Thursday, November 18, 2010
What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12
By Adam Rittenberg
Ten items to track in Week 12 in Big Ten football.
1. Football at the Friendly Confines: Don't adjust your TVs. Football is back at Wrigley Field for the first time in 40 years, and Northwestern and Illinois play the first college game at Clark & Addison since 1938. ESPN "College GameDay" will be on hand for the unique event, which has become a major marketing coup for Northwestern. Although the game itself likely won't match the build-up, Illinois needs a win to become bowl eligible and Northwestern begins life without star quarterback Dan Persa.
2. Buckeyes go streaking: Ohio State's run of five consecutive Big Ten titles (outright or shared) is one of the most impressive streaks in college sports. To keep it going, the Buckeyes in all likelihood need to win Saturday at No. 20 Iowa, which eviscerated Michigan State in its last game at Kinnick Stadium. Ohio State hasn't showed its typical road dominance this season, falling at Wisconsin and struggling to beat Illinois. Iowa gave Ohio State all it could handle last year in Columbus, and this time the Hawkeyes will have starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi on the field.
3. Wisconsin and the Big House blues: Michigan Stadium has been a (big) house of horrors for the Wisconsin Badgers in recent years. Wisconsin hasn't won in Ann Arbor since 1994, dropping its last five games at Michigan Stadium. The Badgers' only loss in both 1998 and 2006 took place in Ann Arbor, and two years ago a bad Michigan team recorded the biggest comeback in stadium history to stun then-undefeated Wisconsin. It has been a year of milestones for Bret Bielema and the Badgers, but they need to overcome their struggles at the Big House.
MSU linebacker Greg Jones will play his final home game on Saturday.
4. Capital punishment: Indiana's embarrassing 83-20 loss to Wisconsin places the team, and possibly head coach Bill Lynch, in a must-win situation Saturday against Penn State at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The Hoosiers need to capture their final two games to become bowl eligible, a tall task considering they're 2-20 in Big Ten play in the past three seasons. Lynch's Big Ten record is his biggest obstacle, and losses like the one at Wisconsin really hurt his cause. Fortunately for Indiana, quarterback Ben Chappell is expected to play against Penn State after leaving the Wisconsin debacle with a hip injury.
5. Senior Day send-off for Jones: Michigan State fans get a chance to salute one of the best defenders in team history Saturday. All-American linebacker Greg Jones plays his final game at Spartan Stadium, and it's a big one as the Spartans likely must win out to have a chance of reaching the Rose Bowl. Jones is well on his way toward leading Michigan State in tackles for the fourth consecutive season. He will make his 37th consecutive start and take aim at a patchwork Purdue offense that will run the ball a lot and give Jones plenty of chances to make plays. "It will be very emotional for him," coach Mark Dantonio said.
6. Stanzi on Senior Day: By most measures, Ricky Stanzi has been a significantly better quarterback this season than he was in 2009. Except in one category: wins and losses. Stanzi's fourth-quarter mojo has deserted him in three games, overshadowing his otherwise spectacular stats. He'll look to recapture the magic on Senior Day as one of Iowa's most decorated classes plays its final game at Kinnick Stadium. Stanzi has significantly trimmed his interceptions total, throwing just four picks in 272 pass attempts. But he faces an Ohio State defense that leads the nation with 17 interceptions this season.
7. The dodgy East End (zone): Player safety could be an issue at cramped Wrigley Field, which barely has enough room to wedge in a regulation-sized football field. The main area of concern is the east end zone, which bumps up against the wall in what is normally right field. One section of the wall juts out and is only a foot or so away from the back line of the end zone. Coaches Pat Fitzgerald and Ron Zook both agree the tight quarters will factor into the game. "Hopefully, it's not like Arena [football] where you run into and over billboard signs," Northwestern wide receiver Demetrius Fields said.
8. Penn State sticks with McGloin: Matt McGloin's hot streak went up in flames at Ohio Stadium, as he threw two pick-sixes in a disastrous second half. But Penn State coach Joe Paterno is sticking with McGloin as the starting quarterback against Indiana, which could be the perfect cure for the plucky sophomore. The Lions' quarterback race likely will restart next spring no matter what, but McGloin can strengthen his position with a strong finish. It will be interesting to see if Penn State also finds ways to get Rob Bolden some reps against the Hoosiers.
9. Michigan begins rough closing stretch: The Wolverines are assured of a winning season for the first time since 2007, but how much progress has really been made? The last two victories haven't come without some hiccups, namely 10 turnovers from the offense. Michigan should get a good barometer of its growth this season the next two weeks as it faces No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 9 Ohio State. Head coach Rich Rodriguez should return in 2011, but his team needs to show it can at least keep pace with the Badgers and the Buckeyes. Rodriguez is looking for quarterback Denard Robinson to rebound after committing four turnovers at Purdue.
10. "Superman" to the rescue: Ryan Kerrigan, AKA "Superman," has been a bright spot in a mostly bleak season for the hard-luck Purdue Boilermakers. The senior defensive end leads the nation in tackles for loss (23.5) and ranks second in sacks (11.5). But his college career will be over unless Purdue finds a way to win its final two games. The offense is still dealing with major injury issues, so Kerrigan and an improving Boilers defense need a huge effort Saturday to have any chance at upsetting Michigan State. At the very least, Kerrigan can help his cause for Big Ten defensive player of the year honors.