Big Ten: Nic Grigsby

A new Rose Bowl access rule could prevent the traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup Jan. 1 in Pasadena, but at least the two leagues will get to know one another very well on Saturday. Three Big Ten-Pac-10 games are on the slate, as No. 18 USC visits Minnesota (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET), Arizona State visits Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) and No. 9 Iowa visits No. 24 Arizona (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET).

Bloggers Ted Miller (Pac-10) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down the three matchups.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireCan Arizona State's defense stand up to Wisconsin running back John Clay?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted, it's been too long, my friend. The Rose Bowl seems like decades ago, although they're still celebrating in Columbus. Given the likelihood of Boise State or TCU crashing the party in Pasadena this year, it's nice to have some Pac-10-Big Ten flavor this Saturday. Let's start off with Arizona State-Wisconsin. The name Steven Threet still makes people shudder in Madison after he led Michigan to a historic comeback against Wisconsin in 2008, triggering the beginning of the end for the Badgers that year. It also turned out to be the beginning of the end for Threet in a winged helmet. He seems to be settling in very nicely so far in Tempe. What should Wisconsin expect from Threet and the Sun Devils on Saturday?

Ted Miller: An offense with extraordinary firepower! See an average of more than 500 yards and 47.5 ppg. Oh, wait. The Sun Devils played not one but two FCS foes. Hmm. And according to this box score, they rushed for just 56 yards on 29 carries against the hearty Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona. Double-hmm. Still, the early returns are fairly positive on Threet and new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's spread attack. The Sun Devils' offense was so bad last year that merely being mediocre would be a huge improvement. A bigger issue than Threet: the offensive line. It wasn't consistent against FCS foes, so you'd think the Badgers front-seven might pose a problem. But, to me, the more interesting matchup is a fast Sun Devils defense versus an experienced, physical Badgers offense. What's your take?

Rittenberg: Totally agree that the game likely will come down to Arizona State's dynamic defense and Wisconsin's power run game, led by John Clay. He's the Big Ten's version of Toby Gerhart, except bigger. Clay has looked great this year, but Wisconsin needs to clean up some sloppy play on offense against the Sun Devils. The Badgers already failed on three red-zone scoring chances, matching their total from all of the previous season (53-for-56), and they've committed three turnovers inside the red zone. They have little trouble moving the ball and boast what I believe to be one of the nation's most balanced offenses, but they're not good enough to survive these mistakes much longer. Arizona State will have its hands full with Clay and a mammoth offensive line, but if the Sun Devils can use their speed and force turnovers, they'll have a shot in this one.

Let's move on to the other afternoon affair, USC at Minnesota. The Trojans haven't exactly been dominant this year, but at least they haven't lost to South Dakota. At home. Giving up 41 points and 444 yards. Yeesh. Your thoughts?

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Eugene TannerMatt Barkley will try to exploit a Minnesota defense that gave up 258 yards to South Dakota
Miller: Here are two teams that are muddling along, though the Trojans surely feel better about 2-0 -- no matter the way they got there -- than the Gophers do with 1-1, including the loss to a team from the Dakotas. Adam, I have no idea about the Trojans. They still look great getting off the bus. They still have NFL prospects at every position. In Week 1 at Hawaii, the offense looked great, the defense terrible. In Week 2 at home versus Virginia, it was mostly the opposite. Is it a question of fire and focus in the face of NCAA sanctions? I think we won't really be able to answer that question until the Pac-10 schedule starts. As for this one, I think the Trojans are going to roll. But I wrote that the previous two weeks and ended up being wrong. So what do I know?

What's your take?

Rittenberg: This is an odd matchup. In some ways, USC is just asking to get beat. But how can Minnesota take down Troy if it can't keep South Dakota to fewer than 40 points? The Gophers defense obviously is a major question mark, and I fully expect Matt Barkley to attack downfield a lot on Saturday. Minnesota gets a boost as safety Kyle Theret returns from suspension, giving the defense one returning starter from 2009. The other thing here is if things go back for Minnesota at the start, any sort of home-field edge will disappear. They're not too pleased with coach Tim Brewster right now in the Twin Cities. Minnesota's only chance is to control the clock with Duane Bennett and its power run game, and keep Barkley and Dillon Baxter off the field. A huge challenge.

OK, we've saved the best for last: Iowa at Arizona. Both teams look great so far. Iowa won last year's game, but trips out West haven't been kind to the Hawkeyes lately. What happens in Tucson?

Miller: First off, it's a great offense-defense matchup, with Nick Foles and an experienced UA offense taking on one of the best defenses in the nation. The cautionary tale for Wildcats fans is that also seemed like the case heading into the Holiday Bowl versus Nebraska, which became a complete disaster. Foles has a good offensive line, but the Hawkeyes have an NFL defensive front. If the Wildcats can get any sort of running game -- and Nic Grigsby is an explosive guy who can make a big play out of a small crack -- then things will be far easier for Foles and a quick-hit passing game. Foles is extremely accurate and he has a deep receiving corps. Yet to me the game turns on the Wildcats' rebuilt front seven. The unit replaced both tackles and all three linebackers and has played better than expected, but Iowa is a different sort of beast. If the Hawkeyes can run power effectively, then the Wildcats will be in trouble. If Iowa has to throw, I like the Wildcats secondary's chances versus Ricky Stanzi, who as you well know, Adam, hasn't always been the manzi.

What do you see from this one?

[+] EnlargeAdrian Clayborn
Icon SMICan Arizona's offensive line contain Adrian Clayborn?
Rittenberg: Should be a great one in the desert. Iowa knows Arizona has come a long way since last year's meeting in Iowa City, when Foles hadn't yet emerged as the starter. The game could come down to whether Arizona can get Grigsby going and protect Foles against the Hawkeyes, who boast arguably the nation's best defensive line. Star defensive end Adrian Clayborn has been a bit quiet so far this season, but he usually plays his best in big games. Arizona typically has some outstanding defensive backs, but don't underestimate The Manzi, who has yet to throw an interception this year. So love it or leave it, pal! Iowa can stretch the field with receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, and the run game has looked good so far with Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton. The Hawkeyes won in State College, Madison and East Lansing last year, but they haven't fared well historically in these trips out West. Arizona definitely has some built-in advantages.

OK, prediction time. Who wins in the three Pac-10-Big Ten matchups?

Miller: Somehow I knew you were going to ask that.

I think USC will handle Minnesota fairly easily: Trojans 41, Gophers 20.

I think Arizona State will be competitive at Wisconsin but the Sun Devils will struggle to score -- and possess the ball -- and the defense will wear down: Wisconsin 27, Arizona State 17.

As for Arizona-Iowa: I go back and forth, but I'm going to risk the ire of the Wildcats faithful and pick Iowa 28, Arizona 24. I just don't think the Arizona defense will be able to hold up all night, and that will allow the Hawkeyes to take a lead at some point in the second half and then play keep-away with the run game.

So, for what REALLY is going to happen... Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Rittenberg.

Rittenberg: Why thank you, good sir.

The Gophers save face a bit against USC and hang around for a while before Barkley and his receivers prove too much for a young defense. Trojans win 35-23.

Wisconsin controls the clock as always and cleans up some of its mistakes in the red zone. Threet leads two first-half scoring drives before the Badgers take control and win 30-20.

Iowa-Arizona should be a great one. The elements will be tough for the Hawkeyes, and they'll fall behind early. But I've got to go with the better defense and the more battle-tested team. Iowa wins 26-21.

So we agree. We'll have to fight over the Rose Bowl pick this year. I've got Boise State!

Big Ten predictions: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
9/16/10
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South Dakota ended my quest for perfection (or was it Minnesota?). Either way, I'll try to start a new streak this week.

Michigan 43, Massachusetts 14: Denard Robinson does his thing for two and a half quarters before the real drama begins. Does Devin Gardner get the first call after Shoelace, or will it be Tate Forcier? Both reserve quarterbacks end up playing well as Michigan improves to 3-0.

Ohio State 41, Ohio 6: The Buckeyes receive an efficient performance from Terrelle Pryor, and receiver DeVier Posey beats his big brother Julian for two touchdowns. No special teams meltdowns this week, and the defense keeps the Bobcats out of the end zone.

Penn State 35, Kent State 10: After two quiet weeks, Evan Royster arrives in a big way against Kent State. The senior running back goes for 140 yards and three touchdowns against a good run defense, and quarterback Rob Bolden bounces back nicely from the Alabama loss.

Illinois 26, Northern Illinois 14: I'm buying into Illinois' defensive improvement under Vic Koenning, and the Illini receive another solid performance from Ian Thomas, Tavon Wilson and crew. Northern Illinois seems to be struggling to put it all together, and the Illini need this game more.

Purdue 34, Ball State 17: Receivers Justin Siller and Antavian Edison emerge as Purdue begins life without star wideout Keith Smith. The Boilers start slowly for the second consecutive week but get it going in the second quarter, as Dan Dierking eclipses 100 rushing yards for the second consecutive week.

USC 35, Minnesota 23: I've got a strange feeling about this one. Minnesota isn't as bad as it looked against South Dakota, and USC seems to be just skating by on its talent right now. I can't pick the Gophers to win, not with their issues on defense, but they'll come out energized after the Dakota Debacle. Minnesota takes an early lead, but Matt Barkley and his receivers prove to be too much in the second half.

Wisconsin 30, Arizona State 20: This is my Pick of the Week. Check the blog later as I'll have a video explaining my prediction in greater detail.

Indiana 45, Western Kentucky 21: The Hoosiers' offense shows no rust from the 16-day layoff, as Ben Chappell, Darius Willis and Tandon Doss all have big days against a woeful Western Kentucky defense. Indiana's defense struggles against Bobby Rainey, raising some concerns as Big Ten play beckons.

Northwestern 27, Rice 21: Another tricky road game for Pat Fitzgerald's crew against a Rice team that did some good things against Texas in the opener. The Owls jump ahead early and former Michigan running back Sam McGuffie reaches the end zone, but the Wildcats control play in the second half behind quarterback Dan Persa and receiver Jeremy Ebert.

Michigan State 33, Notre Dame 31: A very tough call here. Expect an entertaining shootout in East Lansing, as both offenses find their groove. I'm not sold on the Spartans' defense, and Notre Dame takes advantage as Michael Floyd has a big night. But Michigan State's balanced attack also steps up as Kirk Cousins rallies the team in the fourth quarter and Dan Conroy kicks a 42-yard field goal as time expires.

Iowa 26, Arizona 21: Arizona feeds off an electric atmosphere and jumps ahead behind Nic Grigsby, but Iowa duplicates what it did all last year and rallies on the road behind quarterback Ricky Stanzi. The senior signal caller overcomes an early interception and leads the game-winning touchdown drive, hitting Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the decisive touchdown.

Last week: 9-1

Season record: 20-1 (.952)
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After a recent spring workout, Iowa's four starting defensive linemen made the walk from the practice fields to the football complex, which snakes past the school's baseball field.

A game was going on at the time, and fans sitting in the stands took notice of the football players. Well, one of them, at least.

"Me, [Christian] Ballard and Broderick [Binns] were walking next to Adrian," defensive tackle Karl Klug recalled. "And everyone's like, 'Adrian! Adrian!' Screaming and stuff.

"We were just kind of tagging along. He's a recognizable dude."

The beard and the dreads make Adrian Clayborn hard to miss, but his play on the field truly makes the Iowa defensive end stand out.

"It's an honor for people to know who I am," Clayborn said. "It feels good."

Clayborn comes off of an exceptional junior season in which he earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, nine quarterback hurries and a very memorable blocked punt.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Clayborn
Don McPeak/US PresswireHawkeyes defensive end Adrian Clayborn is hard to miss on or off the field.
In a year defined by close games and dramatic moments for Iowa, Clayborn made several of the team's biggest plays. Whether it was dragging down running back Nic Grigsby from behind against Arizona, blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown against Penn State or earning Orange Bowl MVP honors with two sacks against Georgia Tech, Clayborn always rose to the occasion for a stingy Hawkeyes defense.

"He doesn't really like the spotlight, but that's where he's at," Klug said. "People recognize him after all those plays he made."

Clayborn earned more than enough recognition to bolt for the NFL after last season, but in late December he said he would return for his senior season. He stuck to the decision even after his dominating display in the Orange Bowl.

His decision surprised many people around the Big Ten, and disappointed them, too.

"I figured with all the attention he was getting nationally, he'd get on out," Klug said. "It was a good surprise."

"It could have gone either way," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He would have clearly been a first-round draft pick. There was no doubt about that. I would compare his decision to Robert Gallery's decision. The thing that's surprising is that in this day and age, more guys leave than stay."

Clayborn stayed to correct "a bunch of flaws" in his game. He spent spring practice fine-tuning things, trying to keep his pads lower and expand his pass-rush moves.

Ferentz expects Clayborn to be on "every [preseason award] list in America," and after a year were Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh made defensive line an "it" position, Clayborn will garner plenty of accolades this fall.

But he earns the highest compliments from his teammates and coaches.

"No question he's the chosen leader of the group," defensive coordinator Norm Parker said. "If we had an election to send a representative some place, they would vote Adrian. And it's more because of Adrian the person than Adrian the football player."

It's never a guarantee that a team's best player will step up as a leader, but Clayborn welcomes the responsibility.

"It feels good, but it also comes with a lot," he said. "I'm up for the challenge. Pat [Angerer] left, and he was pretty much the leader of the team last year, so I'm going to try to take his role."
The Big Ten takes a little longer than most leagues to release its full football schedule, but for the most part, we know which teams will be playing and when. Nonconference scheduling has been a sore subject in the league for quite some time, but things are gradually improving and should be better in future seasons.

Which teams are truly stepping out on a limb this fall?

Here's a look at the five most challenging nonconference games involving Big Ten teams.

1. Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11: When you face the defending national champs in their house early in the season, you've got a good chance of being at the top of this list. A young quarterback will lead Penn State into Tuscaloosa to face Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, wide receiver Julio Jones and the Crimson Tide. Penn State will need to control the clock with Evan Royster and the run game and get a huge performance from its defense to keep pace with Bama.

2. USC at Minnesota, Sept. 18: USC went through a coaching transition and comes off its worst season since 2001. Minnesota also gets the Trojans in its home stadium. But USC will be better on defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, and Matt Barkley also should make strides in his second season. There's so much talent on the Trojans roster, and Minnesota will be tested in every aspect of the game.

3. Miami at Ohio State, Sept. 11: There will be a ton of buzz around this matchup, and I probably would have ranked it higher before watching Miami crumble against Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl. Jacory Harris and the Hurricanes still have something to prove on the national stage, and they'll get a chance against a ferocious Buckeyes defense led by Cameron Heyward. Miami's speed and athleticism will test the Buckeyes, and the matchup between Harris and Terrelle Pryor will be a lot of fun.

4. Iowa at Arizona, Sept. 18: The Hawkeyes passed all but one of their road tests in 2009, and they'll be challenged with an early trip to the desert. Arizona brings back a lot of offensive firepower, including quarterback Nick Foles, running back Nic Grigsby and wide receiver Juron Criner. The Wildcats lost only one home game in 2008, a double-overtime heartbreaker against Pac-10 champion Oregon. Iowa will need to be sound on defense and limit mistakes on offense.

5. Purdue at Notre Dame, Sept. 4: It was close between Purdue-ND and Illinois-Missouri for the fifth spot, but Notre Dame seems to always win games like this one. Since Frank Leahy became Notre Dame coach in 1941, only one Fighting Irish head man has lost his first game on the job (Lou Holtz endured a 1-point defeat to No. 3 Michigan in 1986). Both teams will have new starting quarterbacks and questions on defense, but it will be tough to know what to expect from innovative play-caller Brian Kelly in Week 1.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


A seed of doubt crept into Adrian Clayborn's mind as Arizona lined up for first-and-goal at the Iowa 1-yard line in a Sept. 19 game. The odds favored an offensive touchdown. Most likely a rushing touchdown.

What came next? A Nic Grigsby run for a loss of two yards followed by two incomplete passes. Field goal. Thanks for playing.

Surely the streak would end two weeks later at Penn State, as the Nittany Lions entered Iowa territory five times. Penn State never got closer than the 11-yard line and wound up with only one Collin Wagner field goal.

"They had us back down in the red zone and we came up big with stops," said Clayborn, Iowa's star junior defensive end.

At least Penn State running back Evan Royster knows what it feels like to notch a rushing touchdown against the Hawkeyes. He had a 2-yard scoring run in the second quarter of last year's game in Iowa City. One quarter later, his teammate Derrick Williams ran one in from nine yards out.

Since then? Nothing.

Iowa has painted its own goal line in black and gold. If an opponent wishes to cross it, they had better not try on the ground.

The Hawkeyes haven't allowed a rushing touchdown for 33 consecutive quarters, the final 13 last season and the first 20 of 2009. The amazing streak epitomizes a defense that ranks 10th nationally in points allowed (13.4 ppg) and is the biggest reason for Iowa's first 5-0 start since 1995.

Iowa puts its streak on the line Saturday night when its hosts Michigan at Kinnick Stadium (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

"It’s astounding," Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Normally, you maybe get a quarterback sneak or something in the goal line where you get in there. To have 33 straight quarters, an eight- or nine-game span, is really quite remarkable."

Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz added, "I’m not a good one on streaks and records, but I know this: it’s a good thing."

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller and Adam Rittenberg


Holy Rose Bowl! It's another Big Ten-Pac-10 weekend, with No. 8 California visiting Minnesota and Arizona headed to Iowa. All four teams are 2-0. Seems like a good time for another blogger debate.

Ted Miller: You again! Adam, we need to stop meeting like this. Or at least the Big Ten should stop meeting like Ohio State did with USC. Perhaps there will be some redemption on Saturday when California visits Minnesota and Arizona takes a gander at Iowa.
Icon SMI/US Presswire
Golden mascots square off in the Twin Cities on Saturday.

Let's start with your game Saturday in fancy pants TCF Bank Stadium. (Nice job, Minnesota.)

I look over Minnesota's particulars and I can't get a good vibe about what Cal should expect, particularly after the Gophers struggled to beat Syracuse and Air Force. Who are these guys ... and whose mascot is more golden?

Adam Rittenberg: Ted! Buddy! Good to be with you again. OK, full disclosure here. I grew up in Berkeley, attended pretty much every Cal home game between 1994 to 1999. Witnessed the one Mariucci season in '96 (still have nightmares about the Pat Barnes fumble at Washington State) and the insufferable Tom Holmoe era. But I was never a huge Oski the Bear fan. Too subdued of a mascot. Looked like a glum professor who hadn't had his sweater ironed in 50 years. And he doesn't wear pants, which is perfect for Berkeley (I grew up there, so I can say that!) So Goldy Gopher gets my vote. He's goldier.

As for Minnesota, they did struggle against the Cuse, but the Air Force win is pretty solid in my book. The defense has been the big plus so far, especially the three linebackers (Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence). Triplett has gone from special teams all-star to major playmaker. The offense has struggled quite a bit, as Minnesota incorporates a new pro-style system under Jedd Fisch. It's a pretty dramatic departure from what they did the last two seasons, and it has taken a bit of time to click. Quarterback Adam Weber has loads of experience and can be effective when he limits interceptions, and Eric Decker is a freaking stud. Might be the best wide receiver in America that no one talks about. The problem is Minnesota hasn't found many weapons other than Decker. The Gophers need to spark their rushing attack behind Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge and hope a No. 2 wide receiver emerges, possibly speedster Troy Stoudermire.

I saw Cal is flying in Thursday for the game. Will the Bears be ready to play this time around for a 9 a.m. Pacific kickoff, and can anyone slow down Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen? How has Kevin Riley looked so far?
Paul Jasienski-US PRESSWIRE
Cal QB Kevin Riley ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency.
TM: Gosh, Cal coach Jeff Tedford HATES being asked about the 9 a.m. PT kickoff, because that was the prime excuse for the Bears' terrible effort last year at Maryland, an excuse, by the way, that Tedford has rejected from the get-go. Still, it's obvious he's doing everything he can to get his team ready for the early start, changing his previous plan and flying in on Thursday.

As for Best and Vereen, they are a great combination for sure. Best is going to make a play or two, mostly because he always does. The question is whether he can be such a bothersome threat that he forces Minnesota to load up the box. If that happens, a much-improved Kevin Riley and a receiving corps that has grown up could make big plays down field. Riley ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency and has yet to throw a pick, so he's started off as a completely different quarterback from the guy who was so inconsistent last last season.

The big issue for Cal is playing on the road: They've lost four in a row on the road. Moreover, they've not been challenged by a team so far that can approach them physically. Minnesota will be a far tougher test, and we just don't know whether Riley and the Bears can maintain their cool efficiency away from Berkley.

As for the other game: Iowa seems to have righted itself with the big win over Iowa State. But Arizona has a fast defense. Can quarterback Ricky Stanzi and running back Brandon Wegher lead an effective attack against the Wildcats?

AR: As I like to say, Stanzi is the Manzi. Actually, Stanzi has been inconsistent throughout his time as the starter, mixing big plays with too many picks. But he has more targets this year with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Tony Moeki, Trey Stross and Marvin McNutt. The running game has been a bit messy this year because of departures (Shonn Greene) and injuries (Jewel Hampton, Jeff Brinson). Brandon Wegher likely would have redshirted but stepped up big last week. He and another freshman, Adam Robinson, will get most of the carries Saturday. It's rare to see Kirk Ferentz play so many young players, but these guys seem up to the task. The offensive line could be without star left tackle Bryan Bulaga (illness) again, so those two speedy Arizona pass-rushers will have their ears pinned back for sure.

Let's talk about the Wildcats offense. How good is Nic Grigsby and does Arizona have a passing game to complement the nation's second leading rusher?

TM: Grigsby is off to a fast start, but the Iowa defense will offer a far tougher test than Central Michigan and Northern Arizona. Also, Grigsby had some fumbling problems a year ago -- he got benched a couple of times and capable back Keola Antolin took over -- but that has yet to be an issue in 2009. My guess is the Hawkeyes load the box, gang up on Grigsby and will dare Arizona's new quarterback, sophomore Matt Scott, to pass, which is never easy on the road.
Gronkowski

And therein lies a huge issue for this game. Arizona's best player, tight end Rob Gronkowski, is out with a back injury. Gronkowski is a beast. More than a few folks in the Pac-10 believe he's every bit the player that Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham is. Think having a 6-foot-6, 265-pound safety valve would help a young QB? It also doesn't help that No. 1 receiver Delashaun Dean has been slowed by a hamstring injury, though he will play.

So, the Wildcats passing game, with Scott making his first road start, is a huge question.

Speaking of road games, seems like all the Big Ten owns home field advantage in all these matchups with the Pac-10 ... no fair. But, seriously, which place will be more difficult for a visitor from the West Coast? I love Minnesota's new digs but I've heard a lot about pink bathrooms and the nutty horde at Kinnick Stadium.

AR: Well, you guys do have this game called the Rose Bowl. If memory serves, it's in Pac-10 country. Like in USC's backyard. That reminds me, Ted, can you find a way to make sure the Trojans don't go to Pasadena this year? The Big Ten would like a break from the Trojans after all these years of punishment. I stayed on the same floor as Pete Carroll last week in Columbus but forgot to ask him myself. Let me know what they say over at Heritage Hall. Thanks, dude.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Ricky Stanzi has passed for 439 yards and five touchdowns so far this season.

TCF Bank Stadium is pretty freaking awesome, and I'm excited to see the finished product in person. But I'd have to go with Kinnick Stadium as a tougher place right now. Iowa always sells it out and the fans are right on top of the field. It's a tremendous atmosphere, one of my favorites in the league. The early start time at Minnesota could be tougher for a Pac-10 team, but Kinnick definitely is less hospitable.

OK, prediction time. Who you got in Minnesota-Cal? Arizona-Iowa?

TM: Rose Bowl in Detroit, which is beautiful in midwinter!

I don't think anyone wants to see USC in the Rose Bowl again -- even USC's fans and players. The Trojans, however, wouldn't mind being in Pasadena again this January, if you catch my drift (nudge, nudge).

As for the predictions: For folks who read the Pac-10 blog, they know I've been advocating Cal as the team that might challenge USC's seven-year run atop the conference. They also know that for weeks I've been ranting about how underrated Arizona is.

So I've got pick a road warrior weekend for the Pac-10.
Let's say: Cal 35-21
And: Arizona 24-21.
Now, for the pick you should take to Vegas ...

AR: Call me a homer, but I've got to go with Cal. Minnesota has really struggled to make plays on offense, and while the Gophers' defense looks much improved, it'll be hard to contain Best and Vereen for 60 minutes and keep Cal off the scoreboard. Minnesota will have its crowd going and should keep things relatively, close, but I have Cal winning by 11, 34-23.

We'll probably see a defensive struggle at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa's defense is always solid under Norm Parker, and the front seven should prevent Grigsby from going nuts. I think Iowa got its mojo back last week and pulls this one out, 21-17 Hawkeyes.

Big Ten picks for Week 3

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It was an OK, but not great week for the Big Ten, and the same for my picks. I went 8-3, wasn't close on several scores and came close on a few others.

Here's hoping for better results all around on Saturday.

Michigan 34, Eastern Michigan 14 -- A bit a hangover for Michigan after the Notre Dame win, but the run game eventually gets going behind Brandon Minor. Tate Forcier does his thing, and Rich Rodriguez gets Denard Robinson some more reps as Michigan matches its wins total from 2008 only three games into the season.

California 35, Minnesota 23 -- I could see Cal starting slow, but the Bears shouldn't be nearly as flat as they were last year against Maryland. Minnesota has done some nice things on defense, but Cal's offense seems just too powerful. The Gophers haven't found offensive playmakers aside from wide receiver Eric Decker and aren't able to keep up with Cal on the scoreboard.

Penn State 48, Temple 6 -- After a ho-hum win against Syracuse, Penn State shows a greater sense of urgency with Big Ten play looming and thumps Temple. The run game finally gets going as Evan Royster eclipses 100 rushing yards and Stephfon Green adds 75. The Lions defense holds Temple to two field goals as defensive end Jack Crawford has a big day.

Wisconsin 44, Wofford 7 -- The Badgers are healthier and Wofford is not, as leading rusher Eric Breitenstein will be out a month with a knee injury. John Clay puts up 150 rush yards in his first career start and Dave Doeren's defense gets some of its swagger back against the FCS Terriers.

Purdue 35, Northern Illinois 27 -- Something tells me this one won't be easy for Purdue, but the Boilers prevail behind Ralph Bolden and quarterback Joey Elliott, who bounces back from last week's loss with an encouraging performance. Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish tests a banged-up Boilermakers secondary, but Purdue tightens up its play and prevails.

Ohio State 41, Toledo 17 -- This is a good matchup for a struggling Buckeyes offense, which should put up points against a Toledo team that allowed 90 in the first two games. Terrelle Pryor has a big day with his arm and his feet, and the Buckeyes roll. Aaron Opelt could give Ohio State some problems, but the defense I saw last week in Columbus is too solid up front to allow many points.

Notre Dame 28, Michigan State 27 -- By far the toughest game to pick this week, but I'm going with the team that needs it more. Home field really doesn't matter for Notre Dame, which has dropped six straight to Michigan State. But the Irish know a loss here likely torpedoes their season and head coach Charlie Weis. The Spartans secondary struggled mightily last week, and Notre Dame's Golden Tate and Michael Floyd are better than Central Michigan's Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson. Kirk Cousins plays well, but the Spartans come up just short.

Akron 24, Indiana 20 -- My lack of faith in the Hoosiers hurt me last week, and we'll see what happens this time around. Indiana's defense has performed admirably so far, but the team has made too many mistakes for my liking. Akron quarterback Chris Jacquemain is pretty good, and he attacks the IU secondary with Deryn Bowser. The Hoosiers can't survive mistakes on the road and drop this one.

Iowa 21, Arizona 17 -- It will be a defensive struggle at Kinnick Stadium, as both units are solid. Arizona running back Nic Grigsby makes some plays, but Iowa forces several turnovers, including a key interception in the fourth quarter that proves to be the difference. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi limits mistakes and throws a pair of touchdown passes

Northwestern 26, Syracuse 21 -- The win won't come easily for Northwestern, but you have to think the coaches will expand the playbook on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Mike Kafka finally showcases his mobility against an aggressive Orange defense, and he has another big day in a dome. The Wildcats defense gets a big boost from the return of cornerback Sherrick McManis, who keeps Orange star wideout Mike Williams relatively in check.

Bye -- Illinois

Season record -- 18-4 (.818)

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 3

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
8:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Week 3 doesn't match its predecessor in terms of national prestige, but it still means a lot to the Big Ten. Wins over teams like Cal, Arizona and even Notre Dame would help the league's national reputation.

Here are 10 things you don't want to miss.

Spartans go for lucky seven -- The House that Rockne Built has turned into Spartan Stadium South, as Michigan State has claimed six consecutive games in South Bend. A seventh straight is crucial, especially after the Spartans lost their focus last week against Central Michigan. Notre Dame also comes in wounded and desperate for a victory, which could take some pressure off head coach Charlie Weis. Michigan State's secondary needs a much better effort against Notre Dame deep threats Golden Tate, Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph. Kirk Cousins could cement himself as the Spartans' starting quarterback with a big day.

Minnesota linebackers take on Cal's Best -- Led by reigning National Defensive Player of the Week Nate Triplett, the Gophers' linebacking corps has led an improved defense in two victories. But things get much harder this weekend as Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best visits TCF Bank Stadium with eighth-ranked California. Minnesota gets a chance to show off its new stadium to the country against a top 10 team, but Best and backup Shane Vereen could make it a long day.

Iowa homecoming for Stoops -- Arizona head coach Mike Stoops returns to his alma mater with a pretty decent Wildcats team. The Iowa faithful undoubtedly will welcome the former All-Big Ten safety, but Stoops hopes to ruin their afternoon. Wildcats running back Nic Grigsby, the nation's second leading rusher, will match up against a Hawkeyes defense coming off a very impressive performance against Iowa State.

Buckeyes, Rockets clash in Cleveland -- What looked like a total mismatch before the season has spawned some more intriguing plotlines. Ohio State comes off a crushing loss to USC and needs to spark Terrelle Pryor and the offense against a Toledo team that has allowed 90 points in two games. If the Buckeyes can't score against this team, start to get concerned. Toledo, meanwhile, is riding high after thumping Colorado and boasts a dangerous quarterback in Aaron Opelt. Plus, head coaches Jim Tressel and Tim Beckman grew up together. And the game will be played at Cleveland Browns Stadium. I'm actually excited for this one.

Penn State ready to run -- The run game has been grounded so far in Happy Valley, and Penn State needs to get things corrected against Temple. Penn State boasts the Big Ten's best all-around back in Evan Royster, but the new faces on the offensive line have struggled a bit. The Lions can't afford to be one-dimensional when Iowa comes to town Sept. 26, so they need to spark Royster, Stephfon Green and the ground game right away.

Wildcats aim for Syracuse sweep -- The Big Ten is 2-0 against Syracuse this season, though the Orange have been a tougher opponent than many had expected. Northwestern barely squeaked by Eastern Michigan last week and needs a better performance from its defense against Greg Paulus and the Cuse. It's a critical game for the Wildcats, who need quarterback Mike Kafka to be a playmaker and defensive end Corey Wootton to return to the form he showed in 2008.

Wolverines reunite with English -- Michigan's veteran defenders face their former coordinator Ron English, who brings his Eastern Michigan team to the Big House. Players like safety Troy Woolfolk haven't forgotten English's intense style, and they'll look to impress him on Saturday. Michigan must guard against a letdown after an impressive start. Eastern Michigan showed last week that it doesn't quit, and the Wolverines need to maintain their focus to match their wins total from 2008.

Purdue's Bolden rolls along -- If you haven't watched Purdue running back Ralph Bolden yet, tune in to Saturday's game against Northern Illinois. The nation's leading rusher has been spectacular so far, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Purdue has been a surprise team so far in the Big Ten, and the Boilers aim for a 2-1 start against a pretty decent Huskies team that gave Wisconsin all it could handle two weeks ago.

Indiana's defense hits the road -- Make no mistake. Indiana's trip to Akron is huge for Bill Lynch and the Hoosiers. IU hasn't been dominating so far, but it has found ways to win thanks to a veteran-laden defense. The Hoosiers need defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton to apply pressure on Akron quarterback Chris Jacquemain, who has already thrown four touchdown passes to Deryn Bowser this year. If Indiana wants to make any sort of run in 2009, Akron is a must win.

Clay in the starting blocks -- Wisconsin's matchup against Wofford doesn't exactly get the blood flowing, but it's worth watching sophomore running back John Clay make his first career start for the Badgers. Clay has the tools to become a superstar, but he didn't claim the starting job in preseason camp and has struggled with his weight in the past. He comes off a very impressive performance against Fresno State and might establish himself as Wisconsin's top back with a strong showing against Wofford.

A quick look at Week 3 in the Big Ten

September, 14, 2009
9/14/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


After a Saturday showcase in which the nation's two most significant games involved Big Ten teams, the Week 3 slate is a bit of a letdown. Still, there are several interesting matchups and games that can help the league improve its national reputation.

Here's a quick snapshot.

Eastern Michigan (0-2) at Michigan (2-0), Big Ten Network, noon ET

Back in the national rankings and the national spotlight, Michigan tries to keep the momentum going against Eastern Michigan. Several veteran Wolverines defenders will be reunited with former coordinator Ron English, who's in his first year at the helm of the Eagles. Eastern Michigan gave Northwestern all it could handle and looks improved on offense behind quarterback Andy Schmitt. The Wolverines' defense aims for a better showing after struggling to contain Notre Dame's receiving threats.

Temple (0-1) at Penn State (2-0), Big Ten Network, noon ET

The Lions will have no trouble winning this game, but they want to be nearing their peak before Iowa visits Happy Valley on Sept. 26. That means better play from the offensive line and more consistent production from Evan Royster and the running backs. Penn State's defense should shut down a Temple team that lost to Villanova in Week 1, but the Lions' offense needs to diversify before Big Ten play kicks off. Linebacker Navorro Bowman (groin) could miss his second straight game.

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