Big Ten Legends race shapes up

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 1, 2013 - 6:42 AM

Halfway through the Big Ten season, the Gophers haven’t ruled anything out.

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Connor Cook has had his ups and downs at quarterback for Michigan State, and it has been the Spartans’ stifling defense that has been mainly responsible for a 4-0 start in Big Ten play.

Photo: Al Goldis • Associated Press,

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Gophers acting head coach Tracy Claeys wasn’t suggesting fans should order tickets for the Big Ten Championship Game. He simply said the team was still in contention for a Legends Division title.

Claeys had mentioned that the team needed to reset its goals after clinching a bowl berth with last Saturday’s victory over Nebraska.

“Until we’re proven differently, [a team with] two losses still has a chance to win the division,” Claeys said, referencing the Gophers’ 2-2 Big Ten record. “If you lose three, you don’t have a chance. But up until this point, if you lose two, in our [division], you’re still going to have an opportunity.”

Northwestern is 0-4 in the Big Ten and out of contention. But here’s a look at the title chances for the rest of the Legends Division:

Michigan State (4-0 in Big Ten)

Next five weeks: Michigan, bye, at Nebraska, at Northwestern, Minnesota.

Title chances: If the Spartans defeat Michigan and Nebraska, they’ll be in the driver’s seat. They lead the nation in scoring defense at 12.3 points per game. But their four conference victories have come against Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois — not a marquee list. Connor Cook has had good weeks and bad weeks at quarterback. The defense is stifling, but with an inconsistent offense, this team is hardly a lock.

Michigan (2-1)

Next five weeks: at Michigan State, Nebraska, at Northwestern, at Iowa, Ohio State.

Title chances: The Wolverines need to win their next four games before facing what looks to be a superior Ohio State team. Quarterback Devin Gardner must limit his turnovers, and Michigan’s defense needs to play much better than it did in a 63-47 win over Indiana. Winning at Michigan State would be key because the Wolverines get Nebraska and Ohio State at home. Michigan is 19-0 at home under Brady Hoke.

Nebraska (2-1)

Next five weeks: Northwestern, at Michigan, Michigan State, at Penn State, Iowa.

Title chances: The Cornhuskers must win four of their final five, at least, especially the games against Michigan and Michigan State. That’s no easy task, especially considering Nebraska got outplayed by the Gophers last weekend. An injured Taylor Martinez isn’t the answer, so maybe Tommy Armstrong Jr. has to lead the offense. The defense has struggled against the run, but Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State are better at passing than running.

Iowa (2-2)

Next five weeks: Wisconsin, at Purdue, bye, Michigan, at Nebraska.

Title chances: The Hawkeyes would need to win their last four games and have Michigan State stumble three times, since the Spartans already defeated Iowa. The Hawkeyes played right with Ohio State two weeks ago, and if they can upset Wisconsin on Saturday, a 6-2 Big Ten finish is possible. Iowa has held opponents to 18.1 points per game, third fewest in the conference, so it’ll continue trying to win with its suffocating style.

Gophers (2-2)

Next five weeks: at Indiana, Penn State, bye, Wisconsin, at Michigan State.

Title chances: The victories over Northwestern and Nebraska were nice, but the chances of reaching the Big Ten Championship Game are pretty remote. Michigan and Iowa already defeated the Gophers, giving them potential tiebreakers. Things would get more interesting this weekend if the Gophers defeat Indiana and Michigan wins at Michigan State. At that point, the Gophers would trail the leaders by just one in the loss column.

The mere fact that the Gophers are even in the discussion at all on Nov. 1 is already a victory for the program.

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