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BIG TEN REPORT: Legends Division contenders have easy-to-see flaws

Michigan State is undefeated Big Ten play is first place Legends Division. However Spartans’ sputtering offense hardly inspires confidence. |

Michigan State is undefeated in Big Ten play and is in first place in the Legends Division. However, the Spartans’ sputtering offense hardly inspires confidence. | Al Goldis/AP

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Updated: November 21, 2013 7:03AM



Somewhere in the Big Ten’s Legends Division, there’s a punch line. A Henny Youngman punch line. Now there’s a legend.

The joke starts like this: “Now take the Legends Division. Somebody, please. Take the Legends Division.’’

Michigan State stands alone in first place — and when it comes to the Spartans’ offense, we do mean “stands.’’ MSU is 3-0. But its offense, which managed one late touchdown against feeble Purdue, does not inspire confidence.

That offense, which entered this weekend 10th in Big Ten scoring, could get well at Illinois on Saturday. Can it sputter past Michigan and Nebraska after that? We’ll find out.

At least there’s one fewer contestant in the Legends race. Northwestern took its increasingly rumpled hat out of the ring with its 20-17 clunker against Minnesota, which must be thrilled to climb out of the Legends cellar.

So who else is a pretender — um, contender — to play the Washington Generals to Ohio State’s Harlem Globetrotter act in the Big Ten title game?

Well, Nebraska is unbeaten — if victories over Illinois and Purdue, who are a combined 0-5, count. The Cornhuskers are the defending Legends champions. But after being routed 70-31 by the Badgers in last year’s title game, they might not want to go back.

Michigan? The Wolverines, once ranked No. 11 in the nation, were a popular preseason pick to play arch rival Ohio State twice — in Ann Arbor on Nov. 30 and in Indianapolis the following week.

That still might happen. But with a head-scratching loss at Penn State last week and a ridiculous 63-47 win (if you believe defense wins championships) against Indiana on Saturday, the Wolverines’ incisors aren’t looking all that sharp.

How about Iowa? The Hawkeyes were an afterthought, if they were thought about at all, after they lost their season opener 30-27 to Northern Illinois. Turns out that might have been a comment on how good the Huskies are, rather than a dig at the Hawkeyes. Iowa played tough at Ohio State before falling 34-24 on Saturday. Its two conference losses leave it no margin, though.

So who’s it going to be? Inoffensive Michigan State? Untested Nebraska? Flawed Michigan? Wobbly Iowa? At this point, it’s difficult to predict.

This much we know: The last incarnation of the Legends Division is fraught with uncertainty. About the only thing we can count on is a third consecutive loss in the Big Ten title game before the conference mercifully puts the Legends (and Leaders) monikers in mothballs.

When the Big Ten debuts its geographically correct East and West divisions, we can at least look forward to lots of showdowns between the Buckeyes and the Badgers in the title game.

WEEK 8 STARS

Devin Gardner, Michigan QB:

The junior from Detroit scored five TDs and piled up nearly 600 yards vs. Indiana. He passed for 503 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 81 yards and three TDs.

Jeremy Gallon, Michigan WR:

The senior from Apopka, Fla., averaged 26.4 yards on 14 receptions, two for TDs, in the Wolverines’ wild 63-47 shootout with Indiana.

Braxton Miller, Ohio State QB:

The junior from Huber Heights, Ohio, went 22-for-27 for 222 yards and two TDs and ran for 102 yards on 18 carries as the Buckeyes outlasted Iowa 34-24.

NO OFFENSE, BUT ...

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio knows some Spartans are getting restless with another season of offensive messiness. He also knows the Spartans are 6-1 and in a good place to reach the Big Ten title game for the second time in three seasons.

“You look all over the country, and there’s some people that win those close ones and there’s some that don’t,’’ Dantonio said of MSU’s leather-helmet 14-0 win over Purdue. “A game like this, the way it was going, it would have been very easy to turn the ball over, put ourselves in a bad situation and then one slips away from us. We found a way to get those inches to win this football game. That’s what’s important.”

THE DEFENSE RESTS

Sparty might be moaning about its offense. Michigan fans don’t have that worry. The Wolverines rewrote their ­offensive record book in their 63-47 heart-pounder vs. Indiana.

◆ 751 yards of total offense. Michigan team record.

◆ 584 yards (503 passing and 81 rushing) of total offense by quarterback Devin Gardner. Michigan individual record.

◆ 369 receiving yards by Jeremy ­Gallon. Big Ten record.

The Wolverines did not set a scoring record. Their 67-65 victory over Illinois in 2010 still stands. This one, incredibly, had no overtimes.

BUCKEYES DON’T BLINK

Trailing 17-10 at halftime, Ohio State got a big boost from Carlos Hyde.

The 6-0, 242-pound senior from Naples, Fla., kept Urban Meyer perfect in Columbus. He ran for 149 yards, including 106 and two touchdowns in the second half, to lead the Buckeyes back from their halftime deficit to a 34-24 victory over Iowa.

That extended their winning streak to an FBS-best 19. Ohio State (7-0) stayed in position to post its second consecutive unbeaten season.

BY THE NUMBERS

1 — Touchdowns scored by Michigan State’s offense in its 14-0 victory over struggling Purdue. The defense scored the Spartans’ first TD on a 45-yard fumble return in the second quarter. The offense finally scored on a five-yard pass with 8:55 left.

1,323 — Combined yardage by Michigan (751) and Indiana (572) in Michigan’s defenseless 63-47 win.

0 — Turnovers forced by Northwestern vs. Minnesota. NU had 17 takeaways in its first five games, tops in the Big Ten. The Cats, who were minus-3 on the day, are plus-4 in turnovers this season.



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