This season has been a rollercoaster of emotions for Spartan fans, and it’s only week eight of the college football season. Coming into the season with a new-look offense and a returning high-caliber defense, there were high expectations. After the offense proved to be anemic, expectations went to “can the Spartans go 6-6 this year?”. The Spartans had just lost to Notre Dame, were 3-1, and had to play Iowa, the then-number seven defense in the country in their next game. MSU waltzed into Kinnick Stadium, Connor Cook threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, and the Spartans defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes 26-14. The next week, MSU headed back home for homecoming and beat the pass-happy Indiana Hoosiers, 42-28, in another stellar offensive performance from Connor Cook. The whole outlook of the season has changed.
Coming into the Big Ten season, I had Michigan State pegged to be the third, maybe fourth team in the Legends Division, behind Northwestern, Nebraska and Michigan. That’s not the case anymore. Northwestern, while they still, in my opinion, are the best team in the Legends Division this season, are already 0-2 in the conference after losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin. Michigan is 1-1 in the conference and just looks flat-out bad after their four overtime loss to Penn State. Now, the only two undefeated teams in the conference in the Legends Division are Michigan State and Nebraska. Who were the two teams Nebraska beat? Illinois and Purdue, arguably the two worst teams in the conference.
Looking at every team’s remaining schedule who has a shot at the Legends title (MSU, Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa), it looks like Michigan State and Nebraska have the easiest remaining schedules. In the case of Michigan, they don’t have a game remaining that they can’t lose. They play Indiana, MSU, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and #4 Ohio State. If they went 4-4 or worse in conference play, I would not be shocked. Iowa has a similar schedule remaining with Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska, and I don’t see them going any better than 3-5 or maybe even 4-4.
That leaves Nebraska and Michigan State amongst the top of the Legends Division. MSU, by the looks of it, has three easily winnable games remaining in Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota. Nebraska, however, seemingly only has two in Minnesota and Penn State.
These coming weeks will be very telling weeks for some teams we have yet to figure out in the Legends Division. Right now, while Nebraska looks like far and away the best team in the Big Ten, they have only played Illinois and Purdue (they didn’t look nearly as good out of conference, only beating Wyoming by three and losing to UCLA, 41-21). This week the Huskers play Minnesota— one of the worst teams in the conference once again— but from there they have a three game stretch against Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State. After they get the really easy games out of the way, they have a relatively tough schedule.
After crushing Minnesota and losing pretty badly to Michigan State, we still have a lot to learn about Iowa (1-1 in the Big Ten), who plays Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin in the next three weeks. My guess is that by November 3rd, they’ll be out of the running. They may be better than Hawkeye fans expected this season, but I don’t see them winning more than one of their next three games, which would put them at 2-3 in the conference.
The two teams in contention that have seemingly been figured out are Michigan State and Michigan. Michigan State has arguably the best defense in the country, let alone the Big Ten. Their offense has shown more than glimmers of competence, and if they can play like they have been playing so far in the Big Ten schedule, they have a relatively easy road to their second Legends Division title.
Michigan, on the other hand, has a pretty good offense prone to turnovers coupled with a pretty good defense. Basically, what every game for the rest of the season will come down to is the amount of turnovers QB Devin Gardner produces. The more he turns over the ball, the slimmer chance Michigan has of winning. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, that’s been happening a lot this season.
Given all of these things, Michigan State seems like they are in the best position in the Legends Division. Yes, it’s early in the season and there are still a lot of unknowns, but as of right now, the Spartans are sitting pretty up top.
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