NCAA Previews

2019 Big Ten West Football Preview

Cornhuskers Top West

Our Big Ten West preview odds for 2019 are riding on Nebraska. The Cornhuskers in our Big Ten West preview have fine potential on offense, as well as an improved D. In fact, we expect that this team will make it to one of the classic bowl games this year. Along with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, other bowl contenders from the Big Ten West include the Northwestern Wildcats, Minnesota Golden Gophers, and Wisconsin Badgers. The Iowa Hawkeyes will also certainly make it to a postseason game. The two teams that will most likely be watching postseason games rather than playing in them are the Purdue Boilermakers and Illinois Fighting Illini.

Our 2019 Big Ten West Preview

In our preview for Big Ten West football, the battle for first place will be between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Iowa Hawkeyes. On November 29, these two teams will meet in Nebraska to play their final regular-season game. That contest could determine the Big Ten West winner. We project the Wisconsin Badgers to finish third, with the Minnesota Golden Gophers grabbing fourth-place. Again, which of these two clubs ends up in third or fourth could be dependent on who wins their matchup when they end the regular season in Minnesota on November 30.

The Northwestern Wildcats, who finished at the top of the Big Ten West last season, will most likely end up fifth in 2019. The Northwestern defense will most likely determine if they finish any higher than fifth in the division. The Purdue Boilermakers should have a fine air attack this season, but their ground game looks weak. Plus, the Purdue defense is one of the least experienced and more shallow ones in the conference. A sixth-place finish looks likely. Finally, the Illinois Fighting Illini will struggle on both sides of the ball. They take seventh place.

1. Big Ten West Preview – Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-8)

Offense

The Nebraska Cornhuskers were a young team last year led by freshman QB Adrian Martinez. In his first season, Martinez, who’s a Heisman candidate this season, thrived with new coach Scott Frost’s no-huddle offense. The frosh quarterback passed for 2,617 yards and rushed for another 629. He threw 17 TD passes and ran for eight scores while tossing eight picks. Expect a better performance from Martinez in 2019. Plus, three of his four top receivers are back. Nebraska returns four starters. The biggest question mark on offense is the rush attack, as the Cornhuskers lost 1,000-yard runner Devine Ozigdo. Ozigdo, who averaged 7.0 YPA, scored a dozen times in 2018. Sophomore Maurice Washington, who had 77 carries last season for 455 yards and three TDs, takes Ozigdo’s place.

Defense and Special Teams

On defense, Nebraska’s strength is its secondary. However, that does not mean the Cornhuskers possess an exemplary pass defense. Last season, they were ranked 78th against the pass and 96th versus the run. Total yardage allowed was 433.5 YPG (94th). They allowed 31.3 PPG while the offense averaged 30.0 PPG. With six returning starters, two on each of the three D units, they should perform better. Plus, each area has a solid anchor. At the corners, senior Lamar Jackson and junior Dicaprio Bootle return. Jackson grabbed two picks and defended seven passes, while Bootle posted 15 PBU and 39 tackles. Last season, as a junior, ILB Mohamed Barry led the team in tackles (112) and TFL (9). At DE, Ben Stille notched 25 tackles, five sacks, and six QBHs. We expect more from the players on this side of the ball in 2019.

Concerning special teams, PK Barret Pickering comes back after putting up some solid numbers his freshman season. Pickering was good on 40-of-41 extra points while hitting 14-of-18 field goals. He connected on his last 10 attempts. Distance, however, is an issue for him. Punter Isaac Armstrong averaged 43.6 YPP, placing 9-of-32 within the 20-yard line. J.D. Spielman returned nine punts, bringing one back for a touchdown and averaging a very fine 17.3 per return. Spielman also was good for 21.1 YPR on kickoffs, while Maurice Washington averaged 15.7 YPR.

2. Big Ten West College Football – Iowa Hawkeyes (9-4)

Offense

Our Big Ten West preview projects the Hawkeyes to be competitive within the division. Six offensive starters return, including senior QB Nathan Stanley. In 2018, Stanley completed 59.3% of his passes, threw for over 2,800 yards and 26 TDs, and tossed 10 INTs. There’s good and bad news for Stanley. The good news, he has a sound O-line. The bad news, his top three targets from 2018 are gone. He’ll be tossing to two junior wideouts, Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Last season, each had 361 yards with Smith averaging 12.9 YPC and garnering two scores and Smith-Marsette averaging 15.7 YPC and scoring three times. There’s little depth at wideout. The running backs are also dicey. Juniors Mekhi Sargent, who ran for 745 yards and nine scores, and Toren Young, who rushed for 637 yards and five TDs, share the duties. Each averaged 4.7 YPA.

Defense and Special Teams

Iowa’s defense allowed 17.8 PPG (11th). In yards allowed, they had the 12th-ranked rushing defense, 17th-ranked passing, and 7th-ranked total. This season, although they will still be good, Iowa will not be as good as they were in 2018. The team’s top four tacklers are gone. However, the Hawkeyes’ best sack-man, junior RE A.J. Espenesa, returns. He recorded 10.5 sacks, six TFL, and eight QBHs. LE Chauncey Golston, also a junior, was good for 3.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL, and three QBHs. There’s also good news in the secondary as corner Michael Ojemundia and SS Geno Stone come back after grabbing four and three picks and breaking up three and six passes respectively. The LB unit includes WLB Djimon Colbert who had 52 tackles last season. The sophomore is the top returning tackler for the Hawkeyes.

Special teams will include walk-on junior Caleb Shudak, who was a red shirt last season, as placekicker. Michael Sleep-Dalton, an Arizona State transfer who averaged 43.8 yards per punt in 2018, will most likely be the punter. Look for Smith-Marsette to return kicks. He led the Big Ten in kickoff returns with an average of 29.5 YPR last season. He’ll also take on punt return duties.

See our comprehensive preview of NCAAF #25 Iowa in our College Football Top 25 Guide for 2019.

3. Big Ten West Preview – Wisconsin Badgers (8-5)

Offense

Last season, Wisconsin relied heavily on the run, averaging 273.4 YPG which ranked them 6th in the nation. In contrast, the team’s 157.7 YPG in passing earned them a ranking of 118th. Expect more of the same from the Badgers this year. Wisconsin has one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten. Plus, junior Jonathan Taylor, who gained a total of 2,194 yards rushing while averaging 7.1 YPA and scoring 16 TDs, returns. He won the Doak Walker Award last year. Who will be QB? True freshman Graham Mertz could take the job away from junior Jack Coan. The top five pass catchers come back, including senior WR A.J. Taylor and junior WR Danny Davis. Taylor caught 32 passes, averaging 16.3 YPC and scoring three times. Davis made 40 catches and scored five TDs while averaging 10.4 YPC.

Defense and Special Teams

The Badger D, which was ranked 34th in points allowed with 22.6 per game, was tough against the pass. They allowed opponents 189.1 yards through the air, which earned them a ranking of 22nd. Although they have to replace two-of-four starters in the secondary, Wisconsin still looks strong at corner and safety. Last season, then freshman free safety Scott Nelson took down one pick, broke up six passes, and manufactured 3.5 TFL. At corner, Rashaad Wildgoose, who was also a freshman, broke up seven passes. Zack Baun returns for his senior year as the only starter for the LB unit. In 2018, he collected 63 tackles while making an interception and breaking up two passes. Braun also had 2.5 sacks, eight QBHs, and five TFL. The D-line is young and worrisome.

The Wisconsin special teams struggled in 2018. It’s hoped that they will show improvement as just about every starter returns. Sophomore PK Colin Larsh replaces four-year starter Rafael Gaglianone. Senior punter Anthony Lotti is back after averaging 38.6 YPP and placing 14-of-32 within the 20-yard line. Jack Dunn returns punts and Aron Cruickshank kickoffs. Both were serviceable last season.

4. Big Ten West College Football – Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-6)

Offense

Minnesota welcomes back nine starters to an offense that averaged 28.9 PPG (64th) and was ranked 86th in total yards. This team is loaded with sophomores at QB. One of them will be starting. Our odds-on favorite is Tanner Morgan. Morgan completed 58.6% of his passes for 1,401 yards, nine TDs, and six INTs. Although he is not the strongest QB in the conference, Morgan proved he can play in the clutch. Every pass catcher from last season returns. Senior WR Tyler Johnson snagged 78 passes for 1,169 yards, 12 TDs, and 15.0 YPC. Sophomore Rashod Batemen returns after making 61 catches as a freshman. Batemen averaged 13.8 YPC and scored six times. As a freshman last season, RB Mohamed Ibrahim carried the ball 202 times, gaining 1,160 yards and scoring nine times. Two starters return to the O-line, which will need to make adjustments quickly.

Defense and Special Teams

The Golden Gophers defense allowed 26.5 PPG (59th) and 385.8 total yards per game (54th). The defensive line is the strongest unit on this side of the ball. Senior DE Carter Coughlin, who posted 48 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL, and two QBHs, is the big playmaker upfront. The linebacking group has the most question marks as they lack depth. In the secondary, sophomore corner Terell Smith and junior safety Coney Durr are premium defenders. In 2018, Smith made 43 tackles, broke up eight passes, and grabbed one pick. Durr was good for 36 tackles, four TFL, five PBU, and two INTs. Senior MLB Thomas Barber is the team’s top returning tackler with 81. He also garnered 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL, and one INT.

Demetrius Douglas serves special teams as both a punt and kick returner. Douglas averaged 16.1 yards per punt return, bringing one back for a score last season, and 24.8 yards per kick return. Senior punter Jacob Herbers averaged 41.2 YPP and placed 18 within the 20. Emmit Carpenter, who was this team’s most accurate kicker ever, is gone. Sophomore Grant Ryerse and UConn graduate transfer Michael Terbutt will battle for the job.

5. Big Ten West Preview – Northwestern Wildcats (9-5)

Offense

The Northwestern Wildcats have a lot of concerns on offense. The team was 99th in scoring last season, averaging just 24.2 PPG. Their ground game averaged merely 114.9 YPG (119th), while their 58th-ranked pass attack accumulated 239.4 YPG. Overall total yardage was 354.3 YPG, which ranked them 107th. QB Hunter Johnson, a sophomore transfer from Clemson, has plenty of talent. But he’ll need time to adjust. Expect him to start. At any rate, someone has to replace Northwestern’s all-time leading passer QB Clayton Thorson. The problem for any QB will be the Wildcat line, which returns just two starters. Senior wideout Bennett Skowronek returns as the anchor amongst receivers. In 2018, he grabbed 45 passes, averaging 12.5 YPC and scoring three TDs. The Wildcats do not have a thousand-yard ground-gainer. Isaiah Bowser and John Moten getting most of the reps. They both averaged 4.4 YPA.

Defense and Special Teams

Our Big Ten West preview likes the Northwestern D-line and LB unit. However, we have some big issues with the defensive backs. Three-of-four linemen return, including senior RE Joe Gaziano. In 2018, Gaziano nailed 44 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and five TFL. He also notched eight QBHs and three PBU. Junior WLB Blake Gallagher led the Wildcats last season with 127 tackles and 7.5 TFL. MLB Paddy Fisher, also a junior, was second in tackles with 116. Safety J.R. Pace, who was third in bring downs with 82, grabbed four picks while breaking up seven passes and accumulating 4.5 TFL.

Last season, PK Charlie Kuhbander had a tough time with accuracy as he struggled through an injury. He was perfect on all 28 extra points but was just 5-of-9 in field goals. Premium punter Jake Collins must be replaced. Kyric McGowan averaged 24.1 yards per kick return and Riley Lees averaged 5.4 yards per punt bring back.

See our comprehensive preview of NCAAF #21 Northwestern in our College Football Top 25 Guide for 2019.

6. Big Ten West College Football – Purdue Boilermakers (6-7)

Offense

The Purdue Boilermakers bring a mixed bag of talent to the 2019 NCAAF season. Junior QB Elijah Sindelar could have a breakout season. The primary question concerning Sindelar is can he stay healthy? In 2017, he tore his ACL and this spring he had some issues with it again. If he cannot play, then red-shirted freshman Jake Plummer is the likely replacement. WR Rondale Moore returns for his sophomore season after putting up impressive numbers as a freshman. Moore caught 114 passes for 1,258 yards. He scored 12 times and averaged 11.0 YPC. A major issue for this team is running back. The leading rushers are gone. Senior Tario Fuller is capable, but he has to stay healthy. He battled numerous injuries last season. Finally, in our Big Ten West preview, the Purdue offensive line sees just two starters come back. Inexperience defines this group.

Defense and Special Teams

Purdue generated 30.5 PPG last season, and they allowed opponents 30.0 PPG. They were ranked 127th versus the pass and 71st against the run. Nine starters return, but this side of the ball is still weak upfront and in back. There is good news at linebacker as senior WLB Markus Bailey, who led the team with 115 tackles and 5.5 sacks, is back. Junior MLB Cornell Jones, who posted 69 tackles, nine TFL, and 3.5 sacks, is also a major asset. Sophomore corner Kenneth Major, who had three INTs last season, is the top guy in the secondary.

On special teams, dependable punter Joe Schopper will be replaced by freshman Brooks Cormier. Junior red shirt J.D. Dellinger takes over for departed PK Spencer Evans. Moore ably handles punt and kickoff runbacks.

7. Big Ten West Preview – Illinois Fighting Illini (4-8)

Offense

The two best parts of this 2019 Illinois football team are the offensive line and running backs. This offense was ranked 96th in scoring, averaging 26.0 PPG. Dual threat QB Isaiah Williams, a true freshman, will be given the chance to start. He’s a talent and could be a difference-maker. Junior WR Ricky Smalling led the team last season with 33 catches and five receiving TDs. Senior running back Reggie Corbin, who last season racked up 1,085 yards while scoring nine times, leads the ground attack.

Defense and Special Teams

With Illinois averaging merely 26 PPG, it was tough for them to win any games with the defense allowing 39.4 PPG (123rd). They gave up an average of 508.3 YPG in total offense to opponents. That earned them a ranking of 127th. There’s certainly some talent and experience on defense. At WLB Jake Hansen, a junior, can bring it. He topped the team in 2018 with 95 tackles and 7.5 TFL. In the secondary, corner Jartavius Martin played well, making three interceptions while recording three PBU. DE Bobby Roundtree topped the Fighting Illini with 7.5 sacks while also recording five TFL, seven PBU, and four QBHs. He was second in tackles with 66. A total of 10 starters return from 2018. Illinois certainly has some very fine players on defense, but is there enough depth?

Australian punter Blake Hayes, who averaged 43.6 YPP last season, is back. However, Big Ten Kicker of the Year Chase McLaughlin is gone. Last season, McLaughlin was perfect on extra points and hit four-of-six from 50 or more yards. His longest was from 54 yards out. He’ll be tough to replace. Dre Brown and Carlos Candy are both solid on returns.

2019 Big Ten West Preview

Bowl Projections

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 27 – Iowa Hawkeyes and Washington Huskies
Redbox Bowl, Dec. 30 – Minnesota Golden Gophers and Stanford Cardinal
Rose Bowl, Jan 1 – Nebraska Cornhuskers and Utah Utes
Gator Bowl, Jan 2 – Wisconsin Badgers and Mississippi State Bulldogs
Armed Forces Bowl, Jan. 4 – Northwestern Wildcats and Air Force Falcons

2019 Big Ten West Preview

Projected Best Bets

Aug. 31 – Akron @ Illinois – Fighting Illini by approximately 21.
Sep. 7 – Minnesota @ Fresno State – Golden Gophers by 7.
Sep. 14 – Northern Illinois @ Nebraska – Cornhuskers win.
Sep. 21 – Iowa @ Iowa State – Take the Hawkeyes at around -10.
Sep. 28 – Middle Tennessee @ Iowa – Wager on Hawkeyes at -14.
Oct. 5 – Kent State @ Wisconsin – Bet Badgers at -14 or fewer.
Oct. 26 – Illinois @ Purdue – The Boilermakers look good at around -12.
Nov. 16 – Massachusetts @ Northwestern – Wildcats win.
Nov. 23 – Illinois @ Iowa – We’re taking Iowa by around 21.
Nov 29 – Iowa @ Nebraska – We like the Huskers at -3.

Utilize this 2019 Big Ten West preview to give yourself an added edge this NCAA football season. For more information on the Big Ten, go to our Big Ten East preview. You can access other conferences through our hub page.

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pmroczka

Paul has been writing about sports betting and sports for more than a decade, offering picks on the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA, as well as on college sports and European football. He's written thousands of season and post-season previews, innumerable articles on sports betting strategies, and various books on sports and sports betting.

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