- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our weekly checkup on the bulls and bears of the Big Ten (and we don't mean those Chicago pro teams):
A.J. Barker: When searching for playmakers among Minnesota receivers this offseason, we rarely mentioned Barker's name. Hard to blame us there, since the junior had one career catch coming into this season. But Barker now has a pair of 101-yard games and four touchdowns this season, ranking third in the Big Ten in receiving yards. "The biggest thing is he's healthy," head coach Jerry Kill said. "He's had a lot of hamstring problems. He's playing full speed and is a very gifted athlete. He runs very good routes and has good hands, and he's playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, which is a good thing."
Matt McGloin: Believe it or not, McGloin is developing into a very dependable quarterback. The Penn State senior still needs to improve his completion percentage (56.7), but he's fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards (688). Maybe most importantly, McGloin has an 8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio after coming into this season with a 22-to-14 mark. "He's made a lot of progress," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "Matt's done a good job in ... making good decisions when he throws the ball and making good decisions when he scrambles of taking care of the ball. It's something he just needs to continue to do."
Devin Gardner: After seeing Gardner work out as a receiver this spring, I thought the storyline of his move from quarterback was overblown. But Gardner has improved at his new position and surprisingly leads Michigan with eight catches for 155 yards and three touchdowns. He may have become too valuable at receiver to move back to quarterback.
Indiana's offense: Granted, the competition level hasn't been stiff. But the Hoosiers are showing increased firepower this year and currently lead the league in total yards and passing yards, while averaging 36 points. Those numbers are way up from last year, and they've done it while using three quarterbacks so far because of injuries.
Nebraska's backfield stable: It's notable that Nebraska hasn't missed a beat in the running game with Rex Burkhead out since the first half of the opener. The Huskers rank eighth nationally in rushing at 295 yards per game thanks to excellent work by Ameer Abdullah and others. Burkhead is scheduled to return this week against Idaho State, and now Nebraska knows it doesn't have to burden him with a huge workload. Abdullah, who had 30 carries last week, plus Braylon Heard and Imani Cross give Bo Pelini all kinds of options to choose from.
Ohio State's tackling: The Buckeyes' defense is loaded with former stud recruits and future pros. So why isn't it dominating? Missed tackles have been a huge problem, an issue Urban Meyer called "terrible" after his team gave up several big plays to Cal last week. Meyer plans on having the Buckeyes tackle more in practice this week, and the linebackers and safeties in particular need to do a better job of wrapping up.
Roy Roundtree: The Michigan senior was supposed to regain his 2010 form this year as he took over the No. 1 receiver spot from Junior Hemingway. But Roundtree has only five catches for 42 yards in three games. He did have his knee scoped in fall camp, which may be limiting his effectiveness. Still, when a converted quarterback is your leading receiver, that says a lot about the state of your receiving corps. Perhaps playing Notre Dame, against whom he made the game-winning catch a year ago, will get Roundtree going this week.
Illinois attendance: We understand that the opener was played in poor weather conditions, and last week's opponent (Charleston Southern) wouldn't get anybody excited. Yet the Illini are officially averaging just over 44,000 fans in their two home games, which is below such football factories as Indiana and Kansas. Reports say that actual attendance last week was closer to 30,000. No weather or opponent factors would create those types of poor numbers at football-crazy schools across the Big Ten or the country. Is Louisiana Tech enough to get the Illinois faithful invested this week?
Penn State's running game: Silas Redd's transfer and injuries have taken their toll on the Nittany Lions' ground game. The team is only averaging 107.7 yards per game, which is last in the Big Ten and 102nd nationally. Penn State is one of only four teams in the country without a rushing touchdown this season. Derek Day could return this week and Bill Belton may be back soon. Not soon enough for what is an anemic rushing attack right now.
Wisconsin's turnover margin: The Badgers have been one of the best teams in the country at winning turnover margin. They were plus-14 in 2010 and plus-16 last year, both of which ranked in the top five of the FBS. This season, however, Wisconsin is at minus-three. And though the defense has kept the team in games, it has yet to create a single turnover. No wonder Bret Bielema was quick to pull quarterback Danny O'Brien after some carelessness with ball security last week against Utah State.