<
>

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12

Ten items to track in Week 12 of Big Ten action.

1. The Notoriety Bowl: The Penn State-Ohio State game has been arguably the most significant Big Ten matchup in the past seven years. But this year's clash at Ohio Stadium has a decidedly different feel. Penn State hits the road for the first time since the sex abuse scandal broke at the school. Lions interim coach Tom Bradley and Ohio State coach Luke Fickell discussed safety issues earlier this week, and Bradley came away satisfied his team would stay out of harm's way at The Shoe. Ohio State, meanwhile, is still awaiting a ruling from the NCAA's infractions committee on its NCAA violations. The mere fact Penn State and Ohio State will play without Joe Paterno or Jim Tressel on the sidelines seems odd. Despite the cloud of controversy, this is a very important game for both teams, particularly Penn State, which remains very much in the hunt for the Leaders division.

2. Shoelace vs. T-Magic: Two of the Big Ten's more dynamic signal-callers square off Saturday at the Big House. Perhaps Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Michigan's Denard Robinson will have a pregame footrace to finally determine who is the faster quarterback. Both men would rather lead their teams to victory, as the losing squad could be eliminated from Legends division contention. Both Robinson and Martinez can be special with their feet -- they have combined for 1,632 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns this year -- but Saturday's game could come down to who throws the ball better. Martinez has made strides with his passing this year, while Robinson, who has been banged up as of late, must show greater consistency.

3. Spartans' rooting interest: Michigan State finds itself in an awkward yet desirable position Saturday afternoon. The Spartans can clinch the Legends division with a win against Indiana and a Nebraska loss. The problem is that they need Michigan to knock off Nebraska. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio made it clear he couldn't root for the Maize and Blue, saying Tuesday, "I'm not built that way." One Michigan State player told me he could root for Michigan on Saturday, but most of the fans I've heard from say they can't bear to do it. The Spartans don't have to worry about the Michigan-Nebraska outcome if they win their final two games and clinch the division.

4. Senior Day debut: The wait finally ends Saturday for Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey, who will make his season debut on Senior Day at Ohio Stadium. Posey received two five-game suspensions from the NCAA for his role in the "Tat-5" scandal as well as for receiving money for work not performed from former Ohio State booster Bobby DiGeronimo. Posey has made 24 career starts and will be by far the most experienced Buckeyes receiver on the field against Penn State. Fickell declined to say Tuesday whether Posey will return to the starting lineup but noted that the senior will "have an opportunity." It will be interesting to see what Posey can bring to Ohio State's offense, and what he says afterward about serving the long suspension.

5. Mount Zook: These are trying times for Ron Zook and the Illinois Fighting Illini, who have dropped four consecutive games after getting off to their best start (6-0) since 1951. Zook walked out of his weekly news conference Tuesday after being asked how rumors about his future with the program would affect the current players. With a new boss (athletic director Mike Thomas) and a fast-fading team, Zook needs to turn things around in a hurry to survive the latest storm. A win against Wisconsin would go a long way toward cooling things down, but you have to wonder about the stability of the Illini, who look to Zook for leadership in both good times and bad times.

6. Something's gotta give at Ross-Ade: Purdue has followed its previous four victories this season with a loss. Iowa is 0-3 away from Kinnick Stadium. One of those trends will end Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium, where the Boilers and Hawkeyes meet in a game that has major bowl implications for both squads. Purdue needs a win to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007 and set up a potentially strong finish to the year. Iowa can secure a bowl spot with its seventh victory, which might be critical as the Hawkeyes finish with a tough road game against Nebraska. Three straight losses to end the season wouldn't help Iowa in the bowl pecking order.

7. Wisconsin's center of attention: Wisconsin once again controls its own fate in the Leaders division, and a win Saturday at Illinois sets up what amounts to a division championship next week against Penn State, regardless of what the Lions do in Columbus. But the Badgers and their high-powered offense will be without a key piece in center Peter Konz, out two to four weeks with a dislocated left ankle. Sophomore Ryan Groy, who has started a game at guard, will step in for Konz, an NFL prospect and quite possibly Wisconsin's top offensive lineman. It will be interesting to see how Groy and the other linemen perform against a talented Illinois defensive front that features Whitney Mercilus, Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence.

8. The At-Large Bowl: BCS bowl representatives attend many Big Ten games, but they'll be particularly interested in what takes place Saturday at Michigan Stadium. Nebraska and Michigan are quite possibly the Big Ten's top candidates for an at-large BCS berth, as long as Michigan State wins the Legends division. The winner of Saturday's contest has a chance to finish 10-2, while the loser would fall out of the mix. Michigan hasn't been to a BCS bowl since the 2006 season, while Nebraska's drought stretches even longer, to the 2002 season. A 10-2 Nebraska squad could appeal to the Fiesta Bowl, especially if Oklahoma heads to Glendale. Michigan, meanwhile, always is a nice draw for the big bowls.

9. Bowling for eligibility: While Nebraska and Michigan seek a BCS bowl berth, Northwestern and Purdue simply want to get bowl-eligible. Both teams can reach the six-win plateau Saturday. Northwestern is arguably the Big Ten's hottest team, having won three straight games and showing some improvement on defense. But the Wildcats can't afford a hiccup at home against a Minnesota team playing better since its open week. Purdue likely will end its three-year postseason drought with a home win Saturday against Iowa. Despite quarterback Robert Marve's late heroics against Ohio State, Boilers coach Danny Hope will stick with Caleb TerBush as his starter.

10. The spoilers: Indiana and Minnesota won't be going bowling this season, but both teams can cause some problems for their Big Ten brethren. After an open week, the Hoosiers head to East Lansing to face Legends division front-runner Michigan State. An Indiana win could take the Spartans' fate out of their own hands and create a lot of drama on the final week of the regular season. A Minnesota win at Northwestern would force the Wildcats to beat Michigan State next week to secure bowl eligibility for the fifth consecutive season.