2019-06-16 13:50:351 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
-by Evan McShane, Contributing Writer; Image: Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez attempts pass. (Image Source: David Banks/Getty Images)
Bloomington, IN—Here’s a look at the Big Ten West power rankings heading into the summer:
One might be shocked to see Nebraska so high on this list after going 4-8 last season in what was an underwhelming debut for head coach Scott Frost. However, things started to look different in Lincoln, Nebraska in late October last year. Following an 0-6 start and a narrow overtime loss at Northwestern, the Cornhuskers trounced Minnesota 53-28. They finished their final six games with a 4-2 record – their only losses coming by five points on the road against Ohio State and by three points on the road at Iowa. Nebraska looked like a completely different team during the second half of the season and true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez showed real promise. Martinez is athletic, elusive, and has a knack for making big plays. It should come as no surprise if the Cornhuskers are massively improved next year. Look for Martinez to have a big season as Frost works to get Nebraska back to its winning ways.
The Iowa Hawkeyes lost two tight ends to the first round of the NFL Draft this season, among four early entries, yet despite losing such significant talent, Iowa should be poised to have another successful season with Nate Stanley at quarterback. The Hawkeyes lost a good chunk of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but historically, Iowa has recruited defense very well and has usually had success replacing high-caliber players. Good Iowa teams have a steady defense and steady offensive line. These two things are central to success in the Big Ten and 2019 should be no exception for the Hawkeyes. The question for Iowa will be, how far can Stanley take them?
Minnesota finished their season on an impressive high note. The Golden Gophers stunned Wisconsin, beating the Badgers 37-15 in Madison to become bowl eligible. Minnesota then beat Georgia Tech to win their first bowl under head coach PJ Fleck. The season was not without turmoil, however. Minnesota lost four=straight games in early October and surrendered 55 points to a weak Illinois team in November. Overall, as Fleck attempts to restore the Gophers football program, 2018 was a success with bowl eligibility and a postseason victory. The Gophers return most of their two deep and should be a very experienced group compared to years past.
The 2018 campaign was mightily disappointing for a Wisconsin team that was widely projected to compete for a College Football Playoff bid. The Badgers lost their third game of the season against BYU at home and subsequently lost every other game thereafter, failing to build any positive momentum. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook was a large part of that inconsistency. Next year, Hornibrook (transferred) will be replaced by either stud recruit Graham Mertz or Jack Coan. Wisconsin lost four of their five starting offensive linemen and several talented defenders. One bright spot remains with the return of running back Jonathan Taylor. The Badgers will rely on Taylor to carry them to success in 2019.
After a rocky 1-3 start to their season, Northwestern remarkably found themselves in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Quarterback Clayton Thorson managed a balanced offense and was supported by head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s consistent defensive unit. The Wildcats got a midseason boom in the form of recruiting when highly-touted quarterback Hunter Johnson transferred to Northwestern from Clemson. Johnson will likely be the favorite to start for the Wildcats next season. If Northwestern can assemble another steady defense, they have the tools on offense to pace themselves to another successful season. Perhaps the most intriguing question for Northwestern in 2019, is just how good is Johnson?
Purdue had one the stranger seasons last year with wins over Ohio State, Iowa, and Boston College around puzzling losses at home against Eastern Michigan and to a lesser extent, Northwestern. Their season was punctuated by an embarrassing 63-14 bowl loss against Auburn. A wildly inconsistent defense was lifted up by a playmaking offense that relentlessly attacked downfield. Breakout star freshman Rondale Moore made a name for himself in the receiving game. Quarterback David Blough showed off his passing acumen time and time again. The Boilermakers will turn to quarterback Elijah Sindelar next year to replace Blough. In addition to Blough, over two-thirds of Purdue’s offense graduated. Head coach Jeff Brohm has had great early success recruiting at Purdue and the Boilermakers will need his success on the recruiting trail to pay off quickly if they plan to return to another bowl game.
The Fighting Illini were able to see some improvement last year during Lovie Smith’s third season as head coach. Although the improvement was subtle as Illinois won just two conference games. While defense was Smith’s specialty in the NFL when he coached the Chicago Bears, this has not turned out to be the case at Illinois. The Fighting Illini gave up 40 or more points in half their games last season. They lost these six games by embarrassing margins of 63, 39, 39, 30, 29, and 19 points. If Illinois is to see any improvement moving forward, they will have to correct these fatal defensive flaws. Quarterback play has been less than stellar under Smith and it’s unclear who will be the starter next year. Freshman Isaiah Williams, a high profile recruit out of Saint Louis, will compete with sophomore MJ Rivers for the job. Will Illinois’ defense and quarterback play improve upon a 4-8 campaign in 2019?
To read more from Sammy Jacobs and his staff at HoosierHuddle.com, click here.
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