Wednesday, November 24, 2010
What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 13
By Adam Rittenberg
It's rivalry week in the Big Ten, and here are 10 things to watch on Saturday.
1. Title talk: Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State all can claim at least a share of the Big Ten title by winning on Saturday. The Badgers are primarily rooting for a Michigan State loss, although if all three teams win, Wisconsin likely heads to Pasadena because of its higher place in the BCS standings. Michigan State is pulling for hated rival Michigan to upset Ohio State, while the Buckeyes want Northwestern to shock Wisconsin in Madison. Should be an interesting day of scoreboard watching around the league.
Montee Ball and Wisconsin could be heading to the Rose Bowl with a win over Northwestern this weekend.
2. Penn State looks toward the future: Joe Paterno said this week that he'll return in 2011 for his 46th season as Penn State's head coach. Paterno cited having a young team with the potential to get better. Well, Saturday provides the Nittany Lions with the chance to take a big step forward. Penn State has struggled mightily against ranked teams this season, falling by more than 20 points to Alabama, Iowa and Ohio State. A win against No. 10 Michigan State would give Penn State wins in five of its final six regular-season games and raise the bar for next fall.
3. Lynch's last stand: Indiana doesn't want to fire Bill Lynch, but it might have to if the coach goes winless in Big Ten play in his fourth season at the helm. Lynch can avoid such a fate and improve his cause by beating archrival Purdue in West Lafayette. The Hoosiers players are in Lynch's corner, as linebacker Tyler Replogle said this week: "We've been trying to win for Coach Lynch all year." After so many near misses, the Hoosiers need to show that they can get over the hump in a Big Ten game.
4. Robinson vs. Pryor: The Big Ten's two most recognizable players meet Saturday at The Horseshoe, and the league's Offensive Player of the Year Award could be at stake. Robinson has broken records and put up some incredible numbers, but he's still looking for a signature win. Beating No. 10 Ohio State certainly would qualify. Pryor boasts a 29-4 record as Ohio State's starting quarterback and came up big in the clutch last week at Iowa. Both signal callers have significantly improved their passing numbers this season, but both remain threats to run.
5. Getting piggy wit it: Sorry, couldn't resist. The Floyd of Rosedale is at stake Saturday when Minnesota and No. 24 Iowa meet at TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes need to finish strong after back-to-back heartbreaking losses, and they've taken their anger out on Minnesota in recent years. The Gophers saw coach Tim Brewster fired midseason for, among other things, not winning enough rivalry trophies. Bringing the pig back to Minneapolis in a huge upset would help Minnesota end a disappointing season on a very good note.
6. Wildcats try to rebound against three-headed monster: Northwestern's defense got absolutely shredded for 519 rush yards against Illinois last week at Wrigley Field. It's not the type of performance the Wildcats needed before a game against an even better ground attack in Wisconsin. The Badgers called 28 consecutive run plays last week against Michigan and have been dominant on offense during Big Ten play. John Clay could return to join sophomore Montee Ball and freshman James White, forming a fearsome three-headed monster in the backfield.
7. Kirk Cousins' health: The Michigan State quarterback hasn't looked like himself for a few weeks, and there are reasons why. He has been dealing with a sprained ankle since an Oct. 16 game against Illinois and a sprained shoulder for just about as long. Like his team, Cousins has shown resiliency to play through the pain, and he scored the game-winning touchdown last week against Purdue. But he also reaggravated his injuries in the game. Cousins is never one to complain and will try to lead Michigan State to its first Big Ten title in 20 years Saturday, but will his body hold up in Happy Valley?
8. Greg Robinson's stuffed animal: Robinson is trying just about anything to help Michigan's poor defense, apparently even a stuffed animal. The Wolverines defensive coordinator was seen rubbing the stuffed animal on the neck of linebacker Kenny Demens in last week's game against Wisconsin. I'd prefer to see Jobu show up on the Michigan sideline this week. Then again, it might take more than gimmicks to help this unit become respectable.
9. Gophers try to end scoreless streak: Minnesota has been shut out in its previous two meetings with Iowa, a scoreless streak Hawkeyes' fans never hesitate to point out (pun intended). The Gophers haven't exactly been dynamic on offense this season, but they put up 38 points two weeks ago against Illinois to record their first conference win of the season. Senior quarterback Adam Weber hopes to end an up-and-down career on a strong note against an Iowa defense looking to start strong and finish stronger after blowing fourth-quarter leads in consecutive games.
10. Endgame for Kerrigan: Purdue isn't going bowling, so Saturday marks the final chance for Boilers fans to salute star defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. Former defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina is the only Purdue player to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, taking home the award in 1993. Kerrigan soon should add his name to the list, and he tries to go 3-1 against Indiana in his career.