Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 15, 2016

I gave my prediction for the Big Ten East earlier. Now, let?s take an early peek into 2016 and how it may look with my early forecast for the Big Ten West.

After my choices in this post, we?ve included another opportunity for you to add your own Big Ten West predictions (No. 1 through No. 7) to the overall fan ranking.

1. Iowa. Any talk of winning the West has to start with the Hawkeyes, who are coming off a season for the ages. Lots of talent is back, including QB C.J Beathard and some decent skill-position players. The defense also is loaded with vets and got a big boost when CB Desmond King opted to return. Still, Iowa needs more explosive ability on offense. And can it stay hungry after a magical 2015 season that saw it advance to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 25 years? The schedule this time around is much more challenging.

2. Nebraska. The Cornhuskers led the Big Ten in gut punches received, perfecting the art of the excruciating and confounding loss in Mike Riley?s debut. The worm has to turn in 2016, right? A season under Riley should make everything run smoother next fall. Plus, there is some good talent on hand in Lincoln for a team that has some momentum after finishing 3-1 in its last four games. It looks like QB Tommy Armstrong may have turned a corner for what still is the most talented team in the West.

3. Wisconsin. The Badgers are one of the best programs in the Big Ten-no matter who is coaching them. Paul Chryst had a nice debut but can?t rest on laurels, as the offensive line must improve and a quarterback needs to be found. At least RB Corey Clement will be back and healthy. But the program?s biggest loss was defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who left for LSU. He can?t be replaced. If that isn?t bad enough, the schedule replaces cupcakes with T-bones. Check this out: The Badgers open Big Ten play at Michigan State; at Michigan; vs. Ohio State; at Iowa; vs. Nebraska; at Northwestern.

2015 Big Ten West Standings
Conference Overall
Iowa 8-0 12-2
Northwestern 6-2 10-3
Wisconsin 6-2 10-3
Nebraska 3-5 6-7
Minnesota 2-6 6-7
Illinois 2-6 5-7
Purdue 1-7 2-10

4. Northwestern. The last time NU won 10 games, it had consecutive five-win seasons. Can Pat Fitzgerald keep the ball rolling in Evanston after a season in which it found a way to win every close game? The defense has as much athletic ability and talent as it ever has led by LB Anthony Walker. But the offense is right out of the 1950s. RB Justin Jackson is a keeper, but some big-play ability and explosiveness are needed. QB Clayton Thorson has to get better.

5. Minnesota. This is Tracy Claeys? program now, and he already has shaken up the staff with a new offensive coordinator. No doubt, the offense needs some giddy-up and an injection of new ideas, as it too often plods along in three- and four-yard chunks. Having veteran QB Mitch Leidner is a good starting point. The defense has been among the Big Ten?s best but loses three monster players from a terrific secondary. Was last year?s 6-7 slip-up an aberration?

6. Illinois. Bill Cubit basically will be auditioning for his job after serving as interim head coach in 2015. Cubit is a smart coach who knows a rushing attack that ranked last in the Big Ten must improve. The offensive line has to get better. He has radically altered the staff, must hope QB Wes Lunt goes out in a blaze of glory, and that the defense can build on an improved effort in 2015 with coordinator Mike Phair now calling the shots.

7. Purdue. Darrell Hazell is at a crossroads as he enters his fourth year in West Lafayette. That?s what going 6-30 overall and 2-22 in the Big Ten in three years will get you. There are many issues. One of the biggest: A quarterback spot that has been unstable since Hazell arrived. I give Hazell credit: He was proactive in the offseason, dumping both coordinators. He had to do something. Will it work? No one knows. But football is a simple game. You have to block and tackle. And this program has struggled at both, ranking 13th in rushing offense and 14th in rushing defense in 2015. If Purdue can?t run or stop the run, the program will remain tethered to the cellar.

Now it?s your turn. Use this Survey Monkey ranking tool to tell us what you think and to see what the collective has voted for so far.



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