Tom's Top 10: Who's it going to be in the Legends?

Another week of Big Ten football in the books, another chance to offer some thoughts from around the conference. See my 10 observations—some whimsical, some fact based, some opinionated—from Week 7.

1. Yes, Ohio State is 7-0 and the offense is playing great. But I remain concerned about the defense. On Saturday, the Buckeyes yielded 49 points to Indiana after allowing 38 last week to Nebraska. IU also had 481 yards of offense with 352 coming through the air. Ohio State ranks No. 10 in the Big Ten in total defense (400.0 ypg) and No. 8 in scoring defense (24.6 ppg). The pass defense is 12th (277.7 ypg) and the rush defense is No. 5 (122.3 ypg). Will these defensive issues eventually catch up to Ohio State and hurt it?

[RELATED: Dienhart's Week 8 Power Rankings]

2. The Michigan State passing game just won’t take flight. Pick a reason, any reason. They all are legit. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell hit just 12-of-31 passes for 179 yards with no touchdowns and a pick in the 19-16 double-overtime loss to Iowa. I wonder if the aerial game ever will get sorted out.

3. All hail Montee Ball! He had a career-high 247 yards rushing and a career-long 67-yard touchdown run in Wisconsin’s 38-14 romp at Purdue. But best of all, Ball score three touchdown to give him 72 for his career, which broke former Badger Ron Dayne’s all-time Big Ten mark. Ball is out of the running for the Heisman, but he looks to be back in his 2011 form.

[VIDEO: Watch Montee Ball tie, break Big Ten TD record]

Denard Robinson

US Presswire

4. Denard Robinson seems to have found his groove. He ran 11 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns and hit 7-of-11 passes for 159 yards and two scores in a 45-0 win over Illinois. Last week in a 44-13 victory at Purdue, Robinson ran 24 times for 235 yards and completed 8-of-16 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.

5. Illinois’ offense is struggling—badly. In the last three games, the Fighting Illini have scored an aggregate 21 points. Illinois also has been shut out twice and scored more than 24 points just once this season. The Illini are 3-11 in their last 14 games overall and 0-9 in Big Ten games in that span.

6. The Legends Division race doesn’t have a lot more clarity. But two things appear to be coming into focus: Minnesota and Michigan State have a long climb. The Gophers are 0-2 in the league and the Spartans are 1-2. The other four teams—Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern—look to be in the thick of what should be a wild race.

[RELATED: Dienhart: What I learned in Week 7]

7. I am starting to wonder if Purdue will get to the six wins needed to be bowl eligible. The Boilermakers are 3-3 overall with games remaining at Ohio State, at Minnesota, vs. Penn State, at Iowa, at Illinois, at Indiana. A defense that supposedly has four or five NFL players on it has been ripped for 771 yards rushing the past two weeks.

8. Speaking of bowl eligibility, I am beginning to wonder if the Big Ten will be able to fill all eight of its bowl slots. I feel good about Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska making it. And Northwestern already is bowl-eligible with six wins. But after that? Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota have decent shots to reach six wins, but doubt lingers. Illinois and Indiana? They probably won’t make it.

9. Indiana will win a Big Ten game this season. The Hoosiers haven’t sipped from the Big Ten victory cup since taking a 34-31 overtime win at Purdue to end the 2010 season. Indiana’s Big Ten losing skein is now 11 in a row. But Kevin Wilson and his staff have this program on the up-tick. The last two weeks offered more proof: 31-27 loss to Michigan State; 52-49 loss to Ohio State. Wilson knows for now, he can’t have a great defense. So, the best shot for victory is to outscore foes. And the offense is capable—and will deliver a Big Ten triumph this fall.

[RELATED: Gerry DiNardo tweets Week 7 Sunday Ruminations]

10. Can a team that is 10th in the Big Ten in scoring win a division title? Iowa is trying, as the Hawkeyes average 22.0 points. It helps that Iowa is No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring defense with a 17.2-point average. But a five-point differential allows for little wiggle room from week to week for Iowa, which will walk a tightrope from Saturday to Saturday.

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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