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Summer Content: Breaking down Bill Connelly’s Big Ten takes

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In which I split hairs with a professional college football writer.

Northwestern v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

I’m not quite sure what to call this post. Being the literal guy I am, let’s go with “We Want Your Takes on Bill Connelly’s Big Ten Power Rankings and Also Some Betting Odds.”

We need some headline writers over here at Inside NU.

Anyway, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly finished his team-by-team Big Ten preview and wrote up a post looking at how the conference stacks up as a whole. It’s worth reading for yourself, but we’re going to focus on the Northwestern-centric aspects here. The point of this article is to check out where Connelly sees the Wildcats stacking up and see if this 20-year-old Northwestern blogger agrees.

Connelly splits the Big Ten into four tiers. Tier One is the conference heavyweights: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State. In Tier Two are Iowa, Northwestern, and Purdue. Tier Three is Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Minnesota. Alone in Tier Four is Illinois.

I’m generally fine with how Connelly sees things shaking out. Ohio State and Wisconsin are the clear division favorites, and Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State should end up ranked and contending for New Year’s Six bowl games.

I’m more bearish on Purdue than most people are — the Boilermakers lose almost all their production defensively and face a tough second-half conference slate. I’d probably drop Purdue from the second tier in favor of perhaps Maryland and its explosive offense or Nebraska and well, Scott Frost.

Since it’s nearing football season now, we can credibly beat up on Illinois again and say, yes, they belong in their own tier at the bottom of the conference.

S&P+ has Northwestern pegged for 6.2 wins overall and 4.5 wins in the Big Ten. The Wildcats are slotted to finish third in the Big Ten West, between Iowa and Minnesota. Connelly sees Northwestern as clear favorites against Nebraska, Rutgers, Minnesota, and Illinois, with toss-ups against Purdue and Iowa. Split the toss-up games and that leaves Northwestern with five conference wins, a safe projection that also assumes the Wildcats don’t blow it in a game they are favored or take down one of the titans in the tier above them.

For what it’s worth, Bovada is drinking the Scott Frost-ade and gives Nebraska 10-to-1 odds of winning the Big Ten West and 40-to-1 odds of winning the Big Ten Championship, slightly better than Northwestern’s odds of 11-to-1 and 50-to-1, respectively.

The odds for each team in the Big Ten are below.

Looks like the race for second place in the Big Ten West is going to be a hot one this year.

The juicier part of Connelly’s article for debate purposes is when he goes into each team’s best offensive and defensive player.

Here are the full lists:

  • Illinois: OG Nick Allegretti/NB Cameron Watkins
  • Indiana: WR Nick Westbrook/S Marcelino Ball
  • Iowa: QB Nate Stanley/DE Parker Hesse
  • Maryland: RB Ty Johnson/DE Jesse Aniebonam
  • Michigan: QB Shea Patterson/LB Khaleke Hudson
  • Michigan State: QB Brian Lewerke/LB Joe Bachie
  • Minnesota: WR Tyler Johnson/LB Thomas Barber
  • Nebraska: OG Tanner Farmer/DE Ben Stille
  • Northwestern: RB Jeremy Larkin/LB Nate Hall
  • Ohio State: RB J.K. Dobbins/DE Nick Bosa
  • Penn State: QB Trace McSorley/DE Shareef Miller
  • Purdue: QB Elijah Sindelar/LB Markus Bailey
  • Rutgers: OT Tariq Cole/CB Damon Hayes
  • Wisconsin: RB Jonathan Taylor/LB Andrew Van Ginkel

Connelly’s choice of Larkin as Northwestern’s premier offensive player may surprise some given the sophomore has but a year of backup duty to his credit. But the buzz around Larkin is warranted — the dude can play. Plus, with Clayton Thorson’s status up in the air, the Cincinnati native may very well be the most talented player on the offense. I could have seen Connelly going with two-year starter and Third Team All-Big Ten honoree Tommy Doles, but it’s hard to justify a guard’s superiority on the offensive side of the ball unless that player is truly dominant.

Nate Hall might be the most disruptive player on Northwestern’s defense, but it’s hard for me to justify him as the top player on that side of the ball. The concerns about his knee are a huge question mark ahead of the season and it’s unclear if Hall will return to being the havoc-wreaking linebacker he was in 2017. My pick would be Joe Gaziano; the big man led the conference in sacks during the regular season. He’s versatile, having amassing nine sacks, five passes defensed and four forced fumbles to go with 36 tackles. If anyone on the defense has true NFL potential, it’s Gaz. But enough of my opinions.

Where do you see Northwestern slotting into the Big Ten this year? How would you evaluate their odds of winning the Big Ten title? And do you agree with Connelly’s analysis of the top Wildcats? Sound off in the comments.