A quick look at Week 4 in the Big Ten
September, 21, 2009
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Conference play has arrived everywhere but West Lafayette. Let's take a look at what's on tap this week:
Indiana (3-0) at Michigan (3-0), ESPN2, noon ET
The Big Ten's two biggest surprises meet in Ann Arbor. Michigan leads the Big Ten in scoring offense (38 ppg), a year after finishing last (20.2 ppg), while Indiana is much improved on defense. It will be interesting to see if Wolverines senior Carlos Brown can create some distance in the running back race after a huge performance against Eastern Michigan. Indiana ranks second in the league in sacks and will pressure Michigan freshman quarterback Tate Forcier with ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. The Hoosiers haven't won in Ann Arbor since 1967.
Michigan State (1-2) at Wisconsin (3-0), ESPN, noon ET
Things are getting desperate in East Lansing after consecutive close losses. A 1-3 start with Michigan coming to town could torpedo a season that began with BCS bowl hopes. Quarterback Kirk Cousins handled himself extremely well after the Notre Dame setback, but he needs to bounce back strong against a Badgers defense that has received good play from the front seven. The game features the league's top two rated passers in Cousins and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien, who has handled himself very well so far. Wisconsin tries to avenge last year's giveaway loss in East Lansing. The teams' last two meetings have been decided by a combined four points.
Minnesota (2-1) at Northwestern (2-1), Big Ten Network, noon ET
Something's got to give when the Gophers' offense matches up with the Wildcats' defense. Both units have struggled so far, with Minnesota generating no rushing attack and Northwestern lacking strong fundamentals after a breakthrough in 2008. Gophers wide receiver Eric Decker expects to play after spraining his left ankle against Cal. If Decker isn't 100 percent, Minnesota could be in trouble. The Gophers will be motivated after suffering consecutive heartbreaking losses to Northwestern, including a setback last year in the Metrodome that kicked off a five-game slide to end the season.
Illinois (1-1) at Ohio State (2-1), ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET
The Illini return to the stadium where they enjoyed the greatest moment of the Ron Zook era, a 28-21 victory against top-ranked Ohio State in 2007. Quarterback Juice Williams will be ready after pulling a muscle against Illinois State, and he needs a huge performance against a Buckeyes defense that is really hitting its stride. Ohio State has risen to 24th nationally in scoring defense (15 ppg). After a strong performance against Toledo, Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor hopes to keep things going against an Illini defense playing its first game without starting middle linebacker Martez Wilson (neck, out for season).
Notre Dame (2-1) at Purdue (1-2), ESPN, 8 p.m. ET
If the Boilers' offense looks like it did in Weeks 1 and 2, Notre Dame could be in trouble. If the Purdue attack looks like it did last week, the Fighting Irish could run away with this one. Despite the loss to Northern Illinois, Purdue has a good opportunity for a win here. Notre Dame will certainly miss wide receiver Michael Floyd (collarbone), and quarterback Jimmy Clausen could be limited with a foot injury. Notre Dame's defense has looked very vulnerable against the pass, so Joey Elliott and his wideouts will have opportunities to make plays and open things up for running back Ralph Bolden.
Iowa (3-0) at Penn State (3-0), ABC, 8 p.m. ET
The two most vocal fan bases on the Big Ten blog have been waiting for this one. Only a handful of games truly shape the conference title race, and this is the first of those contests. Iowa comes off two impressive victories and has it going on defense, but quarterback Ricky Stanzi's shaky starts and several injuries on offense (left tackle Bryan Bulaga, tight end Tony Moeaki, wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) are cause for concern. Penn State hopes to get linebacker Navorro Bowman (groin) on the field, and the Lions will face their first true test of the season in Iowa. Evan Royster and the run game finally got going last week, but Penn State's offensive line will be challenged by Adrian Clayborn and the Hawkeyes.