Dienhart: Here's what I learned in Week 7

There were only four Big Ten games on Saturday, but there still was a lot to learn. Wisconsin is good—very good. Purdue? Not so good. Nebraska is sitting pretty. Penn State has life. Northwestern may be on the edge. Oh, and Michigan is a team of mystery. Here’s what I learned.

[ MORE: Tom's Take: Week 7 honors, grades, top 10 & more ]

1. Michigan State is looking scarier and scarier. The Spartan offense came alive in last week’s 26-14 win at Iowa (412 yards). And it showed even more spunk in a 42-28 win vs. Indiana today (473 yards). Couple this developing offense with the top defense in the Big Ten and, well, you can see why it’s easy to get excited about the Spartans. This team just may win the Legends. Wouldn’t it be fun to see MSU play Ohio State in the Big Ten title game?

2. It’s too bad Wisconsin isn’t in the Legends Division, because I think the Badgers may be able to win it. This is a talented team with an underrated defense and an offense that continues to thrive despite a dearth of overly productive wideouts. Wisconsin was at its best in a 35-6 win over Northwestern on Saturday. Just devastating. Alas, that loss at Ohio State puts the Badgers in what essentially is a two-game hole behind the Buckeyes in the Leaders Division.

3. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is what he is. The guy is going commit turnovers. But he is also going to make a lot of big plays. It was all there in the wild 43-40 quadruple overtime loss at Penn State. Yes, Gardner had three turnovers (two picks and a lost fumble). But he also threw for 240 yards and three scores and ran for 121 yards. You’re going to have to take the good with the bad with the junior signal-caller. I’m not sure it’s ever going to change.

[ MORE: Penn State-Michigan game was one for the agesWatch player reaction ]

4. Things are setting up well for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, riding a three-game winning streak heading into a bye week. Taylor Martinez should be ready to go after a turf toe injury has kept him out the last three weeks when Nebraska plays next, at Minnesota on Oct. 26. Then comes a huge November, with a visit from Northwestern, trip to Michigan, visit from Michigan State, trip Penn State and visit from Iowa. Buckle up, Herbie.

5. Northwestern is now 0-2 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats lost at home to Ohio State (40-30) and got hammered on Saturday at Wisconsin (35-6). Northwestern still has games at Iowa, at Nebraska, vs. Michigan and vs. Michigan State. My point? This schedule may be Northwestern’s undoing. Will NU unravel or rise up?

6. If Purdue wins another game this season, I will be surprised. This is looking more and more like the school’s worst team since Jim Colletto’s 1993 club went 1-10. That’s all I am going to say.

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7. The Legends Division race seems to get whackier with each passing Saturday. Michigan’s loss at Penn State means Michigan State and Nebraska are the only Legends teams that don’t have a Big Ten loss. Hence, the Spartans and Cornhuskers are in the driver’s seat–at least for one week. By the way: Michigan State plays at Nebraska on Nov. 16, if you were wondering.

8. Connor Cook is settling in as the Michigan State signal-caller. Cook’s improvement has brought new life to what once was a moribund Spartan offense. He hit 22-of-31 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns and a pick vs. Indiana on Saturday. The last two games, Cook has hit 47-of-75 passes (63 percent) for 512 yards with four touchdowns and two picks. Don’t you wonder where Cook would be in his development if he had started all season?

9. Purdue true freshman quarterback Danny Etling showed some promise in his starting debut—but he also looked shaky. He hit only 14-of-35 passes for 184 yards with a touchdown and interception in a 44-7 loss to Nebraska. He was sacked five times and took a safety, too. Etling did show some nice chemistry with fellow freshman DeAngelo Yancey, who made five catches for 146 yards (29.2 ypc) and a score. It’s not going to get any easier for the kid. The next two games: at Michigan State; vs. Ohio State. Ugh.

[ MORE: How did we do? Week 7 Big Ten predictions revisited ]

10. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon showed why he’s the Big Ten’s best back. The Badgers’ sophomore back torched Northwestern for 172 yards rushing on 22 totes (7.8 ypc) with a touchdown. Gordon is simply electric with his long, sliding stride.

About Tom Dienhart 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 (9 Comments)
9 Post Your Comment
Faygo on 10/13/2013 @ 3:41pm EDT Said:

I don’t think UM is a factor. Or Northwestern. It’s going to come down to MSU at Nebraska. The winner of that game plays Ohio State for the Rose Bowl.

Doug on 10/13/2013 @ 6:37pm EDT Said:

Faygo, I think UM will be, only because Neb has to go to UM but has MSU at home, while MSU goes to Neb but has UM at home. UM will finish 3rd behind those 2 teams.

Jos on 10/13/2013 @ 7:27pm EDT Said:

Hawkeye fan here … You are all wrong! Iowa sweeps all remaining games and beats OSU (for the second time this year) at B1G champ game and goes to Rose Bow and knocks off Oregon……..ok ok, I’m getting back on my meds as I write this….

reality check on 10/13/2013 @ 7:30pm EDT Said:

Doug, hurts to type this
NO MAS

Matt on 10/13/2013 @ 8:39pm EDT Said:

Michigan will only help being a factor in deciding between MSU or Nebraska. Michigan won’t challenge for the division title. There’s at least two more losses coming for them, so I don’t see a three loss team competing for the division title. You might be able to get away with two, but not three.

    dick patten on 10/14/2013 @ 9:25am EDT Said:

    Matt, I agree. I thought Michigan was going to be THE TEAM this year but after what I saw when i went to the Big House and saw Akron basically man handle them, no way. Someone i don’t know if it is the coaches or the players because someone is not inspiring them. I know I am not a football expert but someone is not getting them to pay attention or play to their abilities. I mean when you want something bad enough, you play until it hurts. I get tired of seeing the players make one play and celebrate or the foolish penalties. I hope they get their act together soon.

dick patten on 10/13/2013 @ 9:20pm EDT Said:

Tom, Could you please tell me what is the major problem with the Wolverines>? Is Brady Hoke not that good, is he only good for San Diego State, I am very disappointed with Michigan. I love this team, but this year they were suppose to be one of the top teams. Now they lose to Penn State, and with the rest of the schedule coming up, I fear they will drop down to maybe the little Cesars Bowl. It is very frustrating to sit here and watch a team lose when they were leading. I hate Ohio State but you have to hand it to their coach, they are winning and they seem to always get the best out of their players. I am thinking that Devin Gardner is not as good as everyone thinks. i feel it is time to give Shane or Brian a chance at Quarterback. i hope Michigan shapes up and starts playing like the tough Wolverines they and not like kittens which is they are doing. Go Blue, and stop the junk.

John Lieb on 10/14/2013 @ 10:53am EDT Said:

So, Tom, you are essentially saying that in Devin Gardener (“The guy is going commit turnovers. But he is also going to make a lot of big plays.”) Michigan essentially has to prepare itself to struggle through another year of Denard Robinson at QB?

JP on 10/14/2013 @ 11:25am EDT Said:

Michigan was overrated this year. Good young talent. Gardner is Michigan’s Taylor Martinez. Exciting, but not steady. Jury still out on Hoke.

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