2021 B1G West - The Athletic and season ahead.

As we head into the 10 year anniversary of Nebraska playing in the Big Ten.​

From the Legends (2012 losing to Leaders foe, Wisconsin) to the past seven seasons, since the West was born. The Athletic shares the post-Spring Top 25, though Rutgers, Stanford and UCLA are still practicing.

"We’re only about four months away from Nebraska-Illinois. Neither made the cut here, but still — it’s time to get excited about a “normal” college football season."

12. Wisconsin (2014, 16, 17, 19)​

Graham Mertz is Wisconsin’s best passer since Russell Wilson, but injuries to him and senior WRs Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis III hampered the season. Both came back, as did veteran TE Jake Ferguson, and sophomore WRs Devin Chandler and Chimere Dike shined this spring. Wisconsin’s rushing offense ranked an uncharacteristic 84th nationally last season, but then-freshman RB Jalen Berger showed star potential.

LBs Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal lead a cast of eight returning starters from a top-20 defense. Young CBs Dean Engram and Alexander Smith emerged this spring. The Badgers need to generate a better pass rush than in 2020.


All-Big Ten running back Tyler Goodson should help bolster an offense that closed out strong last season. (Jeffrey Becker / USA Today)

14. Iowa​

Returning QB Spencer Petras, who closed strong last season, fended off competitors for his job this spring. He can lean on All-Big Ten RB Tyler Goodson and C Tyler Linderbaum and TE Sam LaPorta. Junior WR Tyrone Tracy looks to be the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 receiver and four-star freshman Keagan Johnson made his case for a starting job.

Super senior DE Zach VanValkenburg is the only returning starter on Iowa’s D-line. Redshirt freshman Yahya Black may be one of the next guys up. The back seven returns nearly intact, led by LB Jack Campbell. Punter Tory Taylor is a weapon.

Northwestern - Athlon notes keep an eye on the Wildcats

Pat Fitzgerald has guided the Wildcats to two Big Ten West Division titles over the last three years. Getting back to Indianapolis will require some heavy lifting for Fitzgerald and his staff, as quarterback Peyton Ramsey opted to pass on an extra year for the NFL, and long-time defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz retired. The offense can lean on running back Cam Porter and an experienced offensive line until the quarterback position is settled, and the staff has time to find playmakers at receiver. Northwestern’s defense ranked second in the Big Ten by holding teams to 4.9 yards per play and a similar effort is needed to win the West again. The linebacker unit will miss Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher, and end Earnest Brown and safety JR Pace opted to go to the NFL. The cupboard isn’t bare though for Fitzgerald, as safety Brandon Joseph shined as a freshman with six interceptions, and end Adetomiwa Adebawore is back to lead the rebuilding effort up front.

The Wildcats will be younger and will likely see another QB transfer step into the role. The leading candidate is Ryan Hilinski, from South Carolina.

19. Minnesota - College Football News, they like all four teams mentioned in Top 25, with UW #1 in division.

Minnesota Golden Gophers​

Why To Be Happy: The main men are back in the backfield. RB Mohamed Ibrahim is returning along with QB Tanner Morgan and most of the top receivers. Best of all, the offensive line is loaded with veterans. With corner Coney Durr returning and former Clemson super-recruit Nyles Pinkney and NC State’s Val Martin coming in for the defensive interior, the D has veterans. However …

What To Work On: The defense needs to be far better and far stronger. It was a disaster against the run, didn’t take the ball away enough, and struggled on third downs. There are enough veterans to be better, but the production has to follow.

Bottom Line: Minnesota has the experience to get back to the 2019 level as long as the defense is stronger. The offense might not have the explosion of two years ago, but it’ll be very, very good.

Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois are likely spoilers again in 2021. Bret Bielema is back in the Big Ten for the Illini now. Back in his home state.

Scott Frost and Jeff Brohm have a lot to step up, as each program has underperformed lately, after each arrived in 2018.

It should be a great to see fans back in stadiums and Nebraska at Oklahoma take place in 2021.

3. Oklahoma​

Lincoln Riley already had another loaded offense in the works, led by QB Spencer Rattler, before adding a couple of likely starters from Tennessee: RB Eric Gray and tackle Wanya Morris. In addition to top returning receivers Marvin Mims and Theo Wease, freshman Mario Williams stood out and Arkansas transfer Mike Woods only adds to the riches there. The O-line has some questions but should be improved.

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has upgraded OU’s long-maligned defense considerably (from 102nd nationally in 2018 to 26th in 2020). Stud pass rusher Nik Bonitto leads a deep front seven, and safety Delarrin-Turner Yell anchors a transformed secondary.

4. Ohio State​

Sophomore C.J. Stroud appears to hold the edge over five-star early enrollee Kyle McCord in the QB race. Whoever wins will have the luxury of both a veteran O-line and the nation’s most loaded receivers room, led by Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Jaxon Smith-Njigba and freshman Marvin Harrison Jr. emerged this spring as well. Five-star freshman RB TreVeyon Henderson will push veteran Master Teague.

Ohio State’s defense should be strong up front with end Zach Harrison, tackle Haskell Garrett and future star Jack Sawyer. Craig Young and Ronnie Hickman emerged as intriguing hybrid safety/linebackers in the spring. The secondary remains a concern.