Ten items to track in what should be an exciting Saturday of Big Ten play.
1. A great road team vs. a great home team: Ohio State's ability to win Big Ten road games under Jim Tressel is one of the more overlooked trends in college football. The Buckeyes are 19-1 in their last 20 trips away from Columbus in conference play. More impressive, Ohio State has won its last eight Big Ten road contests against teams ranked in the Top 25. Wisconsin counters with a 40-4 home record since the start of the 2004 season, not to mention a 25-3 record in night games. Something's got to give as the top-ranked Buckeyes aim for their second consecutive victory at Camp Randall Stadium against No. 18 Wisconsin.
2. The dreadlocks duel (Robinson vs. Clayborn): Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson couldn't overcome mistakes last week against Michigan State, and his three-interception performance hurt his Heisman Trophy chances. Robinson gets a chance to redeem himself Saturday, although the test gets even harder. Michigan State has a pretty good defense; Iowa has an elite unit ranked No. 2 nationally against the run (63.2 ypg allowed, no rush touchdowns allowed) and No. 4 in total yards allowed (242.2 ypg). Robinson and the Wolverines ran the ball well against Iowa last year in Iowa City, and Hawkeyes star Adrian Clayborn and his linemates are prepared for a major challenge at the Big House. Iowa is 2-8 in its last 10 trips to Ann Arbor.
3. Michigan State faces a trap game: The Spartans no longer collapse at the first sign of adversity, but can they overcome a classic trap game? Michigan State comes off of back-to-back emotional wins against ranked opponents in impressive fashion. Up next are two big road trips to Northwestern and Iowa. Everyone expects Michigan State to handle Illinois at home, despite what the Illini did to Penn State last week. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio really must lean on leaders like Kirk Cousins and Greg Jones to make sure the team remains focused for a much-improved Illinois team that has the type of defense to give the Spartans some problems.
4. Boilers up again and aim for 2-0 start: After being written off because of injuries, Purdue has an excellent chance to start 2-0 in Big Ten play. The Boilers return home oozing with confidence after a road win against Northwestern. They face a reeling Minnesota squad that has dropped five straight. Freshman quarterback Rob Henry showed some explosiveness in his first career start, and he goes up against a Gophers defense that ranks last in the Big Ten and 100th nationally against the run (196.3 ypg). This also marks a good test for a Purdue defense that showed marked improvement at Northwestern. Minnesota racked up 207 rush yards against the Boilers in last year's victory and will take a similar approach Saturday.
5. Hoosiers aim for critical sweep: Given Indiana's struggles to win Big Ten games, a sweep of a cushy nonconference slate is crucial to ensure bowl eligibility. After pounding Towson, Western Kentucky and Akron, Indiana tries to finish things off against Arkansas State. The Red Wolves are 2-4 but have a dynamic quarterback in Ryan Aplin who will challenge a vulnerable Hoosiers secondary. Don't forget that Arkansas State gave Iowa a major scare last year in Iowa City. With running back Darius Willis (groin) ailing, Indiana once again needs a big performance from quarterback Ben Chappell and the pass game.
6. Terrelle Pryor and John Clay take center stage: Pryor has been named Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year in each of the past two summers. Clay went out and earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2009, only to be snubbed in this season's preseason awards. Both have been effective for most of the season, and their performances Saturday could shape the 2010 Player of the Year race. Pryor led Ohio State on a game-winning touchdown drive in his last trip to Madison and comes off of a career-best passing performance (24-for-30, 334 pass yards, 3 TDs). Clay has eclipsed 100 rush yards in five of six games and shared Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors with Pryor after gashing Minnesota last Saturday for 111 rush yards and three touchdowns. The Badgers junior could use a big-time performance on a big-time stage.
7. Leshoure looks for Green light: All the talk about Big Ten running backs seems to center on the two Wisconsin stars (Clay and James White), the two Michigan State stars (Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell) and a certain quarterback who ranks second nationally in rushing average (Michigan's Robinson). Everyone overlooks Illinois junior Mikel Leshoure, who happens to rank 11th nationally in rushing (119.4 ypg) with four 100-yard performances in his first five games. It's about time someone took notice of No. 5, and Leshoure gets an excellent chance to showcase his abilities when the Illini visit All-America linebacker Greg Jones and No. 13 Michigan State.
8. Brewster returns to starting point:It's interesting and a little ironic that Tim Brewster will be in West Lafayette, Ind., this weekend. Brewster began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Purdue before spending two years as the head coach at Lafayette Central Catholic High School, where "we had about 97 students in four grades, 27 kids on the varsity football team." He'll return to where it all started this weekend at a time when many think his Minnesota tenure is coming to an end. It should be an emotional trip either way for the fourth-year coach, who hopes Minnesota can get a fresh start in the second half by beating Purdue for the third consecutive season.
9. Iowa begins critical stretch: October will be a revealing month around the Big Ten and especially for Iowa, which opens a three-game stretch against Michigan, No. 18 Wisconsin and No. 13 Michigan State. We know the Hawkeyes can be dominant against inferior opponents, but it has been hard to gauge just how good Iowa is because of the recent losses by both Penn State and Arizona. A convincing victory on the road against Michigan would certainly enhance Iowa's national image before the Hawkeyes return home to face both the Badgers and the Spartans.
10. Bielema and winning the big one: Bret Bielema boasts a 43-15 record in four plus seasons at Wisconsin and has guided the Badgers to bowl games in each of his four previous years. So what's the problem? Bielema is just 5-8 against ranked opponents from the Big Ten and 0-3 against Ohio State. Fans wonder if he can take the program to the next level. Bielema gets a big opportunity to help himself Saturday against the top-ranked Buckeyes, although another loss could make it tough for him in Badger Land.