Thursday, September 10, 2009
What to watch in the Big Ten in Week 2
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A full slate of games is on tap Saturday, and the Big Ten has several excellent opportunities to improve its national reputation -- or make things worse.
Here are 10 things you should be watching out for this weekend:
1. Terrelle's time -- He's only a sophomore making his 12th career start, but Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor faces a defining game Saturday against USC (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). The Buckeyes need Pryor to make big plays with his feet and limit mistakes against a USC defense unlikely to miss a beat despite losing several standout players. The time has come for Ohio State to win big nonconference games again, and to do so, it needs excellence from the quarterback position.
2. Michigan's defensive line speed -- Boasting improved speed up front, Michigan generated a strong pass rush with only its down linemen last week against Western Michigan. The Wolverines need to do the same against Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who is hitting his stride and has two of the nation's top wide receivers in Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. I'm not a believer in Notre Dame's offensive line -- more experienced players doesn't automatically mean better ones -- and Michigan can find ways to turn up the heat on Clausen.
3. Outdoor football returns to the Twin Cities -- Big Ten fans are going to love TCF Bank Stadium, which finally opens its doors for a game as Minnesota takes on Air Force. It should be an electric atmosphere in Minneapolis as the football team returns to campus for the first time in 28 years. The Golden Gophers will undoubtedly be amped up, but they'll need a more polished performance than last week to beat the Falcons.
4. Purdue goes Duck hunting -- Oregon could be ripe for an upset after falling apart both during and after a loss to Boise State last week. Many forget that Purdue outplayed the Ducks for much of last year's game in West Lafayette before falling in overtime. Running back Ralph Bolden leads the Boilers after rushing for 234 yards in his first career start last week. Purdue's defense will need to be much sharper against Jeremiah Masoli and the dynamic Ducks offense.
5. Spartans QB race, Take 2 -- As long as Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol both continue to perform well, Michigan State will have a hard time playing only one quarterback. Still, my sense is that the Spartans want a clear field leader when they head to Notre Dame next week. Cousins' and Nichol's performances against Central Michigan (ESPN2, noon ET) could loom large in determining the starter and the backup for the rest of the season.
6. Iowa heads to unfriendly territory -- The Hawkeyes averted disaster last week with two blocked field goals against Northern Iowa. Now they head to Jack Trice Stadium, where they've dropped back-to-back games and four of their last five matchups against Iowa State. Will redshirt freshman Adam Robinson be the answer for Iowa's shaky rushing attack? Iowa is once again the better team in this matchup, but it needs to play like it in a hostile environment.
7. Ohio State's line play -- The Buckeyes' offensive line has underachieved for quite some time, while the defensive front is widely considered the team's strength. Ohio State needs both units to play to their potential against USC. Pryor is the type of quarterback who can hurt the Trojans, but he'll need time to move around in the pocket. On the other side of the ball, Ohio State needs to pressure USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley and find ways to contain USC's running game.
8. Penn State aims for Paulus -- Joe Paterno sang Greg Paulus' praises all week, but Paterno's defensive linemen are waiting for the former Duke point guard, and things could get ugly Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Penn State's defensive line recorded four sacks against Akron in the opener and will be gunning for Paulus, who exceeded expectations last week for Syracuse in his first football game since high school. Paulus' presence at quarterback adds an intriguing subplot to a game that used to mean something but likely will become another Penn State rout.
9. Michigan's youth movement -- From a younger, faster defensive line to a pair of dual threat quarterbacks, Michigan is truly becoming Rich Rodriguez's team. Rodriguez's recruits are in place to be difference makers, but the youngsters need to take another step forward against Notre Dame. Tate Forcier made very few mistakes in his first career start, and both he and Denard Robinson need to maintain the good tempo they established on offense against a superior Irish defense.
10. Badgers on upset alert -- Pat Hill's Fresno State team isn't afraid of hostile environments like Camp Randall Stadium, and Wisconsin could be a little shorthanded because of a flu bug working its way through the locker room. Quarterback Scott Tolzien and wide receiver Isaac Anderson did a lot of good things in the opener, but Wisconsin must do a better job of finishing the game after letting up late against Northern Illinois.