Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Big Ten second-half preview
By Adam Rittenberg
We've closed the book on the first half of Big Ten play, and what a dull, uninspiring book it was.
From the mediocre nonconference showing (9-8 against BCS automatic-qualifying teams) to the excess of open weeks to the lack of marquee league matchups, the first seven weeks have been mostly forgettable. Three of the Big Ten's biggest stars -- Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez and Venric Mark -- have barely played because of injury.
Here's the good news, folks. It's about to get much better.
We have to endure two more ho-hum Saturdays in October, but the Big Ten's November schedule promises to bring a lot of excitement, particularly in the Legends Division. All of the likely division title contenders -- Michigan State, Nebraska, Michigan, Northwestern and even Iowa -- start facing one another, beginning Nov. 2 with Michigan visiting Michigan State and Northwestern visiting Nebraska. November will finally bring some answers about the Spartans and Huskers, two teams that have handled their business against weaker opponents and lost their only featured games to date.
Ohio State's quest for a second straight perfect season -- and a possible berth in the national title game -- also comes into focus as the Buckeyes host Iowa and Penn State to finish October and conclude November with the big one at the Big House. Speaking of Michigan, the Maize and Blue will face Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State in November. Talk about a prove-it type of month for Brady Hoke and his team.
The next two months also will show whether Indiana can reach a bowl for the first time since 2007, and if Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota reach the six-win plateau. Penn State could keep playing spoiler, while Wisconsin could sneak into the league title game again if Ohio State stumbles a few times.
Enjoy the halftime show, everyone. The second half will feature plenty of fireworks.
Melvin Gordon has made Wisconsin a dangerous team on the ground.
Bold prediction: Wisconsin sweeps three of the four major Big Ten awards. Running back Melvin Gordon takes home offensive player of the year honors, while linebacker Chris Borland caps his magnificent career with defensive player of the year honors. And even though Ohio State runs the table again, the coach of the year curse continues for Buckeye bosses as Urban Meyer loses out to his good friend, Gary Andersen, whose team finishes 10-2.
Looking forward to: The Legends Division race. We don't know how good Nebraska and Michigan State are, but we'll find out in November. Michigan hasn't played to its potential but could turn things around. And while Northwestern is 0-2 in Big Ten play, the Wildcats have played the toughest schedule in the division and typically surge in November. Do you know your Big Ten division tiebreakers? Better brush up.
Top five games
Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 30 -- Despite Michigan's first-half shakiness, The Game figures to be electric as Ohio State should be aiming for another 12-0 regular season to keep its national title hopes alive. Michigan might be playing for a division title and a rematch with Ohio State in Indianapolis.
Michigan State at Nebraska, Nov. 16 -- A lot will change from now until kickoff, but the Spartans and Huskers are the Legends Division favorites right now. Michigan State has yet to beat Nebraska since the Huskers joined the league. The matchup features the only teams that have won the Legends Division.
Michigan at Michigan State, Nov. 2 -- There's more than in-state pride on the line as this game could set the course for the division race in November. The teams' last meeting in East Lansing brought five personal foul penalties (four on Michigan State) and plenty of defensive highlights. Michigan ended a four-game losing streak to the Spartans last year at Michigan Stadium.
Northwestern at Nebraska, Nov. 2 -- Like Michigan-Michigan State, this contest in Lincoln could loom large in the division race. Nebraska faces its best opponent since UCLA, while Northwestern aims for a second consecutive win at Memorial Stadium. Two of the league's more exciting offenses will be on display.
Nebraska at Michigan, Nov. 9 -- Most pegged Michigan or Nebraska to win the Legends Division before the season, and last year's meeting in Lincoln helped the Huskers reach the league championship. What would have happened if Devin Gardner had played quarterback for Michigan last year? You can find out as Gardner leads the Wolverines against a Husker team looking for a signature road win.