Reevaluating every B1G West team’s ceiling at the midway point of the season
Since we are halfway through the season, it’s a good time to take a step back and look at what each Big Ten team can actually be. I did Crystal Ball predictions for every team in the preseason, so I’ll link back to those as well to see how much my perspective has changed on certain teams.
We’ll start with the West this week and work back to the East next week, since 4 East teams are on bye this week.
No. 2 Iowa (6-0, 3-0)
Crystal Ball prediction: 9-3, 2nd in West
Ceiling: 12-0, 1st in West, Big Ten title, College Football Playoff berth
Outlook: The West is really, really down this year, so anything short of an undefeated regular season will be not only disappointing, but a head-scratcher. There’s just no one left on Iowa’s schedule that is scary, because it’s the other 6 West teams. Can Iowa beat an East team in the conference championship game? I’m not sure if Iowa can beat Ohio State, but I know it can beat every other East team. It would be so much fun to see this Iowa defense against Ohio State, which boasts the best offense in the country.
Minnesota (3-2, 1-1)
Crystal Ball prediction: 7-5, 3rd in West
Ceiling: 7-5, 3rd in West, bowl berth
Outlook: It’s tough to predict a Minnesota squad that lost at home to Bowling Green as a bowl team, but that’s how down the West is this season. I think the Golden Gophers will lose to Nebraska, Iowa and either Indiana or Wisconsin (if not both). That still puts Minnesota in a bowl game and finishing 3rd in the West. What a weird season.
Purdue (3-2, 1-1)
Crystal Ball prediction: 5-7, 5th in West
Ceiling: 5-7, 5th in West
Outlook: The upcoming schedule is really, really tough. In the next 5 weeks, Purdue gets 3 top-10 teams (Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State), plus Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Boilermakers would be fortunate to split with Nebraska and Wisconsin and beat Northwestern and Indiana to close the season, but that’s with absolutely everything going right. I just don’t think it’s plausible for a team that has scored 13 points in 3 straight games and doesn’t know who its QB is.
Wisconsin (2-3, 1-2)
Crystal Ball prediction: 11-1, 1st in West
Ceiling: 8-4, 2nd in West, bowl berth
Outlook: This is a tough look for your boy. I was wildly wrong about Wisconsin, which I thought would beat Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan. In fairness to me, the Badgers did lead Penn State and Notre Dame in the fourth quarter. As previously mentioned up top, the West is, uh, not great. That means the No. 2 defense in the country will probably mean the Badgers are going to be favored in every game other than Iowa.
Nebraska (3-4, 1-3)
Crystal Ball prediction: 6-6, 4th in West
Ceiling: 6-6, 3rd in West, bowl berth
Outlook: Oh, what could have been for Nebraska. The Huskers have lost all 4 games by 1 possession and have 3 losses to current top-10 teams by a total of 13 points. There’s an alternate universe (where Nebraska doesn’t make silly mistakes) in which the Huskers go 9-3 this season and are on the cusp of a New Year’s 6 bowl. But now, with Ohio State and Iowa still to go, the best Nebraska can hope for is 6-6. And that’s with a win at Wisconsin. The Huskers have looked very good for most of this season, especially defensively, but they are 3-4 with their only Power 5 win being Northwestern. I think Nebraska has been the second-best team in the West, but it’s hard to see them getting higher than third because of the remaining schedule. What a confusing season this has been.
Illinois (2-5, 1-3)
Crystal Ball prediction: 3-9, 7th in West
Ceiling: 3-9, 6th in West
Outlook: The only potential win left on the Illini’s schedule is Northwestern in the season finale. There’s a lot of work left to be done for Illinois, which peaked against Nebraska in Week 0. Brandon Peters hasn’t been the stabilizing force I thought he’d be, and the Illini passing attack is one of the worst in the country.
Northwestern (2-3, 0-2)
Crystal Ball prediction: 5-7, 6th in West
Ceiling: 3-9, 6th in West
Outlook: Unfortunately for Northwestern, all of the preseason concerns about only having 8 starters back from last year’s West champion in a season when everyone else seemed to have 16 or more starters back has come to fruition. The Cam Porter injury in the preseason didn’t help, either. I can’t decide what has been more surprising, the fact that Ryan Hilinski hasn’t emerged as a legit starting QB or that Northwestern’s defense would be the worst in the B1G.