Penn State Football

Big Ten roundup: Here are the top storylines in the West

It might be hard to imagine, but negative recruiting was not the only topic discussed at Big Ten Media Days on Monday and Tuesday.

From roster rebuilds to new coaches to season expectations, here are the big storylines facing each team in the West division this season.

Iowa

Iowa had a rock-solid 2015 season, going undefeated until losing the conference championship to Michigan State.

But they’ll head into this season trying to make up for the loss of 21 seniors.

“We have to try to develop where we had senior attritionm” said head coach Kirk Ferentz, who was the conference selection for Coach of the Year last season. “We had two defensive ends graduate, two wide receivers, couple of offensive linemen, both fullbacks, and then tight end, free safety, weakside linebacker, on down. Like every team we've got work to do on that front.”

The Hawkeyes return Desmond King at corner, who is widely considered to be one of the best defensive players in the nation. King could have left Iowa for the NFL after last season, but chose to stay.

“I know Desmond, it's really important to finish the degree work not only to him but entire family,” said Ferentz.

Northwestern

The Wildcats won 10 games last season and are a dark horse to become this season’s division champions.

But in their three losses, they were blown out.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald is looking to put those defeats behind him with “one of the strongest football teams he’s had.”

“You tip your hat to them,” he said. “But a lot to learn and grow from. When you talk about motivation in the offseason you don't have to look any further than those three games and a lot of specifics that we'll talk about internally in areas that we need to improve on in all three phases for us to win those games.

“And again, 10 wins is a special year no matter where you're at, Northwestern or Alabama. Doesn't matter anywhere between. To get to the 11 and get to 12 and get to the Big Ten Championship Game and to get in the playoff, you're in pretty rare air there and it's a high standard and the way you need to play to win those games.”

Wisconsin

The Badgers will have a new quarterback for the first time in almost half a decade with the departure of Joel Stave to the NFL. Head coach Paul Chryst is deciding between two options — Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook — but has yet to name a starter.

Whoever it is, they’ll be tested early with Wisconsin’s third marquee season opener in a row. This year, the team will play LSU at Lambeau Field.

“It’s a heck of a way to start a season,” said Chryst. “There's been a lot of work. These young men put in so much time and to be finally be able to play the season, that's a big deal. Then when you get to do it at a stadium, in a stadium such as Lambeau Field, especially so many of our players from in-state that grew up and probably dreamed of and envisioned an opportunity to play in Lambeau.”

Illinois

Many were curious about the Illini’s new hire at head coach, Lovie Smith.

Smith was the head coach of the Chicago Bears from 2004-12 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2014-15. Illinois made huge headlines with their courtship and hiring of Smith in the offseason — it was an unexpectedly incredible move made by one of the most bedraggled programs in the conference.

Smith was at-ease during his time speaking to media, and preached his wish for fans to trust in the direction of the program.

“Every function we’ve been to — and we’ve been through a lot,” he said. “…For fans, the message is, ‘Come back.’”

Nebraska

Head coach Mike Riley and the Cornhuskers suffered a terrible loss last weekend when punter Sam Foltz was killed in a car crash. Former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler also passed away in the accident.

Riley and Nebraska’s player contingent respectfully opted out of Big Ten Media Days so that they could mourn their loss.

Coaches from each team offered their sincere condolences, as did Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

Purdue

A surprisingly-optimistic Darell Hazell took the stage on Monday afternoon to laud his Purdue team for having patience over the last three years.

In that time, Purdue has posted a 6-20 record.

The team will return the most starters of any Big Ten team, but it remains to be seen if the Boilermakers can make any sort of headway or continue to spiral.

“Our morale is off the chart,” said Hazell. “We're ready to go. That will stimulate the morale of the rest of the Boilermaker Nation. That's why we're excited to get this team started.”

Minnesota

The Gophers have a new offensive coordinator in Jay Johnson, but according to head coach Tracy Claeys, his team will pick up right where they left off.

Claeys also said his returning senior quarterback, Mitch Leidner, has developed a good relationship with Johnson.

"Mitch was actually coached in the high school and junior high by Jay's dad there in the Twin Cities," he said. "So that's been a pretty smooth transition. And as far as to Mitch -- I think we have to -- when you have a returning senior quarterback that's as good a leader as he is and you have to play to his strengths, and I think that's my only thing I've told the guys on offense…let's find out what he does really well. And that's what we need to do on game day."

Jourdan Rodrigue: 814-231-4629, @JourdanRodrigue

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