What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 3

September, 15, 2011
9/15/11
10:15
AM ET
Ten items to track throughout the Big Ten on Saturday.

1. The Ineligi-Bowl: Even if you hate Ohio State and Miami, you'll have a tough time turning away from Saturday night's game at Sun Life Stadium. Two programs dealing with personnel losses, first-year coaches, NCAA investigations and uncertain futures meet in a game that, if nothing else, should be very compelling. Ohio State hits the road for the first time after a narrow escape against Toledo, and the Buckeyes are still trying to survive without several of their best players. Miami regains the services of quarterback Jacory Harris from suspension and tries to generate some good news after a very rough month.

[+] EnlargeRon Zook
Kirby Lee/US PresswireRon Zook's Illini are looking for their first win against a ranked opponent since 2007.
2. A Champaign test: Illinois looks like a good team, but there's a hesitancy to buy into the Illini. Whether it's a lack of faith in coach Ron Zook or a program that has teased us many times before, national respect has been hard to come by. The Illini have an excellent opportunity to prove themselves against No. 23 Arizona State. Zook's crew looks for its first win against a ranked opponent since stunning then-No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus in 2007. The Ohio State win spurred Illinois to a Rose Bowl appearance. A victory Saturday night could be the start of something special.

3. Spartans' rough road begins: Michigan State's taxing road schedule will provide a perfect gauge of the program's position under coach Mark Dantonio. "The championship's going to run through how we play on the road," Dantonio has told his team this year. The road stretch begins Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, where Michigan State has won six of its last seven games. Notre Dame likely won't be Michigan State's toughest road opponent, but the Spartans might not face a more desperate team than the Fighting Irish, who have played better than their 0-2 record indicates.

4. Huskers-Huskies, Round 3: Nebraska and Washington played two very different games with two very different results last season. In Week 3, Taylor Martinez and the Huskers obliterated Washington 56-21 in Seattle, a statement win that built hype around T-Magic and Big Red. But Martinez wasn't the same player in the Holiday Bowl, and Washington humbled the Huskers 19-7. After the bowl loss and an inconsistent performance last week against Fresno State, Bo Pelini's squad has no shortage of motivation as Washington visits Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

5. Reunion in the Windy City: Wisconsin players will see a familiar face across the field Saturday at Chicago's Soldier Field. Former Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Doeren leads Northern Illinois against the nation's No. 7 team. Doeren knows Wisconsin's personnel well and will have his team prepared, but NIU's young defense needs to grow up quickly to contain Russell Wilson & Co. Although Doeren is a defensive coach, the Northern Illinois offense is the unit to watch. Wisconsin's secondary depth could be tested without starting cornerback Devin Smith.

6. High-Octane Hawkeyes: Iowa's struggles to keep the lead late in games have spilled over from the 2010 season into the current campaign. Do the Hawkeyes have a conditioning problem or just a finishing problem? We should learn more Saturday against a Pitt team that lives by the motto "High-Octane Football." Panthers coach Todd Graham wants his spread offense to operate at warp speed and wear down opposing defenses with its tempo. Iowa's defense has struggled against spread teams as of late, and the Hawkeyes face the nation's leading rusher in Ray Graham.

7. Penn State's QB saga heads to Philly: I'm not sure what Joe Paterno needs to see to settle on one quarterback, but he gets another chance to evaluate both Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin on Saturday at Temple. Penn State's top two quarterbacks reportedly are pacing one another in practice, but game day proves the opportunity to separate yourself. Although Temple isn't Alabama, Paterno thinks this Owls team is the best he's seen. Temple has allowed just 10 points in victories against Villanova and Akron.

8. Purdue's quarterback quandary: Robert Marve is medically cleared to play after dealing with knee soreness, which could be very good news for Purdue. On the other hand, coach Danny Hope wants to create some continuity at quarterback with Caleb TerBush, who has started the first two games and performed decently. Hope has talked extensively about getting two quarterbacks ready and using them in games. Hope gets his wish, and it'll be interesting to see how he works in Marve on Saturday against Southeast Missouri State.

9. Northwestern's unique challenge: Army's triple-option offense and double-eagle flex defense created quite a preparation headache for Northwestern this week. Pat Fitzgerald had his team practice on two separate fields to get ready for the Black Knights, who are 0-2 but have shown promise and will be playing at home Saturday. Army's defense will crowd the line and dare Northwestern to pass, which it avoided for much of last week's game against Eastern Illinois. Quarterback Kain Colter has been a brilliant ball-carrier so far, but he likely needs to show a greater willingness to pass on Saturday, as Northwestern's talented receivers should be utilized.

10. Gophers, Hoosiers look for Ws: The Big Ten's two winless teams try to get off the mat Saturday. Minnesota likely will have coach Jerry Kill back for Saturday's game against Miami (Ohio), as Kill's recovery from a sideline seizure has gone well. Indiana must rebound from a heart-breaking loss to Virginia against FCS South Carolina State. After admitting to taking New Mexico State too lightly, Minnesota must be more polished on both sides of the ball against the defending MAC champions. Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson looks for quarterback Ed Wright-Baker to be more of a difference-maker this week.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?