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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 6

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 6 86 hiring of Tom Allen, Wilson's one-year defensive coordi- nator, sparked much intrigue and conversation. Allen, who improved the Hoosiers' porous defense in 2016, now hopes he can keep the offense up to Wilson-esque levels. He's basically outsourced an offensive staff, and he has enough experience on offense to be dangerous. The Hoo- siers could make their way to fourth place, especially with winnable crossover matchups with Illinois and Purdue. Rutgers Look at the Scarlet Knights and see similari- ties to Maryland, just a step or two behind. Rutgers has a big question at quarterback, but it hired former Minne- sota coach Jerry Kill as offensive coordinator, so expect Rutgers to look to run the football. The problem is the of- fensive line has work to do. But second-year coach Chris Ash is making progress in recruiting. He needs to. West Division Wisconsin Third-year coach Paul Chryst has enjoyed remarkable success, winning 21-of-27 games in his first two years in Madison. The fact he as able to navigate the gauntlet of a difficult schedule to open last season has earned him the trust of Badger followers. The front seven is about as good as it gets nationally, and the of- fensive line has finally returned to form seen in the Bret Bielema/Barry Alvarez days. That's bad news for division opponents. Northwestern Junior quarterback Clayton Thorson came of age in 2016, but Northwestern needs to find a re- placement for receiver Austin Carr and the offensive line needs to really step up. Running back Justin Jackson is at a first-team All-Big Ten level and that provides ample offensive balance. Defensively too, front to back, there are no glaring weaknesses. The Wildcats have to build on the momentum of last year's Pinstripe Bowl victory and avoid the early-season hiccups that kept Coach Pat Fitzgerald's team swimming upstream for much of '16. Nebraska Does Mike Riley have things stabilized in his third season in Lincoln? Good question. With a schedule that has all the division heavyweights travel- ing to Lincoln, Nebraska could sneak up and win it. And if it does, it will be because a new 3-4 defense, led by a strong linebacking crew, pans out. The offense will be different without Tommy Armstrong, but it will allow it to run a scheme best-suited for Riley. Still, there are questions of just who that quarterback will be. Iowa The schedule is tough, having to face the East Di- vision's best in Penn State and Ohio State, with a silver lining of sorts being the games are in Iowa City. Iowa is going to be good up front, especially on offense, and the run game is stable especially since Akrum Wadley decided to return another year. A new quarterback, likely Nathan Stanley, will have to find someone to throw to. Minnesota Not surprisingly, P.J. Fleck has already caused a stir in Minneapolis. The former Western Michigan coach has brought a big-time personality to the Twin Cities, but the Gophers have some work to do. There are questions at quarterback where Mitch Leidner, whom Minnesota observers had a love-hate relationship, has graduated. Yet Fleck will be able to run the ball with Rodney Smith and/or Shannon Brooks, and defensively there is experience at line- backer and All-Big Ten-caliber tackle Steven Richard- son. The Gophers could get off to a 7-0 start, which makes a division championship run possible. Purdue At this point, one could toss a coin between the Boilermakers and Illini with the Nov. 4 battle quite possibly determining who finishes out of the cellar. In the last three seasons, the road team has won each contest, but Coach Jeff Brohm needs that to change if the Boilermakers are to make strides in his first sea- son. Still, if Brohm's offseason attempts in rejuvenat- ing a challenged roster bears fruit, the Boilermakers might at least be fun to watch. Staying healthy defen- sively, if not everywhere, is key. Illinois Is the Lovie Smith Era already in trouble? There are questions about his staff, and recruiting has not gone as well as hoped. And there are personnel issues galore, especially trying to replace quarterback Wes Lunt. While there are three fighting for the spot behind center, it is hard to call any of the options great ones. Last year defensively, Illinois could hang around because it had a good line, but now much of that line is gone. The Illini will be young, with just six seniors in the two-deep. j

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