Since the last realignment of the Big Ten; the western part of it has featured Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, Northwestern, and Nebraska. Mostly during this time, the winner of it has mostly come down to either Wisconsin or Iowa. Considering the state of the other teams in the division, this will most likely be the case in 2022. A big question for both the Hawkeyes and the Badgers is their offenses, particularly the quarterback position. I believe the Badgers offense is in a lot better position than the Hawkeyes.

Last season, Iowa won the Big Ten West. However, the reason they went to Indianapolis was because the Badgers weren’t able to beat Minnesota. Iowa won despite their offense and it was their defense that carried them all season. The Hawkeyes also had the benefit of playing a weaker schedule than the Badgers.

Iowa’s Quarterback Problems

While Graham Mertz had a bad year in 2022, it wasn’t nearly as horrendous as it was for Hawkeye quarterback Spencer Petras. Petras finished the year passing for just 1,880 yards with 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions with a QBR of 49.2. He was also benched for Alex Padilla at various points in the season due to his inability to spark the offense including in the Big Ten Championship game.

While Kirk Ferentz hasn’t said it publicly, Iowa will be having an open competition for who will lead the Hawkeyes offense in 2022. Like Graham Mertz, Petras is a former four-star recruit who hasn’t lived up to his high school billing either. Had the Hawkeyes really believed in him, there would be no competition between him and Alex Padilla. No matter what player is the Hawkeyes’ week one starter, they’ll be sacrificing something from the position.

If the Hawkeyes start Petras, they’ll have little mobility at the position. If Padilla gets the nod, they’ll be losing experience (Petras is a two-year starter). However, neither of them look like the long-term solutions at the position. The Hawkeyes need to figure out what are they willing to do without from the position. Odds are one of them will enter the transfer portal at some point if they aren’t starting. The old saying goes is “if you have two quarterbacks then you don’t have one.”

A Leading Rusher To Replace

The Badgers have a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back in Braelon Allen. Despite barely being used in the first four games of the season; Allen rushed for 1,268 yards on just 186 carries and 12 touchdowns. This includes breaking a program record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games with seven. Allen is poised to once again be the focal point of the Badgers offense.

Iowa will have to replace their leading rusher Tyler Goodson (1,151 yards). Goodson has opted to skip his senior year and enter the draft. Currently, the Hawkeyes have Gavin Williams (305 yards) and Ivory Kelly-Martin (202 yards) in the stable. Out of the two, only Kelly-Martin has scored a touchdown. While both backs have some upside; there is no clear number one back between the two like there was with Goodson. Odds are the Hawkeyes will opt to do a backfield by committee at least to begin the season.

Wisconsin Made Changes

After last season’s underwhelming offensive performance, Paul Chryst realized he needed help and that he couldn’t do it all. He hired Baltimore Ravens tight ends coach Bobby Engram to be the new offensive coordinator. Generally, with the hiring of a new offensive coordinator generally comes a new scheme, and concepts and adjustments are made. While we don’t know what the new Badger offense will look like, I believe there will be changes. Considering the success Engram had as a tight ends coach in Baltimore, there is a lot to look forward to.

Resisting Change in the Name of Continuity

Unlike Wisconsin, Iowa never changes anything about their offense despite their problems. Most coaches on Kirk Ferentz’s staff either retire or leave on their own. Some of the coaches on his staff have been there since day one of the Kirk Ferentz era. Currently, Kirk Ferentz’s son Brian coordinates the Hawkeyes offense despite being underqualified. Brian Ferentz was the offensive line coach for four seasons before becoming the offensive coordinator by nepotism replacing the retiring Greg Davis. The results have been mixed at best. Since taking over in 2017, Ferentz’s offenses have ranked tenth or lower in the Big Ten in four out of five seasons with him calling the plays. Their high point with Brian Ferentz as the offensive coordinator was finishing eighth in the Big Ten.

On most coaching staffs, the coordinator would be fired for an awful five-year stretch; especially given that the Hawkeyes had one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten last season. This included two consecutive games of scoring just seven points including against Wisconsin. Only Indiana had an offense worse than the Hawkeyes. Despite last season’s offensive disaster and fans wanting Brian Ferentz fired, it’s not going to happen. Ferentz will be back for his sixth season and until Kirk Ferentz leaves, they are both a package deal.

Down To Wisconsin and Iowa again

This season, the Big Ten West will probably once again come down to Wisconsin and Iowa. The Badgers have the edge offensively. While Wisconsin has question marks of their own, they at least have players like Braelon Allen to build around. Allen proved he could carry the load if needed last season. Meanwhile, Iowa’s offense is a complete mess. The Hawkeyes have nothing to build on and have ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten every year since Brian Ferentz took over. While the Badgers’ offense may have underwhelmed last season, they at least are in better shape going into 2022, unlike Iowa.

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Eric Katz

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