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** 2022 Previews: ESPN/Bill Connelly Big Ten West Preview **


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Big Ten West football preview: Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa, Minnesota all have a shot

If the old "Defense wins championships" adage were actually true, the Big Ten West would have won one by now. No division in major college football has collectively stuck to the "defense and a good run game" approach more religiously.

On average, Big Ten West teams ran 64% of the time on standard downs last season; the national average was 59%, and only the FBS divisions with option stalwarts Air Force (MWC Mountain) and Georgia Southern (Sun Belt East) were higher. They stuck to the ground and asked their quarterbacks to bail them out on third-and-long, and when that (usually) didn't work, they turned the game over to a brilliant defense: The West's average defensive SP+ rating of 18.8 adjusted points per game was the lowest in FBS. Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota all ranked in the top 10, and strangely, only Northwestern, typically as defensive as anyone, ranked worse than 32nd.

Previewing the Big Ten West is like going back in time. The quarterbacks are mostly either unproven or proven in the wrong way, and the cup of good linebackers, centers and running backs overflows. But two things are pretty certain: The West race could go in any number of different directions, and the winner is going to be awfully good.

Granted, the words "Big Ten" and "West" took on new definitions last week with the conference's announced additions of USC and UCLA. But let's preview what is currently the West division.

https://www.espn.com/college-football/insider/story/_/id/34174449/big-ten-west-football-preview-expect-mad-scramble-top

 

 

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2022 projections

TEAM SP+ RK OFF. DEF. AVG. W CONF. W BOWL ODDS
Wisconsin 10 58 1 8.7 5.8 98%
Minnesota 21 50 9 8.3 5.4 98%
Nebraska 29 34 35 7.6 5.4 89%
Purdue 35 38 34 7.3 4.9 93%
Iowa 27 76 4 7.3 4.8 89%
Illinois 82 103 51 3.9 2.0 14%
Northwestern 85 105 60 3.6 1.5 6%
 

 

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From the Nebraska section:

 

What now, Scott Frost? As exciting as last year's division race turned out to be, a three-win team stole the headlines. Based on the stats Nebraska games produced, and the randomness associated with close games in particular, SP+ saw the Huskers as something far closer to a seven-win team than a three-win team last season. That suggests a rebound is coming.

 

However ... they've fallen short of SP+ expectations for four straight years. My Second-Order Wins measure, which takes the predictive stats produced in a given game, tosses them into the air and says "With these stats, you could have expected to win this game X% of the time," suggests Nebraska should have won about 23 games thus far under Frost. They've won 15. At some point, it's not randomness -- it's you.

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Certainly having a somewhat run heavier offense tends to help the defense by controlling clock and limiting possessions and cutting down on sack yards lost and ints and QB fumbles and sometimes injuries.  But three or 4 run plays vs pass plays isn’t exactly a huge difference.  
Conservative play calling, time management and playing relatively error free, smart fb helps a bunch.  This keeps scoring down and games closer on the scoreboard frequently.  That’s Big Ten (historically at least) fb.  Hard nosed, physical, power over finesse, etc.  Still, good fundamentals like blocking and tackling are a Big Ten hallmark.  
Neb fb has, imo, been trending in the right direction defensively albeit with a very good roster with few superlative players.  We need the offense to follow suit and STs to make drastic improvements across all aspects. STs is more a lack of practice and focus than talent, seemingly.  Offense needs schematic fixes imo but Whipple is wise and savvy enough from many years to see this.  Will it happen?  Will luck be with us?  Can we keep our contributors healthy and playing their guts out every snap?  We will know very soon what the prospects will be. 

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Projects Nebraska having more conference wins than Iowa and Purdue, but still doesn't include them in the 'have a shot' list.

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1 hour ago, 84HuskerLaw said:

Certainly having a somewhat run heavier offense tends to help the defense by controlling clock and limiting possessions and cutting down on sack yards lost and ints and QB fumbles and sometimes injuries.  But three or 4 run plays vs pass plays isn’t exactly a huge difference.  
Conservative play calling, time management and playing relatively error free, smart fb helps a bunch.  This keeps scoring down and games closer on the scoreboard frequently.  That’s Big Ten (historically at least) fb.  Hard nosed, physical, power over finesse, etc.  Still, good fundamentals like blocking and tackling are a Big Ten hallmark.  
Neb fb has, imo, been trending in the right direction defensively albeit with a very good roster with few superlative players.  We need the offense to follow suit and STs to make drastic improvements across all aspects. STs is more a lack of practice and focus than talent, seemingly.  Offense needs schematic fixes imo but Whipple is wise and savvy enough from many years to see this.  Will it happen?  Will luck be with us?  Can we keep our contributors healthy and playing their guts out every snap?  We will know very soon what the prospects will be. 

 

Absolutely. The less opportunites you give the opponent to score, the higher chances you have to win on the things you mentioned including field position. This is enhanced if you as an opponent are mistake prone and are unable to put pressure on this approch by scoring TDs. Most offenses in the West don't have the vertical ability to stress weaker secondaries that usually get exposed in Indy. Granted you still have to be able to hold up in the run game and not give teams chances with turnovers. Winning the divison is usually the team that has the best run defense, the least TOs and can play the best field postion while having a prodcutive run game. We all know it isn't enough to win the whole thing as Iowa was eventually out talented by Michigan, NW by OSU and Wisconsin, who needed several mistakes by OSU to even be up at halftime in '19 even lost by double digits . None of these team could apply pressure offensively.  

 

As far a luck is concerned, we don't need it imo. Focus on the basics to meet where most of these teams are and then let your talent shine. As you mentioned, this conference will force you to be fundamentally sound or you'll pay more often than not.

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2 hours ago, Red Five said:

However ... they've fallen short of SP+ expectations for four straight years. My Second-Order Wins measure, which takes the predictive stats produced in a given game, tosses them into the air and says "With these stats, you could have expected to win this game X% of the time," suggests Nebraska should have won about 23 games thus far under Frost. They've won 15. At some point, it's not randomness -- it's you.

 

Well said by the writer. And also the problem had as much to do with the expected wins in the first place as the actual failures.

 

Specifically then to this part:

 

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SP+ saw the Huskers as something far closer to a seven-win team than a three-win team last season

 

Grabbing seven wins in the Big 10 requires not having special teams that suck a** in at least half of the games you play. We arguably lost 3 games because of catastrophic, single-play special teams disasters last season.

 

Scott deserved to be fired and frankly laughed at for having this kind of stuff happen in year 4. But somehow there's a chunk of fans that cling to This Time It's Different™.

 

TL;DR: This is clearly a five win program, so just project the 'skers at 5-7 and you've fixed the "they always perform under expectations" problem.

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