Big 10 West overlook


By Jim Naveau - jnaveau@limanews.com



FILE - This April 23, 2016, file photo shows Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell looking to make a tackle during the team's NCAA college football spring game in Iowa City, Iowa. Jewell has started 30 straight games and made 124 tackles last season. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)


FILE - In this Dec. 28, 2016, file photo, Northwestern running back Justin Jackson (21) runs for a touchdown against Pittsburgh during the third quarter of the Pinstripe Bowl NCAA college football game, in New York. Jackson will finish his career as the FBS' No. 7 rusher if he matches last season's 1,524 yards. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)


FILE - In this Nov. 26, 2016, file photo, Purdue quarterback David Blough throws during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)


Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee (13) throws on the first day of preseason practice, in Lincoln, Neb., Sunday, July 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)


BIG TEN EAST DIVISION

Illinois

Last year: 3-9, 2-7 Big Ten, sixth in West

Returning starters: 11 (5 offense, 5 defense, kicker)

Players to watch: QB Chayce Crouch, RB Kendrick Foster, WR Malik Turner, WR Mikey Dudek, OT Christian DiLauro, DE James Crawford, LB Tre Watson

The big questions: Will Newark Catholic grad Chayce Crouch stay healthy and have a big season. Crouch played in only four games last season because of a shoulder injury. Can wide receiver Mikey Dudek (76 catches in 2014) come back after tearing the same ACL twice and missing the last two seasons? Can a team with eight scholarship seniors and no recruits rated higher than three stars the last two years improve on last year’s three wins?

Coach’s quote: “The things you should do, that you need to do that are necessary behind the scenes, we are getting done right now.” — Lovie Smith

Iowa

Last year: 8-5, 6-3 Big Ten, tie second in West

Returning starters: 13 (5 offense, 7 defense, kicker)

Players to watch: RB Akrum Wadley, OG Sean Walsh, WR Matt VandeBerg, DE Parker Hesse, LB Josey Jewell, LB Ben Niemann

The big questions: Who will be the starting quarterback and can he improve a passing game that ranked No. 118 nationally last season? Will No. 1 wide receiver Matt VandeBerg be limited after breaking his foot last season and again during spring practice? Can linebacker Josey Jewell have a game day highlight that tops proposing to his girlfriend at Kinnick Stadium this spring?

Coach’s quote: “I think all of us as coaches and players feel good about both guys (quarterbacks Nate Stanley and Tyler Wiegers) and feel like they both can lead us to good results.” — Kirk Ferentz

Minnesota

Last year: 9-4, 5-4, tied for fourth in West

Returning starters: 14 (7 offense, 5 defense, kicker, punter)

Players to watch: RB Rodney Smith, RB Shannon Brooks, WR Rashad Still, DT Steven Richardson, LB Cody Poock

The big questions: Who will replace four-year starter Mitch Leidner at quarterback? Can coach P.J. Fleck turn Minnesota into an elite program or will his act wear thin if he doesn’t? Are Rodney Smith (1,158 yards) and Shannon Brooks (650 yards) the best running back combination in the Big Ten?

Coach’s quote: “My job is to bring national attention and national exposure to the University of Minnesota.” — P.J. Fleck

Nebraska

Last year: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten, tied second in West

Returning starters: 14 (5 offense, 7 defense, kicker, punter)

Players to watch: QB Tanner Lee, WR Stanley Morgan, DE Freedom Akinmoladun, S Kieron Williams, CB Chris Jones

The big questions: Can the Cornhuskers finish what they started, unlike last season when a 7-0 start was followed by four losses in their last six games? Will Tulane transfer pro-style quarterback Tanner Lee be a better fit for coach Mike Riley’s system than Tommy Armstrong? Who will replace three-year starting cornerback Chris Jones, who suffered a season-ending knee injury this summer?

Coach’s quote: “Guys are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.” — Mike Riley

Northwestern

Last year: 7-6, 5-4 Big Ten, tied for fourth in West

Returning starters: 16 (8 offense, 7 defense, punter)

Players to watch: QB Clayton Thorson, RB Justin Jackson, WR Flynn Nagel, OT Tommy Doles, DT Tyler Lancaster, S Godwin Igwebuike

The big questions: Will the Wildcats’ first two Big Ten games against Wisconsin and Penn State be make or break games for their hopes of challenging for the West Division title? Can running back Justin Jackson rush for more than 1,000 yards for the fourth year in a row? How much will the passing game miss wide receiver Austin Carr?

Coach’s quote: “I like our competitive depth. I like the athleticism of the group.” – Pat Fitzgerald

Purdue

Last year: 3-9, 1-8 Big Ten, seventh West

Returning starters: 16 (5 offense, 9 defense, kicker, punter)

Players to watch: QB David Blough, RB Markell Jones, RB D.J. Knox, DT Gelen Robinson, LB Markus Bailey, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB T.J. McCollum, CB Da’Wan Hunte

The big questions: Will a new coach, Jeff Brohm, and a heavy infusion of transfers and junior college players start a turnaround for the Boilermakers, who haven’t had a winning record since 2011? Will quarterback David Blough (25 TD passes, 21 interceptions last year) be able to cut down on turnovers? Will being young and inexperienced on the offensive line spell trouble?

Coach’s quote: “Offensive line is very important for us. We have a ways to go there. I do think that we have made improvements.” — Jeff Brohm

Wisconsin

Last year: 11-3, 7-2 Big Ten, first in West

Returning starters: 19 (9 offense, 8 defense, kicker, punter)

Players to watch: QB Alex Hornibrook, RB Bradrick Shaw, RB Chris James, WR Jazz Peavy, TE Troy Fumagalli, LB Jack Cichy, S D’Cota Dixon

The big questions: With eight starters back from a defense ranked in the top 10 nationally, could the Badgers have the best defense in the Big Ten? Can quarterback Alex Hornibrook increase his production (9 TD passes, 7 interceptions last year)? Is Bradrick Shaw the next in a long line of outstanding Wisconsin running backs?

Coach’s quote: ““We have a really good senior class, a lot of guys that have played in a lot of big games.” — Paul Chryst

FILE – This April 23, 2016, file photo shows Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell looking to make a tackle during the team’s NCAA college football spring game in Iowa City, Iowa. Jewell has started 30 straight games and made 124 tackles last season. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
http://portsmouth-dailytimes.aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2017/08/web1_Iowa.jpgFILE – This April 23, 2016, file photo shows Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell looking to make a tackle during the team’s NCAA college football spring game in Iowa City, Iowa. Jewell has started 30 straight games and made 124 tackles last season. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

FILE – In this Dec. 28, 2016, file photo, Northwestern running back Justin Jackson (21) runs for a touchdown against Pittsburgh during the third quarter of the Pinstripe Bowl NCAA college football game, in New York. Jackson will finish his career as the FBS’ No. 7 rusher if he matches last season’s 1,524 yards. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)
http://portsmouth-dailytimes.aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2017/08/web1_JustinJacksonTab.jpgFILE – In this Dec. 28, 2016, file photo, Northwestern running back Justin Jackson (21) runs for a touchdown against Pittsburgh during the third quarter of the Pinstripe Bowl NCAA college football game, in New York. Jackson will finish his career as the FBS’ No. 7 rusher if he matches last season’s 1,524 yards. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

FILE – In this Nov. 26, 2016, file photo, Purdue quarterback David Blough throws during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
http://portsmouth-dailytimes.aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2017/08/web1_Purdue.jpgFILE – In this Nov. 26, 2016, file photo, Purdue quarterback David Blough throws during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee (13) throws on the first day of preseason practice, in Lincoln, Neb., Sunday, July 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
http://portsmouth-dailytimes.aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2017/08/web1_TannerLeeTab.jpgNebraska quarterback Tanner Lee (13) throws on the first day of preseason practice, in Lincoln, Neb., Sunday, July 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

By Jim Naveau

jnaveau@limanews.com

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