The State of the Race: Legends Division

Jonathan Daniel

Heading into the home stretch, we pause to give a team-by-team assessment of the B1G. First, the Wild Wild Legends. Leaders to follow...sometime.

Frontrunner: Michigan State, 7-1 (4-0)

Green Akers: MSU is in good position to win the division, but more because of how they're playing than Michigan and Nebraska having lost already (that fact does MSU no good if they don't beat Michigan and Nebraska head-to-head). The only real flaws this team has- consistency at QB and a tendency to get too cute with play-calling at times- are, in my mind, far more correctable than the shortcomings of the other contenders, and in fact have improved of late. It also never hurts to have the most consistently excellent unit in the conference in the Spartan defense.

Indy looks like a reasonable expectation; if they can get there and beat OSU, there's no way on God's green earth MSU will go to the NCG, so the Rose Bowl would be the prize. Any other outcome- making the CCG with another loss or two, or not making the CCG- has a few too many moving parts for me to feel comfortable making predictions about bowl positioning (I'll leave that to Mike). Still, anything less than 9 wins and very late contention for the division would have to be seen as a disappointing swoon, given where MSU is now.

Top Contender: Michigan, 6-1 (2-1)

Despite the loss to Penn State, Michigan still controls its own fate in the division. The next two weeks will play an enormous role in settling the Legends, as MSU, Michigan and Nebraska all play each other. However, that end-of-season matchup with Ohio State, a team neither MSU nor Nebraska has to play, looms ominously for Michigan, and probably makes every game from here on out a must-win. A loss to MSU on Saturday all but buries the Wolverines, but they have enough big-play capability to stay in any game.

Lurking in the Weeds: Nebraska, 5-2 (2-1)

Jesse Collins: Nebraska is not dead in the water. With that said, Saturday was a bad omen for the rest of the season. So long as a team knows how to run the Jet Sweep, there seems to be little reason to believe Nebraska can stop them. Of course, this offense - in theory - still has so many weapons that there is the chance that teams could lose a shootout to Nebraska. Oh, and the race to Indianapolis gives Northwestern and MSU to the Huskers at home, so that's a plus. Still, I do not feel great about their chances at this point. This is coming off of a loss, however, and I hold my right to go WOOB1GCHAMPIONZ if need be.


Let's be honest, that 'need be' looks bleak right now.

Already Bowl Eligible, Donchyano: Minnesota, 6-2 (2-2)

GoAUpher: How The Season Has Gone:
Well, this definitely isn't how I pictured this season at this point. I saw 6 or 7 wins (the latter being a full homer pick against UW just because AXE) sure, but this definitely isn't how I expected Minnesota to get their six. To me, the most logical path to 6 when looking before the season was Iowa and Indiana. Northwestern is a game Minnesota fans usually think they always have a chance in, but I was drinking the Kool-Aid and clearly didn't see the current swoon coming. And Nebraska? I mean, pretty much all the B1G teams had vulnerablities you could point to in the preseason and Nebby is known for dropping a game they shouldn't, but I still couldn't talk myself into it.

How I Feel About The Gophers:
Pretty darn good. The Iowa loss will be a constant annoyance for all the normal reasons, but moreso because of how poorly the Gophers played. Even playing better, I don't think they win that game given how Iowa was hammering the Gophers but at least it wouldn't have been a debacle. But outside of that game I've been pleased with how the team has responded to adversity.
The old Gophers would have come off that Iowa loss listless. They would have responded to the opening possession fumble in the Big House by getting steamrolled. Instead, they put together an impressive clock chewing MANBALL drive and fought the rest of that game.
The old Gophers would have folded once Coach Kill took a leave to work with his doctors to improve his epilepsy treatment plan. This Gopher team responded with back to back upset wins.
The old Gophers would have coughed up the lead after allowing both Northwestern and Nebraska scored TD’s to shrink Minnesota’s lead to under 7 late in the 4th quarter. This Gopher team responded with game ending drives.
So like I said, I feel pretty good right now. 4 losses to end the year would certainly be a downer, but 6 wins was my honest prediction for the season and I’m not one to get cranky when my preseason expectations are met.

My Prediction For The Rest Of The Season:
Well, the realist in me sees one more win out of the Indiana/Purdue tandem. I can’t decide which is more likely, though going with Penn State at home feels like the safer bet. The homer in me sees wins over Indiana and Penn State carrying the Gophers to a #25 ranking coming in to the Wisconsin game. The homer in me does not see us regaining the Axe (damn you Anderson for not finding a way to screw up the Badger rushing attack even just a little) and unless Conner Cook plans on gifting a couple of pick-6’s the MSU game isn’t a likely W either. An ugly and close L maybe, but probably not a W.
So let’s call it 7-5 (3-5) going into a mid-tier bowl game. I’ll predict a bowl game win because why not?

Spoiler-Plus: Iowa, 5-3 (2-2)

Mike Jones: At 5-3 (2-2), it isn’t so much that Iowa is in a bad position for the West, it’s just that they’ve already lost to the only team that matters: Michigan State. The remaining schedule certainly isn’t easy but it definitely is favorable: vs. Wisconsin, @ Purdue, vs. Michigan and @ Nebraska. RE: Wisconsin, they’ve beaten no-one. No really, they’ve beaten NO-ONE. The teams Wisconsin have beaten have a combined record of 12-27 (.308). They’ve played approximately two good teams on the road and lost to them both. Plus, it’s a rivalry game and I’m not sure Gary Andersen understands what it’s all about.

Purdue is Purdue.

Michigan now faces the meat of their schedule with: @ MSU, vs. Nebraska, @ Northwestern, @ Iowa and vs. Ohio State. When Michigan heads to Kinnick they could be beaten up or looking ahead to Brutus. Plus, Iowa has fared well against the Wolverines at home as of late.

That leaves Nebraska…who Iowa never has much success with. Let’s just hope: 1) Everyone has committed seppuku or; 2) Pelini has been fired. Both of those are strong possibilities.

The issue is that even if Iowa is in a position to win out it might not matter. Michigan State has a two game lead on everyone. If Iowa were to win out they’d need Sparty to lose three conference games.

On the other hand: Iowa could also lose to every team not named Purdue and end up at 6-6. I DON’T KNOW HOW THIS TEAM WINS FOOTBALL GAME THEY PLAY SUCH UGLY FOOTBALL. SO CONFUSED. LOUD NOISES.

Just a Spoiler: Northwestern, 4-4 (0-4)

The Wildcats deserve some sympathy, they really do. To come so close to dethroning the king in front of a national audience, only to have your heart ripped out...their subsequent bed-soiling in Camp Randall was completely understandable. Less so are the more recent losses to Minnesota and Iowa, which have left the purple-clad faithful scouring the schedule to find some hope of salvaging bowl eligibility.

Even though the preseason's lofty aspirations won't be coming to fruition, Northwestern still has plenty to play for. The 'Cats visit Lincoln with a chance to reclaim the NU title for themselves, and then take their second bye before hosting Michigan and MSU in consecutive weeks and then a visit to Champaign to wrap up the season. Plenty of dreams left to be crushed, 'Cats. Bask in the schadenfreude.

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