The B1G West is an open race for the most part. To me, there is not really a clear cut, definitive runaway champ, as we have seen in years past. It is going to be very competitive, cut throat and one loss to a west team is going to make or break anyone’s chances of winning this side of the conference.
Front Runner - Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin is always near the top in the West. Their smash mouth style is peak B1G. They have not changed much in terms of offense in nearly 3 decades. While QB play generally costs them a couple games each year, they are always stout in the run game and have one of the best offensive lines in the nation.
This year is no different, B1G Frosh of the year, Braelon Allen is back after a dominant freshman year. He will go down as one of the great Wisconsin Running Backs. RS Jr QB Graham Mertz is back, he isn't great but is a serviceable and experienced QB. A veteran OL and Tight End group will help Mertz be successful.
Their defense is senior heavy also, starting 9 on defense and returning many starters. They will be another solid Wisconsin D that is not asked to do too much, as the will eat the clock up with their run game.
Contenders - Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota, Nebraska
Purdue has the best quarterback in the B1G West, he isn’t too far behind CJ Stroud IMO as a college QB. He is surrounded by weapons, the question is, what weapons will be healthy? There are plenty of recovering injuries at the WR group from the off season or previous season that are still healing. Will Thompson be healthy? Rice? Sheffield? Tyrone Tracy should lead that group during the season and will be explosive.
The Purdue D is lead by Senior and future NFL player, Jalen Graham. The pass rush will need to be in mid season form with the departure of Karlaftis and Mitchell, we are down our top 2 pass rushers. The secondary is intriguing, but plagued by injuries, another, who will be healthy?
Iowa Is always in the mix, but have met their kryptonite, an athletic team that makes their defense miss in the open field - see the Brohm era. RS SR Spencer Petras is back under center and he will need to improve drastically for them to win the west. Sam LaPorta should have a big season at tight end for them, then they tend to have multiple RBs that help their run game. A veteran defense will anchor this team, if they can figure it out on O, they may make some noise.
Minnesota has been in the mix since Fleck arrived. Morgan is back for his 3rd full year at starting quarterback. Ibrahim will anchor an always good run game. Minnesota returns most of their gigantic offensive line, that always gives Purdue issues.
On defense, they return Thomas Rush at the hybrid end spot who is pretty solid. They are young in a few spots but will probably be good enough there.
Nebraska is in a critical year in the Frost era. He should have most of his guys in the starting line up. Casey Thompson will quarterback the team, he was pretty solid in Texas. A lot of Cornhusker starters appear as transfers, they transferred in some of the most in the nation, nearly 25% of their roster I believe. Trey Palmer is a WR transfer that should havea good year for them too.
Dark Horse - Illinois
Many people have the Illini as dark horses, I am not totally sold on that idea, but will list them here to appease some. Tommy DeVito is an immediate upgrade at QB and will be very good for them. They fortified the offensive line with some transfers as well, as that was a major weakness for them in 2021. On defense, they return most of the starters from the previous season. I could see them going from 5-7 to a 7-5 year.
Pretenders - Northwestern
The Wildcats were bad last year. 1-8 in conference and 3 wins overall. Very unlike a Pat Fitzgerald coached team. But, I just don’t see an upgrade on offense anywhere to get excited about. Quarterback play is going to remain poor as they plan to run out Ryan Hillinski. On defense, they should be better, as they transferred in what should be 4 new starters, 3 on the defensive line, where they were gashed in the run game in 2021.
Maybe an improvement to 4 or 5 wins, not enough to move the needle though.