- Plenty of star running backs in the Big Ten West
- Wisconsin Badgers (+165 to win a division title)
- Nebraska Cornhuskers (+275 to win a division title)
- Iowa Hawkeyes (+450 to win a division title)
- Minnesota Golden Gophers (+550 to win a division title)
- Purdue Boilermakers (+550 to win a division title)
- Illinois Fighting Illini (+3300 to win a division title)
- Northwestern Wildcats (+8000 to win a division title)
Plenty of Star Running Backs in the Big Ten West
While national championship contenders Michigan and Ohio State battle it out in the East Division, the Big Ten’s West Division might be more compelling, especially when looking at the Big Ten West Division odds.
Last year just one game separated the top four teams with Iowa edging out Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Purdue.
Five players out of the West Division were selected in the top 60 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, leaving holes to fill for most of the contenders.
Wisconsin is the slight favorite while Nebraska, which won one conference game a season ago, could challenge the Cornhuskers for the division title. Five of the seven teams in the division have expected regular-season win totals that would make them bowl eligible led by Wisconsin as the Badgers have -135 odds to top 8.5 victories during the regular season.
Wisconsin Badgers (+165 to win a division title)
Any discussion about the 2022 Badgers begins with running back Braelon Allen. Despite having only 12 carries in the first four games of the season, he finished with 1268 yards, and 12 touchdowns and averaged 6.8 yards per carrying as a true freshman. Joe Tippman and Tyler Beach figure to be the best of the offensive linemen.
The passing game needs to improve, especially in conference play.
The top two tacklers (Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn) are off to the NFL
Linebacker Nick Herbig had nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss a season ago. He should be more of a factor against the running game while defensive lineman Keeanu Benton will be a handful for offensive guards and centers to handle.
When looking at the college football betting odds, Wisconsin’s odds to win the conference title have dropped slightly from +950 to +1000 in the last month.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (+275 to win a division title)
It would be quite an understatement to suggest that Nebraska was active in the transfer portal with 16 players leaving and 15 coming in.
The defense should benefit from having two former Alabama recruits (safety Kaine Williams and defensive lineman Stephon Wynn) suited up. Edge rusher Ochaun Mathis from TCU (15½ sacks over the last three seasons), Arizona State cornerback Tommi Hill, Northern Iowa cornerback Omar Brown and Texas Tech defensive line Devin Drew.
Leading tackler Luke Reimer (109 tackles), Nick Henrich (99 tackles), Quinton Newsome and Garrett Nelson (11.5 tackles for loss, five sacks) lead the returnees on defense.
The big news on offense was the transfer of four-year starting quarterback Adrian Martinez.
Casey Thompson, who threw for 2113 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season at Texas, is joined by former Florida State reserve QB Chubba Purdy.
They will be throwing to LSU transfer Trey Palmer (30 catches as well as 18 punt returns in 2021), Texas transfer Marcus Washington (18 catches for 277 yards), and New Mexico State transfer Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda (578 yards on 37 receptions). Offensive linemen Kevin Williams and Hunter Anthony come in from Northern Colorado and Oklahoma State.
Nebraska was a popular pick to be among the most improved teams in the conference, however, the conference odds have fallen from +1200 to +2000 in the last few weeks.
Iowa Hawkeyes (+450 to win a division title)
No team recruits and develops tight ends like Iowa. George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson, and Noah Fant are proof of that. Sam LaPorta is the current star tight end. He is coming off a season with 53 catches and 670 yards. There are plenty of questions at other offensive positions. The Hawkeyes will miss All-American center Tyler Linderbaum.
The defense could be one of the best in the Big Ten led by leading tackler Jack Campbell and start cornerback Riley Moss. Linebacker Seth Benson and defensive lineman Logan Lee are other top returnees. Keep an eye on Lukas Van Ness, who had seven sacks as a freshman. While Iowa is not at the top in the Big Ten West Division odds, don’t count out the defending division champions.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (+550 to win a division title)
Minnesota’s top two rushers (Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving) are now at Kansas and Oregon respectively. Assuming Mohamed Ibrahim stays healthy, that shouldn’t be too big of a deal. Ibrahim ran for 1076 yards in 2020 and had 163 yards with a pair of touchdowns in a season-opening game against Ohio State. That was the extent of his 2021 season. Ibrahim could be one of the top running backs in the conference and is a player to watch during the upcoming NCAAF season.
Center John Michael Schmitz should be one of the best linemen in the Big Ten while receiver Chris Autman-Bell should have more than 36 receptions this season.
Mariano Sori-Marin (83 tackles a season ago) returns to lead the defense. Sack leader Boye Mafe is off to the NFL, but the appropriately-named Thomas Rush (5.5 sacks) should help in the pass-rush department.
Purdue Boilermakers (+550 to win a division title)
Are the Boilermakers actually going to allow Aidan O’Connell to be the unquestioned starting quarterback? After splitting time with Jack Plummer, the job is his after he threw for more than 3700 yards a season ago. Tight end Payne Durham also returns.
The offense is not usually the issue with Purdue. The defense will be led by linebacker Jalen Graham and defensive lineman Branson Deen. Second-leading tackler Marvin Grant transferred to Kansas while star defensive end George Karlaftis was a first-round pick in April’s NFL Draft. If the defense is average, this is a team that could outperform its current standing in the Big Ten West Division odds.
Illinois Fighting Illini (+3300 to win a division title)
Illinois deserved a better fate than a 5-7 record in 2021 with five of the losses coming by 10 points or less.
There might not be a more under-the-radar returning 1,000-yard rusher in the country than Chase Brown. He had two 200-yard games a season ago including 223 yards against a good Penn State defense.
Safety Kerby Joseph is off to the NFL, but leading tackler Sydney Brown does return.
Northwestern Wildcats (+8000 to win a division title)
Northwestern has building blocks on both lines with the return of Peter Skoronski on offense and Adetomiwa Adebawore (8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) on defense. Losing safety Brandon Joseph to Notre Dame doesn’t help a team that was 13th in the Big Ten in total defense a season ago.Follow us on Twitter