- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is Week 7 in a 14-week regular season. Some people might say we're approaching the halfway mark.
So even though this weekend's slate of Big Ten conference games might not be the most thrilling we've ever seen, keep in mind that your opportunities to watch football are dwindling. Here is an early look at this week's storylines:
Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at Purdue (3-2, 0-1), Noon, Big Ten Network: The Leaders Division representative -- note, we're not saying champion, since Ohio State and Penn State can win the division title -- for the Big Ten championship just might be determined in the second week of October. If the Badgers win, they'll have a virtual two-game lead since they'll own the head-to-head tiebreaker against Purdue. That makes this a must-win game for the Boilers' title chances. Yes, already.
Iowa (3-2, 1-0) at Michigan State (4-2, 1-1), Noon, ESPN: Look at the Hawkeyes, tied for the Legends Division lead. OK, it's ridiculously early and they've only beaten Minnesota at home. But they could further shake up the division race by winning in East Lansing, as they did in 2010. If the Spartans come out like they did in the first half against Indiana, they will be in trouble. These two teams may be closer than you think. Both have good defenses, big backs (Le'Veon Bell and Mark Weisman) and underperforming passing games.
Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) at Minnesota (4-1, 0-1), Noon, ESPN2: The winner will stay alive in the Legends race, while the loser is probably done. More importantly for the Gophers, it's a chance to get one step closer to bowl eligibility against a beatable team at home. Northwestern got off to the wrong kind of start in October with its fourth-quarter collapse at Penn State and needs this one to put together a special season, especially with games against Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State looming after Saturday.
Illinois (2-4, 0-2) at No. 25 Michigan (3-2, 1-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC: Remember that 67-65 game two years ago in Ann Arbor? That was fun. Looks like only one team here could score that many points this time. Illinois is struggling in all facets, especially on defense after allowing more than 40 points per game against its past four FBS opponents. The Illini have had particular trouble slowing down spread teams, which could mean a big day for Denard Robinson. Michigan just has to worry about not looking ahead to its make-or-break two-game stretch (Michigan State, at Nebraska) following this one.
No. 8 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at Indiana (2-3, 0-2), 8 p.m. BTN: The Hoosiers hung with the Buckeyes into the fourth quarter last year in Columbus. While Ohio State is much improved, Indiana also looks better, though its progress has merely translated into agonizing losses against Ball State, Northwestern and Michigan State. Scarlet and Gray fans usually make Memorial Stadium the Horseshoe West. We suspect Braxton Miller will feel right at home against IU's defense.
Byes: Nebraska, Penn State