BTN.com staff, BTN.com staff, August 31, 2015
Kickoff week is here.
[ MORE: Pick Week 1 winners | Power Rankings | See new 2015 uniforms ]
Michigan (at Utah) and Minnesota (vs. No. 2 TCU) kick off the Big Ten football season Thursday night, and the games continue every day through Monday night.
Before the season starts, "BTN Live" is airing its one-hour long Big Ten East and West preview shows.
On Monday night, Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith put the spotlight on the Big Ten West Division. Watch video from the show in this post.
We'll take a look at the Big Ten East at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday on "BTN Live."
Check out BTN.com's Big Ten West preview below:
Best team: Wisconsin. There's a new coach, and there's all of the talk about this not being a vintage Wisconsin offensive line. Still, with a highly manageable schedule, clarity under center and Dave Aranda back to direct one of the Big Ten's top defenses, the Badgers should be the favorite to get to Indy.
Best offensive player: Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin. Northwestern's Justin Jackson had the better year last season as a true freshman, but Clement did what he did as a backup to Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon. No question about it, Clement is the next star in Wisconsin's backfield.
Best defensive player: Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska. There are several candidates to choose from here, however the star of Nebraska's much-talked-about defensive tackle duo has the talent to make the biggest impact of any Big Ten West defender.
Best non-conference game: Wisconsin vs. Alabama, Sept. 5. This is the Big Ten vs. SEC. Need I say more? The Badgers beat Alabama's rival, Auburn, in 2015 Outback Bowl, one of the results that helped rewrite the SEC West narrative last postseason. Also, this one's in prime-time at Jerry World.
Best game: Wisconsin at Nebraska, Oct. 10. Many will argue it's Wisconsin at Minnesota in the final week, but the Badgers and the Huskers are the teams I envision fighting it out for the Big Ten West. This hasn't been a very competitive series since Nebraska joined the conference, admittedly, but both coaches are new and the winner will own the all-important tiebreaker.
Bold prediction: Purdue will avoid a third consecutive last-place finish. The Boilermakers went 0-8 in 2013 (Leaders) and 1-7 last season (West), an aggregate 1-15 record, three games worse than any other Big Ten team in the last two seasons. Purdue will win at least two Big Ten games this fall, good enough to avoid the cellar.
— Brent Yarina
BEST CASE/WORST CASE
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 recently fired 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 in several years. 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.
Take a look a the @B1Gfootball West Division quarterback situation with @HowardGriffith & @GerryDiNardo. http://t.co/b1BANhyDNn— BTN Live (@BTNLive) August 31, 2015
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.
Who do @HowardGriffith & @GerryDiNardo favor in the @B1Gfootball West Division? See here. http://t.co/LFFCw7cdoD— BTN Live (@BTNLive) August 31, 2015
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.
New @B1Gfootball season is upon us. @HowardGriffith & @GerryDiNardo give names to know in the #B1G West Division. http://t.co/9DZVbshmMh— BTN Live (@BTNLive) August 31, 2015
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.
— Tom Dienhart
FS Clayton Fejedelem. He?s a try-hard senior who has continued to progress throughout his career, to the point where he?s primed to play a key role in a veteran secondary. The 6-1, 195-pound Fejedelem-who began his career at an NAIA school–is a hitter who can cover a lot of ground at a safety position that has been lackluster in recent years in Champaign. Fejedelem compensates with effort and smarts for what he lacks in athletic ability.
OT Boone Myers. He arrived in Iowa City as a walk-on, earning a scholarship last season. Now, Myers-a tight end and defensive end in high school–is primed to step into the key left tackle spot vacated by all-time great Brandon Scherff. The 6-5, 300-pound Myers has the athletic ability to play the position, but the sophomore must show he has the strength and technique. No one in the Big Ten has bigger shoes to fill.
DE Hendrick Ekpe. He?s a 6-5, 244-pound force off the edge who turned heads in the spring. The junior-whose brother Scott is a defensive tackle for the Gophers–has started just one career game but is primed to emerge as a bookend to Theiren Cockran. Ekpe is an explosive athlete who combines strength and speed.
DE Freedom Akinmoladun. The 6-4, 255-pound redshirt freshman could be the answer to the Huskers? need for a pass rusher off the edge with Randy Gregory gone. Akinmoladun has beefed up since arriving as a tight end and turned some heads in the spring at a position that lacks depth. Speed and explosiveness are hallmarks of Akinmoladun?s game.
Our @HowardGriffith thinks there's a dominant team in the Big Ten West, and it's the @Huskers. http://t.co/uqRzZYVe7m— BTN Live (@BTNLive) August 31, 2015
S Godwin Igwebuike. The sophomore showed his potential when he picked off three passes vs. Wisconsin last season. Igwebuike started five games in 2014, when Ibraheim Campbell was hurt, and impressed during his redshirt freshman season. The 6-0, 200-pound Igwebuike has a nose for the ball and likes to hit, notching 51 tackles last season.
RB D.J. Knox. The Boilermakers are desperate for running backs with speedsters Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt gone. Knox impressed in the spring with his burst. But the sophomore is just 5-7, 197 pounds. Is he built for the long haul? If Knox isn?t the man, the staff hopes (prays?) that Indiana Mr. Football Markell Jones or sophomore Keyante Green emerges.
RB Corey Clement. Can it really be anyone else? (Actually, yes. Watch redshirt freshman LB T.J. Edwards.) Clement is the next in line of a procession of great Badger ball carriers. The 5-11, 217-pound junior had ?only? 969 yards rushing last season, carrying the luggage for starter and Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon and his 2,670 yards. Pencil in Clement for at least 1,500 yards rushing this fall.
— Tom Dienhart
Both the best-case/worst-case and breakout player features were from posts earlier this offseason.