Nebraska football fans know that NU is about to dive into the tough part of its schedule. Here's how the rest of Nebraska's 2013 campaign looks.
|11/23||at Penn State|
So given that schedule, let's see what Nebraska's divisional rivals have left to do in the second half of the season and how that might affect NU's ability to win the Legends Division this year.
The Gophers already have two conference losses, even with their upset win over Northwestern last weekend. Minnesota would likely need to win out to compete for a division title, which would include wins over Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin and at Michigan State. It's unlikely, at best.
You could have made good money at a sports book with a ticket having Northwestern starting the conference season at 0-3. The Purples’ tough loss to Ohio State looks to have delivered a mortal blow to Northwestern’s season, relegating the Wildcats to spoilers as they look to salvage at least a bowl bid out of 2013.
The Wolverines might be the shakiest 5-1 team in the country. After starting the season well at 2-0 with a win over Notre Dame, Michigan has been continually unimpressive, scraping by Akron and Connecticut before getting stung by Penn State in four overtimes.
That conference loss could be critical to Michigan’s challenge for its first division title. Michigan still has games against Michigan State, Nebraska, and Ohio State, along with a trip to Iowa City on its schedule. Perhaps Michigan can scrape by the division losing only one game in the second half of the season, but given how Big Blue has looked, it's hard not to see at least two losses coming.
After a convincing win at Iowa, it looked like Michigan State under Connor Cook had found some offense to go with its suffocating defense, making the Spartans a real contender. But then Purdue came to town, and Michigan State's offense disappeared again, unable to muster even 300 yards against a soft Boilermakers defense.
The Spartans still look to set up well against Nebraska's defense, and the game will be in Lincoln. Even though Michigan State does get a bye week before playing Nebraska, NU should be the favorites to hold serve and take control of the Legends Division on Nov. 16.
The Hawkeyes certainly look like an improved squad from last year’s 4-8 team that limped into the Heroes Game in Iowa City. But with two conference losses already, Iowa's hopes for a divisional title would require a five-game winning streak to end the season. With games against Wisconsin and Michigan this year before the Heroes Game, it looks unlikely that Iowa will even be in a position to compete for a division title by the day after Thanksgiving this year.
So, who will win the Legends Division?
My initial prediction for Nebraska this year had losses at Michigan and at Penn State. (It also had a win over UCLA, but let's not dwell on the negative.) Given that I see Michigan State finishing the season 4-1 at home with only a loss to Nebraska, that would put the Spartans back in Indianapolis.
But I'm revising my predictions. Michigan's struggles this year, not just limited to a single game, have convinced me that Nebraska is a better bet to get a win in Ann Arbor. Sure, Michigan will be a tough test, particularly on the road. But unless the turnover bug bites Nebraska again, NU should have enough to win a close game against Michigan.
That would leave both Nebraska and Michigan State at 7-1 in conference at the end of the season, with Nebraska holding the tiebreaker over Sparty based on its win in Lincoln. It looks to be close, but given the state of play in the conference, the smart money would be on Nebraska to repeat as Legends Division champs.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.