- Iowa Hawkeyes– It was definitely a memorable year for Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa Hawkeyes. They finished with a 12-2 record, claimed the Big Ten West division title and clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game where they would fall short of advancing to the College Football Playoff. Last season was definitely a surprise considering Iowa hadn’t won more than eight games since 2010 and Ferentz was on the hot seat. They may not get off to the fast start as they did in 2015, but they are the favorites to win this division once again. C.J. Beathard will once again be under center as the starting quarterback. The running game is still in good hands even without star back Jordan Canzeri. We will see a lot of LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley share the carries and they combined for a 1,000 yards in 15. The defense is still a solid unit but would be better if Drew Ott was back for another season but the star will be cornerback Desmond King.
- Nebraska Cornhuskers– Although they finished with a losing record in Mike Riley’s first season, Nebraska showed they are a much better football team than the record showed. They can easily improve their win total and be competitive in the division. The offense will show some improvements behind quarterback Tommy Armstrong and Nebraska has one of the best receiving corps in the Big Ten in Jordan Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore and Brandon Reilly. Armstrong will also have three running backs at his disposal in Terrell Newby, Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon. The defense will enter the year with some questions especially with concern for the defensive line with the departure of four tackles. If Nebraska can close games out, they’ll be a much better team than last season.
- Wisconsin Badgers– This could be one of those rebuilding seasons in Madison. Paul Chryst enters his second season and has some big holes to fill starting with replacing quarterback Joel Stave and wide receiver Alex Erickson but I’m sure the quarterback is the least of coach’s worries. The top priority is getting Wisconsin’s trademark running game back on track and that will start with Corey Clement who is returning for his senior season. He was expected to be the replacement for Melvin Gordon but was limited last year due to a sports hernia. The offensive line was another big issue for the Badgers as they started seven different line-up combinations. At quarterback, senior Bart Houston is projected to be the starter but Alex Hornibrook can push him and take the job. Defensively, Justin Wilcox is the new coordinator and they will be without two key pieces in linebacker Joe Schobert and safety Michael Caputo who was by far the emotional leader on defense. This could be a challenging year for the Badgers as far as their schedule is concerned. Facing LSU, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa all before November could tell us what team we are seeing.
- Northwestern Wildcats– They were a pleasant surprise last season as they went 10-3 and they could be just as good in 2016, but they will have to do a lot of work to reach 10 wins once again. They will lean on running back Justin Jackson to carry the offense once again and quarterback Clayton Thorson is looking to get better in season two under center. The play of the offensive line has been shaky at times but they return an experienced unit. The defense is looking to build off the success of last year as they allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the nation with five and ranked seventh in yards per play with 4.5. The schedule is tough early on as they face both Michigan State and Ohio State along with a battle against Iowa and all those games take place in October, a month where they’ve struggled under Pat Fitzgerald.
- Minnesota Golden Gophers– Jerry Kill resigned during the year last season due to health issues and that normally takes an emotional toll on a football team. Minnesota recovered well under then interim head coach Tracy Claeys and now he enters the 2016 season as the permanent head coach. With veteran quarterback Mitch Leidner, a fleet of running backs and an offensive line that will be retooled, the Golden Gophers feel they can finish this year with a winning record and reach another bowl game. The defense won’t be changing much although they need to replace two very productive corners in Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Minnesota is looking to reach a bowl game for the fifth straight season.
- Illinois Fighting Illini– The Tim Beckman era is over and done with and a familiar face is back coaching in the state of Illinois but this time, it’s at the collegiate level and that’s Lovie Smith which I thought was a really good hiring. He can recruit and because of whom he is and where he coached before in the NFL, guys will want to play for him. Wes Lunt, the transfer from Oklahoma State is set to enter his third season. The offense suffered a huge blow when star receiver Mike Dudek tore his ACL. The defense will now be run by former NFL star Hardy Nickerson and three starters return including defensive end Dawuane Smoot. It could take some time, but this year could be a sign of things that Illinois is back on the right track.
- Purdue Boilmakers– They won only two games last season and head coach Darrell Hazell enters this year on the hot seat. The positive for them is they return 16 starters but the downfall is that life is never easy in this conference. There’s so much to be done with this football team. They are 6-30 under Hazel along with an abysmal in-conference record of 2-22.
2016 Prediction: Iowa will be victorious once again and they will take this division for the second straight season. The pieces are all in place on both sides of the football and they can definitely be a force again. The key to Iowa’s success this year will be keeping C.J. Beathard healthy. The running game will also vital as it was last year. Iowa isn’t a flashy football team and I like that. They just simply go about their business on the field and play power football. You have to respect that