Thursday, September 6, 2012
What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 2
By Adam Rittenberg
Ten items to track Saturday as Week 2 of Big Ten action gets under way.
1. West Coast swing: The Big Ten-Pac-12 scheduling alliance fell apart this summer, but three matchups between the leagues are on tap Saturday. All three take place at Pac-12 stadiums, where Big Ten teams have struggled mightily, failing to win a game since 2007 and recording only three wins since 2001 (Nebraska was a member of the Big 12 when it spanked Washington in Seattle in 2010). Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois must handle long trips, time changes and tricky opponents to end the trend. Fortunately for Nebraska, quarterback Taylor Martinez and a group of his teammates will feel right at home at the Rose Bowl.
2. TerBush's turn: Despite being suspended for Purdue's season opener, quarterback Caleb TerBush earned the nod as the Boilers' starter for Saturday's game at No. 22 Notre Dame. Coach Danny Hope thinks TerBush gives the Boilers the best chance for a strong and steady start and pointed to the senior's ability to outplay both Robert Marve and Rob Henry in camp. Most Purdue fans didn't seem too thrilled with the decision, but TerBush, who started all 13 games last season, has a chance to prove them wrong and record a huge win for the program.
Iowa needs a more consistent performance Saturday from quarterback James Vandenberg.
3. Toussaint's return: Michigan needs to get off of the mat after being embarrassed in its opener against Alabama. The Wolverines will get a boost from running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who returns from suspension to make his season debut against Air Force. Toussaint said he let the team and his family down following his drunken driving arrest and should have no shortage of motivation when he gets back on the field. Coach Brady Hoke likely will start Toussaint, who rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns last season, against the Falcons.
4. Hawks eye Cy: A huge empty trophy case greeted Iowa players in the middle of their locker room this week, as coach Kirk Ferentz reminded his team of what's at stake Saturday. Iowa has struggled in its trophy games of late, but it can regain one Saturday against in-state rival Iowa State. The Hawkeyes look for a stronger performance from senior quarterback James Vandenberg and a stingier defensive effort against Iowa State signal-caller Steele Jantz, who went nuts in last year's game.
5. Lions seek balance: After an emotion-charged opener in State College, Penn State hits the road Saturday against Virginia in search of its first win under coach Bill O'Brien. A key objective for Penn State is greater offensive balance after it had more than twice as many passes (48) as rushes (22) in last week's loss to Ohio. Only four FBS teams attempted fewer runs than the Lions, who likely will feature several backs at Virginia, possibly including true freshman Akeel Lynch, as top back Bill Belton deals with an ankle injury.
6. Wildcats' QB rotation: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald says Kain Colter is his starting quarterback, but backup Trevor Siemian remains very much in the mix after leading the game-winning scoring drive last week at Syracuse. Colter, who gave way to Siemian on the decisive drive, has recovered from a left shoulder injury that slowed him late in the Syracuse game. But it will be interesting to see how Northwestern uses him and Siemian on Saturday night against Vanderbilt. Given Northwestern's defensive woes, it likely needs all the help it can get on offense to beat a talented Commodores team.
7. Maxwell, Gray look to rebound: Michigan State and Minnesota both recorded hard-fought wins in Week 1, but both need to see improvement from their quarterbacks on Saturday. Andrew Maxwell had three interceptions and no touchdowns in his first career start for the Spartans, who boast a championship-level defense and a championship-level running back in Le'Veon Bell but might not get there without solid quarterback play. Gray had a misleading stat line against UNLV and needs to show better accuracy on his passes, beginning this week against FCS New Hampshire.
8. Buckeyes battle test: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer expects Saturday's game against Central Florida to "be a war." While the Buckeyes are heavily favored, UCF should provide a much better test than Miami (Ohio) did last week, especially for the Buckeyes' defense. UCF is the preseason favorite in Conference USA's East Division and boasts a talented quarterback, sophomore Blake Bortles. Both squads are ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA violations, but they should provide an entertaining game in C-Bus.
9. Backups in spotlight: The injury bug took a toll on the Big Ten in Week 1, and several key players will or should be sidelined Saturday. We know Michigan cornerback Courtney Avery will step in for Blake Countess, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear against Alabama. Illinois quarterbacks Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei took most of the snaps this week in practice as the team could play without starter Nathan Scheelhaase at Arizona State. Derek Day will get the first shot at running back for Penn State if Belton can't go, and a host of Nebraska backs, led by Ameer Abdullah, will carry the load if Rex Burkhead (knee) isn't ready for UCLA.
10. Hoosiers seek milestone: It's all about baby steps for Indiana's program, which can take another one Saturday at UMass. The Hoosiers are still seeking their first win against an FBS opponent under coach Kevin Wilson and can record one against the Minutemen, who are in their first season as an FBS member. An Indiana victory also would eclipse its victory total from all of last season. Expect Wilson to open up the offensive playbook a little more with quarterback Tre Roberson, who played well in the opener.