Thursday, November 5, 2009
What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 10
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Ten for (Week) 10.
1. Terrelle Pryor going country: Pryor wasn't a huge fan of Happy Valley during the recruiting process, and he probably won't warm up to it on Saturday as No. 16 Ohio State visits No. 11 Penn State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Penn State fans will be waiting for Pryor, and the Buckeyes quarterback expects a rough reception when he takes the field at Beaver Stadium. Pryor has performed better since the Purdue loss but needs to elevate his overall game against the nation's fifth-ranked defense. His return to his home state adds more flavor to an already intriguing matchup.
2. Iowa aims for perfect 10: The Hawkeyes (9-0) felt the need to defend their perfect record again this week, but they can ease doubts with a convincing performance against Northwestern. This is a game that has folks in Iowa City a bit worried because of Northwestern's back-to-back wins at Kinnick Stadium and its 7-5 record against Iowa since 1995. The Hawkeyes should be able to attack a banged up NU secondary with wideouts Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. An Iowa win sets up next week's showdown in Columbus against Ohio State.
3. Michigan in must-win situation: Missing the postseason at Michigan is bad enough. Missing it two years in a row could be really damaging for Rich Rodriguez and his program. Michigan needs to snap its four-game Big Ten losing streak against Purdue (Big Ten Network, noon ET) and reach bowl eligibility. With upcoming games against Wisconsin (road) and Ohio State (home), the Purdue game appears to be Michigan's best chance for win No. 6. Quarterback Tate Forcier hasn't accounted for a touchdown in four games, while the Michigan defense must rebound after allowing 500 yards to Illinois.
4. Juice vs. Weber: Illinois' Juice Williams and Minnesota's Adam Weber entered the season as two of the Big Ten's most accomplished quarterbacks. Both players have struggled for most of the fall, but both also come off impressive performances in big wins last week. Williams hopes to gash Minnesota's defense with the zone-read, while Weber takes aim against an Illini secondary that ranks ninth in the league against the pass. Weber played through a knee injury to beat Illinois last year, while Williams turned in a huge performance against Minnesota in 2007.
5. Hard-luck Hoosiers aim for upset: Indiana is hurting a bit right now after squandering fourth-quarter leads in back-to-back weeks against Northwestern and Iowa. But the Hoosiers have another chance to redeem themselves Saturday against No. 21 Wisconsin (Big Ten Network, noon ET). It won't be easy, as Wisconsin has crushed Indiana under head coach Bret Bielema, winning three games by a combined score of 140-40. The Badgers come in hot, having posted their first shutout in Big Ten play in a decade last week against Purdue.
6. Getting defensive in Happy Valley: Penn State and Ohio State combined for only 19 points last year at The Shoe, and Saturday's game figures to be a defensive struggle as well. The Nittany Lions lead the nation in scoring defense (9.33 ppg) and rank fifth in total defense (254.8 ypg), while the Buckeyes own three shutouts this season and rank sixth nationally in both scoring (11.2 ppg) and total defense (260 ypg). Ohio State forces a ton of turnovers, while Penn State locks down in the red zone. First team to 14 wins?
7. Spartans must bounce back vs. MAC: A Sept. 12 loss to Central Michigan altered the course for Michigan State's season, one that began with BCS aspirations. Sitting at 4-5, the Spartans can't afford another setback against a MAC opponent, this time Western Michigan. The Broncos struggled against Michigan and Indiana and rank 108th nationally in total defense (426 ypg), but they boast a strong quarterback in Tim Hiller. Michigan State must get more efficient in the red zone on both sides of the ball. A loss Saturday (Big Ten Network, noon ET) likely knocks MSU out of the postseason.
8. Mike Kafka's health: Northwestern's senior quarterback is expected to play against Iowa, but how his left hamstring holds up remains to be seen. Kafka relies on his legs and can be extremely effective on the move, but he left last week's loss to Penn State in the second quarter and didn't return. Iowa's defensive linemen will try to get in his face, and Northwestern's offensive front needs to protect well. Northwestern's upset hopes against Penn State vanished when Kafka left the field, so the Wildcats need their signal caller as close to full strength as possible.
9. Clay off and running again: Wisconsin running back John Clay has been brilliant in Big Ten play, eclipsing 120 rush yards in three of five games. Clay rushed for a season-high 112 yards last year at Indiana and aims for another big performance Saturday (Big Ten Network, noon ET). Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark is the frontrunner for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors, but Clay could close the gap with a strong finish.
10. Purdue tries to end Big House blues: The Boilers take an 11-game road losing streak to Ann Arbor, where they haven't won since 1966. Though Michigan certainly is beatable this season, Purdue comes off a dreadful performance in Madison and can't afford a hangover. The long losing streak at the Big House should serve as motivation. "They're fully aware of it," Boilers coach Danny Hope said of his players. "To me, it makes it more exciting. It makes it a greater challenge. It makes it a bigger coup, a bigger stake." A Purdue win keeps its faint bowl hopes alive.