We have a national champion now, the mighty Clemson Tigers, and the 2018 college football season is finally over. Now comes the long eight-month wait before we get to watch more football.
For the Iowa Hawkeyes, there were many magical moments in their recent season, which ended with nine wins and a bowl-game victory over a very good Mississippi State team. The Hawkeyes finished ranked No. 25 in the final AP Poll released early Tuesday morning.
What it didn’t end with was a Big Ten West title, which looked like a distinct possibility in late October. They were 6-1 at the time, but then narrow, heart-breaking losses to Penn State, Purdue and Northwestern ended that championship dream.
So what about 2019? I know it’s way too early, but, let’s be honest, it’s never really too early. Football season never ends. Sure, there are still some early-departure decisions to be made and more recruits to sign in February, but we can still have some ideas.
Anytime you have an established veteran quarterback returning, you should be in the mix, and that’s certainly the case with the Hawkeyes with Nate Stanley coming back for his season season. He’s been mostly good these past two seasons, and should be good again. There are plenty of receivers to throw to, running backs who showed some things late and an offensive line that returns several pieces. This offense could be pretty good.
There are plenty of spots to fill on defense, but the unit displayed plenty of depth this year as one of the league’s best units. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa will lead this group and the young cornerbacks who saw lots of action as freshmen — Riley Moss and Julius Brents — could be ready for breakout seasons.
With that said, here are four things to ponder when looking at the Big Ten West:
It’s a wide open race, as usual
Because it’s one of the most balanced divisions in the Power 5, this race is usually wide open. That was certainly the case in 2018, where Wisconsin was favored and, for a while, Iowa and Purdue contended before Northwestern won it. It will be the same situation in 2019. The Wildcats will contend again as defending champs, and will replace four-year starter Clayton Thorson with former five-star recruit Hunter Johnson, who transferred from Clemson after Trevor Lawrence arrived. Good move. Northwestern only lost one conference game in 2018, and that was its crossover game against Michigan. Don’t expect anyone to run the table in 2019.
Nebraska will continue to get better under Scott Frost
This record-setting 0-6 start by Nebraska was surely an outlier, and the Cornhuskers proved on the back half of their schedule that they’re a program on the rise, led by quarterback Adrian Martinez. New coach Scott Frost said after a few losses that you better enjoy them while you can, and he’s exactly right. They may not be good enough to win a division in 2019, but they are certainly going to have a say.
Wisconsin’s disappointing season won’t be a trend
From projected Playoff participants to a five-loss team, Wisconsin’s 2018 season was a complete mess. As solid as this program has been for the past decade or more, you’ve got to expect them to bounce back.
Purdue, Minnesota trending in the right direction
Both schools got their most recent hires right with Jeff Brohm and P.J. Fleck, and the arrow is pointing upward. Brohm likes what’s going on at Purdue so much that he said no to Louisville, his alma mater, when they came calling in November. And Fleck had his Gophers playing much better late in the season, with double-digit wins over Purdue, Wisconsin and Georgia Tech. Both teams will certainly have some say in the division race.