Picking up where we left off in our look at the cluster of teams ranked between #3 and #9 in the latest PowerPoll.
#5: Northwestern (125 pts, ranked 3-8)
Ted: The most varied offensive attack in the conference next to OSU...when healthy.
Jesse: Great coaching, smart players, and a pretty dynamic offense.
MNW: An offense predicated on short, quick passes, speed on the outside, and occasionally beating someone deep.
GA: Not many other teams could withstand losing their starting QB and starting RB and still look pretty dangerous on paper (results at Camp Randall may vary). Now, they'll just revert to the Persa/Kafka/Basanez short passing game that drove us all nuts for a decade.
Ted: Offensive depth and defense.
Jesse: Ted says offensive depth. I'm just saying depth in general. They recruit and build up really smart kids, but that is a tenuous line to balance on. Injuries or lapses are backbreakers.
MNW: Run defense. I'm not even putting the pass defense in, because they were surprisingly competent against Ohio State. Northwestern is going to live and die this season on if they can stop the run and force teams to drop back.
GA: Turns out a turnover-based defense is a little less sustainable when your opponents are competent on offense. There are some good individual pieces there, but they can still be overwhelmed both on the ground and through the air by the right personnel.
Ted: Starting 0-2 in the conference is a tough hole to climb out of. When you subtract Colter and Mark, the offense is just average. After Minnesota, they go on the road to Iowa and Nebraska, then home against Michigan and MSU. Ouch.
Jesse: That schedule sucks. The guys in Chicago did them no favors this year, which is awesome because "CHICAGO'S BIG TEN TEAM" and all.
MNW: This schedule makes me sad. Every team in the Legends is beatable. I see the ‘Cats dropping 1-2 more, unfortunately. A little disappointment in the bowl selection, but I'm excited to eat some BWW (SAID NO ONE EVER).
#4: Nebraska (128, 3-6)
Ted: Extremely good running game, which is essential as the weather turns bad.
Jesse: Ameer Abdullah. He's really really good, he works hard, and he is looking like a guy who can carry a team when you need him to. Also helps to have two competent backs behind him which should open the passing game even more.
GA: Quincy Enunwa goes unnoticed because of Abdullah's ability and the belief that Nebraska is only a running team, but he and Kenny Bell are the best receiver tandem in the conference. And yeah, the run game's pretty good too, but losing Spencer Long's probably going to hurt more there than when passing.
Ted: Still not sold on the defense. It's getting better, but I reserve judgment until Northwestern.
Jesse: The defense looks better, but this is Illinois and Purdue, so who knows.
Ted: If their defense has come around, they can beat MSU. Not sure it has, though.
Jesse: I think Nebraska can beat MSU because of a style thing and it being a home game. I don't know if that will be enough to win the division sadly.
MNW: I think their defense stops MSU just once and they win. I also think they manage to drop a game to Northwestern. But that's only one loss, and that schedule is so shitty that it'll be enough. Nebraska drops another B1GCG.
#3: Michigan State (146, 2-5)
Ted: MSU can ride their defense and a just-good enough offense to Indianapolis.
Jesse: That defense is fierce and good defense can take you far. You don't need a great offense, just one that doesn't shoot itself in the foot, in that situation.
GA: Well of course it's the defense. Best part about it? There's really no single player whose injury would be a big problem. Some would be harder to replace, but there are plenty of backups on this unit that are better than other team's starters.
Ted: If the recent offensive output is a mirage, they're defense can still carry them, but it'll be very tough.
Jesse: Still have zero clue if the offense is good enough, and if it stalls out, that can wear out the best of defenses.
GA: Well of course it's the offense, though the current trajectory is very encouraging. Still not a huge fan of the playcalling in certain *coughthirddowncough* situations, but there's a couple more weak defenses coming up to iron more stuff out.
Ted: Defense wins championships, and I'm going to buy their offense against Nebraska and Northwestern. And I'll buy their defense against MIchigan's offense. I think the win the Legends.
Jesse: The offense has looked much smoother the past couple of weeks, but I think that it will cause them to lose another game - or more - when it hurts the most. This doesn't mean they don't win the division, though.
GA: It all comes down to the 3-game stretch of UM, @Nebraska, @Northwestern. Honestly, Michigan is the only team left on the schedule with a defense that concerns me at all, meaning MSU's offensive deficiencies might not matter so much. Winning two of those three, as I think they should, would put them in commanding position in the division, and I'd certainly take them as the most likely Legends candidate to thwart the Buckeyes in Indy.
You tell us, reader: Who's going to wind up in Indy? Which of these teams will fall the farthest? What did we miss? Hit the comments!