Big Ten: Rusty Smith

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Joey Elliott wants to become the next Josh Heupel.

Sure, he wouldn't mind leading Purdue to a national title, winning the AP Player of the Year award and finishing second in Heisman Trophy voting. But Elliott is more interested in mirroring Heupel's rapid rise up the college coaching ranks.

Heupel landed a job as Oklahoma's quarterbacks coach less than five years after quarterbacking the Sooners to a national title in 2000. Elliott, a senior quarterback at Purdue, wouldn't mind joining the Boilers' staff in the near future.

  Sandra Dukes/Icon SMI
  Joey Elliott looks to be the starter this fall for Purdue, but he also has an eye toward a future in coaching.

Rather than savoring the final hours of winter break in January, Elliott traveled to Nashville for the American Football Coaches Association convention. Along with his dad, John, a longtime coach in Indiana, Elliott spent several days networking, studying and soaking it in.

He attended seminars led by Heupel, Arkansas quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee and Georgia Southern head coach Chris Hatcher, among others. And he rarely strayed far from his dad's side.

"I followed his coattails," Elliott said. "He introduced me to everybody he knew and let them know I'm getting into coaching. It's kind of a word-of-mouth career. It's who you know, what you know.

"You need to have a way in."

Elliott might finally have a way in to Purdue's starting quarterback spot after four years of waiting. Curtis Painter has graduated and Elliott's primary competitor this spring, Justin Siller, was dismissed from school earlier this month for academic violations.

A coaching career awaits Elliott, but he's got unfinished business as a player.

"In my mind, he's the starter," Purdue offensive coordinator Gary Nord said. "At the same time, we haven't named anything, and anybody can beat anybody out. Nobody's guaranteed anything. The coaching staff doesn't know what the capabilities are, doesn't know the intangibles of them yet."

The last part shouldn't be a hard sell for Elliott, whose high school coach, Harvey Robbins, said he "always took care of the intangibles."

(Read full post)

Big Ten: What to watch in Week 4

September, 19, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Only eight games on the slate this week, but there's no shortage of subplots, especially on the defensive side.

Let's take a look:

1. Ringer vs. the world: Notre Dame will do all it can to stop Michigan State's Javon Ringer on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Ringer likely can expect to see eight or nine men in the box, as the Fighting Irish dare Brian Hoyer to beat them. The overloading still might not be enough, as Ringer has racked up 417 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in his last two games.

2. Pryor's coronation in Columbus: Terrelle Pryor and Todd Boeckman will split snaps for Ohio State against Troy, but this game is a chance for the freshman to take control of the offense. If Pryor continues to show good poise and playmaking ability, he'll continue to be featured when the Buckeyes enter Big Ten play. Boeckman will get his opportunities as well, but with the top goal off the table for the Buckeyes, they have to look toward the future.

3. Iowa D takes on real McCoy: The Hawkeyes have already collected eight takeaways without allowing a touchdown this season, but they face their first major test in Pitt running back LeSean McCoy. Expect McCoy to run away from Iowa star tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, which will put pressure on less proven players to step up.

4. Indiana on the defensive: I've already heard from several furious Hoosiers fans about my upset pick of Ball State against their unproven team. Let's see if an improved Hoosiers defense proves me a fool when it faces dynamic quarterback Nate Davis and FBS receiving leader Dante Love. There's no doubt Kellen Lewis will make plays for Indiana, but the team's fate, as usual, rests with the defense.

5. Northwestern chases history: Nonconference losses have been Northwestern's biggest bugaboo, even during the program's renaissance in the mid-1990s. The Wildcats can sweep their nonleague slate for the first time since 1963 by beating Ohio at home. It won't be easy, as the Bobcats are much better than their record indicates and athletic quarterback Boo Jackson spells trouble for an improved Northwestern defense.

6. Tiller gets record: Joe Tiller already should be Purdue's all-time winningest coach, but his team lost another winnable big game last Saturday against Oregon. Tiller sets the record this week as Curtis Painter and the Boilermakers pick apart a Central Michigan defense that looks overmatched against BCS foes. Dan LeFevour makes the game interesting for a while, but Purdue beats the Chippewas for the third straight time.

7. Gophers secondary tested: No one would mistake Minnesota's nonleague schedule for, say, Washington's, but the Gophers deserve a ton of credit if they go 4-0 after winning one game all of last season. Standing in their path is Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith, who will perform much better than he did in the rain last week in East Lansing. Minnesota's new-look secondary of Tramaine Brock, Traye Simmons, Marcus Sherels and Kyle Theret have shown good playmaking skills so far and need continued progress against the Owls.

8. Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen: Coach Kirk Ferentz seems to be telling Christensen, "Take the job already, will ya?" The junior gets a great chance to do so on the road against a desperate Pitt team already knocked off its preseason perch. Christensen steadied the offense in the clutch last week against Iowa State but will need to make more pressure plays against the Panthers.

9. Penn State's defensive line: Coach Joe Paterno admits his team hasn't faced any adversity so far this season, at least on the field. Temple quarterback Adam DiMichele should be a good challenge for Penn State's defensive linemen, who have held together nicely despite injuries, dismissals and suspensions. Paterno also should address the status of linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma after the game.

10. Michigan State safety Otis Wiley: Wiley once again looks like the guy who led the team in tackles (94) and pass breakups (10) as a sophomore in 2006. The Spartans need him at his peak against Notre Dame because of lingering personnel issues in the secondary. Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen will look to stretch the field with Golden Tate, and it's up to Wiley to limit the damage.

Big Ten picks for Week 4

September, 18, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Things are about to get tough. The cupcake games (read: easy picks) are evaporating, so it's time to get serious. I'm coming off a solid week record-wise but need to do a bit better with the scores. Fortunately, Saturday's weather forecast looks good in Big Ten territory, so the offenses should be back to normal.

A lot of nail-biters this week.

Northwestern 30, Ohio 24 -- This has the makings of a trap game for the Wildcats, who haven't swept their nonconference games since 1963 and face a winless Ohio team that could easily be 2-1. Elusive quarterback Boo Jackson will test an improved Northwestern defense, but he'll make some mistakes down the stretch. Northwestern might start slow on offense and fall behind, but C.J. Bacher is at his best with his back to the wall and makes enough plays to win.

Minnesota 42, Florida Atlantic 39 -- Those who watched last year's game will understand the significance of the score. Don't expect the same Florida Atlantic team that got shut out in the rain last week at Michigan State. Quarterback Rusty Smith and the Owls surge in the Metrodome. But this is a different Minnesota team, one that deserves a little more faith from me. Adam Weber and Eric Decker hook up for a touchdown in the final minute as the Gophers go 4-0.

Ohio State 42, Troy 10 -- Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells will be limited if he plays at all, and the Buckeyes' offense could start slowly. All eyes will be on the quarterbacks as Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor split snaps for the second straight game. Both quarterbacks will make some plays and the competition will continue into Big Ten play. Troy's athletic quarterback Jamie Hampton could provide some initial trouble for the Buckeyes defense before it locks down.

Penn State 41, Temple 17 -- Joe Paterno is talking up Temple, and the Owls could make Penn State's starters work a little longer than a quarter or two this week. But there's no way Temple can contain all of Penn State's weapons. Wideout Derrick Williams takes his turn at putting up big numbers as the Spread HD offense ignites in the third quarter. Temple quarterback Adam DiMichele will be a good test for a patchwork Lions defensive line.

Iowa 24, Pitt 20 -- I made the mistake of putting Pitt in my preseason Top 25 poll, so I'm not going to let Wanny burn me again. This one could go either way, as Iowa really hasn't been tested yet. The key matchup features Panthers star running back LeSean McCoy against Iowa's defensive line, led by tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Iowa could use two quarterbacks again, but junior Jake Christensen makes a big play late to secure the win.

Purdue 45, Central Michigan 41 -- The teams' third meeting in just over a year will be just as entertaining as the previous matchup at the 2007 Motor City Bowl. Purdue still doesn't know how to win big games and could have a hangover from last week's missed opportunity against Oregon, but Central Michigan really struggles to stop BCS teams. The Chippewas have allowed an average of 51.4 points in their last seven games against BCS foes. That bodes well for Curtis Painter.

Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 28 -- This could be the best game of the day, and I hope it is since I'll be there. Michigan State tries to control the clock with running back Javon Ringer and puts pressure on a questionable Notre Dame defensive line. Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen counters by stretching the field against a suspect Spartans defense. The slight edge goes to Michigan State, which becomes the first team to win at home in the series since 2000.

Ball State 45, Indiana 42 (OT) -- The Cardinals will be pumped for this one, and star quarterback Nate Davis and FBS receiving leader Dante Love fluster a Hoosiers secondary that could be without standout safety Austin Thomas. No Big Ten team has been tested less than Indiana so far, and though Kellen Lewis will move the ball against Ball State, a late-game miscue will prove costly.

Byes: Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois

Season record: 28-3

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Should get a Chris "Beanie" Wells update from Ohio State coach Jim Tressel in a little bit, so check back later.

Let's link.

A look ahead at Week 4

September, 16, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Conference play kicks off next week with several exciting matchups, but five Big Ten teams are trying to round out the non-league slate on a good note. For the second straight year the league is shaping up to have more bowl-eligible teams that available slots, so winning these early games is paramount for squads like Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota. The Hoosiers get back into action after a week off, and Ohio State returns to the field, hoping to turn the page on the USC flop.

Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday.

Ohio at Northwestern (noon ET)

Don't be fooled by Ohio's 0-3 record. The Bobcats built leads against Ohio State and Central Michigan the last two weeks and could be Northwestern's toughest non-league test. The Wildcats are fighting some history, as they haven't had a perfect nonconference season since 1963. Non-league stumbles kept Northwestern out of bowl games in 2004 and 2007, so a win here would be huge. The Wildcats' improved defense will have to contain Bobcats quarterback Boo Jackson, who set a school record with 413 total yards last week.

Florida Atlantic at Minnesota (noon ET)

The Gophers should have plenty of motivation in this one after losing to the Owls last fall in Miami. After going 1-11 in 2007, Minnesota would be two-thirds of the way to bowl eligibility with a victory. But it won't be easy, and the Gophers shouldn't expect to see the same Rusty Smith who completed just 8 of 34 passes in a downpour last week at Michigan State. Smith will challenge a Gophers defense that missed tackles against Montana State and allowed 463 passing yards in last year's contest with the Owls.

Troy at No. 13 Ohio State (noon ET)

It will be an interesting day along the banks of the Olentangy River. How will Ohio State be received after crumbling at the L.A. Coliseum? Will there be a hangover or a new fire with this team? The Buckeyes might take out their frustration on Troy, a solid Sun Belt team that is 2-0 despite losing its star quarterback (Omar Haugabook) and its star offensive coordinator (Tony Franklin). Regardless of who plays running back, it's important for the offensive line and quarterback Todd Boeckman to settle into a good rhythm. Terrelle Pryor likely will continue to see more playing time as Ohio State tries to build momentum before league play.

Temple at No. 16 Penn State (noon ET)

It's been a tough two weeks for Temple, which lost on a Hail Mary against Buffalo and an overtime touchdown against Connecticut. The Owls won't get much sympathy from a Penn State team that has won three games by an average of 43 points. At least the Lions should be tested by a solid Temple offense led by quarterback Adam DiMichele, who leads the team in both passing (204.7 ypg) and rushing (39 ppg). Former Penn State captain Al Golden will make his first appearance at Beaver Stadium as Temple's coach.

Iowa at Pitt (ESPN2, noon ET)

The Hawkeyes have looked fabulous at home, particularly on defense. Their first voyage away from Kinnick Stadium brings new challenges, namely a Pitt team that desperately needs a win to avoid being branded a bust and putting coach Dave Wannstedt on the hot seat. The game's key matchup pairs Pitt star running back LeSean McCoy against an Iowa defensive line anchored by four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul. The Hawkeyes remain unsettled at quarterback and should get some answers -- good or bad -- at that position against the Panthers.

Central Michigan at Purdue (noon ET)

These teams have to be sick of one another. Saturday marks their third meeting since Sept. 15, 2007, with Purdue winning both previous contests. The Boilers' big-game blues continued last week against Oregon, but another matchup with a quality team provides a chance for redemption. Central Michigan's defense struggles against BCS foes, so Curtis Painter should be able to get on track. The key will be whether Purdue's defense continues to make plays in the red zone against Dan LeFevour. A victory makes Joe Tiller Purdue's all-time winningest coach.

Notre Dame at Michigan State (ABC, 3:30 ET)

The Spartans look like the better team, but in this series it rarely matters. The road team has won the last seven meetings, stretching back to 2001, and Michigan State must only remember its 2006 collapse in the rain to recognize that anything can happen. Notre Dame's improved offense will challenge the Spartans, who shut out Florida Atlantic but will need a strong performance from a patchwork secondary to stop Fighting Irish deep threat Golden Tate. Expect another big game from Spartans running back Javon Ringer, but quarterback Brian Hoyer will have to make a few big plays as well.

Ball State at Indiana (7 p.m. ET)

This should be one of the day's most exciting games, as Indiana gets tested for the first time this season. Ball State quarterback Nate Davis ranks sixth nationally in passer rating (189.4) and will look for Dante Love, the nation's leading receiver (144.3 ypg). Indiana counters with Kellen Lewis, who has been terrific so far, averaging 248 yards of total offense per game. Add in the subplot of Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch facing the team that fired him in 2002, and this is a game you don't want to miss.

Byes: Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois

A look back at the Week 3 picks

September, 15, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The record looks good (9-1), but a closer look reveals some score predictions that weren't even on the radar. You can bet I'll be on throughout the week before making my upcoming selections. Predicting an offensive shootout in East Lansing without accounting for the impending deluge was foolish. Then again, no one forecasted Michigan and Notre Dame combining to score 52 points in rain-soaked South Bend.

Time to review the picks:


  • My pick: Michigan State 44, Florida Atlantic 23
  • Game result: Michigan State 17, Florida Atlantic 0
  • 20-20 hindsight: The rain slowed down everybody but Javon Ringer, who backed up my prediction with a career high 282 rushing yards. Rusty Smith and the FAU offense looked totally lost in the monsoon, but credit Michigan State's defense for firming up. The Spartans will need a bigger game from Brian Hoyer this week against Notre Dame, but the senior quarterback did his job by handing off to Ringer.


  • My pick: Minnesota 45, Montana State 14
  • Game result: Minnesota 35, Montana State 23
  • 20-20 hindsight: I expected a little more from the Gophers' defense, which got a great performance from DE Willie VanDeSteeg (3 TFLs) but missed a lot of tackles. DeLeon Eskridge emerged as a potential answer at running back, and the Adam Weber-Eric Decker combination continued to flourish. Decker had 157 receiving yards and a touchdown.


  • My pick: Illinois 55, Louisiana-Lafayette 24
  • Game result: Illinois 20, Louisiana-Lafayette 17
  • 20-20 hindsight: Juice Williams won't hear any Heisman talk after this game. Same goes for Rejus Benn and several other Illini stars. Coach Ron Zook challenged his best players to be better after a lackluster performance. Linebacker Brit Miller answered the call and had a great strip-and-score on a 27-yard fumble return, but there weren't many other highlights.


  • My pick: Northwestern 37, Southern Illinois 21
  • Game result: Northwestern 33, Southern Illinois 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: Another rain game in which one team's defense stepped up. I underestimated the Mike Hankwitz effect and the Wildcats continued to surge under their new coordinator, collecting six sacks in the victory. As expected, Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton returned to form with three rushing touchdowns and quarterback C.J. Bacher looked a bit more comfortable in the pocket.


  • My pick: Iowa 31, Iowa State 21
  • Game result: Iowa 17, Iowa State 5
  • 20-20 hindsight: Another misread by your Big Ten blogger. I expected sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi to take control of the offense, but starter-turned-backup Jake Christensen ended up being the more effective quarterback. The QB controversy continues, but I'm not giving nearly enough credit to a Hawkeyes defense that has allowed six points -- Iowa State had a safety Saturday -- in three games.


  • My pick: Penn State 51, Syracuse 10
  • Game result: Penn State 55, Syracuse 13
  • 20-20 hindsight: This was my closest pick of the week, thanks to Penn State's reliably dominant Spread HD offense and the worst BCS team in the country. Evan Royster had another 100-yard rushing game, but it was the passing attack of Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin that punished the Orange. With five touchdown passes, the Lions showed they can win in multiple ways.


  • My pick: Oregon 44, Purdue 31
  • Game result: Oregon 32, Purdue 26 (2 OT)
  • 20-20 hindsight: This turned into a pleasant surprise for those of us who attended the game. Purdue's defense showed a lot of moxie and contained a very dangerous Ducks attack in the red zone. The Ducks' much-publicized speed was a factor down the stretch as Jairus Byrd's punt return for a touchdown changed the game. But the Boilermakers wasted several opportunities to pull an upset and lost another big one.


  • My pick: Michigan 21, Notre Dame 10
  • Game result: Notre Dame 35, Michigan 17
  • 20-20 hindsight: The Wolverines' defensive linemen performed below expectations, but they didn't have much chance to dominate the game because their teammates treated the football like a hot potato. Turnovers turned this into a surprisingly high-scoring affair. The weird thing is that both Steven Threet and Sam McGuffie had their moments for Michigan, but the game still turned into a disaster.


  • My pick: USC 31, Ohio State 24
  • Game result: USC 35, Ohio State 3
  • 20-20 hindsight: At least USC came through for me on the points total, but I'll count myself among the millions who were let down by the Buckeyes. Ohio State's offense couldn't keep pace for two quarters, much less four, and the team's national title hopes are gone for good. Terrelle Pryor performed about as expected, and Jim Tressel has some decisions to make at quarterback going forward.


  • My pick: Wisconsin 28, Fresno State 27
  • Game result: Wisconsin 13, Fresno State 10
  • 20-20 hindsight: P.J. Hill (112 rush yards) had my back after our conversation last week, but Wisconsin's defense proved to be the real story in a huge road win. Both defenses performed well, but the Badgers made more big plays, forcing two turnovers (actually three, if you include a blown fumble call). Wisconsin also avoided a slow start for the first time this year.

Bye: Indiana

Season record: 28-3

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten entered the season with two ways to improve its national image. The first called for a veteran-laden Ohio State team with 20 returning starters to finish what it started the previous two years and win a national championship. The other option ultimately was more important to the league's long-term health, but seemed difficult.

Other teams needed to show they could close the gap with the Buckeyes and compete well on the national stage. If Ohio State was far and away the class of the league but continued to flop against elite opponents, national respect would be in short supply. Well, Ohio State flopped big-time on the grandest stage Saturday night, not even managing a touchdown against top-ranked USC in a 35-3 loss at the L.A. Coliseum. The Buckeyes will get Chris "Beanie" Wells back and still make a run for a BCS bowl, but the door is open for other Big Ten teams to carry the banner.

Wisconsin and Penn State certainly look up to the task. The Badgers claimed a gutsy road win against always-tough Fresno State and Penn State, despite weak competition so far, has simply blown teams away.

Here's a look at five lessons from Week 3:

1. Big Ten title goes through Madison -- Wisconsin survived its biggest road test of the season by overcoming several obstacles, including the officials, at Fresno State. The power run game came through at critical moments and the defense, led by linebacker DeAndre Levy and tackle Jason Chapman, contained Tom Brandstater and the Bulldogs. The Badgers now benefit from a home schedule that includes Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois. Wisconsin hasn't lost at home under coach Bret Bielema.

2. Ohio State's offense needs more than Beanie -- There's no doubt Wells makes Ohio State a much better offense, not only from a productivity standpoint but because of the confidence he gives others and the on-field leadership he provides. But the USC game showed that the unit has several areas to repair. There's still not nearly enough creativity in the scheme. A veteran line crumbled against the Trojans, surrendering five sacks. And Todd Boeckman had another rough night when the team desperately needed strong quarterback play.

3. Fear the Lions -- The real season begins Sept. 27 against Illinois, but Penn State's offense has shown no signs of slowing down. Syracuse became the latest punching bag for Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and their teammates, as Penn State scored 35 points in less than 28 minutes. The Lions' road poise will determine how far they go this fall, as they travel to both Wisconsin and Ohio State, but there's little doubt the Spread HD offense makes them a much better team.

4. Purdue better, but still Purdue -- The Boilermakers' defense deserved better, as a top defender lamented as he stood outside Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday night. Purdue showed it could keep pace with speedy Oregon, thanks to a much-improved secondary and strong line play from Alex Magee and Ryan Baker. But once again, Purdue couldn't come through in a big game. Quarterback Curtis Painter has had a fine career, but the signature win continues to elude him.

5. Defenses flex their muscles -- Ohio State couldn't stop Mark Sanchez and Michigan never got much chance to stop Notre Dame, but the rest of the league showcased its defensive prowess. Michigan State blanked Rusty Smith and Florida Atlantic in the rain, Iowa kept in-state rival Iowa State out of the end zone, Illinois needed a defensive touchdown by Brit Miller to outlast Louisiana-Lafayette and Northwestern continued to improve under new coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Purdue wasted a tremendous defensive performance against Oregon and Penn State continued to excel without Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's a toasty, humid day here in north-central Indiana, but not for long. Thunderstorms are expected right around kickoff or shortly thereafter. The rain might slow down Oregon's speedsters, but the accompanying wind will also bring problems for Purdue's pass-oriented spread offense. Either way, weather should be a factor.

Looking around the Big Ten, the defenses are shining in bad weather:

  • The Illinois defense seems to have gotten its act together, storming out to a 17-3 lead against Louisiana-Lafayette. Linebacker Brit Miller already made a huge play, stripping the ball from quarterback Michael Desormeaux and racing 27 yards to the end zone. This game provided a decent test for Illinois' run defense, and so far they've come through on a day where quarterback Juice Williams has had some problems.
  • Michigan State's defensive line also has stepped up so far, holding Florida Atlantic scoreless in the opening half. Owls standout quarterback Rusty Smith had a horrendous half, completing just 4 of 22 passes in a downpour, but credit the Spartans' defense for stepping up (just 88 first-half yards allowed).
  • Iowa continues to move the ball behind Ricky Stanzi and Shonn Greene but has little to show for it so far. Stanzi completed just 5 of his first 12 pass attempts and the Hawkeyes haven't scored since the game's early minutes. Fortunately for them, Iowa State hasn't done anything against a strong defensive front seven.
  • Northwestern's defense continues to hold together long enough for the offense to get going. The Wildcats still have some troubles finding the end zone and the offensive line is a question, but they seem to be best after they get behind and running back Tyrell Sutton is taking over in the rain. And the defense is clearly better and more assertive under new coordinator Mike Hankwitz.
  • Montana State is giving Minnesota some problems, but as expected, quarterback Adam Weber got it together in the second quarter. This could come down to the final minutes.

Big Ten: What to watch in Week 3

September, 12, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

A great weekend of Big Ten games is on tap, and not just the big one at the L.A. Coliseum (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). I expect all of you to gain a few pounds sitting on your couches throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning. Anything less will be unacceptable. I get a rare Friday night at home -- fiancee is happy -- before hitting the road early Saturday to watch Purdue and No. 16 Oregon go at it (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

A quick disclaimer about this post because I've gotten a lot of nasty e-mails. These are the best 10 things to watch on a given Saturday, not the best thing to watch for each team. There often will be two items for a marquee game -- like the one in L.A. -- and multiple teams won't make the rundown, especially those playing weak competition. That's how it works.

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

1. Beanie watch ends: Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells is listed as doubtful for the matchup against top-ranked USC, but nothing will be settled until kickoff. Coach Jim Tressel doesn't want to risk further injury to Wells in September, but if the Heisman Trophy candidate can contribute, the Buckeyes will use him. If not, get ready for a guy (Dan Herron) nicknamed "Boom." Unfortunately, that's also the sound Rey Maualuga makes when he connects with ball carriers.

2. Pryor restraint: Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor will play a role against the Trojans. How significant a role largely depends on Beanie Wells' availability. If the offense stalls like it did last week without Wells, Pryor could get extended time in an effort to throw off the USC defense. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound freshman is a special talent, but can he handle the spotlight of such a marquee game?

3. Badgers hit the road: Wisconsin has survived slow starts against inferior opposition, but it can't afford to drag against Fresno State. Keep your eyes on Badgers quarterback Allan Evridge, who makes his first road start since 2005. Coach Bret Bielema gets two big pieces -- tight end Travis Beckum and linebacker Jonathan Casillas -- back on the field following injuries, but both players could be a bit rusty.

4. 'Hell' with the victors: Michigan players saw Charlie Weis' words around their training room this week. The Wolverines head to South Bend hoping to hand Weis and Notre Dame a third humiliating loss in the last three years. Quarterback Steven Threet gets the start and needs to show greater consistency, but he'll get help from a veteran defensive line that swarmed Jimmy Clausen last year.

5. Track meet at Ross-Ade -- Purdue has marveled at Oregon's team speed all week, and the Boilers have to find a way to keep pace Saturday afternoon. This will be the first of several defining games for Purdue senior quarterback Curtis Painter, who will set plenty of records but needs signature wins to complete his resume. The Boilermakers' back seven has improved but will play without speedy linebacker Jason Werner. Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson could capitalize.

6. Backer bonanza: NFL scouts will be drooling as arguably the nation's best linebacker tandems take the field at the L.A. Coliseum. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman hope to continue their takeaway trend against Mark Sanchez, while the "scary" Maualuga and Brian Cushing bring the pain to the Buckeyes offense.

7. State pride on the line: This is more than a rivalry game for Iowa. Iowa State provides the first significant test for the Hawkeyes, who have looked dominant against shoddy competition. Sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi has a grasp on the starting job and the support of Iowa fans, but he'll need to continue to make progress against the Cyclones. The home team has won the last four Cy-Hawk trophies, a good sign for Iowa.

8. Rush hour in East Lansing: Michigan State's defensive line has yet to break out, and Saturday would be a fine time to do so. Sun Belt champ Florida Atlantic and standout quarterback Rusty Smith come to town, and the Spartans need to apply pressure to avoid problems. With uncertainty in the secondary, Michigan State needs big things from end Trevor Anderson and tackle Justin Kershaw.

9. Illini D-line under the gun -- Illinois ranks 101st nationally in rush defense (201 ypg), a troubling sign as Louisiana-Lafayette's dynamic quarterback Michael Desormeaux comes to town. Can veterans like Will Davis, Derek Walker, Doug Pilcher and David Lindquist shore up the defensive front? This would be a perfect time as Illinois inches closer to a tough opening stretch in league play.

10. Orange could be feeling blue: What was once a great rivalry could get ugly Saturday at the Carrier Dome as Penn State's high-powered offense faces the worst BCS team in the country. Syracuse should be pumped for the game: coach Greg Robinson desperately needs a positive showing: but Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and the 17th-ranked Nittany Lions should put up some ridiculous numbers in this one.

Big Ten picks for Week 3

September, 11, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

This week needs no introduction. It boasts an excellent selection of games around the Big Ten, certain to destroy my nearly spotless season record. Two matchups with the Pac-10 and another with a non-BCS power from the West Coast headline the slate, which will largely determine public opinion about the Big Ten until the bowl season.

Expect a bunch of offense on Saturday, except in South Bend.

Michigan State 44, Florida Atlantic 23 -- Rusty Smith and the Owls offense will test the Spartans, who need their line to generate pressure and their patchwork secondary to hold together. But Florida Atlantic's defense has looked awful so far and it's only a matter of time before Javon Ringer gets going again. Quarterback Brian Hoyer and wideouts Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham should have big games as well.

Minnesota 45, Montana State 14 -- The audition to replace running back Duane Bennett begins as Minnesota gets a long look at junior Jay Thomas and freshmen DeLeon Eskridge and Shady Salamon. The Gophers lost to a FCS team (North Dakota State) last year, but quarterback Adam Weber won't let it happen again. Montana State running back Demetrius Crawford tests Minnesota's front seven.

Illinois 55, Louisiana-Lafayette 24 -- Until Illinois' defensive line starts playing to its potential and stopping the run, teams will continue to put up points. Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Michael Desormeaux is very dangerous on the move, so linebackers Brit Miller and Martez Wilson need to track him. Juice Williams continues to put up huge numbers against an overmatched defense.

Northwestern 37, Southern Illinois 21 -- C.J. Bacher and his receivers regain their timing against a Salukis defense that gave up 31 points to Hampton in the opener. More importantly, running back Tyrell Sutton gets on track after cramps limited him against Duke. Running back Larry Warner and the SIU offense should keep things close for a while, but Northwestern pulls away in the third quarter.

Iowa 31, Iowa State 21 -- The home team has won the last four Cy-Hawk Trophies, and though the Hawkeyes haven't been tested this fall, they'll prevail at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa State's struggles to defend the run hurts against blossoming back Shonn Greene. Expect an early hiccup for quarterback Ricky Stanzi, but Iowa's acknowledged starter settles down in the second quarter.

Penn State 51, Syracuse 10 -- Syracuse has a big weekend on tap with the premiere of "The Express," a film about Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis. The actual game will be the lowlight. Syracuse allowed 42 points to Akron at home last week, and Penn State provides a much tougher test. Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and Stephfon Green run all around the Carrier Dome.

Oregon 44, Purdue 31 -- This will be a shootout for a while before Oregon pulls away on the field and on the scoreboard. Purdue's coaches gushed all week about the Ducks' team speed, and it will take a phenomenal game plan from defensive coordinator Brock Spack to keep Oregon in check, especially with his fastest linebacker, Jason Werner, sidelined. Joe Tiller's record-setting win will have to wait a week.

Michigan 21, Notre Dame 10 -- The Wolverines' veteran defensive line is the difference against a still shaky Fighting Irish offensive front. Jimmy Clausen won't spend as much time on the ground as he did last year in Ann Arbor, but Michigan defensive end Tim Jamison should cause some havoc. Quarterback Steven Threet makes a few mistakes before moving the ball with short passes, and a Michigan running back breaks a long touchdown run.

USC 31, Ohio State 24 -- The Buckeyes perform better than many expect, but there are just too many factors going against them. USC never loses in L.A. -- at least not to formidable opponents -- and the bye week should benefit the Trojans. Ohio State's defense generates an early turnover, but the offense won't be able to keep up for four quarters without a fully healthy Chris "Beanie" Wells. Terrelle Pryor makes a big play and a bone-headed one, and the Buckeyes' national title hopes fade -- at least for now.

Wisconsin 28, Fresno State 27 -- I had Fresno State winning this game until a conversation Tuesday night with a Wisconsin player (check back Friday to see who he was). The Bulldogs certainly provide an incredible challenge, but the Badgers avoid another slow start and start pounding away with their running backs. All-American tight end Travis Beckum makes his debut and comes up with a big catch or two in the fourth quarter as Wisconsin survives.

Bye: Indiana

Season record: 19-2

A look at Week 3

September, 8, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Clear your Saturday schedule, especially the afternoon and evening. This week brings us the best Big Ten games of the nonconference season, if not the entire fall. Aside from a few more interleague matchups later this month, Saturday will be the biggest chance for the Big Ten to prove it isn't overrated and can compete on a national stage.

Here's a look:

Florida Atlantic at Michigan State (noon ET)

The defending Sun Belt champs come to East Lansing, and this shouldn't be an easy game for the Spartans. Quarterback Rusty Smith and wide receiver Cortez Gent will test a Spartans secondary led by safety Otis Wiley, who looks like the player we saw in 2006 (10 PBUs, 6.5 TFLs). Nobody has been able to touch Smith so far, and Saturday will be a chance for Spartans end Trevor Anderson to back up his preseason hype. Coming off a five-touchdown performance, Michigan State's Javon Ringer should have another big day against the nation's 97th-ranked rushing defense.

Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 24 Illinois (noon ET)

It's important for the Illini to stop a somewhat disturbing pattern on defense and start stuffing the run. Illinois ranks 101st nationally in rushing defense after the first two weeks, a troubling sign for a team that lists the defensive line as its strength. Louisiana-Lafayette has the nation's No. 1 rushing quarterback -- and 10th leading rusher overall -- in senior Michael Desormeaux (146 ypg). Expect another big day from Illini quarterback Juice Williams, but getting the run defense in order has to be the top priority.

Southern Illinois at Northwestern (noon ET)

Northwestern needs a rebound performance from C.J. Bacher and the offense after being fortunate to escape Duke with a 24-20 win on Saturday. Bacher's timing looked off against the Blue Devils and the offense still could be adjusting to new coordinator Mick McCall. Igniting Tyrell Sutton would be a good first step after the senior running back cramped up against Duke and finished with just 66 rushing yards on 16 carries. Southern Illinois, an FBS powerhouse under former coach Jerry Kill, allowed 403 passing yards in a narrow win against Hampton last week.

Montana State at Minnesota (noon ET)

A perfect nonconference season looks likely for the Gophers, but they can't get complacent against FBS Montana State. Keep in mind that Minnesota lost to North Dakota State last year. Sophomore quarterback Adam Weber won't let that happen again, but the spotlight will be on the Gophers' running backs after starter Duane Bennett went down with a knee injury last week. Montana State opened the season by routing my favorite college team, Adams State, before getting the tables turned last week in a 69-10 loss to Kansas State.

Iowa State at Iowa (noon ET)

The Hawkeyes are off and running, ranking 18th nationally in rushing offense (243 ypg) despite the losses of Albert Young and Damian Sims. Their in-state rivals have been susceptible to the run so far (211.5 ypg allowed), but Iowa State still provides the first significant test for Kirk Ferentz's team. Ferentz listed sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi as the starter on this week's depth chart, and though junior Jake Christensen could still play, signs suggest the job is Stanzi's. Another strong performance against the Cyclones could cement things for him.

No. 16 Oregon at Purdue (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)

Get ready for some offense. Word has it Oregon can move the ball a bit, and the Ducks have scored 110 points in their first two games. Purdue used to put up numbers like those, and the Boilermakers are still pretty potent behind record-setting senior quarterback Curtis Painter. This will be a major test for the Boilermakers linebackers, particularly first-year starter Kevin Green in the middle. If Green and Anthony Heygood somehow find a way to contain Jeremiah Johnson or LeGarrette Blount, Purdue will hang around.

No. 17 Penn State at Syracuse (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)

Desperate teams can be dangerous, but the Orange and embattled coach Greg Robinson have too many problems to keep pace with Penn State and the high-powered Spread HD offense. Penn State ranks third nationally in scoring and eighth in rushing, which doesn't bode well for an Orange defense allowing 243.5 rush yards per game. Depending on the outcome of the suspensions for starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma, Penn State should use this game to audition several young players, as line depth has become a concern after the season-ending loss of end Jerome Hayes (torn ACL).

Michigan at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET)

The two traditional powerhouses look anything but so far this season, particularly on offense. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez plans to stick with Steven Threet at quarterback but will need continued production from running backs Sam McGuffie and Brandon Minor. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw three touchdowns last week but struggled with his decision-making at times. Clausen likely will face pressure from Michigan's veteran defensive line, which manhandled him last year in Ann Arbor (eight sacks).

No. 5 Ohio State at No. 1 USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET)

If you're just tuning in -- from Mars -- Ohio State and USC will meet at the L.A. Coliseum to likely determine the nation's No. 1 team and the early national title favorite. The teams have combined for 18 national titles and 14 Heisman Trophy winners, and both rank among the top seven all-time in winning percentage. The game's biggest factor could be Ohio State junior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, a big-game player who comes off a toe injury. The Buckeyes looked lost on offense without Wells last week against Ohio and need him near 100 percent. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez faces a senior-laden Ohio State defense that intercepted four passes last week.

No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 21 Fresno State (ESPN2, 10:30 p.m. ET)

This one is worth staying up for in Big Ten country. Wisconsin has an excellent chance to validate itself as a BCS bowl contender by beating the Bulldogs where few dare to play them -- in their own backyard. P.J. Hill and the Badgers' backs face a Fresno State defense that held Rutgers to seven points in the opener. Hill could wear down the Bulldogs, but Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge likely will need to make several big plays and will search for tight end Travis Beckum, expected to make his season debut along with standout linebacker Jonathan Casillas.

Bye: Indiana