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Northwestern Wildcats vs. Iowa Hawkeyes: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

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Akrum Wadley, Iowa Hawkeyes

Perception is everything in college football. It is how the Playoff is virtually decided. And the Iowa Hawkeyes have never been big on perception.

Iowa went 12-0 last year in the regular season and arrived in the Rose Bowl as underdogs, getting stomped against Stanford. The Hawkeyes were favorites to win the Big Ten West and then quickly saw their status wrested away through Wisconsin’s strong play and a loss to North Dakota State at home.

Somehow Iowa just became Iowa again, falling back into the team’s usual narratives. The Hawkeyes are good, not great. And perpetually underachieving.

Iowa followed up its difficult running game against North Dakota State with an equally shaky win at Rutgers for the Big Ten opener.

The Hawkeyes are no longer the division favorites. And now no game seems certain. Not even that run-first identity with Akrum Wadley.

Luckily for Iowa, the team’s next challenge comes from another team seeking an identity.

Northwestern has struggled this year too. The defense has not quite been up to the same level as last year and the offense has again struggled to find footing. The Wildcats have seemingly been just good enough in their early games to keep things close. And that is about it.

And Iowa may be the best team Northwestern has seen all year — although Nebraska steamrolling to Lincoln East in Evanston might be close when it comes to Big Ten West competition.

As Northwestern leaves Ryan Field for the first time and Iowa returns to Kinnick Stadium, both teams are seeking identity and a chance to right the ship and meet expectations.

1 Burning Question: Can Iowa get its ground game going

Iowa is known for one thing: big offensive linemen and a ground game that takes advantage of them. This is Iowa football.

This Hawkeyes football team is not that football team. Not so far this year.

Iowa is averaging 159.3 yards per game with the veteran Akrum Wadley running for only 274 yards through four games. Iowa is struggling to run the ball. That is a weird statement to say for Iowa.

And the Hawkeyes offense has been inconsistent because of it.

Iowa is averaging 30.5 points per game. But to get only 14 points against Rutgers was somewhat alarming for Iowa. Particularly after struggling against North Dakota State the week before.

Wadley has a good track record against Northwestern. And Northwestern is not the strongest run defense as it is.

The Wildcats have given up 177.5 yards per game on the ground this year. The defensive line struggles to get push. And while the team is relatively disciplined, the team also gives space.

Nebraska was able to run well against Northwestern, racking up 310 yards on the ground. A lot of that came from Tommy Armstrong at the quarterback position. That is not a luxury Iowa has.

Something is going to give though. As both the run offense and run defense are the keys to both team’s success.

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2 Key Stats

–250: Well, Clayton Thorson did not quite reach 250 yards last week against Nebraska. He was at 249. But after throwing for 320 yards against Duke, Thorson has put together back-to-back strong passing games. At least in picking up yards. He has four touchdowns and four interceptions in his last two games. But the Wildcats have some good receivers that have begun to emerge. Northwestern may suddenly have a passing attack. Not a consistent one, but one to be wary of.

–155.0: Akrum Wadley loves seeing Northwestern. He averages 155.0 yards per game against the Wildcats in his two games. Last year that included 204 yards on the ground and four touchdowns. He had 104 yards off the bench with a touchdown against the Wildcats in 2014. The bruising Wadley just finds a way to overpower the Wildcats defense the past two years. This is exactly the team he wants to see to right the ship.

3 Key Players

Justin Jackson, Northwestern RB: It has not been a strong year for the junior running back. Northwestern’s struggling offensive line certainly has a part to do with that. Jackson has 173 yards on 48 carries the last two games — 3.6 yards per carry. Jackson is still effective. But the Wildcats need a bigger game from him to give Thorson some time and create balance.

C.J. Beathard, Iowa QB: Iowa will be without Matt VandeBerg, the team’s leading receiver. That leaves tight end George Kittle as the only other receiver through four games with double-digit receptions. Beathard is a solid game manager as a quarterback, but he lacks some weapons. This is a time for Iowa to gain a little bit of confidence though. Northwestern will be without two of their top cornerbacks.

Josey Jewell, Iowa LB: Josey Jewell and his magnificent mustache has anchored Iowa’s defense all year. He has been good in the run game — 33 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss — and in coverage with one pass breakup. Northwestern is going to run the ball and that will put Jewell in the spotlight again.

4 Staff Predictions

Andy: Iowa 28-14
Dave: Iowa 21-17
Phil H.: Iowa 24-17
Philip R-R.: Iowa 24-20
Zach: Iowa 20-10

Philip Rossman-Reich is a Northwestern alumnus and former contributor Lake The Posts. He also writes for Orlando Magic Daily and The Step Back.

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Badgers football

Top 25 Players in the Big Ten for 2017: No’s. 5-1

Our preseason Top 25 players in the Big Ten list comes to its conclusion. Who took the top spot and did anyone surprise inside the top 5?

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It is almost time for pads to start popping and helmets to start cracking together…and that means football season is right around the corner. Here at talking10 it also means the release of our annual Big Ten Preseason Top 25 Players list.

Top 25 List: No’s 25-21 | No’s 20-16 | No’s 15-11 | No. 10-6 |

We’ve reached the end of the road here and that means some of the best players we’re likely to see in the Big Ten for 2017. Consider these the ones to watch and the ones that will likely have a major impact on what happens to the Big Ten title race.

So who are those players? Let’s find out together.

Don’t forget to follow our staff of Andy Coppens, Phil Harrison, Philip Rossman-Reich and Zach Worthington on Twitter for their breakdowns of the Top 25 and their individual lists.

No. 5. — Troy Fumagalli, TE (Wisconsin)

2016 Season Stats: 47 receptions, 580 yards, 2 TD’s
Best Game: Cotton Bowl vs. Western Michigan – 6 receptions, 83 yards, 1 TD

Fumagalli came in to 2016 as a complete unknown. He opened eyes with a 7-reception, 100-yard day in the opener against LSU. In between he managed to become one of the key components to Wisconsin’s passing game and was easily the favorite target of freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook.

His monster start was bookended with a huge effort to help the Badgers win the Cotton Bowl over Western Michigan. There are few tight ends with as sure of hands and as important to keeping drives alive as Fumagalli. Perhaps most impressive? Everyone knew to cover him and he’d still make the big play.

No. 4.  — Josey Jewell, LB (Iowa)

2016 Season Stats: 124 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 9 pass breakups, 5 QB hurries
Best Game: vs. Northwestern – 16 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sack

Perhaps no player on this list better embodies the spirit and mentality of his team than Iowa middle linebacker Josey Jewell. He’s a tough customer and a no-frills player who does his job to a very high level. After racking up 126 tackles his sophomore season, Jewell repeated the effort with 124 last season.

Let’s just say he wasn’t a one-hit wonder, and plenty of opposing running backs found that out the hard way in 2016. In a conference loaded with quality linebackers, Jewell may be the most stable and least talked about of the bunch. He’s also the most productive, and that gets him top billing amongst all defensive players in the B1G.

No. 3. — Trace McSorley, QB (Penn State)

2016 Season Stats: 57.9 comp. %, 3,614 yards, 29 TD’s, 8 INT’s; 365 yards, 7 TD’s rushing
Best Game: vs. Wisconsin (B1G Championship) – 71 comp %, 384 yards, 4 TD’s

One of Penn State’s biggest question marks last season was how the QB situation would unfold with a new coordinator and a QB who had never taken a collegiate snap starting. The answer was that Trace McSorley and coordinator Joe Moorhead were a match made in heaven.

He’s the perfect blend of arm talent, mental toughness and athleticism to run Moorhead’s scheme. Few question if McSorley can lead this team back to a Big Ten title after a surprising title run last season. I mean, he did throw for 3,600 yards and a cool 29 touchdowns to eight interceptions.

No. 2. — Justin Jackson, RB (Northwestern)

2016 Season Stats: 298 carries, 1,524 yards, 5.1 avg., 11 TD’s; 35 receptions, 219 yards
Best Game: vs. Pitt (Pinstripe Bowl) – 32 carries, 224 yards, 3 TD’s

Jackson drew 2 of the 4 first place votes available and the internal debate was a big one between the obvious top choices on this list. Jackson topped the rushing list in the Big Ten last year in both total yards and yards per game.

He’s also rushed for 1,000 yards for three-straight seasons and could be in line to break all sorts of school and conference records this season. All of it while not really having the hype machine turned on much. He’s just not a flashy back, but will kill you with speed and power along with patience.

Picking between Jackson and our No. 1 player on the list may just be a preference on style over production and you can’t go wrong either way.

No. 1. — Saquon Barkley, RB (Penn State)

2016 Season Stats: 272 carries, 1,496 yards, 18 TD’s; 28 receptions, 402 yards, 4 TD’s
Best Game: @ Purdue – 18 carries, 207 yards, 2 TD’s; 3 receptions, 70 yards

It is only fitting that the conference everyone associates with running backs has a running back at the top of the list. Saquon Barkley may not only be the best running back in the B1G, he is likely the best running back in the country.

Again, like Jackson, he received two first place votes in our polling, but received second place nods from the other voters to race out to the lead. Few backs in college football area as difficult to bring down as Barkley is due to his shiftiness and his ability to hurdle defenders on a dime.

He’s as close to a human highlight reel at running back as we have in the modern game, and don’t be surprised to see him in the mix for the Heisman Trophy at the end of the season if he can replicate what happened last season.

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Buckeyes Football

Top 25 Players in the Big Ten for 2017: No’s. 10-6

We are almost done with our 2017 preseason Top 25 players list. Who made it inside the top 10, but just out of the running as the best player in the conference heading in to the season?

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It is almost time for pads to start popping and helmets to start cracking together…and that means football season is right around the corner. Here at talking10 it also means the release of our annual Big Ten Preseason Top 25 Players list.

Top 25 List: No’s 25-21 | No’s 20-16 | No’s 15-11 |

We’re 10 players deep, with 15 to go on the countdown. Let’s just hop right back in to the Top 25 players list as the season grows closer and closer.

Don’t forget to follow our staff of Andy Coppens, Phil Harrison, Philip Rossman-Reich and Zach Worthington on Twitter for their breakdowns of the Top 25 and their individual lists.

No. 10. — Akrum Wadley, RB (Iowa)

2016 Season Stats: 1,081 yards, 10 TD’s, 6.4 ypc; 36 receptions, 315 yards, 3 TD’s
Best Game: 23 carries, 115 yards; 5 receptions, 52 yards, 1 TD

Patience has certainly paid off for the now-senior running back for the Hawkeyes. Wadley showed flashes of brilliance early in his career, but he had to share the spotlight with others. That included fellow 1,000-yard back LeShaun Daniels last season.

Wadley comes in to 2017 as the lone featured back for the first time in his career and it could be a very interesting season ahead. He also come back as one of just three returning running backs to crack double digits in rushing touchdowns last season. If Iowa is going to weather the changes at quarterback in 2017, it will do so on the back and legs of Wadley. If history tells us anything, he’s likely up to the challenge.

No. 9. — Clayton Thorson, QB (Northwestern)

2016 Season Stats:  3,128 yards, 58.6 comp. %, 22 TD’s, 9 INT’s
Best Game: at MSU – 27-35 passing, 281 yards, 3 TD’s, 1 INT

Few quarterbacks came in to 2016 as a bigger question mark than Clayton Thorson did entering his sophomore season. After becoming one of just four quarterbacks to top 3,000 yards passing in 2016, the questions have turned in to just how good can Thorson really be. Well, considering he went from mistake-prone and INT-prone to one of the coolest passers in the league, it is safe to say he is high up on our list heading in to 2017.

This season, it may be a case of Thorson also needed to add a bit more to the ground game. He picked up just 98 yards on 97 carries last season. That was following a promising start to his career with his feet. Northwestern doesn’t need him to be J.T. Barrett on the ground, but expanding that part of his game to go with the established passing attack could give Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats plenty of ammo on offense.

No. 8 — Rashan Gary, DE (Michigan)

2016 Season Stats: 24 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 6 QB hurries
Best Game: vs. UCF – 6 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack

Michigan snapped up the No. 1 player in the 2016 recruiting rankings, so expectations were high for Gary. He rose to the occasion and got himself in to the mix on a loaded and deep Wolverines defensive line. He showed power off the edge and a capability to be very disruptive at the line of scrimmage. Gary’s game is far from perfect, but if he works at the rate he did in 2016, look for him to be one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten when 2017 is all said and done.

His length, athleticism and strength at his age are just incredible. Will he be able to live up to the hype and the increased attention on and off the field in 2017? That’s his real challenge.

No. 7. — J.T. Barrett, QB (Ohio State)

2016 Season Stats: 61.5 comp. %, 2,555 yards, 24 TD’s, 7 INT’s; 845 yards, 9 TD’s rushing
Best Game: vs. Nebraska – 65.1 comp. %, 290 yards, 4TD’s passing; 39 yards rushing

It is hard to believe that one…J.T. Barrett is still in college football, and two…that is hasn’t won a Heisman Trophy yet. We’re pretty sure if you asked 2014 versions of ourselves if that was possible we would’ve told you you were nuts. But, we are blessed with one final season from Barrett in the OSU colors.

Some of those same 2014 folks would be surprised to see him this low on the list. There’s no doubt that the talent is there, but his passing numbers have steadily declined and somehow Barrett has actually become a less accurate passer over time. Still, he’s arguably the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the league and one of the best on-field leaders as well. His intangibles and ability to literally will a team to victory can’t be overlooked and that’s why he’s in our top 10.

No. 6. — Tegray Scales, LB (Indiana)

2016 Season Stats: 126 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 FF, 2 PBU, 4 QB Hurries
Best Game: vs. Penn State – 9 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack

No player benefited more from a coaching change in 2016 than Indiana linebacker Tegray Scales did. Tom Allen’s unique 4-2-5 system actually made Scales the focal point of the defense and he delivered in a big way. The stats are certainly impressive, but it is the how it all happened that makes him one of the most intriguing players to watch this upcoming season.

Don’t be surprised to see his name mentioned with some of the best in the country at linebacker. He simply makes plays and does it wherever and however asked to by the coaching staff. A sign of his quality? Two his best games came in losses to Penn State and Northwestern, where Scales did everything he could to will his team to victory but just couldn’t get the offensive help needed. He’ll have more parts around him this season and that should make things really fun to watch.

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Badgers football

Every Big Ten West division team’s biggest question following spring football

Spring camps are finished, what questions remain for teams in the Big Ten West division?

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Michigan has arrived back in Ann Arbor, meaning spring football is finally and officially done across the Big Ten. College football’s annual rite of passage is also done, and there is plenty of curiosity to go around.

That means it is time to take stock of where things sit heading in to the summer workout sessions and the season ahead. It is also the perfect time to really dive deep in to what we did and didn’t see this spring.

Let’s start with the Big Ten West division, which had two new head coaches and another head coach with his first real spring camp in the books. Minnesota got the P.J. Fleck era under way and Purdue welcomed Jeff Brohm’s high-flying offensive attack to the division. Meanwhile, Illinois’ Love Smith finally got to run a full spring practice without rushing things.

Which teams answered questions, which ones have big-time questions to answer this fall? Let us take a look at every Big Ten West division teams’ biggest question post-spring football.

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Badgers football

Every Big Ten West team’s biggest recruiting battle before national signing day

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It seems like only yesterday that a Big Ten team was hoisting the national championship trophy, but we’re actually inching closer to the biggest day of the offseason — national signing day.

That means recruits are taking last-minute visits, coaches are crisscrossing the country to visit players and offers are going out on a nearly daily basis. To say these next few weeks will be crazy is a bit of an understatement, however the Big Ten is in on some major battles nationally and regionally as we head down the homestretch of the 205 recruiting cycle.

That means every team is putting out maximum effort to get the guys they want to sign to actually sign and fax in national letter of intent on the first Wednesday in February.

It also means that battles are heating up all over the country. Which battles are the Big Ten involved in? Let’s start by looking at the biggest battles for the Big Ten West.

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