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Big Ten West: Status report after two weeks

How is the Big Ten West looking through two weeks of the 2023 season?

To begin the season, the Wisconsin Badgers are amongst the favorites to win the Big Ten West, potentially setting them up for a conference championship appearance.

The statement was partially due to Wisconsin’s team in 2023, but also the weaker conference that provides the Badgers an easier schedule through two weeks of the season.

Thus far, it’s been up and down for the division, with some surprise outcomes occurring, while the Badgers are not at the top.

Here’s our Big Ten West status report after two weeks.

Nebraska Cornhuskers(0-2)

After two games, I am not sure I could pinpoint the difference between this year’s Cornhuskers and last year’s Cornhuskers. They have lost twice. Their first loss was to Minnesota after leading for most of the game. Their second game was a blowout loss to Deion Sanders and Colorado. Despite having a new coaching staff and new quarterback, Nebraska does not appear to have righted its ship yet. They have holes all over their roster. Matt Ruhle was hired for a total rebuild and that’s what it will take to get this team to be more competitive in the B1G moving forward. Their strengths are that their defense is serviceable and their QB, Jeff Sims, can move the offense with his legs which should keep them in games moving into B1G play. Their weakness is that Sims is also turnover-prone which is going to cost them frequently. Same ole Nebraska.

Illinois Fighting Illini(1-1)

I have watched both of Illinois' games this year, and I am not sure why this team was being touted all offseason the way they were. They escaped a loss against Toledo on some last-second heroics from QB Luke Altmyer and they were blown out against Kansas last Friday night. What is especially surprising is that their defense appears to be their greatest weakness. Despite a deep defensive line group (on paper), their secondary has been suspect at best. Luke Altmyer, on the other hand, is a strength. He will likely be one of the better quarterbacks in the West this year and I won’t be surprised if he’s the reason they win a few games that they shouldn’t. If their defense can improve, they’re a team to watch in the West.

Iowa Hawkeyes(2-0)

After all of the offseason hype about how different Iowa was going to look this year, especially offensively, they don’t appear to have changed much at all. Their strength is still their defense. They have talent depth on the defensive line and a talented group in the secondary. They do not have the same All-American play at linebacker this year but that shouldn’t be a weakness either. Their weakness is the same as it’s always been. Their offense and its inability to move the ball. If you followed Iowa at all this offseason you’ll know that they have a new QB, Cade Mcnamara, a transfer from Michigan. You also would know their Offensive Coordinator, Brian Ferentz, is back for another season with a condition that his offense must average 25 points a game this season. So far in their two games, they have put up 24 points against a bad Utah State team and 20 points against a bad Iowa State team (one of the touchdowns was a pick 6). For the last 11 games, he must now average 25.55 points. I don’t expect things to get any easier for the Hawkeyes in the B1G.

Purdue Boilermakers(1-1)

Purdue was a mystery coming into the year. They also have a new head coach, former Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, and a new QB, Hudson Card, a transfer from Texas. I am not sure that I had any idea how good Purdue would be coming into this year but I didn’t believe they would finish anywhere close to where they did last year (1st). Their weakness at the moment appears to be that their defense is going to take some time to learn their new scheme. Their strength is that their offense will likely continue to put up points, just like it has in previous years. Hudson Card was a coveted QB in the transfer portal. They also might have another wide receiver who can be a playmaker on any down in Deion Burks. Purdue will be an interesting team to watch moving forward.

Minnesota Golden Gophers(2-0)

I’m not sure what to make of Minnesota yet. They should be 1-1 at this point but Nebraska found an unusual way to lose their lead against them two weeks ago. They’ve also beaten Eastern Michigan which isn’t necessarily a world-beater that we can use as a benchmark but we should have a better idea of how good Minnesota is when they play on the road against #20 North Carolina this weekend. For now, I’ll say their strength is their defense, as it has been for almost every year of the P.J. Fleck era. Their weakness is that their run game is missing a playmaker like Mohammed Ibrahim. If they can’t get a run game going in their B1G games this year, they are going to struggle to move the ball.

Northwestern Wildcats(1-1!!!!)

Northwestern is a bad football team. I think it’s fair to say that they do not belong in the B1G this year and they will not win a single game going forward. On the other hand, if they do win a game it will likely be against Wisconsin because why would it be against anyone else? Northwestern is in need of a reset and that won’t happen until after this year. Their interim coach, David Braun, seems to be a good dude though (he’s from Wisconsin). Unless some unknown players step up, I don’t think this is a team anyone will worry about.

Wisconsin Badgers(1-1)

I can speak for everyone when I say I thought we were going to get more from the start of this year from Wisconsin. But it doesn’t change the fact that we have seen the flashes of a good football team. They just need to gel and that is something that may not happen until we get into October. Their strength is their running backs Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi (when they can get them going) and their weakness is that they are inconsistent and full of mistakes in every phase of the game. Once they clean up the mistakes and find their rhythm on offense, I still think this is a top-two team in the B1G West.