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The Big Ten West: As Hot as Saved by the Bell Goes to Hawaii

The Big Ten West is the overlooked division. It has neither Ohio State nor Michigan State nor Jim Harbaugh and has very little chance of doing anything more than acting as a sacrificial lamb to whichever of the Big Two win the Big Ten East. But the West is also far more competitive, has greater parity, and is more interesting. As such, it is like Saved by the Bell, laughed at in its time, but you're still watching re-runs.

via Getty Images

The Big Ten East unquestionably has the two best teams in the conference (despite OSU's two recent no-shows against inferior competition). It also has the two biggest tire fires, and probably the three worst teams, depending upon which Indiana team one feels is worse. However, the Big Ten West, as a whole, is the more competitive division.

See the most recent OTE power poll in which Nos. 3-8 are a mess of Western teams—teams that ultimately aren't that far from each other in terms of chances to reach the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.

Similarly, cable TV juggernaut Saved by the Bell, which fueled teenage boys' dreams throughout the early 90s, was kind of a lousy show. It wasn't funny, except in an ironic way. It was kind of awkward and weird. And it was far more interesting than whatever was happening on the other channels. As such, let's look at the Big Ten West, Saved by the Bell-style.

Purdue Boilermakers=Lisa Turtle

2015 Record: 1-2


Lisa was the most forgettable of all the characters, while Purdue is the bottom of the barrel of the Big Ten West, and, for the past two years, has been the bottom of the barrel of the entire conference. Going into 2015, the Boilers also looked to be an easy win for every one of their opponents. But 2015 Purdue is noticeably better than its previous two incarnations, even if the record doesn't reflect its improvement. This team won't have a chance to win the division, and will be hard pressed to get to a bowl, but the Boilers have a chance to shock a team or two, and ruin a number of other teams' chances to get to Indy.

Likewise, Lisa was not Kelly or Jessie; Lisa was subtly cute. You had to pay attention to notice her, and I did. Like Screetch, I was a Lisa man.

Sleep on Purdue and you'll be sorry.

Nebraska Cornhuskers=Zack Morris

2015 Record: 1-2

Zack was the protagonist of Saved by the Bell. He was the narrator who broke the fourth wall, and who was supposed to be the face of the show. When the Cornhuskers signed on to join the Big Ten, they were supposed to be one of the four blue bloods who were to be the face of the conference. Between 2011-2014, Nebraska went 37-16, which is okay. It's the 21st-best record in all of FBS during that stretch. The Huskers have made it to one conference championship game and have gone bowling every year.

But there have been no BCS bowls. There have been no conference championships. There has been the sacking of a reasonably successful but obnoxious coach. There have been multiple embarrassments at the hands of the real star of the (Western) show, Kelly Wisconsin.

The Huskers are still a competitive team and program, but they're not what was hoped for, and, like Zack, they're not everything they like to think they are. Then again, it was always Zack who had the last word.

Wisconsin Badgers=Kelly Kapowski

2015 Record: 2-1

Okay Zack, you were the "star" of the show, but Kelly was the reason everybody tuned in. Since 2011, when the Big Ten instituted a conference championship game, Wisconsin has been to Indianapolis three times. Some of that success was situational: Ohio State was depleted in 2011 and suspended in 2012. Then, after Ohio State was officially back, the divisions changed. However, Wisconsin has taken advantage of a good situation, something many other non-blue blood teams (ahem, Iowa, I'm talking to you) have failed to do. The Badgers won two of those conference championships, went to three Rose Bowls in a row, and, between 2011-2014, have been the third-winningest team in the conference (after OSU and MSU).

This year, despite their third coach in four years, despite losing their Heisman Trophy-nominated running back, despite returning only 11 starters—third fewest in the conference—they are still the favorites to win the Big Ten West. Just like Kelly KaPOWski, they are still putting asses in seats, more so than any program in the West.

Illinois Fighting Illini=Samuel "Screech" Powers

2015 Record: 2-1

You can imagine the original Saved by the Bell producers when Dustin Diamond auditioned for the role of Screech. They must have thought they'd discovered gold. Not because Dustin Diamond was the second coming of Richard Pryor, but because anybody who put together Saved by the Bell must have had a warped sense of what qualified as funny.

As for the Illini, who would hire Tim Beckman on the heels of firing Ron Zook? That's like hiring Jean Claude Van Damme because Vin Diesel didn't work out. It's like getting a Kia, realizing Kias are garbage, and then trading in your Kia for...a Kia. It's like thinking Screech is legitimately funny.

With the recent thrashing at the hands of North Carolina, the bubble seems to have burst on Illinois' ceiling. Or maybe not. Either way, Bill Cubit, the interim coach, is a step up from the past two coaches, but he's not really the Illinis' style. Maybe, at the end of the year, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas might consider hiring former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster. Or currently suspended Rutgers coach Kyle Flood. Those would be perfect, Screech-esque fits.

Minnesota Golden Gophers=A.C. Slater

2015 Record: 2-1

A.C. was tough. He was an all-state wrestler. His father was a major in the Army. A.C. could have kicked Zack's ass up and down the halls of Bayside High. Sure, he flexed nuts, but he had nuts to flex. Minnesota may not be the statistical top of conference defenses—in fact, it is sixth—but it may have the toughest defense in the West. It held TCU to 23 points. That was no fluke. TCU has gone on to average 63 points in its last two games. The problem: the Gophers' offense. It's not good. Quarterback Mitch Leidner can't even throw a spiral, poor guy.

Will good defense be enough to push through to a conference championship? Can A.C. finally out-maneuver Zack and score with Kelly? Can A.C. finally take Kelly and that damned Axe home?

Northwestern Wildcats=Jessie Spano

2015 Record: 3-0

Zack and AC and Kelly were popular and had the looks, but Jessie Spano had it all. She could dance and sing, she was an avowed feminist and she was smart: she was the salutatorian of her class (piss off, Screech). The present may have belonged to Kelly, but the future belonged to Jessie.

Everyone knows Northwestern are the brains of the Big Ten. But this year, if based only on their three-game 2015 resume, the Wildcats are the best football team in the Big Ten West. The NU defense has been suffocating. Statistically, it is the best scoring defense in the conference, and it held Stanford to six points—the same Stanford that just put up 41 points against Southern Cal. The Northwestern offense leaves something to be desired, but it has done what it had to do, and it has an exciting freshman quarterback who will only get better.

The worry is that last time the Cats were in this position—on the precipice of success—was heading into the 2013 season. Northwestern had won 10 games the previous season and returned 15 starters. They were a darkhorse contender to win the conference and then...splat. Two five-win, bowl-less seasons in a row.

It is now 2015, Northwestern is 3-0, and it is again on the precipice. Northwestern is so excited, so excited, Northwestern is so...scared.

Iowa Hawkeyes=Principal Richard Belding

2015 Record: 3-0

Oh, stodgy, old Principal Belding thought he ran the school. He thought he was the boss. But Zack was always plotting and scheming; Zack was always one step ahead of the old man. However, every now and then, old Belding got his digs in (remember when Zack hired an actor to play his father and fool Mr. Belding? No go, Zack-o).

In the early oughts, Iowa seemed to be heading for greatness. Between 2002-2004, the Hawkeyes finished in the top ten each year. Then the bottom fell out. Disappointment and failure, embarrassing arrests and medical scandals, and heading into 2008, head coach Kirk Ferentz was on a hot seat. Then came Ferentz 2.0, which only amounted to two seasons, but it was capped by a 2010 Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech. Since then, we've heard of Ferentz 3.0, but it hasn't materialized. In fact, with the questionable 2012 hiring of Greg Davis as the offensive coordinator, things went from mediocre to even more mediocre.

Here we are in 2015. Iowa hasn't taken on any world beaters, but there has been a palpable commitment to systemic change, and Iowa is 3-0 for the first time since 2009. Is this the year the old man finally catches Zack and Kelly? Is this Belding's Ferentz's final go?

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