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Wisconsin? Purdue? Iowa? Minnesota? The Big Ten West is up for grabs

If the old “Defense wins championships” adage were actually true, the Big Ten West would have won one by now. No division in major college football has collectively stuck to the “defense and a good run game” approach more religiously.

On average, Big Ten West teams ran 64% of the time on standard downs last season; the national average was 59%, and only the FBS divisions with option stalwarts Air Force (MWC Mountain) and Georgia Southern (Sun Belt East) were higher. They stuck to the ground and asked their quarterbacks to bail them out on third-and-long, and when that (usually) didn’t work, they turned the game over to a brilliant defense: The West’s average defensive SP+ rating of 18.8 adjusted points per game was the lowest in FBS. Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota all ranked in the top 10, and strangely, only Northwestern, typically as defensive as anyone, ranked worse than 32nd.

Previewing the Big Ten West is like going back in time. The quarterbacks are mostly either unproven or proven in the wrong way, and the cup of good linebackers, centers and running backs overflows. But two things are pretty certain: The West race could go in any number of different directions, and the winner is going to be awfully good.

Granted, the words “Big Ten” and “West” took on new definitions last week with the conference’s announced additions of USC and UCLA. But let’s preview what is currently the West division.

Every week through the offseason, Bill Connelly will preview another division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 exclusively for ESPN+, ultimately including all 131 FBS teams. The previews will include 2021 breakdowns, 2022 previews and burning questions for each team.

Earlier previews: MWC West | MWC Mountain | AAC (Nos. 6-11) | AAC (Nos. 1-5) | MAC East | MAC West | Sun Belt West | Sun Belt East | Conference USA (Nos. 6-11) | Conference USA (Nos. 1-5) | Independents | Pac-12 South | Pac-12 North | ACC Atlantic | ACC Coastal | Big 12 (Nos. 6-10) | Big 12 (Nos. 5-1)

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