Coming into Saturday, Purdue had a prime opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the Big Ten that it was ready for a Rose Bowl run by taking the legs out from under a Michigan team that struggles on the road. Instead, it was all Michigan, all the time in a 44-13 demolition.
Denard Robinson torched the Boilermakers for 236 yards on only 24 carries; amazingly, none ended with a score. He added 104 yards throwing, including a gorgeous 23-yard strike to Devin Gardner that pushed the game to 28-3 and effectively buried Purdue's chances of a comeback.
Who should represent the Leaders Division in the 2012 Big Ten Championship?
In fact, Robinson's rushing totals topped Purdue's entire offensive output for the day. The Boilermakers managed just 214 yards on 60 plays, and if that wasn't bad enough, they threw in four turnovers on the day, including one surreal two-play stretch of Caleb TerBush throwing a pick-six off a deflection...then Akeem Hunt fumbling away the ensuing kickoff.
With this and everything else from this season, Ohio State and Penn State are the clear top crust of the Leaders Division, which is particularly unfortunate for the Big Ten since those two teams are ineligible for the postseason and thus won't be participating in the Big Ten Championship game. Past that, the division is an absolute dumpster fire, and someone from that charred pile of trash is going to have to represent the division in Indianapolis come December.
Wisconsin has assumed the mantle of "division representative by default" after a 31-14 win over Illinois that was only impressive if you think Illinois isn't horrible. Illinois is horrible. Indiana is horrible, too, and while that seems unrelated, we'll get back to this point in a second.
How "by default" is Wisconsin's ascendancy to the presumptive Leaders Division participant in the championship game? After two weeks of action (with only one conference game for Purdue), Wisconsin is 1-1 in conference play...and the only bowl-eligible Leaders Division team with any Big Ten wins whatsoever.
That might not even change next week when Wisconsin faces Purdue, while Illinois goes to Michigan (automatic loss) and Indiana gets to host Ohio State (guaranteed laugher).
Folks, Wisconsin is not a good team. It didn't beat Nebraska and it's not plausibly capable of beating Michigan or Michigan State in a hypothetical championship game. A 7-5 (4-4) season is entirely realistic for the Badgers, and that's even with a win over Purdue that could end up being a division-deciding tiebreaker.
Meanwhile, we've now seen what happens when Purdue faces a defense with a pulse and the results are unsatisfactory. Scoring 17 points on Notre Dame is admirable, we suppose, but it wasn't enough to win that game, and Notre Dame's offense is breathtakingly mediocre. We mentioned Purdue's 214 yards this week, but for some perspective, even UMass gained 259 yards against that Michigan defense.
Indiana and Illinois, as mentioned before, are horrible. They're also the last two bowl-eligible teams in the Leaders Division once you get past Wisconsin and Purdue.
There is nobody in the Leaders Division worth trusting in the Rose Bowl this year. Nary a single team that can say, "Bring on the best of the Legends Division and we'll stay within two scores of them." Ohio State and Penn State need to petition the NCAA and Big Ten for postseason eligibility this year.
"It's not for us," the petition should state. "It's to prevent a football tragedy."