B1G West Burning Questions
You would think that after a month, we would have this thing pretty well figured out. But as the unofficial start to B1G play kicks off, there are still some burning questions, even surrounding the nation’s top two teams.
Non-conference play isn’t always the best barometer, either.
There are schools like Indiana, which sit at 4-0 after knocking off four sub-par opponents that would all be basement B1G teams. There are teams like Nebraska and Wisconsin, neither of which have played with their biggest offensive weapons yet. There’s even a team like Purdue, which might’ve finally found an answer at quarterback in redshirt freshman David Blough after what he did in his first career start.
So having said all that, let’s ask some burning questions about the B1G West.
Will Corey Clement’s injury prevent Wisconsin from repeating?
It’s unfortunate Clement suffered a setback in the opener because we might not see him at full strength all year. Any lower body injury for a running back is concerning, much less a sports hernia. If the Badgers are going to defend their West crown, it’ll be because Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale emerge in this offense. Paul Chryst still wants to establish the run and operate with a pair of capable backs. An inexperienced tandem might have its fair share of ups and downs. The defense has to be the constant. So far, it has been. Michael Caputo and Joe Schobert have to anchor a group that could find itself in a few defensive struggles in B1G play. Are the Clement-less Badgers capable of still following the blueprint that worked so well last year? Definitely. It just won’t come nearly as easy on the offensive side.
Can Nebraska’s defense hold up against better B1G offenses?
Here’s some food for thought. Nebraska is dead last of all 127 FBS teams in pass defense. The Huskers just let up 447 passing yards to Southern Mississippi and Brett Favre wasn’t playing quarterback. Injuries have hurt Nebraska. The absence of Jack Gangwish and Vincent Valentine have slowed Nebraska’s pass rush. Playing without their two most experienced linebackers made Nebraska’s open-field tackling atrocious. It’s concerning to be struggling at such a fundamental area at this point of this season. Nebraska opens B1G play against two capable quarterbacks and could still be without several defensive starters. Mark Banker’s group has some serious adjustments to make to prevent them from running wild.
Who is the early favorite to win the West?
The funny thing is, I predicted before the season that the West would be wild and that three teams — Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin — had a legitimate chance to win it. Would it be wishy-washy to say that the two new favorites aren’t even part of that group? I think Iowa and Northwestern have built the strongest case so far. Both have already have multiple wins against Power Five teams while Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin don’t have any to speak of yet. Part of the reason we didn’t know how to evaluate Iowa and Northwestern was because of their quarterback situations. C.J. Beathard is an All-Big Ten candidate and Clayton Thorson showed against Ball State that he can go win a game with his arm. I’m not saying I’m sold that the division will be decided by the West’s two 4-0 teams, but right now, it’s hard not to buy into what they’re building.