2019 BIG TEN WEST CONFERENCE PREVIEW
Marc Lawrence
Posted: 2019-06-24

Bowlers Welcome

Twelve Big Ten teams will square off against at least one non-conference team that participated in a bowl game last season, with 21 of all 42 non-conference games featuring opponents coming off bowl trips. Michigan and Purdue will each face bowl teams in all three of their 2019 non-conference contests, while Maryland, Michigan State, and Penn State will each play two bowl opponents outside the conference schedule.

Counting conference and non-conference contests, every Big Ten team will face at least six teams that played in a bowl game last season. Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Penn State, Purdue, and Wisconsin lead the way with eight such contests, followed by Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern and Rutgers with seven.

Welcome Aboard

The Big Ten will welcome a pair of new head coaches to the sidelines for the 2019 campaign in Maryland’s Michael Locksley and Ohio State’s Ryan Day. Locksley brings over 20 years of coaching experience, including two separate stints at Maryland, totaling 10 years with the Terps. The winner of the 2018 Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach, Locksley has spent the last three years working under Nick Saban at Alabama. Day, the Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who led the team to a 3-0 record at the start of the 2018 season, took over as head coach of the program on January 2, following Urban Meyer’s retirement.

Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2019 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine on sale at newsstands nationwide. The numbers following each team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. The RPR represents each team’s overall, offensive and defensive rankings in overall returning production experience.

2019 BIG TEN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

BIG 10 WEST

ILLINOIS Off - 7/4 Def - 10/3 RPR: 16/45/15

TEAM THEME: STUCK IN LOVE

Lovie Smith signed a small but impressive recruiting class in the offseason, including six 3-star prospects and two elite 4-star players in QB Isaiah Williams and DB Marquez Beason. But like a die-hard mentor staying true to his school, Lovie stuck with a youth movement last season when 25 underclassmen accounted for 55.3% of all starts the 4th most in the land. While Smith’s overall record with the Illini is only 9-27, last year’s 4-8 record was his best thus far. Meanwhile, the offense improved a whopping 130 yards per game, but the defense slipped 90 yards per game while allowing 508 yards per contest. With it, Lovie will take over DC duties in 2019.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Illinois is 4-42 SU and 16-30 ATS in its last forty-six Big Ten games versus .500 or greater opponents.

PLAY ON: vs. Northwestern (11/30)

IOWA Off - *6/3 Def - 4/0 RPR: 49/39/84

TEAM THEME: GOING BOLDLY WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE

Kirk Ferentz heads into his third decade as the Hawkeyes head coach and the winningest coach in the University of Iowa history. Senior quarterback Nate Stanley led the Hawkeye offense to an average of 31.2 points per game and has tossed 26 touchdown passes in each of the last two seasons. However, Stanley loses stud TE’s T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, both first-round picks in this year’s NFL draft. Iowa was seventh in the nation in total defense and has led the nation with 41 interceptions over the past two seasons. However, four key players on the defensive line from a year ago are no longer around. Thus, September becomes a critical month for Captain Kirk’s starship.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Ferentz is the longest-tenured FBS head football coach in the nation.

PLAY ON: at Northwestern (10/26)

MINNESOTA Off - *9/3 Def - 7/2 RPR: 10/4/61

TEAM THEME: FIRST RESPONDERS

No team in the land featured more starts by freshmen (32.9%) than the Gophers when underclassmen combined to make 22 starts overall. That works in tandem with the fact that 37 of 44 players from last season’s two-deep are back. Hence, Minnesota will be highly experienced, if nothing at all, this football season. It starts with sophomore QB Zack Annexstad, who along with Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield, are the only two true freshmen walk-on quarterbacks to start a Division-1 game in Week One. With three RBs as lethal as any in the country operating out of the backfield, and super safety Antoine Winfield now healthy, head coach P.J. Fleck should be rowing up a storm this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Fleck’s teams are 33-1 SU in their L34 games in which they’ve won the stats, including 22-0 the last 22.

PLAY AGAINST: at Fresno State (9/7)

NEBRASKA Off - *7/3 Def - 6/2 RPR: 93/79/94

TEAM THEME: BEND THE KNEE FOR HIS ICENESS

It was an excruciating yet rewarding first season for Scott Frost as coach of his alma mater. The Cornhuskers lost their first six games by an average 15 PPG, but they won four of their last six by 12.5 PPG while nearly beating Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa on the road. QB Adrian Martinez, electric as a freshman despite lingering knee problems, appears on the verge of a breakout season in 2019. Still, despite taking on four opponents with new coaches, Frost has his work cut out for him this season after losing four of his top five tacklers. With Frost setting a Nebraska season record for total offensive YPG last year, football is king in Lincoln once again.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: 2019 marked the first time since 1962 that no player from Nebraska was selected in the NFL draft.

PLAY ON: at Colorado (9/7) - *KEY

NORTHWESTERN Off - 5/2 Def - 6/2 RPR: 72/97/42

TEAM THEME: PURPLE REIGN

Despite their first winless non-conference season since 1992, the Wildcats rebounded nicely to win 9 games in 2018, including an impressive 31-20 bowl win over Utah marking the first time in school history that NU won three straight bowl games. “Now it’s become a consistent theme of our program, becoming champions,” insists head coach Pat Fitzgerald. With it, they begin defense of their Big West title minus the services of four-year starting QB Clayton Thorson, selected in the 5th round by the Philadelphia Eagles in this year’s draft. Lest we forget, this from our database: Fitzgerald is a ‘good dog’ (59-37-2 ATS) and a ‘bad favorite’ (27-41-1 ATS). In these two roles last season he went 10-2-2 ATS. Play accordingly.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Pat Fitzgerald has never had a player selected in the first three rounds since taking over the program 13 years ago.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Ohio State (10/18)

PURDUEOff - 3/2 Def - 9/4 RPR: 103/124/35

TEAM THEME: THE PERFECT BROHMIDE

Not only did head coach Jeff Brohm say no to Louisville, his alma mater, his electrifying star WR Rondale Moore also returns after leading the nation with 114 receptions, good for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last year. Moore also returned kicks for 744 yards while setting a school record with 313 yards... in his first career game! Through it all, the offense averaged 30 PPG last season for the first time since 2007 under Joe Tiller. QB Elijah Sindelar returns after opening the 2018 season as the starter before giving way to since-departed David Blough. Meanwhile, just 32 players started a game last season only three teams in the land started fewer.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Brohm is 15-2 SU and 14-3 ATS from Game Eleven out.

PLAY ON: at Northwestern (11/9)

WISCONSIN Off - 5/1 Def - 6/2RPR: 29/7/78

TEAM THEME: BOWL ME OVER

A five-game home stand from September till mid-October practically insures an 18th straight bowl game for the Badgers. For what it’s worth, with its 35-3 win over Miami in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Wisconsin won its 5th-consecutive bowl game becoming the first team to win 5 straight bowls as a member of the Big Ten Conference. UW’s run of 5 straight bowl victories is tied for the nation’s longest active streak, along with Louisiana Tech. Badgers’ freshmen made 21.3% starts in 2018, the 5th most of any team in the nation, while underclassmen totaled 24 overall starts. QB Alex Hornibrook transferred to Florida State but Doak Walker Award-winning RB Jonathan Taylor returns.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:Wisconsin and Penn State are the only Big Ten teams that have posted a winning season the last 14 consecutive years.

PLAY ON: at Minnesota (11/30)



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