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Are you ready for some football? Northwestern and Nebraska will give the college season a rousing start in Dublin on Saturday, Aug. 27.

While neither team is expected emerge from the Big Ten's Western Division, you never know. While often ridiculed, the Big Ten West should be entertaining and fun—because this fall, it doesn't have prohibitive favorites.

For quite a while now, Wisconsin and Iowa have been the usual suspects. Year in and year out, they are the leading candidates to get clobbered by the Big Ten East champion.

This year, though, things might be different. I have a hunch that P.J. Fleck, who has some seasoned skill guys back, might whip Minnesota into a frenzy.

I also believe that Purdue, which has Aidan O’Connell back at quarterback from last year’s over-achieving season, could make the Boilermakers a surprise them.

And of course, Nebraska, after piling up a boggling array of close losses last year, will be on a mission this fall.

Illinois and Northwestern are expected to be bringing up the rear. But I believe Bret Bielema is laying a decent foundation at Illinois. And Pat Fitzgerald has tended to keep the Wildcats competitive coming off of disappointing seasons.

In short, while I expect that Wisconsin or Iowa again will be a heavy underdog in the Big Ten championship game, I also expect the Big Ten West to be a very competitive dogfight that features a lot of surprising results.

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The Locksmith's Pick Six: Week 4

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Mr. CFB's Pick Six: Week 4

Here is a key game for each of the Big Ten West teams. It might be a must-win, or simply a must-avoid-a-letdown. However you label it, it will be important in shaping the season.

Wisconsin: Never mind the Badgers' Sept. 24 trip to Ohio State. The game that will tell what Wisconsin is made of will be their Oct. 15 trip to Michigan State, where $95 million man Mel Tucker again seeks the portal to double-digit wins. If Wisconsin takes care of its business, it should be 8-1 heading into its final three games—at Iowa, at Nebraska and against Minnesota. That’s a tough way to finish. But it will be a lot tougher if there’s a loss in East Lansing.

Iowa: It’s no reach to say the stakes will be high when Wisconsin comes to Iowa City on Nov. 12. The Hawkeyes will be coming off of a potentially dangerous trip to Purdue. And they will be facing games against Minnesota and Nebraska after the Badger game. The Hawkeyes sneaked into the West title last year when Wisconsin muffed its clincher at Minnesota. The Hawkeyes better not plan on that happening again.

Minnesota: Yes, there is a bit of The Music Man in P.J. Fleck. But aside from his Row-the-Boat antics, there’s also a lot of good recruiting and sound football. He has dealt himself a pretty good hand this fall. How good? We’ll find out at Nebraska on Nov. 5.

Nebraska: This is the big year where Scott Frost gets over the hump. Assuming the Cornhuskers navigate their opener in Dublin, Ireland, against Gaelic favorite Pat Fitzgerald and his Wildcats, let’s see what Nebraska can do against Oklahoma. In Lincoln on Sept. 17. If Frost wants to get Nebraska fans going, that’s the perfect spot. The Huskers, after all, put a scare into the Sooners last year. And the Sooners have a new coach this year. Win that one, Scott Frost, and you will build momentum toward a backloaded November schedule that includes Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. Come to think, you might need that Oklahoma game as insurance against November peril.

Purdue: The Boilermakers are the mystery team of the West. Will they build on last year’s monumental upsets of Iowa and Michigan State and be a contender? Or will they return to that humble perch of neighboring Illinois and Indiana, where football is a thing for killing time until basketball practice starts? We’ll find out early. Purdue opens at home on Sept. 3 against Penn State. Win or lose, the ``second Big Ten opener’’ at Minnesota on Oct. 1 also will tell a lot.

Illinois: Bret Bielema took some solid steps in his first season in Champaign, including the inaugural shocker over Nebraska and the ridiculous nine-overtime win at Penn State? Just beat Minnesota at home on Oct. 15. If the Illini are 3-3 at that point, they’ll need to beat the Gophers to build momentum for a bowl push with their challenging second-half schedule. If they’re 4-2. . . oops, let them get there first.

Northwestern: The Wildcats are just two years removed from their second Western Division title in three years. And yet, the gloom over Evanston is so dark that Northwestern seems poised for the Dust Bowl. One thing could change that in a hurry. Beat Nebraska in that Week Zero opener against Nebraska in Dublin, Ireland on Aug. 27. The whole college football world will be watching. How are the declawed Cats going to beat the take-no-prisoners Cornhuskers? It’s college football. We’ll tell you later.