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Ohio State is clearly the Big Ten's No. 1 team.
The talk all summer long about the Big Ten was Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State. At the midway point, it’s already obvious that the Buckeyes are the best team in the league and are the only true national contender in the Big Ten. And despite two losses, it’s also clear that Gary Andersen was the right guy for the job in Madison.
What else have we learned, however? Embattled coaches across the league are still very much dealing with pressure situations to get to the postseason and need to win critical games in the second half to ensure future employment. Meanwhile, and more importantly, the Legends Division is completely wide open. Four teams have a legitimate chance to face Ohio State in the championship game — and none of them have played each other yet.
2013 Big Ten Midseason Awards and Second-Half Predictions
Coach of the Year: Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Almost by default, Meyer has to be the pick here. Bill O’Brien has a few nice wins, Gary Andersen has done an excellent job in his first season, Bo Pelini is winning without Taylor Martinez, and Mark Dantonio appears to have rejuvenated his offense. But Meyer’s team is clearly the best in the league and is the only unbeaten squad left in the Big Ten. Let’s face it, until Meyer losses a game at Ohio State, he is the Coach of the Year. He’s 18-0 thus far.
Offensive Player of the Year: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
With Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez dealing with injuries, Gordon appears to be the clear-cut frontrunner for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He is leading the Big Ten in rushing and is third nationally at 145.0 yards per game. He is tied for the Big Ten lead with eight rushing touchdowns and is fourth nationally among running backs with an absurd 9.7 yards per carry average. Wisconsin might be the second-best team in the league and will continue to ride what might be the most talented running back to play in Madison.
Defensive Player of the Year: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier (47 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 FF) will battle with Borland for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors but no one has meant more to his team than the Badgers' linebacker. Borland is third in the league with 9.3 tackles per game, has 3.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and even completed a pass on a fake punt for 23 yards. Borland, who is tied for the NCAA’s all-time lead in fumbles forced, is the reason the Badgers defense is leading the league in points allowed (13.2 ppg) and is fifth nationally in total defense (267.3 ypg).
Newcomer of the Year: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
The five-star all-everything recruit has quickly lived up to his lofty recruiting status as one of the most-touted signal callers to ever sign with the Big Ten. He has three 300-yard games in his first six career starts and is leading the Big Ten in passing with 278.7 yards per game. He is also asked to do more for his offense than any other quarterback, as he leads the league in completions (132) and attempts (226).
Midseason Disappointment: Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
Gardner is leading the Big Ten in total offense per game (285.8 ypg) and his team is 5-1. But most have to agree that his play has been a big disappointment thus far. He has thrown four more interceptions (10) than anyone else in the league and is leading the Big Ten in fumbles lost (3). Gardner has made big plays but has also made too many mistakes. With huge games looming in the Legends Division as well as Ohio State, he has plenty of time to turn his early season slump around.
Midseason Surprise: Michigan State’s offense
At first it looked like the Spartans would have yet another ugly season on offense. While 374.7 yards per game may not look like much at this point, Michigan State is looking much more like a balanced team than expected - one that could win the Legends Division. The Spartans are averaging over 30 points per game, and quarterback Connor Cook has elevated his play in the Big Ten. The Spartans just posted more yards (474) and points (40) in a win over Indiana than it had in a Big Ten game since 2010 (yards) and 2011 (points). With the No. 1 defense in the nation, all Cook has to do on offense is be respectable and Sparty could find itself in the title game again.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
Ohio State’s Quest for 25-0
After a 12-0 perfect season in Urban Meyer’s probated first year, the Buckeyes have yet to lose in 2013. And with two big hurdles already cleared in the form of Wisconsin and Northwestern, there is little left on the Buckeyes schedule. Penn State at home on Oct. 26 and a much anticipated road trip to Ann Arbor in the season finale appear to be the only two potential stumbling blocks. Should Ohio State finish the regular season unbeaten, it would be a Big Ten Championship Game win away from a perfect 25-0 start to Meyer’s Buckeyes career. It might also mean a fourth BCS National Championship game bid in 11 years. USC in 2004-05 was the last team to go unbeaten in back-to-back regular seasons.
Legends Division Round Robin
Ohio State has all but locked up the Leaders Division and one half of the Big Ten Championship Game. But to suggest that the Legends Division is anything by wide open would be foolish. Michigan (1-1), Michigan State (2-0), Nebraska (2-0) and Northwestern (0-2) have yet to play each other and all four will face the other three in the coming weeks. Nebraska might be in the best situation, as both Northwestern and Michigan State come to Lincoln, and the Huskers avoid Wisconsin and Ohio State altogether. Northwestern gets both Michigan and Michigan State at home but has three road games left with Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois and sits two games back already. The Wolverines still have three nasty road trips, as well as home games with the Huskers and Buckeyes. The Spartans also avoid Wisconsin and Ohio State but must visit Nebraska, Northwestern and Illinois. This should be a fun second half.
Indiana (3-3) has been to one bowl game (2007) since 1993. Illinois (3-2) has been to just two bowls since 2007. Iowa (4-2) hasn’t missed the postseason in back-to-back seasons since 1999-00. And Minnesota (4-2) is without its head coach for the indefinite future. All four could make it to a bowl game but all four will have to pull upsets to do so. Kevin Wilson, Tim Beckman and Kirk Ferentz are all sitting on warm coaching seats and all three desperately need to get to the postseason or post a winning record. The Hoosiers might be the best of the trio but will have to win games against the Gophers and Illini at home to have a chance.
Games to Watch
Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 30)
It’s the best rivalry in college football and more could be on the line in this year’s edition than ever before. A trip to the Big Ten Championship game for Michigan could be hanging in the balance in the season finale. But for Ohio State that will likely already have clinched the Leaders Division, a second straight perfect season and potential trip to the BCS National Championship game will be at stake.
Nebraska at Michigan (Nov. 9)
These two have met just twice in the regular season since the 1960s, and the home team has won both contests. As conference foes, Michigan won two years ago in Ann Arbor in convincing fashion, while the Huskers handled the Wolverines with ease in Lincoln last fall. There is a very real chance Nebraska is 4-0 in Big Ten play when they head North to battle Michigan the second weekend in November.
Michigan at Michigan State (Nov. 2)
An in-state rivalry once dominated by the Maize and Blue has recently swung in the favor of the Spartans. Mark Dantonio won four straight in the matchup before Brady Hoke broke through with a hard-fought 12-10 win last year in Ann Arbor. This is a must-win game for both teams if either wants to keep pace and top Nebraska in the Leaders Division.
Michigan State at Nebraska (Nov. 16)
These two teams combined for 551 yards rushing in a thrilling come-from-behind win for Nebraska in East Lansing last season. Should both teams survive the above tests with Michigan (and Northwestern, in Nebraska’s case) to get to this point, it would likely feature two unbeaten teams in Big Ten play — in which case, the division crown will be at stake.
Northwestern at Nebraska (Nov. 2)
The Wildcats get both Michigan and Michigan State at home in the month of November. But before facing either, the Wildcats will have to visit Nebraska to start the month. A loss would give Northwestern a minimum of three conference losses and no chance at a division crown. This was an epic 29-28 thriller in Evanston last year, and Huskers fans certainly haven’t forgotten about what happened the last time Pat Fitzgerald’s bunch came to Lincoln — the Cats scored 21 second-half points to win.
Big Ten 2013 Second-Half Predictions
(Logos are of projected winner for each game)
1. Ohio State
|Iowa||Penn State||at Purdue||at Illinois||Indiana||at Michigan||Final Record|
|at Illinois||at Iowa||BYU||Indiana||at Minnesota||PSU||Final Record|
3. Penn State
|at Ohio State||Illinois||at Minnesota||Purdue||Nebraska||at Wisconsin||Final Record|
|at Michigan||Minnesota||Illinois||at Wisconsin||at OSU||Purdue||Final Record|
|Wisconsin||Mich. State||at PSU||at Indiana||OSU||at Purdue||NW||Final Record|
|at Mich. State||OSU||Iowa||at Penn State||Illinois||at Indiana||Final Record|
|at Minnesota||NW||at Michigan||Mich. State||at PSU||Iowa||Final Record|
2. Michigan State
|Purdue||at Illinois||Michigan||at Nebraska||at NW||Minnesota||Final Record|
|Indiana||at Mich. State||Nebraska||at NW||at Iowa||OSU||Final Record|
|Minnesota||at Iowa||at Nebraska||Michigan||Mich. State||at Illinois||Final Record|
|at OSU||NW||Wisconsin||at Purdue||Michigan||at Nebraska||Final Record|
|at NW||Nebraska||at Indiana||PSU||Wisconsin||at Mich. State||Final Record|