Iowa Football

Big Ten football picks: Iowa squares off with Wisconsin - again - for West supremacy

Cleveland.com put out its preseason poll today, and, for now, the season is something that could happen

The Iowa end zone on the field before the 2015 Big Ten Football Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis,
The Iowa end zone on the field before the 2015 Big Ten Football Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

This is the time of year certain alarms start going off.

You hear the cicadas. The calendar clicks into August. In years without a global pandemic, you would’ve been stuffed with information on your favorite Big Ten football team after Big Ten media days.

Those would’ve been last week, by the way. Now? Big Ten athletics directors are constantly meeting on what shape or form the 2020 college football season might take amid the COVID-19 pandemic. News on when Big Ten teams are able to start fall camp is expected in the next week.

You can argue that college football is America’s second-favorite sport. The calendar moves and you know the circumstances, but there’s still a yearning.

Every year for the last six or seven years, Cleveland.com has run an extensive prediction list for the Big Ten. The website had 34 Big Ten writers vote this year.

This year, the email to participate in the poll came with a caveat, likely one you’ll tire of hearing very soon.

“For the sake of this poll, we ask you to assume the Big Ten football season will proceed as scheduled.”

Keep in mind, the Big Ten called off non-conference games in early July. With that, here’s what I think might’ve happened during the 2020 season.

East Division

1. Ohio State

2. Penn State

3. Michigan

4. Indiana

5. Michigan State

6. Maryland

7. Rutgers

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Chalk city, totally — Ohio State coach Ryan Day has created a fearsome offense since he arrived as the program’s offensive coordinator and QB coach in 2017. The Buckeyes also have returning QB Justin Fields. He threw for 41 TDs and just three interceptions last season. If and when this season goes down, teams with experienced QBs have a chance to have the upper hand. Ohio State has that upper hand.

This might’ve been a year for Penn State to make a move. QB Sean Clifford is a dynamic performer. He threw for 23 TDs and rushed for five TDs and 402 yards. The Nittany Lions also have linebacker Micah Parsons, who will lead what should be a stingy defense.

West Division

1. Wisconsin

2. Iowa

3. Minnesota

4. Purdue

5. Nebraska

6. Northwestern

7. Illinois

Chalk City II — Wisconsin has won four of the six Big Ten West Division titles. At this point, you have to find a reason not to pick Wisconsin. There’s no compelling reason not to pick Wisconsin. Yes, this is a year Iowa has the talent to compete. The defense should be strong against the run. But given the parameters of this exercise, the Hawkeyes would’ve faced Minnesota on a Friday in Minneapolis six days after playing Iowa State in Iowa City. Iowa has done well with a short turnover (7-3 against Nebraska on Black Friday) and the Hawkeyes also have won five straight games against Iowa State and Minnesota.

Not impossible. Back-to-back road games at Ohio State and Penn State would’ve been the toughest hurdle, and, actually, might still be. We’ll see how these next few weeks go.

The Golden Gophers, by the way, came out of the Cleveland.com poll as the climber in the West. After five straight defeats to Iowa, I need to see it.

Title game winner — Ohio State

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. But really, the same teams winning in college football — OSU, Alabama, Clemson — year after year doesn’t seem to be too bad for business. People still watch and, well, hope it’s different.

Top three offensive players — 1. Ohio State QB Justin Fields, 2. Purdue WR Rondale Moore, 3. Iowa OT Alaric Jackson

If someone slaps “system quarterback” on Fields, well, so what? It’s a good system. Raise your hand if you missed Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore last year. As long as he wasn’t playing your team, you raised your hand. The splash Moore made in 2018 left everyone wanting more.

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No, my selection of Iowa’s offensive tackle Alaric Jackson isn’t a homer pick. He’s that good. The one way Iowa can get Wisconsin is through the running game and physical dominance up front. Jackson anchors could be a terrific O-line.

Top three defensive players — 1. Penn State LB Micah Parsons, 2. Purdue DE George Karlaftis, 3. Penn State DE Shaka Toney

Parsons earned Big Ten linebacker of the year last season. He’s a 6-3, 245-pounder who can run like a hybrid safety. Purdue’s George Karlaftis is fun to watch. If he doesn’t get some sort of QB pressure on a passing down, give your left tackle a helmet sticker. Karlaftis is A.J. Epenesa-like. And the reason maybe Penn State has a shot in whatever happens with the season is defense. Toney has had 15.5 sacks in the last three seasons.

I think it would’ve been 8-4 for the Hawkeyes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, 8-4 again. You do have to measure the values of 8-4s. Or, you know, 15-0 and national champions. Somewhere in that range.

Now, fingers crossed. No one knows what’s going to happen.

Here’s the poll breakdown from Cleveland.com

(Here are the links to the offensive and defensive players of the year posts).

The poll is typically revealed at the start of the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. That event was canceled due to the coronavirus.

Ohio State was voted the preseason favorite for the sixth time in the past eight years. Each writer was asked for vote 1-7 in both divisions, with first-place votes worth seven points, second-place votes worth six and so on.

Here are the full results:

BIG TEN EAST

1. Ohio State 237 points (33 first-place votes)

2. Penn State 204 points (1)

3. Michigan 169 points

4. Indiana 134 points

5. Michigan State 94 points

6. Maryland 76 points

7. Rutgers 38 points

BIG TEN WEST

1. Wisconsin 221 points (19)

2. Minnesota 209.5 (14)

3. Iowa 157 points

4. Nebraska 117 points

5. Purdue 105 points

6. Northwestern 87.5 points (1)

7. Illinois 55 points

BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTIONS

Ohio State over Wisconsin (19)

Ohio State over Minnesota (13)

Ohio State over Northwestern (1)

Penn State over Minnesota (1)

Other poll notes:

• The voting panel had the toughest time coming to a consensus on Northwestern. The Wildcats received one first-place vote, two third-place votes and eight last-place votes in the West. Northwestern, which won the West in 2018, added former Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey as a grad transfer in the offseason.

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• Illinois, a bowl team last season, was the only team in the West not to receive higher than a fourth-place vote. However, that was a step up after receiving every last place vote in each of the last two preseason polls.

• Wisconsin was either first or second in the West on every ballot but two.

• A year ago, Michigan edged Ohio State for preseason favorite status. Nebraska and Iowa received 14 first-place votes apiece in the West, followed by Wisconsin (4) and Northwestern (1).

Instead, Ohio State won the league in fairly dominant fashion. Wisconsin won its second West Division title in three years. Nebraska finished fifth and Northwestern won one Big Ten game and finished last.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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