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Behind Enemy Lines: Each Big Ten West school’s biggest transfer portal addition

The majority of the teams in the division made a splash in the transfer portal by bringing in new quarterbacks

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 14 Navy at SMU Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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.

After looking at the biggest addition from the transfer portal for each of Ohio State’s opponents in the Big Ten East, today we shift to the Big Ten West and look at the most impactful transfer for the seven teams in the division.

Illinois: Luke Altmyer - Quarterback

Coming out of high school in Starkville, Luke Altmyer was a four-star recruit. Despite receiving offers from hometown Mississippi State, Florida State, LSU, and others, Altmyer committed to Ole Miss. Altmyer appeared in nine games over his two seasons in Oxford, starting one game for the Rebels before entering the transfer portal. After redshirting in his second year at Ole Miss, Altmyer will have three years of eligibility remaining at Illinois.

The Fighting Illini were a surprise in the Big Ten last year, finishing with an 8-5 record. While running back Chase Brown powered the offense by running for over 1,600 yards, quarterback Tommy Devito was smart with the football and made plays when he needed to, throwing for 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Devito also rushed for six touchdowns last season.

With Devito and Brown gone, Illinois is going to need some players to step up this season if they want to show that last season wasn’t a fluke for Bret Bielema’s team. After sitting behind Matt Corral in 2021 and Jaxson Dart last season, now is the time for Altmyer to lead a football team. If Altmyer can live up to some of his recruiting rankings coming out of high school, Illinois could be a sleeper to win the Big Ten West, especially with a schedule that doesn’t have the Fighting Illini playing Ohio State or Michigan.

Iowa: Cade McNamara - Quarterback/Erick All - Tight End

Since both Cade McNamara and Erick All came from Michigan, I decided to include them both as Iowa’s most impactful transfer this year. It is well known that Iowa has had one of the worst offenses in the country recently, which led to the school setting goals for Brian Ferentz’s Hawkeye offense to hit or else there would be consequences.

To try and kickstart the offense, Iowa made a few moves in the transfer portal. Their biggest moves were to bring in Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara and tight end Erick All. McNamara saw the bulk of the snaps for the Wolverines in 2021, throwing for 2,500 yards and 15 touchdowns as Michigan made the College Football Playoff. All was one of McNamara’s trusted targets that year, catching 38 passes for 437 yards and a couple of scores.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Iowa vs Michigan Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The quarterbacks at Iowa have been so bad the last few years that almost anything feels like an upgrade on what we have seen from the Hawkeyes lately. McNamara already has Big Ten experience which will help, as well as a familiar target in Iowa City. Along with All, McNamara will have tight end Luke Lachey, wide receiver Nico Ragaini, and Ohio State transfer receiver Kaleb Brown to throw to. If Brian Ferentz can’t put together an offense that can put some points on the board with those options, then he deserves to lose his job.

Minnesota: Sean Tyler - Running Back

Lately, it has felt like you could plug anyone off the street into the Minnesota backfield and they would rush for 1,000 yards. Even in 2021 when Mohamed Ibrahim was injured early in the season, the Golden Gophers still had success running the football. After returning from injury last season, Ibrahim has finally exhausted his college eligibility, leaving P.J. Fleck to search for an answer at running back.

The former Western Michigan head coach found some help at the school he used to coach at, bringing in running back Sean Tyler. The former Bronco has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the last two years. Having Tyler in the fold will bolster an offense that already has weapons like Chris Autman-Bell and Devyn Spann-Ford for quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis to throw to. While Minnesota will likely throw the football more than they have in years past. they still have a talented running back to lean on when they need to.

Nebraska: Arik Gilbert - Tight End

New Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule has been busy in the transfer portal since taking the job in Lincoln, bringing in Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims, Arizona State offensive lineman Ben Scott, and a number of other transfers. The most intriguing transfer into the Nebraska program is tight end Arik Gilbert, who only caught two passes last season at Georgia. Gilbert still needs a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible to play, but it seems unlikely the NCAA won’t allow Gilbert to play this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game - Oregon vs Georgia Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Throw out last year for Gilbert, as he was buried on the depth chart behind some amazing tight ends at Georgia. Gilbert was still a high-profile recruit coming out of high school and was considered a possible first-round pick before his disappointing season last year. Even without playing a snap for Nebraska yet, Gilbert is one of the most talented tight ends in the Big Ten, he just has to show it on the field. If Sims and Gilbert can get on the same page early, the Cornhuskers could surprise some people this season.

Northwestern: Ben Bryant - Quarterback

You gotta feel for Ben Bryant. After putting together a solid season at Cincinnati last year, throwing for 2,700 yards and 21 touchdowns, head coach Luke Fickell heads to Wisconsin, while you move on to Northwestern. At the time the move looked like a good one since it could possibly give the Wildcats some stability at quarterback, which is something they have been searching desperately for lately.

We know what has happened in Evanston recently, with the school firing head coach Pat Fitzgerald after a hazing scandal. It was already sounding like it was going to be a rough year for Northwestern, and now things feel like they’re going to be even worse since there is still so much left to be decided when it comes to the future of the program.

The good news for Bryant is he does have some capable weapons to work with. Not only will running back Cam Porter be returning from injury, but Northwestern also brought in transfer wide receivers A.J. Henning and Cam Johnson. With expectations being low for the Wildcats, there is nowhere left to go but up for Bryant and his teammates. The former Cincinnati quarterback has shown he has the tools to be successful, now he can boost his stock if he can lead Northwestern to a respectable season while they are dealing with the fallout from the scandal.

Purdue: Hudson Card - Quarterback

Even though the coaching staff at Purdue has changed after Jeff Brohm left to take the Louisville job, it sounds like the Boilermakers don’t have plans to change their offensive game plan. New head coach Ryan Walters brought in Graham Harrell as the offensive coordinator, with Harrell’s specialty being the air raid offense.

The hiring of Harrell is what attracted Texas transfer quarterback Hudson Card to West Lafayette. With Quinn Ewers and Arch Manning in Austin, the writing was on the wall for Card to explore other options if he wanted to see any playing time. When his number was called, Card made the most of his opportunities the last couple of years, completing 66 percent of his passes, tossing 12 touchdowns, and just two interceptions.

Texas v Texas Tech Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images

There has been a long line of good Purdue quarterbacks over the last couple of decades, and there is talk that Card could be near the top of that list by the time he leaves West Lafayette, which is saying a lot. If Card and Harrell can get on the same page early on, it could make Ohio State’s trip to Purdue in October a scary one for the Buckeyes.

Wisconsin: Tanner Mordecai - Quarterback

New head coach Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Phil Longo are certainly going to shake things up in Madison. After years of Wisconsin preferring to run the football down the throats of their opponents, the time has come to feature more of a passing game from the Badgers. What better way to usher in a new era than by bringing in a quarterback that has put up some of the biggest stats in college football over the past two years?

After transferring to SMU from Oklahoma, Tanner Mordecai threw for over 7,000 yards and 72 touchdowns over the past two seasons. The addition of Mordecai brings a different element to a Wisconsin offense that already has running back Braelon Allen and annually fields one of the biggest offensive lines in college football. If Mordecai can channel the success we saw from him at SMU, it will certainly fast-track Fickell’s plans to return the Badgers to the top of the Big Ten West.