Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Which team will win the Big Ten West?
Josh’s Take: Iowa
Is the Big Ten West the best division in college football? Is it so tough that the teams at the top can’t help but cannibalize each other throughout the season? People are asking, Gene. Not smart people, but ones with opinions. If you prefer vanilla ice cream, pleated pants, and generally boring football, you will want to pay attention to this race as it comes down to the wire.
As it stands, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, and Iowa all have a chance to claim the throne… yes, that Iowa. The former second-ranked team in the country is now on even footing with teams that, among other things, started out 1-3 and lost to Bowling Green. While the Hawkeyes have sputtered, Wisconsin’s offense is finding its stride, and Purdue has turned into a giant-slaying terminator of CFP dreams (I’m not nervous for the Buckeyes, you are). While the brand of football is not exactly what I look forward to on a weekly basis, the B1G West race is one that will have national implications.
This is not to say that whichever teams comes out on top will have a shot at winning it all. Iowa has two losses, and all the others have three each. However, the eventual West champ will face a team from the East that likely does have those aspirations. Ohio State fans will have at least passive interest in the battle for west supremacy. Hopefully – hopefully – the Buckeyes will be facing one of these teams in Indianapolis. But that is putting the cart well before the horse.
I still believe Iowa is going to come out of this thing — not that I have much confidence in them as a football team. They were beaten soundly by Purdue and Wisconsin, and this past weekend was in a rock fight against Northwestern. My belief stems from… well, I don’t know why the hell I believe in them. Call it a hunch. Or maybe I just think their defense will come back around and suffocate their offensively-challenged opponents.
The rest of November looks like this for the Hawkeyes: home against Minnesota, home against Illinois, on the road at Nebraska. Those are not great football teams. I would argue those are not even good football teams. I understand that Minnesota has a 6-3 record, but they barely beat Miami (OH) and lost to Bowling Green. They rebounded nicely for a few weeks, but then scored six points at home against Illinois. The injuries are piling up, and I just don’t see the Gophers sprinting to the finish.
This isn’t just about Minnesota though (exclusively). Don’t call Freezing Hot Takes, but I think Purdue loses in Columbus and Wisconsin is upset at home by Nebraska. Gene, I am not smart enough to figure out all possible tiebreakers, so I am making these predictions to support my case. I think Iowa wins out and does so with defense, while their challengers all drop a game.
The Hawkeyes may have also discovered something in Alex Padilla. The third-year player replaced an ineffective Spencer Petras this past weekend, and the team’s offense showed a little bit of life. On the other side of the ball, Iowa’s defense has kept them afloat. That group is 10th in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. In the Big Ten, in cold weather, in potentially ugly games, defense will always give them a shot.
The Hawkeyes defense has also been great at causing turnovers, and I believe they will ride that defense and Tyler Goodson to three more wins. Three wins for Iowa, plus a loss by each of the other teams, equals Kirk Ferentz stumbling into another Big Ten West title. He needs one too. Otherwise, the school may only extend him for five years after the season — as opposed to 10, locking in another decade of semi-relevancy.
As for a potential matchup with Ohio State, Iowa winning the West is something I would like to see. Same goes for Minnesota, although I think they are the least likely opponent. As much as I trumped up Iowa’s defense (and it is legitimately very good), I don’t believe their offense could outscore the Buckeyes. I don’t think Ohio State will typically be held to less than 28 points, and Iowa is averaging less than 14 over the last month.
Wisconsin is peaking at the right time, and they have a great defense as well. I just don’t want to see the Badgers with anything on the line. As for Purdue… well, I don’t want to discuss the Boilermakers at all. I’m nervous as all hell for the game this weekend, so any (further) talk of playing in the Big Ten Championship Game is bad mojo. Don’t you put that on me, Gene! I just wanted to argue about the superpowers in the B1G West.
Gene’s Take: Wisconsin
As Josh has previously alluded to in a much more poetic way, the Big Ten West standings are simply a crapshoot. There are four teams that sit atop the division at 4-2 in conference play in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa, with all of those programs at 6-3 overall other than the 7-2 Hawkeyes. However, only two of those teams truly control their own destiny, and while Josh is accounting for another team to lose in order for Kirk Ferentz’s guys to win the West, I'm only looking at the two schools who can get it done without any help.
Those two programs are Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota has already beaten Purdue, and will take on Iowa this upcoming Saturday. Wisconsin has already defeated both Iowa and Purdue — rather handily, I may add — and the Badgers are set to square off with the Gophers in the regular season finale, which very well could be a play-in game for the Big Ten Championship. Neither Iowa or Purdue have the added luxury of owning the head-to-head matchups in any tiebreaker scenarios, so their paths are much more complicated. If I were a betting man — which I am, but not in this case — my money would be on Wisconsin.
I believe in the Badgers for a number of reasons, the first being that they seem to have hit their stride as of late. After dropping two of their first three games of the season, including a 16-10 loss to Penn State in the opener and not particularly close losses to Notre Dame and Michigan, Paul Chryst’s guys have rattled off five in a row, including dominant performances over a ranked Boilermakers squad and a top-10 Iowa (at the time). Defense has been the key for Wisconsin, as they have allowed an average of just 7.4 points per game during this stretch.
Now, do I trust Graham Mertz to get the job done? Absolutely not. The redshirt sophomore has not lived up to the lofty expectations having arrived on campus as a high four-star recruit in 2019. This season, Mertz has completed just over 56% of his passes for a little under 1,300 yards with just six touchdowns to eight interceptions. He has been able to run for an additional four scores, but has certainly not be prolific on the ground either having negative rushing yards on the year. Mertz did have his best game of the season last time out in the team’s 52-3 win over Rutgers, passing for 240 yards with three TDs and an INT, but the quality of opponent has more to do with that outcome more-so than an improved Mertz.
Luckily for Wisco, the rest of its schedule is incredibly favorable. The Badgers will host an abysmal Northwestern team this upcoming weekend, and will take on a Nebraska team that seems talented but simply refuses to win football games the following week at Camp Randall Stadium. They will close the season on the road at Minnesota, and while the Gophers had managed to find themselves at No. 20 in the first CFP rankings last week, they are coming off an embarrassing 14-6 loss to Illinois and are missing the top three running backs on the depth chart due to injuries.
Both of these factors lead me to believe that it will be Wisconsin once again representing the Big Ten West in Indianapolis at season’s end. Truthfully, I don't think any of the teams on that side of the conference have a shot to win the B1G title game, and that remains true whether the team coming out of the East is Ohio State, Michigan or even Michigan State. The Badgers’ defense is playing really well, but I dont think they have the offensive firepower to keep up with any of those three teams. Chryst has been pretty good at winning the West, doing so on three occasions since taking over the program in 2015, but he hasn’t been able to get over the hump and actually win the whole thing.
This year will be more of the same for the Badgers: another loss in Indy to a more talented team out of the East.