Week 11 of the season was eye-opening on many levels. Nebraska is still alive and kicking with a chance to win the Legends Division, while Michigan is still searching for answers. And then there’s Minnesota, which keeps on authoring a new amazing chapter in its storybook season. Here is what I learned.
1. The Big Ten is loaded with good running backs. In fact, no conference may have a better collection. Take your pick from the likes of Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and James White, Minnesota’s David Cobb, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman and Stephen Houston, Illinois’ Josh Ferguson, Penn State’s Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton, Iowa’s Mark Weisman. I could go on, but you get my point. It’s an impressive array of talent.
2. Nebraska still controls its destiny in the Legends Division. That’s a bit amazing when you consider how the season could have toppled out of control in September with the ugly home loss to UCLA followed by the release of the dubious Bo Pelini audio recording. Then there was the loss at Minnesota. But the Huskers followed with a Hail Mary win at Northwestern that may have saved the season and no doubt helped propel Nebraska to victory at Michigan.
3. Wisconsin’s defense doesn’t get enough credit. The unit of coordinator Dave Aranda contained an explosive BYU attack, allowing just 370 yards and 17 points. BYU was averaging 252 yards rushing, 258 yards passing and 32 points. The Badgers entered the day No. 2 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (15.2 ppg) and No. 2 in total defense (295.4 ypg). Time to give props to this group, which has played well all season in a new 3-4 scheme. Bravo!
4. Michigan may not win again. The Wolverines appear to be in free-fall, especially on offense. The attack has gained less than 200 yards in each of the last two games. Michigan had 168 yards at Michigan State with minus-48 yards rushing, and 175 vs. Nebraska with minus-21 rushing. And the Wolverines have just one touchdown in the last two games. There are games left at Northwestern, at Iowa and vs. Ohio State.
5. Next Saturday’s Michigan State at Nebraska game will be a de facto Legends Division title tilt. Does a banged up Huskers offense have enough juice to dent the stellar Spartan defense? Also, can the rising MSU offense generate enough points vs. a surging a Nebraska defense? Lots of good storylines for a huge game. Lincoln is gonna be hopping.
6. With a resounding win at Purdue, Iowa now has six wins and is bowl eligible. That’s progress for a program coming off a 4-8 season that had some grumbling. But aside from an impressive 23-7 win at Minnesota, the Hawkeyes lack any marquee victories. The other wins have been vs. Missouri State, Iowa State, Western Michigan, Northwestern and now Purdue. Games remain vs. Michigan and at Nebraska. Win one of those two contests, and Iowa’s resume would be a bit more impressive. Still, to be bowl eligible with two games left is a new accomplishment.
7. Nebraska doesn’t need Taylor Martinez. Tommy Armstrong Jr., is proving to be a dependable facsimile. He hit 11-of-19 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown at Michigan and is now 5-0 as the Cornhuskers’ starter this season. He can’t run as well as Martinez, but he’s a better passer. No doubt, Armstrong has a bright future.
8. Don’t count out Minnesota in this Legends Division race. Yes, it’s a long shot, but the Gophers still could win the division. Michigan State has no Big Ten losses; Nebraska has one league loss; the Gophers have two. So, Minnesota will need to win it last two games, vs. Wisconsin and at Michigan State. Then, it will need Nebraska to beat Michigan State and then lose at Penn State or to Iowa. The Spartans also have a game at Northwestern. So, it could happen. Pretty amazing.
9. Iowa and Minnesota aren’t the worst teams in the Legends Division. That honor belongs to Northwestern and Michigan. Back in August, most pundits had the Hawkeyes and Gophers coming in fifth and sixth, respectively. But now, Minnesota is 4-2 in the Big Ten and Iowa is 3-3. Michigan is 2-3 and Northwestern is 0-5.
10. Illinois has lost five in a row and it figures to grow to six with a visit from Ohio State next. That means the Fighting Illini’s Big Ten losing skein is poised to reach 20 games, which would be the second longest in conference history. The only one longer is Northwestern’s 38-game skein from 1978-82.
|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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