Everyone has heard and seen the hype surrounding the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers as they enter the 2018 season.
Everyone knows about the Big Ten East division and how “stacked” that side of the conference feels, but the question remains: who will challenge Wisconsin for the Big Ten West title and a chance to go to Indianapolis?
Drew Hamm: Northwestern is the second-most talented team in the division but Iowa is the bigger threat. The Hawkeyes get Indiana, Maryland, and Penn State from the East, while the Wildcats get Michigan, Michigan State, and Rutgers. Northwestern’s quarterback, Clayton Thorson, is back in practice (after tearing his ACL in last year’s bowl game) and apparently looks quite good, but has yet to be cleared to play in the opener against Purdue. Worth noting: Trent Green’s son is the backup QB. Could T.J. Green be the Kurt Warner to Thorson’s Trent?
Iowa has a lot to replace on defense but returns Nathan Stanley at quarterback, preseason All-American Noah Fant at tight end, and its usual very good offensive and defensive lines. That is a recipe for success in the B1G West.
Bob Wiedenhoeft: Wisconsin is its own biggest challenger. I just don’t see any other team giving Wisconsin troubles. I could be proven wrong for being bearish on Iowa, but I don’t see anybody threatening Wisconsin. This is the Badgers’ division to lose, and they cannot overlook their divisional foes. It’s going to be all on Wisconsin to take a deep breath, split the road games against Michigan and Penn State, take care of every other game, and get back to Indy.
Tyler Hunt: I’m not quite sold on Iowa yet, so to me it’s really a three-way tie at second. Iowa, Purdue, and Northwestern could all contend depending on how the season breaks. Iowa’s schedule on paper looks the most favorable, but as Drew alluded to earlier, I think Northwestern has the most talented team outside of Wisconsin and I believe Pat Fitzgerald is the second-best coach in the West. Purdue showed flashes late in the season last year as well, so it’s really neck-and-neck at this point. I think we’ll find out a lot about the West on Thursday night with Purdue and Northwestern squaring off to open their season.
Kevin O’Connell: Iowa will be Wisconsin’s biggest challenger in the West because of its schedule alone. The Hawkeyes avoid Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State, and while they have to play at Penn State, they get Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Northwestern all at home. Kinnick Stadium is never an easy place to play and Stanley should improve in his second year as a starter. He threw for 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions a year ago, and will target Fant (11 TDs in 2017) heavily throughout the year. It feels like Iowa is a lock for seven or eight wins every season, but with a favorable schedule it would not surprise me to see the Hawkeyes finish 9–3 or 10–2 and be in the thick of the Big Ten West race in November.
Owen Riese: Nebraska. Scott Frost will have this team with a chip on its shoulder the size of Bo Pelini and the Huskers will be a pain in the butt to defend with their run game. Their defense will take some work, but Nebraska will put up points, you can bet on that.