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October 15, 2013

Big Ten Rewind: Week Seven

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - One bye week down. One more to go. Free time is always enjoyable, especially when a number of unbeaten teams fall victim for the first time during what I'd like to call a "lazy Saturday." Now it's on Ohio State to not slip up along their quest for a Big Ten title and a shot at the grand prize. In this week's Big Ten Rewind, we pick our first half award-winners, who dropped the ball in week seven and of course our Power Rankings.

First Half Awards

Offensive MVP: Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin) - This was a two-horse race between Gordon and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and while you can make the argument that Abdullah has less around him, especially with Taylor Martinez out, Gordon's numbers are just too much for anyone to overcome. The sophomore leads the conference in rushing yards (870), yards per carry (9.7) and rushing yards per game (145.0).

The only knock on Gordon this year was his sub-par performance against Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State. That's something he'll never be able to undo, since the Badgers won't face Ohio State till 2016 but his future is still very bright. If he continues at this pace, I would imagine he'll have a tough decision to make come January, despite having two more years of eligibility.

Honorable Mention: Abdullah, Allen Robinson

Defensive MVP: Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State) - I wanted to choose a Spartan for this award since they're easily the best defense in the Big Ten and while they have more than a few good choices, Dennard to me has been their best player.

His numbers are not overwhelming but that is also a tribute to the respect he has on the field. Most offenses have avoided throwing in his direction, taking their chances with Trae Waynes which is starting to become a "pick your poison" scenario. A true shutdown corner, Dennard's presence has aided Michigan State's pass defense to sit tops among Big Ten teams (170.3 YPG - 10th nationally).

In the coming weeks, Dennard and his teammates will face stiff competition which includes one of the best passing quarterbacks in the conference (Nathan Scheelhaase) and their three biggest threats for the Legends division crown. His play will be crucial as they look to return to Lucas Oil in December.

Honorable Mention: Michael Bennett, Chris Borland

Freshman of the Year: Christian Hackenberg (QB, Penn State) - Can't imagine they'll be much of an argument here. The prize of Bill O'Brien's recruiting class, Hackenberg is exceeding all expectations and is currently leading the conference in pass completions, passing yards, passing yards per game and sits tied for fourth in touchdown passes. Not bad for a kid that enrolled two months ago.

In their come-from-behind win against Michigan, Hackenberg led a four play, 80 yard drive in nearly 30 seconds to force overtime. A feat that will go down as one of the best performances in Beaver Stadium. Riding on the high from his biggest win, the talented freshman will now have the task to upset the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe and while that might sound implausible, residents of State College, PA believe their signal caller has no limits. Now if his receivers would do him a favor and catch a few balls here and there.

Honorable Mention: Joey Bosa, Corey Clement

Bigger Letdown…

Trevor Siemian's performance against Wisconsin or Brady Hoke's game management against Penn State? Let's examine both options...

Before Saturday, Siemian was second among Big Ten quarterbacks in pass efficiency and was emerging as the better option behind center over teammate Kain Colter. Against the Badgers, the Florida native took the majority of the snaps, partially due to Colter's injury, and failed to generate any type of rhythm on offense. It was a major step back for the Wildcats, who now sit 0-2 in Big Ten play.

Joining him in the failure department was the head of the Michigan football program. Hoke doesn't wear a headset during games. He's received criticism for this and whether you agree with it or not, that's how he wishes to coach during games. So without the pressure of calling plays, Hoke should have the freedom to focus on other aspects of the game…such as the game clock.

In the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, the Wolverines were in field goal range and were about to put the game to bed. Then a simple, innocent and easily avoidable delay of game penalty was called on the Michigan offense, which bounced them out of Brendan Gibbons's ability to add three points.

Hoke then took a questionable timeout when Penn State had first-and-goal at the one yard line. A timeout that could have been used on Michigan's final push at the end of the fourth quarter, which led to Gibbons missing a long field goal by about four yards.

It's pretty clear Hoke gets the nod over Siemian. And rivalry aside, I applaud Hoke's response when asked about the delay of game call against his team.

"That's me. Totally. Totally. That's my fault. I've got to help [Devin Gardner]. I let him down."

Stat of the week

Five conference games will be played this weekend and in each game, one team carries a rather long winning streak over their upcoming opponent.

For Ohio State, they enter with a four game winning streak over Iowa and have won an astounding 12-of-13 wins against the Hawkeyes.

Not to be outdone by their rival, Michigan has 17 straight victories over Indiana. Michigan State has won four straight and eight-of-nine against Purdue while both Wisconsin and Northwestern enter their contests with three straight against their conference foes (Illinois and Minnesota).

Since 1993, the underdogs are 13-58-1 combined against the favored. Will all five streaks survive this weekend? To me, this certainly adds some intrigue to what appeared to be a rather predictable Saturday.

Week Seven Power Rankings

1.) Ohio State - A weekend of rest, relaxation and watching Michigan lose. Not much more you can ask for if you're a Buckeye fan.
2.) Wisconsin - They're poised for a run. It's a shame they're not in the Legends division, otherwise they'd be the clear favorite.
3.) Michigan State - Pieces are starting to fall in place. The defense is still elite and the offense is coming around. Won't be tested till November 2 against their arch rival.
4.) Nebraska - They're taking care of business against the bottom of the conference. Similar to Sparty, their test will not come till next month.
5.) Michigan - Did everything possible not to win Saturday. Yes they have holes but the talent is there. Once they stop making simple yet critical mistakes, they'll be ok.
6.) Northwestern - Such a letdown performance against the Badgers. You have to wonder if things are about to turn in Evanston.
7.) Penn State - Will go down as one of their greatest wins, despite the numberous miscues against Michigan. They'll continue to enjoy that win as they enter their bye week.
8.) Indiana - Haven't defeated a Big Ten team from the state of Michigan since 2006 (46-21 win against MSU). Can they pull off a major upset against a reeling Wolverine squad?
9.) Iowa - A much needed bye week to get healthy. Are they talented enough to give the Buckeyes a bit of a scare?
10.) Illinois - They play host to Wisconsin this weekend. That might get ugly.
11.) Minnesota - Who will start at quarterback…Mitch Leidner or Philip Nelson? Also how will the team perform without Jerry Kill? A lot of question marks as they enter the second half.
12.) Purdue - Took their licks against the Cornhuskers. Now the Spartans await the wounded Boilermakers. At least Danny Etling has displayed promise.



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