Big Ten football insider: Taking the pulse at the midway point

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 18, 2013 - 6:48 AM

Power conference boasts neither a surprise nor a sleeper at midway point.

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Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon has been one of the Big Ten’s most productive and elusive running backs, but he has to share the football in a talented Badgers backfield.

Photo: JONATHAN QUILTER • Columbus Dispatch/MCT,

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Halfway through the season, the Big Ten hasn’t exactly been turned on its head.

Ohio State has a commanding lead in the Leaders Division after surviving tough tests against Wisconsin and Northwestern. The Legends Division is wide open, as many predicted it would be, with Michigan State, Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern all legitimate contenders.

But the way these teams got here was somewhat unexpected. After all the preseason hype about Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Michigan’s Devin Gardner, none of those three quarterbacks is having a stellar season.

Miller missed nearly three full games because of a knee injury, Martinez has missed three games with a turf toe injury, and Gardner has 10 interceptions to go with his 11 touchdown passes.

Still, there have been plenty of other standout performances. Here are my midseason awards:

 

Offensive MVP: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is averaging 9.7 yards per carry and has racked up at least 140 yards rushing in five of six games. A knee injury slowed him against Ohio State, but he came back to torch Northwestern last week with 22 carries for 172 yards.

Gordon hasn’t received much Heisman hype, mostly because the Badgers have James White (6.5 yards per carry) and Corey Clement (7.4) to share carries with him. Gordon averaged 13.6 carries through the first five games, but Wisconsin should keep giving him the ball until somebody stops him.

 

Defensive MVP: Wisconsin senior linebacker Chris Borland stands 5 feet 11 but plays like an absolute giant. He made 16 tackles against Ohio State, including two where he stood up 242-pound Buckeyes bulldozer Carlos Hyde.

A case can be made for Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who scored three touchdowns the first two weeks and has 5½ tackles for loss.

 

Top freshman: Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is showing why recruiting analysts made such a big deal about him sticking with the school after the NCAA sanctions came down. He leads the Big Ten with 278.7 passing yards per game.

Last week, Hackenberg delivered a signature moment. Trailing Michigan by seven points with 50 seconds and no timeouts remaining, he led an 80-yard touchdown drive, which included passes of 14, 29 and 36 yards. He capped it with a 1-yard sneak, helping set up Penn State’s triumph in the fourth overtime.

 

Coach of the first half: Mark Dantonio has weathered the storm at Michigan State, reshaped the offense, kept one of the nation’s best defenses strong and made the Spartans contenders for the Legends Division title.

Ohio State is 6-0 and 18-0 in Urban Meyer’s two seasons — what more does he have to do? To whom much is given, much is expected. The Buckeyes were expected to run the table again this season. Meyer has done a good job, so far, not screwing this up.

 

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