Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, July 8, 2015

We recently looked at the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Big Ten East.

Here?s a look at the Big Ten West.

[ MORE: Get all of Tom Dienhart's preseason Big Ten coverage ]


Best case: The arrival of co-defensive coordinator/d-line coach Mike Phair has the desired impact for a moribund defense that too often under Tim Beckman is equal parts punching bag/piñata. This defense finally has honest-to-goodness teeth. QB Wes Lunt stays healthy and puts it all together for an offense with underrated wideouts and the best line yet under Beckman. Say ?hello? to the Pinstripe Bowl.

Worst case: Lunt continues to struggle to remain healthy-and his development stagnates. No complement emerges to help RB Josh Ferguson, while WR Mikey Dudek takes too long to regain his fabulous freshman form after a spring knee injury. The defense? It remains dreadful, unable to stop the run, rush the passer or make big plays. No bowl for the Fighting Illini for the third time in four years.



Best case: QB C.J. Beathard is a revelation, pumping life into an often listless offense with some downfield passing. That vertical game opens chasms for a rushing attack that springs to life behind RBs Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels. A developing linebacking corps delivers on its promise for a defense led by a strong secondary. Iowa just misses winning the West but still lands a plum bowl in Orlando or Tampa.

Worst case: Beathard struggles and becomes a turnover-machine with no proven alternative to plug in when he struggles. Playmaking wideouts fail to develop-again. Two new tackles struggle to get on track, bogging down a rushing game that disappointed in 2014. Two new defensive tackles struggle vs. the run, while a linebacking corps that lagged last year continues to endure growing pains. The Hawkeyes are home for the bowl season for the second time in four years.



Best case: QB Mitch Leidner excels in a new up-tempo wrinkle, developing better rhythm and timing as a passer. That invigorated aerial game only makes an already potent rushing attack that much better working behind one of the Big Ten?s best lines. The best secondary in the Big Ten sets the tone for a continually underrated defense, as Minnesota wins the West and earns another bowl trip to sunny Florida.

Worst case: One of the Big Ten?s worse passing games remains grounded. Who are the big-play wideouts? TE Maxx Williams can?t be replaced. Defenses gang up to stop a rushing attack that has bid adieu to workhorse RB David Cobb. The Gopher defense misses stud MLB Damien Wilson. And a rebuilt line struggles to consistently stop the run. Still, Minnesota manages a trip to the Pinstripe or Quick Lane Bowl.



Best case: The players embrace new coach Mike Riley?s less-intense approach, responding in renewed energy and focus. The looser mind-set results in fewer turnovers and penalties. QB Tommy Armstrong adapts to the new pro-style approach. The defense buttons up concerns at linebacker and end to help push the Cornhuskers to the West Division title and a spot in Florida for the postseason.

Worst case: The offense bogs down behind a line in flux, as Armstrong struggles with his passing. And no one fills the playmaking voids created by the departures of WR Kenny Bell and RB Ameer Abdullah. The front seven on defense springs leaks. Are there any pass rushers in the house? The Huskers still forge a trip to the Foster Farms or Pinstripe Bowl.



Best case: A two-quarterback systems proves to be the elixir to a struggling offense, with Clayton Thorson (passer) and Matt Alviti (runner) playing off each other?s strengths. A much-maligned line shows toughness and tenacity–even a little nastiness. Led by a standout secondary, the defense has more athletic ability than ever under Pat Fitzgerald. Book a trip to the TaxSlayer, Citrus or Outback Bowl.

Worst case: The offense remains uninspiring and unimaginative, often stuck in neutral behind a line that is subpar–again. That proves ruinous to young stud RB Justin Jackson. The quarterback spot offers little confidence, marred by inconsistency and mistakes. The defense continues to struggle to get off the field late in games, leading to more heartbreaking fourth-quarter melt-downs. NU misses a bowl for a third season in a row.



Best case: Anchored by a strong line, the offense finally shows potential in Year Three under Darrell Hazell. Austin Appleby brings some stability to a quarterback spot that has been problematic in recent years. And some playmakers emerge at RB and WR to give this attack some big-play ability. A strong linebacking corps and tackle tandem lead a spirited defense that generates big plays. The Boilermakers go bowling in Santa Clara, Calif., Jacksonville or New York.

Worst case: Appleby flops and Purdue is forced to use a newcomer. The offense finds no reliable running back, and the receiving corps remains pedestrian-at best. The defense can?t find a pass rusher, while injury chips at the spotty depth of the secondary. The Boilers miss a bowl for a third season in succession.



Best case: The arrival of native son Paul Chryst spells stability. And the players respond accordingly. QB Joel Stave is a fit for what Chryst wants to run. And he has some promising wideouts to work with, headed by Alex Erickson. Corey Clement emerges as the next ?great one? at running back. Retaining coordinator Dave Aranda is a major coup for an attacking 3-4 scheme that is fueled by veteran talent and a standout secondary. Wisconsin wins the West and lands a New Year?s Bowl.

Worst case: Personnel and depth concerns along the offensive line are realized, hampering a once-potent offense. Stave remains mistake-prone playing for an offense that lacks explosive playmakers on the edge. The defense struggles to pressure the passer as it works in two new inside linebackers. Still, the Badgers land in the TaxSlayer or Holiday Bowl.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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