NCAA Football 2014: Breaking down BIG West contenders


Nov 30, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) rushes for yardage as Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Trevor Williams (10) defends at Camp Randall Stadium. Penn State defeated Wisconsin 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin is led by a fantastic rushing attack featuring RB Melvin Gordon.  He’s one of the best playmakers in the country.  He’ll be supported by four returning offensive lineman and back up Corey Clement.   Simply put, they must carry the team this year.

The battle for QB rages on as Tanner McEvoy attempts to steal the job from incumbent starter Joel Stave.  After losing the school’s #2 all-time receiver Jarred Abbrederis, and reliable TE Jacob Pederson, dynamic kick returner Kenzel Doe needs to step up in the slot.  Amazingly, the Badgers leading returning receiver caught only ten passes last year.

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Nebraska Cornhuskers basketball dubbed 'sleeper' of the Big Ten
Nebraska Cornhuskers basketball dubbed 'sleeper' of the Big Ten /

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  • Can Sophmores CB Sojourn Shelton, LB Vince Biegel and Junior safety Michael Caputo step up and lead a defense that only returns 3 starters?  It’s a huge question mark, and the inexperience will likely keep them from reaching the conference title game.

    The Badgers can’t be counted out because of the elite quality rushing attack, but there are plenty of unknowns that could lead to a disappointing season.  Expect the October 4th contest at Northwestern to set the tone for the BIG season.

    Jan 1, 2014; Tampa, Fl, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes mascot, Herky the Hawk, during the first half against the LSU Tigers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Iowa may be the BIG West sleeper team of the year.  They return 8 starters on offense including QB Jake Rudock, second team All American tackle Brandon Scherff and RB Mark Weisman.  The offensive line is as good as any in the BIG with returning anchors Scherff, Jordan Walsh and Austin Blythe.  Both leading receivers return and the Hawkeyes have a much better chance when ‘playing from behind’.

    Iowa is known for rush defense and this year will be no different with Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat stuffing the run up the middle.  The big question mark is can the Hawkeyes replace all three starting linebackers.  The group was considered the best in Hawkeye history.  Senior Quinton Alston needs to step up and lead a young group of linebackers.

    The schedule is softer than a pink locker room and the Hawkeyes have a chance to be undefeated by the time Wisconsin and Nebraska visit Kinnick stadium in late November.

    Nebraska only returns 10 starters this year, but they include two candidates for BIG player of the year in running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory.

    Tommy Armstrong steps in as the full-time QB and while he’s physically gifted, he must become more consistent.  The offensive line will be the unit to watch.  It’s an inexperienced group, but undoubtedly they’ll benefit from more continuity at quarterback.  Armstrong will be supported by receivers Kenny Bell and former QB Jamal Turner.

    Defensively, division winning pieces are there.  BIG leading sack man Randy Gregory returns to anchor a talented young front.  Fans want to see the front hold up to allow David Santos and Zaire Anderson to make plays.  Leading tackler, safety Corey Cooper is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield.

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    Depth will be tested as last season’s fourth leading tackler linebacker Michael Rose is out for the year with a knee injury.  They’ve also lost corner Charles Jackson (injury) and safety LeRoy Alexander (suspension) for the season.  The defense can’t really afford any more injuries.

    They also draw the short straw as the only WEST contender to travel to East Lansing this year.

    This is a huge season for Bo Pelini.  Can his staff coach up this inexperienced group?  Or are they destined for another four loss season?

    Northwestern had a disastrous 2013 season after failing to pull the September upset over Ohio State.  Somehow, they failed to reach a bowl game, but the talent level is much better than that.  They return 18 of 22 starters.  August picked up where 2013 left off as they’ve lost All American playmaker Venric Mark (transfer) and leading receiver Cristian Jones (injury) for the season.

    The good news is the entire offensive line is back.  That chemistry should lead to major improvement and provide some nice holes for Treyvon Green and plenty of time for experienced QB Trevor Siemian.  While Green isn’t a homerun hitter like Mark, he did a fine job leading the rushing attack in 2013 averaging 5.3 yards per carry.  Cristian Jones is a big loss at receiver, but Tony Jones and Kyle Prater are more than able enough to shoulder the load.

    On defense, Collin Ellis, Ibraheim Campbell and Chi Chi Ariguzo lead an experienced group.  As a whole, they were very average in each statistical category 2013.  If they can improve just a bit across the board, they’ll be in contention for a BIG championship game appearance.

    This division is wide open this year.  Who is going to man up and take it?  What do you think?  Let us know!