What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 11

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
10:15
AM ET
Ten items to track in the Big Ten heading into Week 11:

1. 'Eyes face final hurdles before showdown: Most folks believe that no remaining regular season game will impact the Big Ten title race more than No. 9 Ohio State at No. 13 Iowa on Nov. 20 at Kinnick Stadium. But for that game to truly mean something, both the Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes must take care of business this week. Ohio State faces a Penn State squad riding a wave of confidence following three consecutive Big Ten victories. Iowa goes up against its recent nemesis, Northwestern, which has beaten the Hawkeyes in four of the teams' last five games.

[+] EnlargeMcGloin
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireMatt McGloin has earned the starting quarterback job at Penn State.
2. Matt McGloin at the controls: Once an afterthought in Penn State's quarterback competition, McGloin has earned the starter's tag, and deservedly so, for Saturday's game in Columbus. The former walk-on has a distinct swagger and confidence about him that seems to be rubbing off on his teammates. McGloin has 475 pass yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games. He faces a much tougher test Saturday in Ohio State, which is tied for sixth nationally in interceptions (16) and will challenge Penn State's improving offensive line with steady blitzing.

3. Hope, Rodriguez reunite: Purdue coach Danny Hope and his Michigan counterpart Rich Rodriguez had an awkward interaction after Purdue's historic win last year at Michigan Stadium. Hope called out Rodriguez for allegedly alerting the Big Ten about a play that resulted in the league suspending Boilers offensive lineman Zach Reckman. The post-game exchange surprised Rodriguez (and most of us, quite frankly). Both Hope and Rodriguez say the issue is in the past, but keep an eye on how the two coaches conduct themselves Saturday, especially if the score is lopsided.

4. Illinois aims to secure bowl eligibility: There's no time for Illinois to wallow in what might have been last week at the Big House. It's never easy to lose in triple overtime, much less when you've scored 65 points and have a plus-4 turnover margin. But Ron Zook must get his team to refocus for last-place Minnesota, as a win will make Illinois bowl eligible for the first time since 2007. Illinois' final two games -- vs. Northwestern at Wrigley Field, and at Fresno State -- are no gimmes, so the Illini must take care of business against the hapless Gophers. Look for big things from Mikel Leshoure, Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illinois ground attack against a Minnesota defense that ranks 106th nationally against the run (200.5 ypg).

5. Wisconsin's running back rotation: After providing a huge lift in Wisconsin's last two victories, Montee Ball is expected to get the start at running back Saturday against Indiana. Ball performed well last year against the Hoosiers, racking up 115 rush yards and two touchdowns in a 31-28 win. James White, who leapfrogged Ball for the backup job in the preseason, is getting healthy from a sprained knee and should get a nice chunk of carries as well. Coach Bret Bielema has gone back and forth on the status of starter John Clay (sprained knee), and I wouldn't expect to see much of No. 32 unless Wisconsin finds itself in real trouble.

6. Northwestern returns to finishing school: In two of the last three weeks, Northwestern has gotten away from a hallmark of its program -- the importance of finishing. The Wildcats squandered leads of 17-0 and 24-14 against Michigan State and watched a 21-0 lead against Penn State vanish quickly. Coach Pat Fitzgerald counted 27 missed tackles in the Penn State game, and a young defense seems to be showing its cracks against the play-action pass. Northwestern will need a much stronger performance from the defense against Ricky Stanzi and the dangerous Iowa offense.

7. Offensive Player of the Year race: There's still no clear favorite for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year as we enter crunch time. Stanzi has been extremely effective and efficient, but he'll need a strong finish to hold off both Denard Robinson and Terrelle Pryor. Robinson, the nation's No. 2 rusher, goes up against Purdue star defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, the frontrunner for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Pryor has completed better than 75 percent of his passes in five games this season, and he tries to make strides before the showdown against Stanzi and Iowa.

8. Gray day for Minnesota: Interim coach Jeff Horton finally used MarQueis Gray at quarterback last week against Michigan State and likely will do so in a limited role for the rest of the season. Most Minnesota fans consider Gray the team's quarterback of the future, and it's good that he's getting some reps at quarterback before the end of a lost season. Horton isn't going to have Gray run a large package of plays, but the talented sophomore could provide a much-needed spark for an offense that can't seem to get over the hump with Adam Weber at the controls.

9. Robinson vs. Robinson: You shouldn't have trouble remembering the names of the starting quarterbacks Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium. Denard Robinson will start his 10th consecutive game for Michigan despite leaving last week's game against Illinois with concussion-like symptoms. Purdue once again will turn to true freshman Sean Robinson at quarterback, as both Rob Henry and Justin Siller are still recovering from injuries. Purdue's Robinson provided an early spark last week against Wisconsin and could do some damage against a suspect Michigan defense if he can avoid turnovers.

10. Backing up Belcher: Indiana receiver Damarlo Belcher "felt like a failure" after he dropped the potential game-winning touchdown in the final minute last Saturday against Iowa. Fortunately, Belcher's teammates have picked him up this week, unanimously voting him one of the game captains for the Wisconsin contest. For Indiana to have any shot at a monumental upset, the Hoosiers' passing attack must be on point and Belcher is a huge part of it. Coach Bill Lynch has seen a positive response in practice from Belcher, who leads the Big Ten with 65 receptions.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12