Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
Two teams control the race for division titles: Ohio State, which can win the Leaders crown (and finish 12-0) by winning its final three, and Nebraska, which will go to the Big Ten championship game if it sweeps its four November games. So today's Take Two topic is: Which team is more likely to win out?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
Predicting anything in this league is risky business, as my picks record will attest. There's a ton of parity, to put it kindly, and just about anybody (outside of Illinois) can beat anybody. Nebraska ought to be favored in its final four games, and the Huskers match up well with their remaining opponents' styles of play. However, Nebraska has taken too many rollercoaster rides from week to week, and even half to half, to put your complete trust in Bo Pelini's team down the stretch.
On the other hand, I came away from State College convinced that Ohio State will run the table. I really thought the Buckeyes would lose at Penn State, with Braxton Miller banged up and a thin linebacking corps going against the red-hot Nittany Lions' offense. That was one of the best and loudest atmospheres I've ever seen. Yet Ohio State won by double digits. Urban Meyer's team has sometimes needed magic to pull out victories, but it just looks like a team of destiny, and it has one of the great closers we've seen in a while in Miller. The Buckeyes should have no trouble at all this week at home against the Illini and then get a much-needed bye week to rest and heal. That should also allow linebacker Etienne Sabino to rejoin the lineup, which is huge. The final two games, at Wisconsin and versus Michigan, won't be easy. But the Badgers' now uncertain quarterback situation works heavily in Ohio State's favor, and the Wolverines will need to play a lot better on offense to come into the Horseshoe and win. With 12-0 on the line and no postseason to play for, the Buckeyes will play The Game like it's Armageddon. The way their season is going, I wouldn't bank on anyone beating them.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
This is all about matchups, and while I agree Ohio State has a fairly favorable path the rest of the way, the Buckeyes still have to win in Madison, where they've struggled, and beat a Michigan team that moved the ball well against them last year. No one would be shocked if Meyer's squad emerges at 12-0, but it's not a done deal. Nebraska also has some challenges the rest of the way, but when you really look at the matchups, as well as what the Huskers have done lately, you have to like Big Red's chances of finishing the regular season at 10-2. That's why Nebraska is my pick for a perfect November.
The Husker offense has survived most of the season without its best player (running back Rex Burkhead) and seen improvement from virtually every position. Taylor Martinez had a rough night in Columbus, but the Nebraska quarterback has made considerable improvement this season. The numbers don't lie: Martinez is a better quarterback this season. He also has more weapons around him than any other Big Ten signal caller: from speedy I-back Ameer Abdullah to big-play receiver Kenny Bell to a host of other pass-catchers. But the biggest reason why I think Nebraska runs the table is a defense that has elevated its play the last two weeks against spread-offense teams, the Huskers' downfall in recent years. Pelini-coached defenses rarely struggle with pro-style offenses, and look what Nebraska has left: Michigan State, Penn State, Minnesota and Iowa. Of those four, only Minnesota features true spread elements offensively. Nebraska is getting much better play from its linebackers than it did earlier this season, and defensive backs like Ciante Evans are stepping up, too. I understand Nebraska is a risky pick because of the fumbles and the penalties and the inconsistency the past two seasons, but the Huskers have matured in recent weeks and should be able to get through their remaining scheduled unscathed.