I am not a huge fan of preseason college football rankings even though I will put out plenty of them. Unlike rankings in other sports, they have an actual effect on the season. The playoff and bowl committees use the rankings, and the starting point affects the final ranking a great deal. With college football, the teams are completely different from one season to the next, so there is a lot of speculation predicting who is going to be great and who is going to stink. There is really no such thing as a great preseason ranking.
But that doesn’t stop us from trying. A big component of preseason rankings is trying to figure out how the new guys will do.
In the Big Ten West, I expect these three new starters to affect the race, either for the good or the detriment of their team.
Nebraska Cornhuskers Quarterback
Nebraska has had the same starting quarterback for nearly a decade, so this year is going to be a huge adjustment. Well, of course they didn’t really have the same quarterback all that time, but Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Taylor Martinez might as well have been the same guy. Both were capable of making you say, “Oh my gawd, I can’t believe he did that!” Sometimes it was great, and sometimes it was terrible. Generally speaking, their performance often times decided the outcome of the game, specifically their touchdown to turnover ratio.
In April, coach Mike Riley named former Tulane Green Wave quarterback Tenner Lee the starter. According to this article by Sam McKewon from the Omaha World-Herald, Riley had this to say about his new quarterback,
He’s a magnet,” Riley said in an interview Wednesday before announcing on Twitter that Lee had won the job over redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien. “He’s really well-respected. People look up to him. He’s not a guy who has to give speeches. People just gravitate to him.”
That reminds me a lot of both Martinez and Armstrong. Couple that with the 23 touchdowns to 21 interceptions he had while the main man at Tulane, and my gut tells me we are getting more of the same ole’ 9-4.
Wisconsin Badgers Running Back
Wisconsin has been on a great run the last 3 decades. Like most successful teams, it’s because they have an identity. They want to line up and ram the ball down the opposing team’s throat.
This season, they need to replace their top two ground gainers from a year ago. Currently, Bradrick Shaw and Pittsburgh transfer Chris James seem to be the likely candidates. One thing I have learned over the years from watching the Badgers is that Wisconsin’s next great running back could come from anywhere on the depth chart. I fully expect one of those two to step up, and if not, someone else farther down the list probably will.
Shaw did look good last season, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and seemed to get stronger as the year went on.
Iowa Hawkeyes Quarterback
Along with breaking in a new quarterback, the Hawkeyes will be breaking in a new offensive coordinator. Brian Ferentz is the son of the head coach, and has been with the team for 6 seasons, including running the running game the last 2 years. I don’t expect much will change with what they are trying to do.
Even though there are no quarterbacks with starting experience, the Hawkeyes do return 4 of their starters on the offensive line, and have 3 others returning that have starting experience. That should help out the new guy under center.
The likely starter will either be Nathan Stanley, last season’s backup, or Tyler Wiegers, the previous backup. The pair have combined to throw 13 passes in college. I have no idea what to expect out of Iowa’s quarterback next season, even if I did know who was going to start.
Maybe all three teams will have double digit wins next season, and maybe none of them will. I am inclined to believe all three will be right around the 10 win mark. I don’t think it’s hyperbole when I say the Big Ten West race could be decided by the new starters of these three positions. That should lead to an exciting race among the three.
Meanwhile, Minnesota and Purdue have new coaches, and Lovie Smith is in his second year at Illinois. It’s hard to know what any of those teams will do, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of them makes a nice run. Under Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern has been above .500 more often than not. While I don’t really think a national title contender is coming out of the B1G West, I do think it has the potential to be one of the most wide open and exciting division races in all of college football.