Pretenders and Contenders Will Emerge This Week in Big Ten Legends Division

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IOctober 1, 2013

Sep 28, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers linebacker James Manuel (9) tackles Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Jake Rudock (15) in the second half at TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes won 23-7. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Floyd of Rosedale went back home with the holders of the past year last weekend, as Iowa took down Minnesota in pretty dominant fashion

That win told us a lot about the standing of the two competitors—Iowa proved its defense was stout and its offense had a true quarterback to lead the team, while Minnesota proved its performance on the ground a week before may have been a fluke. 

The Golden Gophers went down a notch and Iowa crept into possible contender status. That's how important an opening weekend's results can be in a wide-open division.

As we enter the meat of conference football—only Wisconsin has a non-conference game left—there are a lot of questions left unanswered in one half of the Big Ten. 

Except, it wasn't the half most thought would have questions at this point in time. Just a few weeks ago Michigan was going to run away with the Legends Division following its impressive win over Notre Dame. 

EAST HARTFORD, CT - SEPTEMBER 21: Taylor Lewan #77 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts in the 4th quarter against the Connecticut Huskies at Rentschler Field on September 21, 2013 in East Hartford, Connecticut.   (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Fast-forward a few weeks and now every team in the Legends division seems to have issues to sort out, so it's a good thing we're entering conference play, right? 

Pretenders will be left to the side and contenders will rise to the top, or something like that. 

However, this week will be perhaps the most telling week of the season for the Legends Division because it presents the clearest opportunity to date to get answers to the questions that have been bugging us and to finally cement a real sense of where the Legends division race will head in 2013. 

We have two intra-divisional matchups and the prime-time matchup between a potential Legends Division front-runner and the clear leader of the Leaders Division on tap for Week 6. 

Of course we are talking about Michigan State vs. Iowa, Minnesota vs. Michigan and Ohio State vs. Northwestern. 

All three games have major questions surrounding the competitors and early on in conference play the narrative of the Legends Division has a real shot to cement itself.

For starters, let's take a look at the battle for the Little Brown Jug between Michigan and Minnesota.

Can Michigan bounce back from two lackluster performances against "lesser" opponents to close out non-conference play? Or will Minnesota bounce back from a bad performance last week and win the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 2005 and just the second time since 1987?

If the latter happens we know Michigan isn't ready for prime time and that Minnesota's hopes of taking a step forward could happen. 

Head coach Jerry Kill admitted as much during this week's Big Ten coaches' teleconference

You've got to have one of those significant wins, one of those ones that maybe you aren't supposed to be able to win and you pull off an upset. Everywhere I've been when we've turned programs around, there's been a defining moment.

Usually that defining moment is winning a game you're not supposed to or you upset somebody, so winning any of those games would be significant for our program.

On the flip side though, should Michigan win (and in decisive fashion) all will begin to heal in Wolverine Nation and Minnesota would be left with an 0-2 start and narrative of getting better but just not good enough yet.

See, pretender or contender—those are the options for these two teams following the battle for The Little Brown Jug.

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 21:  Connor Cook #18 of the Michigan State Spartans looks for a receiver against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 21, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Michigan State 17-13.  (Photo
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In the other intra-divisional matchup, Michigan State seeks to answer the question of whether its offense can be effective enough to win them Big Ten games, while Iowa wonders if its young quarterback can lead the offense consistently enough against better defenses. 

Should the Hawkeyes win at Kinnick you are looking at a 2-0 start to Big Ten play and a team that is just one win from bowl eligibility. It would also continue the steady rise in confidence, something they'll need with the three-game gauntlet of Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin coming down the pipeline. 

A loss would make competing for a division title very difficult with what Iowa faces moving forward.

For the Spartans, a win here would hopefully mean answers to the quarterback question that has plagued them all season so far. Add those answers to one of the top three defenses (and arguably the best) in the Big Ten and that's a winning formula. 

Then there's the big prime-time game between Ohio State and Northwestern. 

Leading up to this season there were a ton of questions as to whether or not the Wildcats had what it took as team to be a true contender. 

EVANSTON, IL - SEPTEMBER 21: Cabrinni Goncalves #2 of the Maine Black Bears tackles Trevor Siemian #13 of the Northwestern Wildcats during their college football game at Ryan Field on September 21, 2013 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Im
John Gress/Getty Images

So, what bigger spotlight to answer the critics than in Prime Time on ABC against the No. 4 team in the country, right? The Wildcats have perhaps the hardest task in front of them, but also the biggest stage to vault them to the top of the Legends Division hierarchy as well. 

Of course the question is, can they get it done

Add up all that happens on Saturday and the division with the most question marks heading into conference play could wind up with the clearest picture moving forward. 

Sure, there are bigger games and bitter rivalries ahead, but without this week foundations for success or failure can't be laid and that makes winning this week hugely important for all five of these teams. 


*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained first hand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Andy on Twitter: @andycoppens.


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