The conference races are coming into some focus, and we got a little bit of separation between the pretenders and contenders Saturday. In the Legends, the race has two front runners right now, Michigan State and Nebraska. In the Leaders, it's still Ohio State's to lose, but Wisconsin is lurking. And don't sleep on Indiana, because by the time you wake up they'll have hung 50 on you. But feel free to sleepwalk against Purdue, because you'll still probably win.
Week seven in the Big Ten saw a couple of defining moments, even though we only had four games on the slate. Let's break down these games (and NO I DO NOT WATCH GAMES WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME) and see where we're at a little over the halfway point.
MSU 42, Indiana 28: I didn't think Indiana would win this game, but I didn't think they'd hang 28 on the Sparty defense. And honestly, if you told me that they would put 28 on that defense, they'd win. So hat's off to the Hoosiers for making MSU's defense look downright ordinary at times. But for me, the story was MSU's offense. It seems like they've found something with Connor Cook, and Indiana was the best offense they'll face all year. After Saturday, you have to think MSU is the favorite in the Legends now., but their game in Lincoln on Nov. 16th will probably be the game that decides who goes to Indianapolis. As for the Hoosiers, if they can find something on defense, this is a legitimately good football team. I think they're going bowling, and that offense has the days of putting an Indiana game in the automatic win column a thing of the past.
Nebraska 44, Purdue 7: Two programs going in completely different directions, and everyone saw this game coming from a mile away. There was a time early in the season where I thought Purdue might rally and be a borderline bowl team, but those thoughts are as long gone as straight bills on Darrell Hazell hats. Purdue has a long, long way to go to get back to respectable, and Hazell has a big rebuilding job ahead of him. For the Cornhuskers, have they turned the corner on defense? They only gave up 19 points to a good Illinois offense, and had a shutout until the final minute against Purdue. No one has questioned Nebraska's offense under Bo Pelini, and even with Taylor Martinez out, Tommy Armstrong, Jr., and then Ron Kellogg III has done the job. And Ameer Abdullah has been a beast. If MSU is #1 in the Legends, Nebraska is 1A.
Wisconsin 35, Northwestern 6: Dear Northwestern, just go away. I'm done with you and your annual hyperbole. Every year you tell me that you're going to break through into the elite of the Big Ten, and every year, you fail to do so. And this year, I bought into it. This year, you made me believe. But no, you're Northwestern. Great teams do things like beat Ohio State at home when many in your camp proclaim it to be the biggest game in school history. But there was no shame in losing that game, so great teams bounce back against a tough opponent on the road and win that game. But you're Northwestern, and you didn't even bother to make the trip. The Wildcats are not and will not be anything other than slightly above average until you win big games. Quit shitting your pants and win a big game, and until then, quit telling me how good you are. Wisconsin seemed like early on they wanted to gift you the game, yet you refused to take advantage, and in the second half, they said to hell with it and steamrolled you. You want to be a great team, look to the Badgers. They took a tough loss on the road, re-grouped, came out against a good team and throttled them. That's what great teams do, and although Wisconsin no longer controls their own destiny in the Leaders division, if OSU slips up they'll be right there.
Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4OT): That was the sloppiest yet most exciting game I've watched in a long time. Penn State really exposed Michigan on offense. They have zero running game outside of Devin Gardner, yet OC Al Borges continually ran Fitz Toussaint into the line over and over again, to no avail. But at least he didn't turn the ball over, like Devin Gardner did. He was really shaky early, but made some plays in the second half, and with Gardner, that's what you're going to get. Unfortunately, his ability to make plays doesn't overcome his penchant for turnovers, so he largely negates himself. For Penn State, Christian Hackenberg is going to be the conference freshman of the year, and has a look and feel of a future All American. Bill O'Brien is doing a really good job with all the restrictions he is working under, and that was about a signature a win as you can get for a program that really needed one.