Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Take Two: Rewriting the Legends
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
Today's Take Two topic is this: With the season at its halfway point, which team will win the Legends Division?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
Coach Mark Dantonio has the Spartans in position to win the Legends Division this season.
We both had Nebraska as the clear favorite in the Legends Division to start the season, but neither of us thought the Blackshirts would look so shaky. The Huskers are one game behind Michigan and Michigan State, which meet this week in East Lansing. Iowa can't yet be completely counted out, either, though the Hawkeyes face an uphill climb. It looks pretty wide open right now, but I'm going to pick Michigan State as the team that advances to Indianapolis on Dec. 3. The Spartans get Michigan at home this week and will have had two weeks to prepare for a team they've beaten three straight years. They also get Wisconsin at home the following week, and if any game will trip up the Badgers, it might be that same one in which they stumbled last season. Mark Dantonio's team still must travel to Nebraska, but after that the remaining slate (Minnesota, at Iowa, Indiana, at Northwestern) is quite manageable. Michigan still has to go to Illinois, and Nebraska has road games in Ann Arbor and against Penn State remaining. I'm a big believer in the Spartans' No. 1-rated defense, led by defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, linebacker Max Bullough and a stifling secondary. While Kirk Cousins and the offense need to improve their efficiency level, that defense is the single best unit in the division right now. It's good enough to cause Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez fits since neither are accomplished passers. I see this race going down until the final weekend. It's going to be -- wait for it -- Legendary.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
Coach Brady Hoke, left, and QB Denard Robinson have Michigan looking like a Big Ten title contender again.
Can I get a whaddup? Michigan State is a strong choice, especially because the Spartans boast the best defense in the Legends division, possibly by a significant margin. My concern with Michigan State, as it has been from the start, is the schedule. You can make a good argument that Saturday's Michigan-Michigan State game is more important for Michigan State. It's one of only two division home games for the Spartans, who still must travel to Lincoln, Iowa City and Evanston. Although Michigan State got over a hurdle in Columbus, its offense had some shaky moments at The Shoe. And while the defense smothered the Buckeyes, it will face tougher offenses in Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. All three of those teams boast more dangerous quarterbacks -- Taylor Martinez, James Vandenberg and Dan Persa -- than the Buckeyes. So who will I pick, Nebraska or Michigan? While Nebraska still has the more favorable division schedule, I'm going to go with the Maize and Blue. I see a team gaining confidence with each passing week, and a team that should be better in November than it is right now. Robinson probably will lose a game with his interceptions, but he also can win games with his feet and playmaking ability. This week marks a huge test for the Michigan program, but a win in East Lansing would springboard the Wolverines. Nebraska could come off of the bye week as a better team, but I'm not sold on the Huskers' defense, which looked overmatched until Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller left Saturday's game with an ankle injury. I could see any of these three teams winning the Legends -- and I wouldn't totally count out Iowa -- but I'm going with Michigan.