Is Minnesota still the biggest threat to Wisconsin in the West?

Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Oddsmakers believe the Wisconsin Badgers will win the Big Ten West again. Are the Minnesota Golden Gophers their biggest challenger in the division, though?

This should be one of the better college football seasons in the Big Ten in a long time.

As many as seven teams have at least an outside shot of getting to Indianapolis. If you’re counting, that’s half of the Power 5 conference’s member institutions. While it’s the usual suspects in the Big Ten East with the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines in that order, there are four teams to keep an eye on in the Big Ten West.

While the Wisconsin Badgers are the presumptive favorite to win the division again, rival programs like the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Nebraska Cornhuskers have slivers of hope of reaching Lucas Oil Stadium. One would think Minnesota would be the most formidable challenger to Wisconsin, but what will Iowa and Nebraska have to say about that?

Here are the updated Big Ten title odds, via LVSuperBook.

Updated 2020 Big Ten title odds

Wisconsin has the best odds of any team in the Big Ten West to win the conference championship at 7/1, tied with Penn State at second, trailing on Ohio State at 2/5. Minnesota is tied for the fourth-best odds at 16/1 with Michigan. Nebraska has the sixth-best odds to win the Big Ten at a solid 30/1. Iowa has a prayer’s hope with the seventh-best odds to win the conference at 50/1.

Clearly, the oddsmakers think the Big Ten West will come down to the date in Madison between the Badgers and the Golden Gophers. Though they think Wisconsin will win that one, they could be wrong in their judgement because they did not account for a brutal three-game stretch the Badgers will be facing: At Michigan, Notre Dame at Lambeau and home vs. Minnesota.

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Looking at Minnesota’s season schedule, the Gophers could lose all their important games and still go a solid 8-4 (5-4). While they have road dates at Wisconsin and at Nebraska, getting Iowa and Michigan at home probably means the Gophers finish somewhere around 9-3, maybe even 10-2, depending on how those four crucial games shake out.

Though Nebraska has a tough non-conference game with the Cincinnati Bearcats, it’s in Lincoln and in the middle of the soft part of the Cornhuskers’ schedule. If they beat Luke Fickell‘s team, Scott Frost could have his team bowl eligible before their bye week. Nebraska hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2016, back when Frost was still in Orlando coaching the UCF Knights.

While Nebraska could get off to a hot 7-0 start if they beat Rutgers out of the bye, their schedule is absolutely brutal from Halloween on: At Ohio State, home vs. Penn State, at Iowa, at Wisconsin and home vs. Minnesota. Nebraska will lose at least three of those games. At Iowa is the easiest of the quintet, but Kinnick is always tough. Ending the year vs. Minnesota means a five-game skid.

As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes luck out getting all three non-conference games at Kinnick, including their in-state rival and Big 12 contender Iowa State. Though there are wins to be had in Big Ten play, it’s hard to see the Hawkeyes doing any better than 5-4 in conference play. They have road dates at Minnesota, at Ohio State and at Penn State. They get Nebraska and Wisconsin at home.

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As with Nebraska, they’d be lucky to go 2-3 in those five games. Beating the Huskers is probably the Hawkeyes’ best bet. For the second easiest win available, you’re pulling teeth between at Minnesota and home vs. Wisconsin. If they beat one of them to get to 6-3 in Big Ten play, that would be remarkable. Iowa can be as good as a 9-3 team, but is closer to 7-5 or 6-6 this year.

If we had to pick a team to rival Wisconsin in the West this year, it’s Minnesota. The Golden Gophers feel like a team that could finish somewhere between 10-2 and 8-4 this year. Should Minnesota regress, then your next likeliest challenger to Wisconsin in the West would have to be Nebraska because the Cornhuskers have a pathway to 7-0. Iowa would be lucky to be even 8-4.

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