Each Friday during the season, we'll be taking a look at a Big Ten player to watch when the games kick off Saturday.
This week's selection: Penn State LB Michael Mauti
Saturday assignment: at Illinois, noon ET, ESPN
We listed six linebackers on our preseason countdown of the Big Ten's top 25 players. Michael Mauti's name didn't make it, solely because the Penn State senior was coming off his second major knee injury in three seasons. But through the first four games, Mauti has been the best Big Ten 'backer of the bunch. He ranks second in the league in tackles (42) and tied for first in forced fumbles (2). Mauti has been all over the field, especially in games against Virginia and Temple, and has a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. He leads a Penn State defense that has stepped up nicely in the past three games after a rough opener against Ohio.
Why watch Mauti on Saturday? Because arguably no Lions player is more geared up to face Illinois, which not-so subtly tried to recruit Penn State players this summer after the NCAA imposed severe sanctions on the program. Speaking in July at Big Ten preseason media days, Mauti said, "You're going to sit here and wish our program well and then try to pull the legs out from underneath us and take our kids? Well, you are playing by the rules. But there really are no rules. If you're gonna wish us well and then try to take our kids, then I got a problem with that." Mauti can make Illinois pay on Saturday, as he goes up against an offense that committed six turnovers last Saturday in a blowout loss to Louisiana Tech.