Every year we’ve made the case that the B1G West’s depth is growing. And by “we,” I mean that’s the argument I’ve made while you’ve read, probably rolling your eyes as far back into your head as humanly possible.
This time, though, the West is truly on the rise and there’s some hard evidence to prove it. Perhaps the results from 2018 don’t exactly present the best argument, but the second half of the season — including the postseason — and recruiting certainly have raised the level of expectation.
Bowl success might be the best place to start for the West, finishing 4-1 this postseason. Purdue was the only team out of the division to endure defeat, getting laughed off the field by Auburn at the Music City Bowl, 63-14. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern were all winners.
- Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota def. Georgia Tech 34-10
- Pinstripe Bowl: Wisconsin def. Miami 35-3
- Holiday Bowl: Northwestern def. Utah 31-20
- Outback Bowl: Iowa def. Mississippi State 27-22
The B1G East, by the way, finished 1-3 with Ohio State’s 28-23 Rose Bowl victory over Washington being the lone win.
Really, things started to shift before the postseason. Go back to the midway point in the season — approximately Oct. 20 — and look at some of the feats that occurred since that time.
Purdue defeated then No. 2 Ohio State 49-20 in Ross-Ade Stadium. Nebraska won four of its final six games, which included victories over Minnesota, Bethune-Cookman, Illinois and Michigan State. Entering the last three weeks at 4-5, Minnesota posted wins over Purdue and Wisconsin to finish 6-6 and earn bowl eligibility. It was the Gophers’ first win over the Badgers since 2003.
Northwestern lost only one game when the calendar flipped to October — a 31-21 loss to Notre Dame — winning its first West title and punching its ticket to the B1G Championship Game.
Thanks to all that late-season success, we’re entering the 2019 offseason without a favorite to win the division. Even Big Ten Network analyst J Leman thinks six of the seven teams have a legitimate chance to stake claim to the West. He’s not wrong, either.
All of that generates a lot of momentum heading into the offseason. We haven’t even mentioned the stars that are returning in the division, or the big names joining the league via recruiting or transfer.
Purdue’s Rondale Moore led the nation in receptions (114) and was a consensus All-American for his explosive rookie campaign. Adrian Martinez was the first true freshman to start at quarterback in a season opener in Nebraska history. He finished the year as the sixth FBS freshman in history to average 200 passing yards and 50 rushing yards. Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor led the nation in rushing with 2,194 yards. Other division running backs Mohamed Ibrahim (Minnesota) and Isaiah Bowser (Northwestern) also came on strong at the end of the year.
Just for good measure, here’s a list of some of the notable recruits joining the division next fall:
- Wisconsin: Logan Brown, 5-star OT
- Purdue: George Karlaftis, 4-star DE
- Nebraska: Wandale Robinson, 4-star APB
- Minnesota: Rashad Cheney, 4-star DT
- Iowa: Jestin Jacobs, 4-star LB
- Illinois: Marquez Beason, 4-star ATH
Those are just a few names, and it doesn’t include the likes of former 5-star QB Hunter Johnson (Northwestern) or former 4-star WR Jeff Thomas (Illinois) who transferred and may or may not be eligible for the upcoming season.
Are you on board with the West being on the rise yet? If not, there’s probably nothing that’s going to change your mind that the real beasts are in the East, and it will forever and always be the premier division in the B1G. You’re probably more focused on the uniform more than the makeup of the team. Outside of Nebraska, there really isn’t a program in the West capable of competing with the brands of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Admittedly, this has been a bit of a brain dump. I’ve inundated you with fast facts about why the B1G West is an up-and-comer and why it could — and probably will — surpass the B1G East. But it’s also an overwhelming amount of evidence as to why a division that has been shooed out of college football’s national spotlight is just now beginning to scratch the surface.
It’s not just me who’s buying stock in the West, either. CBS Sports recently released its “way-too-early” top 25 for the 2019 season, listing eight B1G teams in its rankings, with five coming from the West. The only two omitted were Purdue and Illinois.
Change isn’t going to come instantly. The ugly duckling didn’t transform into the graceful swan at the flip of a switch. It’s going to take a few more recruiting classes before we starting saying “the best is out West” when it comes to B1G football.
None of this is to say the B1G East — most notably Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State — is going anywhere. The Wolverines, Buckeyes and Nittany Lions still own the league’s top three recruiting classes. Jim Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio and James Franklin are still really great football minds, and new Ohio State leader Ryan Day has a bright future, too.
When it comes to coaching creativity and charisma, the advantage is out West. Scott Frost, Jeff Brohm and P.J. Fleck have all benefitted from their offensive mindsets. They’ve all recruited well because of it.
We didn’t even mention Kirk Ferentz, Paul Chryst, Pat Fitzgerald and Lovie Smith. Three of those guys have won a division title, by the way.
The West has never won the B1G Championship. Only two teams from the division — Wisconsin and Iowa — have played in a New Year’s Six bowl game in the last five seasons. None have ever reached the College Football Playoff.
All of that will change. The question is no longer “if,” but “when?” Eventually, the West is going to be the B1G’s most dominant division, and one of the best in the sport.
I won’t be the only one acknowledging it, either.