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At Big Ten Media Days, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz fielded a lot of questions about his phenom defensive end. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

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Twenty-five months later, there will be a Woodshed Rematch.

Iowa’s 55-24 dismantling of then-No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 4, 2017, remains perhaps the greatest single-game performance of the Kirk Ferentz era. With a young quarterback and plucky spirit, the Hawkeyes picked apart and toyed with a national heavyweight filled with stars, ultimately undermining the Buckeyes' College Football Playoff hopes. Urban Meyer stood stunned, hands on his knees, as Josh Jackson kept pulling in interceptions and Nate Stanley kept throwing touchdowns.

The teams haven’t collided since, but I believe they’ll meet again Dec. 7 inside Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis. For the first time since 2009, Iowa vs. Ohio State will decide a Big Ten championship.

Like 2009, but unlike 2017, the Buckeyes will reign and — for the first time since 2015 — the Big Ten champion will be awarded a ticket to the national semifinals.

Sidebar: For those thinking that the guy picking Iowa to win the Big Ten West is being a homer, it should be noted this is the first time I’ve picked the Hawkeyes in four years of doing this column. I’ll explain my reasons as we go.

One last thing: The West is going to be nuts. You’ll see that the team I picked fifth could actually finish first if just one game result is flipped.

It should be fun.

Hurry up, football season. We miss you. Bring on the games.

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New Ohio State coach Ryan Day details for reporters the values he wants to instill in his team. Listen: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

BIG TEN EAST

1. Ohio State 

Crossovers: Nebraska (road), Northwestern (road), Wisconsin (home)

Why No. 1?

Twenty of the 34 sportswriters in the preseason Cleveland.com poll have Michigan winning the East. But here are three reasons I took Ohio State: 1) The Buckeyes have won 11 games for seven consecutive seasons; 2) Michigan hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 2011; 3) And, hello, oddsmakers are telling us they prefer Ohio State by a wide margin over Michigan (even-money odds to win the Big Ten, compared with the Wolverines at 7/2). When in doubt, trust Vegas. Ryan Day won’t be in over his head without Urban Meyer; he’s still the mastermind of this high-powered offense and ready for the big time.

Potential issues

Although it’s too early to anoint Justin Fields as a star (he must win the quarterback job first), I like how the Buckeyes’ schedule sets up for him. Ohio State opens with four games in which Fields can hand off to J.K. Dobbins and let talent prevail. By then, the new defensive system and Fields’ comfort level on offense should be in place. There are tricky games along the way. But the Buckeyes can afford one loss (at Nebraska? At Northwestern? Michigan State, Wisconsin or Penn State at home?) as long as they beat Michigan. ... As they always do.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

11-1, 8-1

2. Michigan

Crossovers: Wisconsin (road), Iowa (home), Illinois (road)

Why No. 2?

The pieces should be in place for Michigan to make its long-awaited (aka first) appearance in a Big Ten championship game. The Wolverines usually have a stout defense, and they have a proven quarterback in Shea Patterson. Four years of strong recruiting under Jim Harbaugh should be showing up on the field in 2019 ... right?

Potential issues

There is a lot of optimism that a no-huddle spread system with new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis will help Michigan track down Ohio State. We’ll see. But with so much attrition on defense (Devin Bush, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, among others), there are question marks — not to mention a tough schedule that includes the usual Big Ten East gauntlet, crossovers Wisconsin and Iowa and independent power Notre Dame — to cast doubt on this being Michigan’s year.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

10-2, 8-1

3. Michigan State

Crossovers: Northwestern (road), Wisconsin (road), Illinois (home)

Why No. 3?

Here are Mark Dantonio’s win totals following a season in which his Spartans won seven or fewer games: Nine (2008), 11 (2010), 13 (2013) and 10 (2017). Bounce-backs are the Sparty norm, not the exception. Michigan State’s injury-decimated offense was abysmal during last year's 7-6 campaign. But starting quarterback Brian Lewerke and his shoulder are healthy again. If the offense is serviceable, the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense from a year ago will control most games.

Potential issues

Big Ten defensive lineman of the year Kenny Willekes is returning from a broken leg. Dantonio reshuffled his coaching staff into new seats; was that a move of genius or desperation? The Big Ten East is within reach for the Spartans, but they'll first have to steal one in Columbus or Ann Arbor.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

9-3, 6-3

4. Penn State

Crossovers: Purdue (home), Iowa (road), Minnesota (road)

Why No. 4?

Although a Nittany Lions regression may seem to be an easy call with the departure of ring leader Trace McSorley, the issue goes deeper than that. At one point, Penn State had 22 rostered players in the NCAA transfer portal. Twelve of them left, including quarterback Tommy Stevens to Mississippi State and two other almost-certain starters. That's a red flag. All that said, Penn State’s attacking defense should be good, and the home schedule should bring a minimum of six wins.

Potential issues

What did Penn State really accomplish in last year's 9-4 season? Its best win was probably against an Iowa team that gift-wrapped a rain-soaked victory in Happy Valley. A bowl loss to Kentucky was uninspiring. There’s no settled quarterback, with Sean Clifford and Will Levis vying to succeed McSorley. We’ll see if James Franklin has his finger on the pulse of Penn State’s roster … or if he’s losing it.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

7-5, 4-5

5. Maryland

Crossovers: Purdue (road), Minnesota (road), Nebraska (home)

Why No. 5?

Honestly, the only reason I have Maryland at 5 and not 6 is because the Terrapins get Indiana at home. Mike Locksley’s head-coaching tenures have been terrible (3-31 record), but Maryland does have a lot more talent than you probably realize and is ready for a new chapter after the troubled D.J. Durkin era and Jordan McNair’s death. The running game, led by dynamic sophomore Anthony McFarland, will pose a problem for undisciplined defenses.

Potential issues

Stopping opponents will be a challenge, with only three starters back from a defense that struggled a year ago. Oddsmakers put Maryland’s over/under season win total at 4, and that sounds about right.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

4-8, 2-7

6. Indiana

Crossovers: Nebraska (road), Northwestern (home), Purdue (road)

Why No. 6?

Tom Allen is to Indiana what Paul Rhoads was to Iowa State: a locally raised, defensive-minded coach with an intense passion for the job. He gets the most out of his players but, eventually, it’s tough to hurdle a six-win regular season. Allen is 5-7 in each of his first two campaigns as Indiana’s coach. The Hoosiers have some things to like on offense, with running back Stevie Scott and former Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer (making $800,000 a year) leading the way.

Potential issues

As usual, Indiana is unsettled at quarterback but does have decent options in Peyton Ramsey and Utah transfer Jack Tuttle. The Hoosiers have a clear path to four wins (and two losses) at the front of their schedule, but they’ll need to find two more among these finishing six: at Maryland, at Nebraska, Northwestern, at Penn State, Michigan, at Purdue. Give me the under.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

4-8, 1-8

7. Rutgers

Crossovers: Iowa (road), Minnesota (home), Illinois (road)

Why No. 7?

It’s an easy call to put Chris Ash’s Scarlet Knights in last place. Once again, a talent disparity is the biggest problem. Las Vegas puts Rutgers’ season win total at over/under 2.5. The Scarlet Knights will carry a 12-game Big Ten losing streaking into Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 7.

Potential issues

An offense that ranked last at the FBS level in scoring (13.5 points a game) is one of many glaring weaknesses. Returning starter Artur Sitkowski (four TDs, 18 INTs a year ago) and Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter are competing to be the Rutgers quarterback.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

2-10, 0-9

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Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, a native of Menomonie, Wis., will return to Camp Randall Stadium on Nov. 9. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

BIG TEN WEST

1. Iowa 

Crossovers: Rutgers (home), Michigan (road), Penn State (home)

Why No. 1?

The three most important position groups in college football are (in order) quarterback, defensive line and offensive line. And the Hawkeyes head into the 2019 season strong on all three fronts, making them the team to beat in the West. Iowa brings back a veteran roster from a team that should’ve won 10 games last fall. Quarterback Nate Stanley has upgraded weapons at wide receiver to offset the NFL Draft losses at tight end. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has more flexibility as ever in calling his defense, which last year ranked No. 7 in the FBS.

Potential issues

The road schedule is daunting, with five matchups against teams that have appeared in many preseason top 25s — Iowa State, Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Brian Ferentz must take the next step in Year 3 as offensive coordinator. Punter was the team’s most glaring weakness a year ago; it’s imperative that graduate transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton make it a strength.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

9-3, 7-2

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T-2. Northwestern

Crossovers: Michigan State (home), Ohio State (home), Indiana (road)

Why tied for No. 2?

Once again, Pat Fitzgerald's team is flying under the radar. Somehow, a team that has won 15 of its past 16 Big Ten regular-season games … was picked fourth in the West in the Cleveland.com preseason media poll. Fitzgerald has a tough defense that’ll be especially competitive when the weather gets cold. Paddy Fisher is Northwestern’s version of Josey Jewell at middle linebacker — a tenacious player who just makes plays.

Potential issues

The season’s biggest curiosity is how quickly five-star quarterback Hunter Johnson (a Clemson transfer) blossoms. He’s only thrown 27 collegiate passes, so a growth curve should be expected. The Wildcats have a stiff schedule, which includes a road game at Stanford and two challenging Big Ten East crossovers. Uncertain place-kicking could prove costly in what expects to a be a nip-and-tuck division.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

8-4, 6-3

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Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck's comments underscore the parity in the Big Ten West this season. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

T-2. Minnesota

Crossovers: Rutgers (road), Maryland (home), Indiana (home)

Why tied for No. 2?

The Gophers have the friendliest schedule of any team in the West, and it’s easy to overlook that this team is filled with skill-position talent. P.J. Fleck may have the best receiving tandem in the conference in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, and the Gophers are stacked at running back with 1,000-yard rusher Mohamed Ibrahim plus veterans Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks (both coming off injuries). Nine wins and the Gophers’ first Big Ten West title are well within reach.

Potential issues

The roster is still young, and that means inconsistency, which surfaced in last year's embarrassing blowout loss at Illinois a year ago. The defense finished strong in 2018 after a coordinator change. It remains to be seen how much of a bounce the Gophers can get from beating Wisconsin for the first time 2003.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

8-4, 6-3

T-4. Purdue

Crossovers: Penn State (road), Maryland (home), Indiana (home)

Why tied for No. 4?

The Boilermakers had an overwhelmingly strong offseason. They retained innovative coach Jeff Brohm on a lucrative seven-year deal; signed a top-25 recruiting class; and got quarterback Elijah Sindelar back for a sixth year. Brohm and Sindelar have one of the most exciting playmakers in the country in slot receiver Rondale Moore. Purdue’s tough road schedule could prevent a realistic shot at a Big Ten West title.

Potential issues

Although much of the defense comes back, this is a team that was overpowered by Auburn 63-14 in the Music City Bowl. The offensive line is a major question mark. A schedule with 11 Power Five opponents presents the opportunity for greater injury attrition … or a breakthrough.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

8-4, 5-4

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Nebraska second-year football coach Scott Frost is aware his team was picked first by media in the Big Ten West. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

T-4. Nebraska

Crossovers: Ohio State (home), Indiana (home), Maryland (road)

Why tied for No. 4?

The Cornhuskers are trending, up with an exciting quarterback in Adrian Martinez and a manageable 2019 schedule. Coach Scott Frost is trumpeting significant weight-room gains, saying his players look like Nebraska players. The Black Friday finale against Iowa could spell the difference between a division title and mid-pack finish.

Potential issues

Several offseason arrests for marijuana use are red flags that the culture isn’t quite in place yet in Lincoln. The roster is increasing in talent, but proven results are needed. Can the Cornhuskers, 4-8 a year ago, deal with high expectations? They were picked by media members to win the West. An early home game with Ohio State and trips to Purdue and Minnesota will be key program barometers.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

8-4, 5-4

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The Badgers beat Iowa, 17-9, in 2016; 38-14 in 2017; 28-17 in 2018. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

6. Wisconsin

Crossovers: Michigan (home), Michigan State (home), Ohio State (road)

Why No. 6?

It seems unthinkable that the West's most dominant team historically is picked sixth, but Paul Chryst's squad will be unproven at quarterback after Alex Hornibrook's transfer to Florida State. Look for true freshman Graham Mertz to win the job at some point. The rest of the division is getting stronger and still has Wisconsin circled in red. You saw that crossover schedule, right? Heisman Trophy hopeful Jonathan Taylor certainly provides stability at running back, and Camp Randall Stadium is always a tough place to play.

Potential issues

Some have Wisconsin winning the West, too, so the predictions are all over the board. The offensive line is being refurbished, which (in Wisconsin) shouldn’t be a major concern. The defense is young and lacks star power. The Badgers might just be in a rebuilding year for the first time in a long time.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

7-5, 4-5

7. Illinois

Crossovers: Michigan (home), Rutgers (home), Michigan State (road)

Why No. 7?

Coach Lovie Smith said at Big Ten Media Days that he thought his Illini could be a league surprise. "A few years ago, we had 15 freshmen that started," he said. "Those guys are juniors now and are running our football team." Taking that next step has been a challenge for a program that hasn’t experienced a winning season since 2011.

Potential issues

A 63-0 loss to Iowa in the home finale showed just how steep the climb is for Smith in Year 3. The Illini need to discover a quarterback (and a defense) to pair with talented running back Reggie Corbin.

Leistikow’s 2019 record prediction

4-8, 1-8

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.

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