Michigan State and Ohio State have combined to win the last three Big Ten championships.
Both the Spartans and Buckeyes are expected to be good again in 2016, and the emergence of Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines appears to make this year’s Big Ten season a three-team race.
But what about the Big Ten West? Could a team like Iowa, Wisconsin or Nebraska dethrone the mighty East and bring home a conference championship this year?
I asked that very question to BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart in this week’s segment of “Debate It.”
Who do you agree with?
Can a Big Ten West team win the conference title in 2016?
Without a doubt, a Big Ten West team can win the league title. History has shown us that anything can happen in one game—and that the more talented team doesn’t always win. If I were to pick one team from the West with the best shot to topple the East champ in the league championship game, I’d go with Iowa. Why? Because of Hawkeye QB C.J. Beathard. He has been on that big stage in Indianapolis before and wouldn’t be fazed. The guy is one of the top signal-callers in the nation. And he will have a nice supporting cast with four linemen with lots of experience returning along with skill in RBs LeShun Daniels, Akrum Wadley, TE George Kittle and WR Matt VandeBerg. The Hawkeye defense also will be strong from front to back with no area of weakness while being strong up the middle with T Jaleel Johnson, LB Josey Jewell and S Miles Taylor. OK, there are a few worries: Depth on the d-line, playmakers at wideout and the need for a pass rusher. But Kirk Ferentz hasn’t lasted into his 18th year in Iowa City without being resourceful … and darn good at what he does.
Can it happen? Sure, just like you said, anything can happen in one game. But will it happen this year? I don’t think so. The three giants — Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan — simply have too much talent. What the Buckeyes lack in experience, they make up with Heisman Trophy hopeful J.T. Barrett behind center, and All-American linebacker Raekwon McMillan in the middle of the defense. The Spartans are led by an exceptional running game, highlighted by sophomore L.J. Scott, who could be the top back in the conference when it’s all said and done. On defense, how is a team like Iowa, Wisconsin or Nebraska going to score on a defense that features Malik McDowell on the line, Ed David and Riley Bullough at linebacker, and Vayante Copeland and Montae Nicholson in the secondary? And as good as the Spartans’ defense should be in 2016, Michigan’s is right up there, if not better. Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis are two of the top defensive backs in the nation, and you know Jim Harbaugh will get the best out of his quarterback at Michigan. Just like you, I like Iowa a lot, but do they have the athletes and playmakers to match up with a team like Ohio State or Michigan? I’d argue Nebraska is the most athletic of the top three teams in the West, but is that enough to compete with the big boys in the Big Ten East? I don’t think so.