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Picking the B-10: West Division in 2022

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7. Northwestern: When Fitz (Pat Fitzgerald) has a QB, NW is a threat to win the West (like they did in 2018 & 2020). Respectfully or not, Fitz would disagree with that assessment, last year the Cats were 3-9 when the dust settled and he thought it had more to do with who they were in the front 7 on D and the o-line. That said, Ryan Hillinski (a South Carolina transfer) returns at QB, yet, the word is he will be challenged by red-shirt freshmen, Brendan Sullivan. The Cats are good at RB, Evan Hull & Cam Porter and should be improved in both the D & O lines! If true, were back to QB play and of coure, it is an even year, 2022 (remember, the Cats won the division in 2018 & 2020)!

6. The Illini will be improved in Coach Bielema’s 2nd year. Shockingly, Illinois went from dead last in scoring defense in the B-10 in 2020 to the 4th best in the conference in 2021. The Fighting Illini were 5-7 a year ago and lost 4 games by one score ( UTSA, 37-30, Maryland, 20-17, Purdue, 13-9, & Rutgers, 20-14), so not far from a 9-3 slate. They also won some big games, beating Minnesota (who finished 9-4 & tied for the West Division Championship), 14-6 and PSU, 20-18 in an NCAA record, nine (9) OT’s (a shocking low score, when one recalls the 2018, the 7 OTs game between A&M & LSU, 74-72 … going from the 3 yard line with one play has not sped things up). We will know about Illinois early as they line-it-up @ IU on September 2, and host UVA on September 8. Chase Brown, is one of the best running backs in the B-10! Look for the Illini to be bowl eligible in Bielema’s 2nd year at the helm!

5. Minnesota: If the Gophers are going to hit that nine win mark again in 2022, QB, Tanner Morgan and WRs, Chris Autman-Bell & Daniel Jackson are going have perform at a higher level. The running game will be slowed with 4 offensive lineman moving on, even with the return of RB, Mo Ibrahim, who many regard as the 3rd best runner in the conference (behind only OSU’s TreVeyon Henderson & UW’s Braelon Allen). Speaking of Bucky, the Gophers are finally playing effectively against Wisconsin (had lost 15 of 16), winning two of the last four. That said, they continue to struggle against Iowa, losing five of the last five to the Hawks! Tanner Morgan, who is 27-12 as a starter, is the key factor in the Gophers producing the same number of wins in 2022 (9) as in 2021. Given significant losses in the O-Line and front 7 on D are going to cause growing pains early, Morgan’s insights & leadership will be key in getting the season off to a good start. A big step in that direction is Offense Coordinator (OC) Kirt Ciarracco (who led the Gopher attack in 2019) is back in Minneapolis for the 2022 season. Goldy was a top 10 defense in 2021 (in scoring & total yards), however they have replace 6 of their top 8 in their D-line rotation & leading tackler, LB, Jack Gibbons is also gone. that is why they are going to have to score points vs NM State & W. Illinois, & have the O-Line & front 7 ready for Colorado on Sept 17th!

4. Nebraska: I have to say these Nebraska guys have been a ‘game winning’ predictive mystery during the Scott Frost years (15-29 in his 4 years @ the helm). The Huskers have been (currently are) the 20th best recruiting program in the nation, 4th best in the B-10 (OSU, Michigan & PSU attract better), and the best in the West Division (the Badgers are ranked 23rd, while Iowa comes in @ 32nd) Northwestern has won the West twice in the past 4 years with an average recruiting rank in the 50’s (currently 52nd)! Last year the Huskers set an NCAA record for most losses by single digit numbers, nine (9) in a single season! In fact, they did not lose a game by double digits in the 2021 campaign. The Cornhuskers lost to 11-2 Oklahoma by 7, an 11-2 Ohio State, 26-17, a 12-2 Michigan, 32-29, & Michigan State (11-2) in OT, 23-20 … So how do they end up 3-9 playing these four teams, that won a combined 45 games in 2021… to late in the 4th quarter or a final possession? No clue!! They bring back 10 starters from the 21′ team (5 on offense & 5 on defense) This team has the roster to win the Division and a lack of focus to finish last!

3. Iowa: The Hawks won the West in 2021 and in fact, after they beat Penn State, 23-20, in Iowa City, the Associated Press (AP) lost their minds, and ranked, Herky the Hawk, 3rd in the nation, right behind Bama & UGA? C’mon on man. All I could think of was the writers have suffered brain-damage, or better said, ‘dain bamage’! On Sully’s College Football Page (SCFP) we could think of 15 teams off the top of our heads that were not just better, but clearly better, than Iowa! The week after the AP’s bazaar behavior, Purdue traveled to Iowa City and hammered the 3rd ranked team in the country, 24-7! The next week, Iowa traveled to Madtown and were blown-up by Wisconsin, 27-7. They won their last 4 regular season games, yet 3 of the 4 wins were against teams were not bowl eligible and all the games were close (Northwestern, 17-12, Illinois, 33-23, & Nebraska, 28-21). Their best win in this stretch was over Minnesota, 27-22, in Minneapolis, to be sure, a great divisional win! Finally, it should be noted that the Hawks did not play, Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State during the 2021 regular season. In the B-10 championship game, they kicked-it-off vs Michigan and were pounded by the Wolverines, 42-3! You may think from the tone of this blog, I am hostile to the Hawks, quite the opposite. They are a developmental program that routinely beat teams with far better rosters. The Hawks are both impressive & fun to watch! That said, last year the stars aligned for the Hawks! This year, the Hawkeyes draw both Michigan (home) & travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes … the stars have moved!!

2. Purdue: Two words are the key to the Boilers 2021 season, Aiden & O’Connell or better said, Aiden O’Connell. Last year, O’Connell passed for 3,711 on 439 attempts / 315 completions hitting on 71.75% of his passes. He passed for 309 yards per game with a ratio of 28 TDs to 11 INT, and his 71.8 completion percentage was the 4th best in the country. While there is little discussion as to who is the best QB in the B-10 (OSU’s CJ Stroud may be the best in the country) neither is there much debate that Aiden O’Connell is the 2nd best, signal caller, in the conference. The Boilermakers lost their All American WR, David Bell and then, WR, Milton Wright was declared ineligible for the 2022 season. It now falls to WRs, Broc Thompson or Iowa transfer, Tyrone Tracy to step up in the receiving game. The run game is a needed element in any offense, just more so in Jeff Brohm’s land assault. Purdue has two backs that can compliment one another, King Doerue, a power back and Sampson James, while not a home run threat, has the best speed in the RB room and has a good combo of power & quickness. Purdue loses All American, do it all end, George Karlaftis, yet return 8 starters and have good depth on D! The Boilers have Wisconsin @ home, a win on 10/22 and Purdue will likely win the West!

1 Wisconsin: Will the real Graham Mertz … please step up and Badger fans everywhere are hoping & praying that he hasn’t already! To say that he has been less than advertised would be one of the greatest understatements in Wisconsin football history. On SCFP we talked about a 5 star from Kansas is simply not the same thing as a 5 star from Florida, California, or Texas. The speed of the high school game in those states, the populations impact on the depth of talent, and the coaching pressure placed on players … all impact the perception of how good & how ready a player is for the college game. It is now or unlikely for Graham, 11 INTs to 10 TDs coupled with a 59.50 completion percentage, and throwing for 1,958 yards, simply will not cut it! Wisconsin scoring output the last 2 season (25.4 & 25.1) has been the lowest since the early days of Berry Alvarez and needs to be addressed. Braelon Allen, in my opinion, is the best RB in the B-10, and the 3rd best in the country, behind only Texas’s, Bijan Robinson & Kansas State, Deuce Vaughn. The return of RB Chez Mellusi, will help keep Allen fresh in 4th quarter play and as well, reduce the ware and tear of the a B-10 season. The WR corps is led by Chimere Dike as no other Badger has more than 3 receptions heading into 2022. Gone are Ferguson, Davis III, & Pryor, that said, UCLA transfer, Keontez Lewis & Skyler Bell need to contribute early and often. TEs Jack Eschenbach & Clay Cundiff have to be integrated into the offense on 1st as well as on 3rd down. The O-Line is led by 3 returning starters, LT, Jack Nelson, Center, Joe Tippmann, & LG, Tyler Beach. The Badger defense lost 8 starters, including LBs Leo Chenal & Jack Sanborn, yet optimism is running high for this unit. OLB, Nick Herbig will get good help from Tatum Grass & Jordan Turner on the inside and the secondary is solid after getting 3 transfers from UICLA, Toledo, & Kentucky. The D line is massive, Isaiah Mullens 6’4′ 300 & Keeanu Benton, 6’4 318. All this and Jimmy Leonhard’s scheme on D!

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