Ruden: Big Ten West a different kind of wild

Everyone expected the Big Ten West to be wide open entering the season. Now, it’s wild in a different way.

Iowa+defensive+lineman+John+Waggoner+celebrates+during+the+Iowa+football+game+against+Purdue+at+Kinnick+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+19%2C+2019.+The+Hawkeyes+defeated+the+Boilermakers+26-20.
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Ruden: Big Ten West a different kind of wild

Iowa defensive lineman John Waggoner celebrates during the Iowa football game against Purdue at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Boilermakers 26-20.

Iowa defensive lineman John Waggoner celebrates during the Iowa football game against Purdue at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Boilermakers 26-20.

Katina Zentz

Iowa defensive lineman John Waggoner celebrates during the Iowa football game against Purdue at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Boilermakers 26-20.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa defensive lineman John Waggoner celebrates during the Iowa football game against Purdue at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Boilermakers 26-20.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

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Cue the Titanic music. Watch Illinois’ game-winning field goal over to beat formerly undefeated Wisconsin. Combine both. Enjoy.

With the Illini downing the mighty Badgers in Champaign, the Big Ten West becomes nearly as wide open as it was to start the season.

It just doesn’t look like we thought it would.

While Wisconsin and Iowa are still in the hunt as originally predicted, Minnesota has come out of nowhere as a contender, and Purdue and defending champ Northwestern both have taken a tailspin into mediocrity instead of playing like dark horses to win the division.

And remember when Nebraska was a popular pick to win the division? The Huskers have felt out of the race since losing to Colorado in Week 2 even though it didn’t count toward their conference record.

That leaves three teams vying for the opportunity to compete for a championship in Indianapolis: Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.

Iowa

It doesn’t feel like the Hawkeyes should still be in the West title race, but here they are.

Despite an offense that looked broken for two-plus weeks, Iowa’s resume includes two Big Ten wins and two close losses to two of the conference’s four best teams.

While a 2-2 record shouldn’t help Iowa at all, its schedule does.

The Hawkeyes have games remaining on the docket against Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska — the only teams that could possibly still win the division.

Wisconsin will face Ohio State, Iowa, and Minnesota soon enough, and Minnesota has Penn State, Iowa, and the Badgers coming up.

Even though a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium felt out of reach just a couple weeks ago, it’s still possible. More likely than not, though, the Hawkeyes will need some help.

But with a division as crazy as the West, that might be OK.

Related: Stanley proves he’s all-in for his team

Minnesota

The most unusual thing of all is the Gophers taking the lead in the division.

This is a Minnesota team that has won all seven of its games this season, matching its season win total from 2018.

Although the Gophers escaped nonconference play by winning all three games by a combined 13 points, they’ve turned the corner when conference play arrived. They have thoroughly beaten lower-tier Big Ten, toppling all four conference foes by an average of 20.5 points per game.

Only time will tell if Minnesota is for real, though. Staying undefeated for more than half the season is impressive no matter what, and it’ll have the chance to show if it belongs at the top of the West soon.

Like Iowa in 2015, the Gophers have taken care of business when expected to, and they’ve done it with ease in the past four weeks.

If it can find a way to pull off an upset in the closing weeks, Minnesota could reserve an unexpected table in Indy.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin opened the season looking like the team it should have been last season.

Its offense steamrolled opponents, and its defense shut down everyone as the Badgers cruised to an easy 6-0 start.

Until Illinois came along.

A consistent Big Ten cellar dweller, the Illini changed the entire outlook of the division with four quarters of convincing football.

The West is still Wisconsin’s to lose. Combine the offensive line-running back combo it boasts with one of the best defenses in the country, and the Badgers can challenge Ohio State if they’re on.

But if they play like they did against Illinois, things could go south quickly.

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