Before we get to our first conference race overview, let's have a moment of silence for the defunct Leaders and Legends Divisions.
/moment of reverent silence
Ok that's enough of that. Under the old divisional alignment, only four teams- MSU, OSU, Wisconsin, and Nebraska- were able to hoist division champion trophies before the division's themselves passed into legend and. Uh. Leadership. Will the new divisional alignment yield new challengers for the Stagg Trophy, or will the recent contenders maintain their oligarchy over trips to Indianapois?
Ionno, mang. And for the next couple of weeks, there will remain enough contingencies that we won't map every possible outcome. Rather, we begin with a more subjective glance at what the race looks like right now and where we think it'll go from here; once we're closer to the end of the season we'll talk concrete scenarios in more detail. But let's get to it, starting in the East:
Frontrunners: Michigan State, Ohio State
As it was foretold in the offseason, so it appears it will be: the tilt between these two on November 8th looks like by far the best regular season matchup, and will likely function as an elimination game for the CFP. Both teams have ridden top 5 overall offenses to single-loss records, and both have shown vulnerabilities defensively. Both are even coming off of identical 56-17 beatdowns of weaker East division opponents and are double-digit favorites over their next opponents. Thus far, these two squads have been head and shoulders above the rest of the conference, let alone the division.
Next up: Michigan @ MSU; OSU @ PSU
Still Lurking, I Guess: Maryland
The Terps will need a hard stumble from OSU to get to the top of the division by dint of their head-to-head loss to the Buckeyes. Nonetheless, they are coming off a nice win over Iowa and still have a game in hand with MSU. Maryland probably can't afford another loss, but they're far from out of it at this point, assuming the stream of injuries ends at some point. Their first trip to Camp Randall awaits.
Up next: Maryland @ Wisconsin
Weirder Things Have Happened But I Can't Think Of Any: Rutgers
Of the bottom four teams, Rutgers at least doesn't have any glaring flaws that will inherently limit how likely they are to rise up and make a run. Gary Nova's mostly excellent senior campaign has validated Ralph Friedgen's coaching chops, the front seven has mostly held its own against larger offensive lines (I say mostly because that OSU game did just happen), and they've got a divisional win in hand against Michigan. Still, with two division losses and tough cross-divisional games coming up, Rutgers only gets its own separate category because no one position group is an active Superfund site at this particular moment. If Rutgers can stay afloat in the race through its brutal cross-divisional games, Flood should be in the running for COTY.
Up next: Rutgers @ Nebraska
LOLNope: Penn State, Michigan, Indiana
Again, we don't want to kick sand in anyone's face so early in the season. But these three each have a mortal flaw that's making bowl eligibility a challenging bar, let alone overtaking MSU and OSU.
As is football blogger tradition, I must note that Penn State's offensive line is now starting a discarded Gatorade cup, a broken cornstalk, and some other inanimate object that is easily bypassed because how cheeky am I for putting that zinger together. It's true, though, and Christian Hackenberg is starting to resemble last year's model of Devin Gardner and that's just something you don't wish on anyone.
Indiana's foray into starting a true freshman QB has thus far been, shall we say, unsuccessful. Perhaps Kevin Wilson can make use of their upcoming bye to coax some production out of the kid, and perhaps the next time they play I won't have to watch a 10-minute interview with his dad while the freaking game is going on. Oh, and IU still can't play defense. Still.
Michigan's problems are various and well-documented. In addition to their presumptive lame duck head coach, their new defensive scheme is wasting the talents of their best defensive players; their OL is better than it was last year but still not very good; and to add injury to injury, they have lots and lots of those (injuries, that is). I'm not sure when, if ever, Michigan has been a 15-point dog to MSU, but it's a sign of the times that even Michigan fans are hard-pressed to dispute it.
Up next: OSU @ PSU, IU bye, Michigan @ MSU