Big Ten Legends Division Forecast: Nebraska Is in the Driver's Seat

Deni Martin@@denimartinCorrespondent IOctober 31, 2011

Big Ten Legends Division Forecast: Nebraska Is in the Driver's Seat

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    Our opening picture shows one happy Cornhusker and he should be jubilant.  Nebraska flattened Michigan State, 24-3, last Saturday and is in the "driver's seat" in the race for the Legends Division title in the Big Ten.

    With four weeks to go, let's look at the schedule and assess why Nebraska is the front-runner and what must happen for three other teams to win the division and go to the Big Ten title game.

    (Tomorrow we'll look at the contenders in the Leaders Division.)

No. 1: Nebraska Needs a 3-1 Finish To Capture the Legends Division Title

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    If the Big Ten had an "Iron Man" award, it would go to Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead.

    Burkhead (pictured) carried the ball 35 times for 130 yards, scored two rushing touchdowns and caught a TD pass last Saturday.  He was such a dominant force in the Cornhuskers' 24-3 win over MSU that I half-expected him to kick the extra points in the second half of the game.

    It is players like Burkhead that give Nebraska a strong chance to be the Legends Division champion and play in the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

    However, they have the second-toughest schedule among the four contenders for the division title.

    Nov. 5: Northwestern @ Home

    Nov. 12: @ Penn State

    Nov. 19: @ Michigan

    Nov. 26: Iowa @ Home

    Best-Case Scenario

    They manage to beat all four teams, though Penn State is undefeated in Big Ten play and Michigan's only loss was to cross-state rival Michigan State.

    Worst-Case Scenario

    Nebraska loses to Michigan and Iowa.  Both of these teams are division rivals and would sink the Cornhuskers' chances for a shot at the Big Ten title.  NU could afford to go 2-2 in the final four weeks as long as one of the losses is to Penn State.

    Likely Scenario

    I expect Nebraska to go 3-1, but I haven't settled on who will beat them.  I am leaning toward Penn Sate, because the Cornhuskers have to travel to Happy Valley.

No. 2: Michigan State Could Run the Table, but Will Need Some Help

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    Michigan State wide receiver B.J. Cunningham (pictured) pretty much expresses the frustration of the Spartans in their 24-3 loss to Nebraska last Saturday.

    We know the Spartan defense is solid, but MSU's offense cannot play as poorly as they did against Nebraska and "run the table" with four straight wins.

    They have the easiest schedule of the four Legends Division contenders, but there are two potential "Chiller" (or "trap") games in the mix.

    Nov. 5: Minnesota @ Home

    Nov. 12: @ Iowa

    Nov. 19: Indiana @ Home

    Nov. 26: @ Northwestern

    Best-Case Scenario

    The Spartans sweep through their remaining games and Northwestern, Michigan and/or Iowa beats Nebraska.  A loss to Penn State is not as bad for Nebraska, since the Nittany Lions are in the Leaders Division.

    Worst-Case Scenario

    Nebraska wins all four of their remaining game and the Spartans split the last four games. The two most troublesome games are the ones on the road.  Iowa routed MSU in a home game last year and it will be the final game for quarterback Dan Persa when the Spartans face Northwestern.  (When healthy, Persa is a difference-maker.)

    Likely Scenario

    I believe my alma mater can sweep past their remaining opponents.  My concern is it may not be enough to pass Nebraska for the Legends Division title.

No. 3: Michigan Must Beat Iowa, Nebraska and Be 3-1 in November

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    OK, Brady Hoke, you wanted to be a Big Ten head coach.  You got the job.  Now finish the season with at least three wins.

    Hoke's Michigan Wolverines didn't hold back last Saturday against the Purdue Boilermakers, which is a positive way to show it is no fluke that they are 7-1 and ranked No. 15 in the BCS.

    The challenge for Michigan is recent history suggests they are no better than a .500 team in the Big Ten.  It helps this year that the Wolverines are already 2-1 in the Legends Division and 3-1 in conference play.

    Next week features a crucial away game against the Iowa Hawkeyes.  Michigan's only loss was on the road against Michigan State.

    Nov. 5: @ Iowa

    Nov. 12: @ Illinois

    Nov. 19: Nebraska @ Home

    Nov. 26: Ohio State @ Home

    Best-Case Scenario

    The Wolverines sweep through their remaining games and the University of Michigan gives Hoke an honorary doctorate.  Michigan State loses to Northwestern (possible) and/or Minnesota (very unlikely).

    Worst-Case Scenario

    All the "same old Michigan" people are right and the Wolverines finish 1-3 or 0-4 in November.

    Likely Scenario

    Michigan's November looks similar to what Michigan State faced in October.  The only non-contender is Illinois and they could play the role of spoiler.  Hoke will probably split the last four games and 3-1 would be a great accomplishment.

No. 4: Will Iowa Be a Contender or Spoiler in November?

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    I doubt the Iowa Hawkeyes are thinking:  "We got 'em right where we want 'em."

    The embarrassing loss to Minnesota last Saturday scuttled the easiest of upset-minded plans that Iowa may have had for a division crown and a Big Ten title.

    The Hawkeyes also face three division rivals who are anxious to win the Legends Division, so the guys who wear black uniforms may be ready to pull an upset or two in the last four weeks of the season.

    Nov. 5: Michigan @ Home

    Nov. 12: Michigan State @ Home

    Nov. 19: @ Purdue

    Nov. 26: @ Nebraska

    Best-Case Scenario

    The Hawkeyes sweep through their remaining games and all the other contenders collapse in a heap.

    Worst-Case Scenario

    Iowa only musters a win against Purdue in one of the poorest seasons for head coach Kirk Ferentz.

    Likely Scenario

    Ah, Iowa goes 2-2 or 1-3.  I am wondering which team from Michigan beats them.  Though the game against the Cornhuskers is like battling a rude neighbor, Nebraska is the superior team.