Thursday, September 9, 2010
What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 2
By Adam Rittenberg
Ten items to track in a jam-packed Week 2 in the Big Ten.
1. Pryor vs. Harris: Two Heisman Trophy contenders will share the field in Columbus as Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor goes up against his Miami counterpart Jacory Harris. Both Pryor and Harris looked good in their debuts a week ago, but the heat will be turned up at Ohio Stadium (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET). Pryor likely will have to mix in the run more against an athletic Miami defense while still spreading the ball to multiple targets as he has in his last two games. Harris really struggled against a Big Ten defense (Wisconsin) in the Champs Sports Bowl. He'll need a much better performance against an opportunistic Buckeyes defense that recorded a pick-six last week.
2. Bolden vs. rising Tide: Rob Bolden made history last week when he became the first true freshman quarterback to start the season opener for Penn State in a century. Bolden now tries to shock the world and lead No. 18 Penn State to an upset road win against top-ranked Alabama (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). His presence adds a fresh twist (pun intended) to a matchup pairing two traditional powerhouses. The 6-4, 208-pound Bolden showed good poise and made strong decisions at Youngstown State, but he'll likely fall victim to some mistakes in Tuscaloosa. How he responds could determine Penn State's chances against the Tide.
True freshman Rob Bolden completed 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards, a touchdown and an interception in Week 1, but he'll face a much stiffer test at No. 1 Alabama.
3. Shoelace fits in South Bend: Denard Robinson delivered in a big way in his first career start, rushing for 197 yards and adding 186 pass yards against Connecticut. The Michigan sophomore quarterback aims for an encore Saturday against a Notre Dame defense that did a nice job holding Purdue in check. Robinson's speed will test Manti Te'o and the Irish linebackers, but his ability to make accurate throws and good decisions in the passing game could be the difference. The two teams combined for 72 points last year, and Tate Forcier ended up as the hero for Michigan. If the man nicknamed "Shoelace" unties the Irish defense, Michigan will be 2-0 and likely ranked in next week's polls.
4. Cyclone warning: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn didn't mean to dis Iowa State with his "only team in the state" comment this summer, but the Cyclones certainly are using his words as motivation as they head to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Clayborn has his own motivation after Iowa's D-line looked "like a bunch of tired dogs" last year against the Cyclones. Iowa State has made strides since the 2009 meeting, and Alexander Robinson is the first of several outstanding running backs the Hawkeyes will face this fall. Iowa should prevail Saturday, but this series hasn't been easy for Kirk Ferentz's crew. Should be interesting to watch.
5. Backs in action: Michigan State and Iowa had no trouble running the ball in Week 1, and both teams get a boost Saturday. Jewel Hampton returns to the Hawkeyes backfield for the first time since 2008 after missing all of last season with a knee injury and then serving a suspension last week. Adam Robinson made a good case to be the starter in the opener (109 rush yards, 3 TDs), but Hampton will push him for carries after an excellent preseason. Projected starter Larry Caper is back for the Spartans after missing the opener with a hand injury. He'll share time with sophomore Edwin Baker and freshman Le'Veon Bell, who combined for 258 rush yards and four touchdowns last week.
6. Must-win for Illini: Sure, it's only Week 2, but Illinois can't afford an 0-2 start with upcoming games against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State, not to mention a Sept. 18 date with a Northern Illinois team picked to win the MAC West. Vic Koenning's defense is down another starter -- suspended end/linebacker Michael Buchanan -- and faces a Southern Illinois team that put up 70 points last week. The bigger story is on offense, where quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tries to rebound from a four-turnover performance in his collegiate debut. Illinois is 11-0 all-time against other public schools in the state, although SIU typically is one of the stronger FCS programs.
7. Cleaning up at Camp Randall: Wisconsin had a pretty convincing win in its opener against UNLV, but the Badgers are looking for a much cleaner performance Saturday against San Jose State at Camp Randall Stadium (ESPN, noon ET). Two Wisconsin turnovers last week led two UNLV touchdowns, and both miscues came from veteran players (quarterback Scott Tolzien and receiver Nick Toon). Wisconsin should win this game easily, but it faces a pretty stout defense next week in Arizona State and needs to work out the kinks on offense.
8. Big Ten feel in Evanston: Northwestern will see quite a few familiar faces Saturday against Illinois State. The Redbirds are coached by former longtime Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack, and their roster features eight former Big Ten players, including former Michigan State running back Ashton Leggett. Spack knows how to defend Northwestern's offense, which had its ups and downs in the opener. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald says the run game isn't far away from catching fire, but he might be tempted to air it out with quarterback Dan Persa, who completed 19 of 21 attempts for 222 yards and three touchdowns last week.
9. Marve, Weber take aim: Quarterbacks Robert Marve (Purdue) and Adam Weber (Minnesota) both did some good things in Week 1, but they're looking for more on Saturday. Marve completed 31 of 42 passes against Notre Dame but struggled to stretch the field. Expect him to take some shots against Western Illinois. Weber came up big in the fourth quarter at Middle Tennessee, but he's still looking for a go-to receiver. He takes on a South Dakota team that allowed 241 pass yards and two touchdowns last week against Central Florida.
10. JoePa and The Bear: If you love college football history, tune into the Penn State-Alabama game. Joe Paterno heads to Tuscaloosa for the first time since setting the all-time coaching wins record previously held by former Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Paterno declined to discuss his relationship with Bryant this week, preferring to focus on the game, but their past is well documented. Alabama and Penn State have had several unforgettable games, like the 1979 Sugar Bowl, which decided the national title. Alabama won the game following a goal-line stand and a touchdown-saving tackle by All-America cornerback Don McNeal on Penn State's Scott Fitzkee. Turns out, McNeal is the great uncle to Rob Bolden. Small world.