From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about checking in on Ohio State’s opponents. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Behind Enemy Line” articles here.
Even though Ohio State gets most of the attention in the Big Ten, there are still other teams in the conference that we have to keep tabs on. Obviously the first one that comes to mind is Michigan, followed by Penn State since they give the Buckeyes a tough test almost every year. Next year things will get even crazier in the conference with USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten.
Before we welcome the Trojans and the Bruins to the Big Ten, we are going to focus on this year in the conference. With it being “Behind Enemy Lines” week, we want to focus on some of the other teams in the Big Ten. What we want to know today is which Big Ten team you are most interested to watch this season. It doesn’t matter if the team you pick plays Ohio State this year or not, since even if they aren’t on the schedule they could end up meeting the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game if things go right for both teams.
Your pick for today doesn’t even necessarily have to do with a team being successful on the field. Maybe you want to see just how bad Northwestern can be this season. Or maybe you want to see if Brian Ferentz fails to meet the objectives that were set for him at Iowa so the school has to make a tough decision about what to do with the coach’s son. What is interesting to one person might differ for what is interesting to someone else.
Today’s question: Aside from Ohio State, what Big Ten team are you most interested to watch this season?
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s answer: Wisconsin
For a while the Badgers were the top team in the Big Ten West, but things have changed over the last few years. Between 2011-19, Wisconsin made the Big Ten Championship Game six times, winning in 2011 and 2012 before losing their next four trips to Indianapolis, with three of those losses coming to Ohio State. In the three years since, the Badgers have gone just 20-13, and even though they have won the three bowl games they have appeared in, those bowls weren’t of the caliber that they had frequented in the 10 years prior.
Despite recent results, there is reason to be excited in Madison after the hiring of Luke Fickell. The former Ohio State player and assistant coach did a great job in his first true head coaching job at Cincinnati, where he posted a 57-18 record over six years. Fickell not only cleaned up a mess left by noted coaching idiot Tommy Tuberville, he led the Bearcats to the first appearance in the College Football Playoff by a team outside the Power 5 conferences.
As if bringing in Fickell wasn’t a big enough move for Wisconsin, the Badgers will also return one of the best running backs in the country. The junior has rushed for at least 1,200 yards in each of his first two seasons in Madison, and rushed for 23 total touchdowns during that span. Along with Allen, Fickell was also able to secure the transfer of SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who tossed 72 touchdowns and threw for over 7,000 yards over the last two seasons. After dealing with inconsistent quarterback play for quite some time, Wisconsin will finally have some stability at quarterback this season.
The Badgers do have a great chance at making some noise in Fickell’s first year in Madison. Wisconsin has a pretty easy schedule, with their toughest non-conference game being a trip out to Pullman to take on Washington State. Even the Big Ten slate for the Badgers isn’t too bad, with their toughest game being against Ohio State at Camp Randall Stadium. Road games at Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota won’t scare Fickell and company, which could lead to Wisconsin heading to Indianapolis in early December.
Matt’s answer: Northwestern
I mean, from a purely drama-focused perspective, Northwestern has to be the answer, right? I am a college football fan, so on fall Saturdays, I will have three TVs going in my living room from 12 noon to 12 midnight ET, so I’m gonna watch a lot of Big Ten football, but am I really going to be invested enough in any time other than the Buckeyes to seek them out for pure football entertainment purposes? Probably not.
So, if you ask what B1G squad I’m most interested in following, it’s going to be the messiest, most dysfunctional, potentially train-wreckable team in the league, and that is obviously the Wildcats. There has rarely ever been a team that I have had more questions about in my time covering college football.
If you’re reading this, you likely know all about the investigation and findings that led to the university finally firing head coach Pat Fitzgerald; but, if you don’t, check out our friends over Inside NU who have done an incredible job of covering the horrifying ordeal.
The question now is what happens next? Who is going to lead the Wildcats this season? Will players enter the transfer portal? They were already going to be pretty awful this year, so just how bad can it get?
There’s no way that NU can promote from within, can they? With an entire program is as toxic as it appears Northwestern’s is, how is replacing the head coach with one of his assistants going to change anything? Then again, fall camp starts in two and a half weeks, how are you going to find a competent head coach — let alone an entire staff — in time to kick things off in September?
Does that mean that Northwestern is essentially going to have to punt (pun intended) on this season? I am fairly confident that most college football fans and journalists are going to write the Wildcats off this year, and understandably so. But, that program has been an underdog for its entire existence, and often in cases like these — when players have something to rally around, something to prove, something to fight for — they find a way to shock the world.
Do I think that Northwestern is going to stun the college football establishment and represent the B1G West in the conference title game? No, I do not. But, whether the season proves to be a dumpster fire or a plucky underdog story, it will almost certainly be entertaining.