Outlook: The Hawkeyes were a top-10 defense last year and return their share of starters, including junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who had 10.5 sacks last year as a backup. They’ll rely heavily on that unit as quarterback Nate Stanley lost his two top targets — tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson — to the NFL. The Hawkeyes avoid Ohio State and Michigan State but road games with Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska could make winning the West a difficult task.
► Last season: 4-8 overall, 3-6 in the Big Ten
► Coach: Scott Frost, 4-8 in one season with Nebraska, 23-15 overall
► Outlook: There might not be a team with more buzz these days than the Cornhuskers. Some of it is because of Scott Frost’s track record as the head coach and some of it is because of the fact the Huskers closed last season winning four of six. Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez is an electric playmaker, but if the Huskers’ defense doesn’t improve significantly the buzz might dissipate quickly in Lincoln.
► Last season: 9-5 overall, 8-1 in the Big Ten; beat Utah, 31-20, in the Holiday Bowl
► Coach: Pat Fitzgerald, 96-70 in 13 seasons at Northwestern
► Outlook: The Wildcats surprised everyone last season, ending up in the Big Ten championship game after opening the season with a 1-3 record. Repeating as West Division champions and getting back to Indianapolis will be a tough task, as the 'Cats are replacing quarterback Clayton Thorson. However, stepping in is former five-star recruit Hunter Johnson, a transfer from Clemson. The offense isn’t loaded with returning playmakers, but the defense should be solid, keeping the Wildcats in the hunt all season.
► Last season: 6-7, 5-4 in the Big Ten; lost to Auburn, 63-14, in the Music City Bowl
► Coach: Jeff Brohm, 13-13 in two seasons at Purdue, 43-23 overall
► Outlook: The Boilermakers entered last season with plenty of momentum, but losing the first three games of the season was tough, especially a home loss to Eastern Michigan. The Boilermakers responded to reach a bowl game only to get blitzed by Auburn. They’ll turn to Elijah Sindelar again at quarterback after the graduation of David Blough, but Sindelar will have the luxury of throwing to All-American candidate Rondale Moore. Get the defense to start stopping opponents, and Purdue could contend in the Big Ten West.
► Last season: 7-6 overall, 3-6 in the Big Ten; beat Georgia Tech, 34-10, in the Quick Lane Bowl
► Coach: P.J. Fleck, 12-13 in two seasons at Minnesota, 42-35 overall
► Outlook: The Golden Gophers pulled a huge upset of Wisconsin in the final game last season to lock up a bowl bid after a frustrating conference season. After a win in the Quick Lane Bowl, momentum is building for the Gophers, and some believe they have a shot to contend in the West. Tanner Morgan was 4-2 as a starter at quarterback last season, and he’ll be the Week 1 starter as the Gophers return plenty on the offensive side, while the defense builds off a solid finish to the 2018 season.
► Last season: 4-8 overall, 2-7 in the Big Ten
► Coach: Lovie Smith, 9-27 in three seasons at Illinois
► Outlook: Michigan transfer Brandon Peters will start Week 1 at quarterback for the Fighting Illini as they try and dig out of the West cellar. Many believe, however, that freshman Isaiah Williams will eventually take over an offense that showed signs of life late last year, scoring 55 points in a win over Minnesota. The biggest concern for the Illini is shoring up a defense that was last in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense in 2018.