A look at the Week 7 slate
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten features one of the more intriguing league title races in college football, and some more answers should come after Saturday's games. Two contests stand out, as No. 6 Penn State faces the first of two major road tests this month with a trip to Wisconsin, and surging Michigan State visits undefeated Northwestern.
Here's a look at what's on tap.
Iowa (3-3, 0-2) at Indiana (2-3, 0-2), noon ET
Both of these teams appeared to catch a scheduling break by not having to face Ohio State or Michigan this season. But slow starts to Big Ten play make Saturday's meeting at Memorial Stadium a must win for both sides. Iowa simply has to improve its play in the red zone after ranking last in the league (19 of 26 opportunities converted). Indiana hasn't fared much better near the goal line and must get quarterback/running back/wide receiver Kellen Lewis in space. The Hoosiers' defense stepped up last week but faces a huge challenge with Iowa's Shonn Greene (137 rush yards per game).
Toledo (1-4) at Michigan (2-3), noon ET
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez called out his team for playing soft last week against Illinois. The Wolverines should respond well against Toledo, which ranks 110th nationally in scoring defense (35.8 ppg). Michigan needs to find a way to play a complete game and build some momentum before a trip to Penn State. The Wolverines are 24-0 against MAC teams and has outscored those opponents 831-216.
Minnesota (5-1, 1-1) at Illinois (3-2, 1-1), ESPN, noon ET
The Illini found a groove on both sides of the ball for the first time this year last week at Michigan. Now they face a surprising Minnesota squad that will attack their defense with national receiving leader Eric Decker (696 yards). The Gophers surrendered 655 total yards and 448 rushing yards in last year's loss to Illinois, so Saturday provides them a chance to prove they've turned the corner as a defense. Second-year Minnesota coach Tim Brewster returns to his alma mater, where he served as a captain on Illinois' 1983 Big Ten championship team.
No. 23 Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) at Northwestern (5-0, 1-0), ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET
One team (Michigan State) has backed up its preseason hype as a sleeper team in the Big Ten. The other (Northwestern) is off to a historic start and could be the league's biggest surprise. The game features two much-improved defenses, two senior quarterbacks (Brian Hoyer and C.J. Bacher) and two formidable running backs (Javon Ringer and Tyrell Sutton). Northwestern has won four of its last six meetings with the Spartans and should have claimed another in 2006 before Michigan State mounted the biggest comeback in NCAA history.
Purdue (2-3, 0-1) at No. 12 Ohio State (5-1, 2-0), ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET
The Boilermakers have lost 16 consecutive games against Top 25 opponents and last won in Columbus in 1988. Ohio State needs to guard against a letdown after an emotional road win against Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes still need to iron out some things on offense before games against Michigan State and Penn State. Purdue will stick with senior quarterback Curtis Painter as its starter and needs to execute a similar game plan it had against Penn State: Control the clock with Kory Sheets and take shots down the field when they become available.
No. 6 Penn State (6-0, 2-0) at Wisconsin (3-2, 0-2), ESPN, 8 p.m. ET
Penn State coach Joe Paterno broke his leg the last time he visited Madison, and the 81-year-old once again could be forced up to the press box because of a leg injury. Fortunately for Paterno, his team doesn't need much help to keep winning. The Nittany Lions face arguably their toughest challenge to date at Camp Randall Stadium, where Wisconsin had its 16-game home win streak snapped last week. Wisconsin could be dangerous after consecutive losses, but quarterback Allan Evridge must improve his accuracy and the Badgers need to take a hint from Penn State and use more than one running back.