Best of Week 7: De facto Leaders title game?

This isn’t a great weekend for games, especially with Nebraska and Penn State off. And the league’s two best teams appear to be in mismatches, with Michigan hosting Illinois and Ohio State visiting Indiana.

But there are three games with some intrigue. Wisconsin’s visit to Purdue will go a long way in shaping a muddled Leaders Division race. The winner figures to have pole position to earn the division’s spot in the Big Ten title game with Ohio State and Penn State on NCAA probation and ineligible.

Northwestern’s visit to Minnesota lost some juice when the Wildcats suffered their first loss, at Penn State, last week. In fact, the Golden Gophers also come into this game off their first loss (at Iowa). They were off last week. The winner’s Cinderella story will continue, while remaining a serious Legends Division contender.

The Iowa at Michigan State clash is a meeting of two teams that have disappointed, to a degree. But hope floats for each. The root of the problem for each? Offense—passing the ball, in particular. The Hawkeyes, who were off last week, and Spartans each are coming off strong efforts on offense in victories. Which one can continue in this key Legends clash?

Illinois—losers of three in a row–will be looking to end an eight-game Big Ten losing skein when it visits a hot Wolverine squad that is playing great defense and has Denard Robinson on a roll. Indiana? The Hoosiers haven’t beaten Ohio State since 1988, going 0-18-1 vs. the Buckeyes since that triumph.

[RELATED: Week 7 Power Rankings | Week 7 Player Rankings | Week 7 Bowl Projections]

Here is the best of the upcoming week:

Joel Stave
US PRESSWIRE

BEST GAME: Let’s go with Wisconsin at Purdue in what looks like a huge game that will determine the pecking order in the Leaders Division. Yes, the Boilermakers were ripped at home, 44-13, last week by Michigan, but they still are in the hunt in the Leaders. But Purdue’s margin for error will diminish if it loses to the Badgers at home in what may end up being a de facto Leaders Division championship game. Wisconsin will arrive in West Lafayette winners of three of four, coming off a 31-14 home win over Illinois. This is a hot Badgers squad that looks primed for a run after a rough start.

BEST MATCHUP: Northwestern offense vs. Minnesota defense. The Wildcats have the No. 3 attack in the Big Ten, averaging 432.5 yards per game and are No. 4 in scoring with a 32.8-point average. The Gopher defense is coming off a tough game at Iowa when it yielded 31 points. But Minnesota still ranks No. 4 in the conference in total defense (320.8 ypg) and is No. 5 in scoring defense (19.6 ppg). The Wildcats are a tough matchup for a lot of defenses with the two-headed quarterback monster of Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter, as well as shifty back Venric Mark. Golden Gopher defenders like end D.L. Wilhite, tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and safety Derrick Wells need to step up. No doubt, the Minnesota defense would be helped if its offense can control the ball, keeping it away from this deadly Northwestern attack.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Minnesota QB Max Shortell. He will be making his third start of the season with MarQueis Gray out with injury. Shortell took his lumps the last time out in a 31-13 loss at Iowa, hitting 20-of-33 passes for 197 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He must perform better at home in this big showdown with Northwestern. The Wildcats figure to commit to stopping the run and putting the game in Shortell’s hands.

Check out Shortell’s season game logs:

Passing Rushing
Date Opp Cmp Att Yds Pct TDs Int Long Car Yds Avg TDs Long
9/8/2012 UNH 5 6 72 83.3 1 0 22 3 17 5.7 0 13
9/15/2012 WestMi 10 17 188 58.8 3 1 53 3 6 2.0 0 12
9/22/2012 Syr 16 30 231 53.3 0 0 40 4 -8 -2.0 0 5
9/29/2012 @ Iowa 20 33 197 60.6 2 3 27 16 46 2.9 0 12

KEEP AN EYE ON: Iowa QB James Vandenberg. He is No. 12 in passing efficiency, still looking to get on track. He is coming off a solid effort in a 31-13 win over Minnesota two weeks ago, completing 18-of-31 passes for 192 yards with a touchdown. Vandenberg will have to take his game to another level for the Hawkeyes to win at Michigan State, which is No. 1 in the Big Ten in defense (272.3 ypg).

And here are Vandenberg’s season game logs:

Passing Rushing
Date Opp Cmp Att Yds Pct TDs Int Long Car Yds Avg TDs Long
9/1/2012 @ NIU 21 33 129 63.6 0 0 20 12 -25 -2.1 0 16
9/8/2012 IaSt 20 42 236 47.6 0 2 34 4 10 2.5 0 7
9/15/2012 NoIa 18 28 228 64.3 0 0 51 1 -2 -2.0 0 0
9/22/2012 CentMi 16 25 215 64.0 1 0 38 0 0 - 0 -
9/29/2012 Minn 18 31 192 58.1 1 0 47 2 5 2.5 1 4

BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrell vs. Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell. Littrell has done a good job with a Hoosier attack that ranks No. 2 in the conference (472.4 ypg) and is No. 5 in scoring (32.8 ppg). This is a Hoosier attack that moves at a quick tempo can pose problems.

BEST COACHING MATCHUP: Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz vs. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio. These are two of the best in the business, as each is jockeying for position in the ultra-competitive Legends Division. Both coaches have seen their offenses struggle, as the Spartans are No. 8 in the Big Ten (389.0 ypg) and the Hawkeyes are No. 11 (338.8 ypg). The last two meetings have been in Iowa City. Iowa has won three of the last five encounters and the Hawkeyes won the last time they visited East Lansing in 2009.

BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Ohio State’s Braxton Miller vs. Indiana’s Cameron Coffman. Miller is a one-man wrecking ball, averaging 303.8 yards of offense per game. His passing is improving, but it’s running that makes this sophomore so sensational. What will Miller do to an Indiana defense that is last in the Big Ten vs. the run (196.8 ypg)? Since taking over following a season-ending broken leg suffered by Tre Roberson, Coffman has done well. The JC transfer is a good triggerman, tossing six touchdowns with an interception while hitting 67.2 percent of his passes. No, Coffman isn’t the running threat that Robeson is, but he is doing a good job making this fast-paced, no-huddle offense go.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Show Comments (3 Comments)
3 Post Your Comment
Greg on 10/9/2012 @ 12:15pm EDT Said:

There is a mistake in your “Best Coordinator” Match. It is Indiana OC versus Ohio State DC but you talked about Michigian’s D and about Greg Mattinson.

    BTN.com staff on 10/9/2012 @ 12:21pm EDT Said:

    Thanks, Greg. Our apologies and we will correct.

Hawkeye Fan on 10/9/2012 @ 12:30pm EDT Said:

Even though I’m not a racing fan, I know that it’s pole position, not poll position. I think the racing metaphor is what you’re going for there.

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