Mid-Season Division Arguments: Breaking Down the Legends Contenders

What a mess...

Four weeks ago, everybody assumed the conference was figured out. Wisconsin was the best team, there were a lot of ‘second-tier’ teams who would fight for the chance to get beat by Wisconsin, and then everyone else was just kind of there. Now? Well, now we have a mess on our hands. Mathematically speaking, we have five teams in the Legends and three teams in the Leaders that can still win the division, Wisconsin looks like they will struggle just to get to Indianapolis, and there is no clear cut conference best. Consider the transitive property:

Wisconsin > Nebraska > Ohio State/MSU > Wisconsin

To best make sense of all this mess, we here at OTE will be breaking down the contenders from each division and then compile what the eliminated teams can do as a spoiler. This is the first of a three part series, so if your team isn’t here, it probably means they are coming. We asked each writer to answer the following questions:

  1. Why will your team be going to Indianapolis?

  2. Why will your team be watching the CCG from the living room?

  3. What should we probably expect to happen?

So in alphabetical order, the Legends Contenders (Mathematically):

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Iowa - BamaHawkeye

1) Why will your team be going to Indianapolis?

Iowa’s going to Indianapolis because it has an NFL-style coach who knows how to handle NFL-style pressures. He knows that the Northwestern game was twice as important as the Penn State game. He knew that a win over Minnesota wasn’t necessary. These next four games…here’s where the rubber meets the road. He knows that, and Iowa will be prepared to win each of them. Sweep, and Iowa will wear black jerseys in Nap Town come early December.

As to how they’ll pull off that sweep, here you go…the Hawkeyes actually fare better against spread teams that are run-heavy instead of spread teams that are pass-heavy. The Hawks held Denard Robinson pretty well in check last year. It was the reappearance of Tate Forcier that caused them fourth quarter troubles. With the game in Kinnick, Iowa can pull it out. Sparty looked offensively lost last week. If they bring the same performance to Kinnick, a place where they haven’t won since the 1980s, Iowa can knock out the glove state in an eight day span.

After that, Iowa travels to Purdue. Yes, they’ll need to play a better fourth quarter than they have in their previous three road tests, but they shouldn’t be outmatched by Purdue. Win there, and it will all come down to a Black Friday in Lincoln. Maybe the Hawks have the game of their season. Maybe the Huskers are already thinking about Indianapolis. But Iowa cares more about this game than Nebraska does (a refreshing change), and they create a true rivalry by punking the Huskers in their own house.

2) Why will your team be watching the CCG from the living room?

Choose the Right Answer: 

a) Because the defense can’t stop the run

b) Because, despite plenty of opportunities, the offense hasn’t led a successful end-of-game two minute drill since October 2009

c) Because they will play three teams better than them

d) Because they will play two road games, and haven’t won one in twelve full months

e) Because they can’t hold a fourth quarter lead

f) Because the loss to Minnesota killed any margin for error that would have existed in West Lafayette

Did you pick the right answer? No, you can only pick one. No, "All of the Above" is not a choice. You have to pick the right answer. What do you mean that you think that there is more than one right answer?

3) What should we probably expect to happen?

I’m generally a guardedly optimistic person. That said, the loss to Minnesota really shook from me any hope that I had for this year’s squad. It wasn’t that it was a bad loss. It was the way that they lost. If Minnesota can pound the Iowa defense in the fourth quarter, what is Sparty going to do? Or Denard? Or Nebraska? If Iowa can’t win in Ames or Minneapolis, how will they fare in West Lafayette and Lincoln? Iowa loses to Michigan this week. They lose to Michigan State next week. They lose at Purdue the week that follows. They lose at Nebraska in the season-ender. That’s a 5-7 (2-6) season with a five game losing streak to end it. It is going to be a long hard off season in Iowa City.

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Michigan - Graham Filler

1) Why will your team be going to Indianapolis?

Michigan, if truly intent on going to Indianapolis, must continue two trends: 1) Offensive playcalling ingenuity and 2) surprisingly solid defensive play. Can they do it? I don’t doubt it. The offensive wrinkles (outside runs with Fitz Toussaint, misdirection plays with Denard Robinson) are the coaches’ attempts to spread defenses and allow Robinson to be a threat all over the field, not just in the pocket. Not only did the bye week help, but we see a Michigan coaching staff intent on adapting to its players strengths. Beat up by MSU in the interior, Michigan successfully attacked the outside against Purdue. The defense continues to create turnovers and pressure the quarterback (4 sacks v. the Boilermakers), something we haven’t seen since Brandon Graham was killing quarterbacks in 2009.

2) Why will your team be watching the CCG from the living room?

Michigan hasn’t played anyone yet. Teams they’ve beat:

Western Michigan (5-4)

ND (5-3)

EMU (5-3)

SDSU (4-3)

Mini (2-6)

NW (3-5)

Purdue (4-4)

On the surface, that’s not bad, but the B1G games were against the Patsies and now the real fun begins. Iowa City is not a fun place to play, no matter whether the Hawkeyes struggle. Illinois is slumping, but the Illini have scored 103 points against UM in the last two matchups, so let’s not call that a win yet. And Nebraska and OSU? They're so hot right now…  If UM gets out of those four games with a 2-2 record, I don’t think anyone would be surprised.

3) What should we probably expect to happen?

I predict 2-2, as Michigan ends the season 9-3 (5-3), two games behind division winner Michigan State. The schedule dictates an easy finish for the Spartans and until I actually see Michigan beat an OSU/Wisconsin/MSU/Nebraska type team, I don’t feel comfortable predicting UM in the B1G championship game. BTW, 9-3 is two games better than most predicted…and three games better than the 6-6 record I predicted.

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Michigan State - MSULaxer27

1) Why will your team be going to Indianapolis?

MSU is going to Indy because it has the best remaining schedule. MN, @ Iowa, IU, @NU. Granted the Spartans can't take any of these games for granted but I'll take that over the Huskers finishing kick of NU, @PSU, @UM, Iowa or UM's @Iowa, @ ILL, NU-L, OSU and Iowa's UM, MSU, @PU, @NU-L. Nobody in the B1G seems capable of winning on the road this year.

The three bottom feeders in the B1G are left on MSU's schedule (and the other remaining team just lost to one of the bottom feeders). There are no gimme games (at Kinnick!) but you really can't ask for a better slate to end the season.

Win at least three of the four and things will sort themselves out. The other three contenders (Iowa, UM and NU-L) all have each other left on the schedule. NU-L loses at PSU and UM. Iowa drops one to NU-L. UM drops two to Iowa and OSU. MSU gets the division. I refuse to consider MN's chances seriously.

2) Why will your team be watching the CCG from the living room?

NU-L really is that good and is finally clicking on all cylinders. They run the table and win the division. Or MSU just implodes due to the pantsing they received this past weekend.

3) What should we probably expect to happen?

Going to stick with my pre-season prediction (just that the conference loss comes elsewhere). MSU ends the Kinnick slide. All others drop at least one game. MSU is in the inaugural B1G championship game in Indy where they play PSU for the land grant trophy and whatever token Delaney and company have come up with to reward the B1G champs.

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Minnesota - JDMill

1) Why will your team be going to Indianapolis?

We're not, so let's just go ahead and put that out there. I suppose mathematically there's a chance the Gophers could still win this division (I refuse to call it the Leaders or the Legends division because frankly I'm not sure which one we're in), but I haven't explored it enough to know what it is because I don't believe it's realistic. I know we've got 4 games left against at least 2 teams that are very good (MSU & Wisky) and two teams that are dangerous, but are beatable (NWestern & the Fighting Zooks). We aren't going to Indy, but we can finish a tough season on an upswing.

2) Why will your team be watching the CCG from the living room?

Plain and simple, they haven't been good enough through the first part of the season and it would take the ultimate coaching job of all time for the Gophers to win out, get help from other teams, and somehow make Indy. This is a young inexperienced football team that played an emotional game in beating Iowa (again), and had to play their absolute best game of the season to beat Iowa (again) by a single point. It was an inspired performance, but it will be difficult to duplicate.

3) What should we probably expect to happen?

I honestly expect that the ceiling for the Gophers is to win two more games, those being NWestern and Illinois. Those two schools are wounded right now and could be ripe for the picking the final two weeks of the season. Having said that, my prediction would be one more win. I'm hopeful that the Gophers can build on what they did in beating Iowa (again) and be more competitive the rest of the season, but I don't think they've got the horses to beat an MSU or a Wisky at this point. 

Lawrence

Nebraska - KennardHusker

1) Why will your team be going to Indianapolis?

The easiest explanation is that last Saturday was not a fluke. Nebraska has an explosive offense with a workhorse RB, and a QB who can’t throw pretty but has gotten the job done more than anyone would believe. While the schedule certainly isn’t the easiest, the matchups aren’t the worst. NW plays a spread offense and has no defense. Michigan has an explosive offense and better defense, but the blueprint on how to defend them is in since MSU. Penn State has the best defense in the conference, if not in the country, but that QB situation makes you wonder. Iowa is in the middle of their own dumpster fire of a season, and while that game will be close because Iowa plays up and down to competition, it’s looking better for Nebraska’s chances. Bottom line, Nebraska controls its own destiny, and it looks like they have a defense worth watching again.

2) Why will your team be watching the CCG from the living room?

For all the reasons I just listed. The schedule is nuts from here on out, and the back to back games @Michigan and @Penn State are looming large. Nothing like 216,000 screaming fans to introduce you to B1G stadiums, huh? There is an extremely good chance this ends poorly for Nebraska. Oh and there is still that picture of the Wisconsin game dancing in the back of Nebraska’s closet. Schedule + defense still learning + QB with propensity to throw the ball to the other team = Sitting at home.

3) What should we probably expect to happen?

I think MSU makes the CCG. Nebraska fans will skewer me for this point of view, but I do not see Nebraska coming out of this four game stretch without at least one loss. Conversely, I think MSU can sweep their remaining opponents. This all comes down to scheduling. MSU had to step up early, but now they can close late. Not a bad deal at all for them.  

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