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Big Ten viewer’s guide: Week 7

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
Week 7 is here, and let’s not sugarcoat it: Big Ten football has looked more interesting on other weekends. This first Saturday of the season without nonconference action lacks marquee matchups. Still, the division races will continue to take shape.

Here’s a look at the five games (all times Eastern):


Illinois (3-3) and Wisconsin (3-2), ESPN2: Will Melvin Gordon run for 300 yards? If the Badgers wanted it to happen, Illinois’ 119th-ranked rushing defense would likely comply. More of the intrigue in Madison involves the quarterbacks. For Wisconsin, Joel Stave, who returned last week against Northwestern, will see time, in addition to Tanner McEvoy, who might also take a shot at receiver. And with Illinois’ Wes Lunt out with a fractured leg, senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey, who was set to redshirt, have competed in practice this week.

Indiana (3-2) and Iowa (4-1), ESPNU: Indiana has shown it can win on the road in tough spots, handing Missouri its lone loss on Sept. 20. The Hoosiers are more explosive on offense than any foe Iowa has faced. But Indiana still can’t defend well, in particular against proficient quarterbacks. The Hawkeyes are going back to Jake Rudock at the start, but C.J. Beathard will play. How well can Greg Davis manage this? If it’s a disaster, Indiana might just find itself in the right place at the right time for an upset bid.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cobb
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesDavid Cobb and Minnesota can take a big step in their quest for a Western Division crown by beating Northwestern on Saturday.
Northwestern (3-2) at Minnesota (4-1), BTN: Who would have guessed a month ago, as the Golden Gophers fell flat at TCU and the Wildcats sat winless, that this game would have legitimate implications for the West Division title race? It does, with NU in quest of a third straight unexpected win to open league play. Its defense led the charge against Penn State and Wisconsin. Minnesota is simply solid, led by David Cobb, statistically the league’s most valuable offensive player. Minnesota has defended the pass especially well in recent games and will test Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian, 13th in the Big Ten in QBR.

3:30 p.m.

No. 8 Michigan State (4-1) at Purdue (3-3), ESPN2: At least it’s not the best team in the Big Ten against the worst. Purdue escaped the low spot last week with a win over Illinois. And sophomore quarterback Austin Appleby looked good in the victory. Very good, in fact. Back at home, he figures to find a much more difficult situation against the Spartans, who might come in a bit angry after nearly blowing a 24-point, fourth-quarter lead against Nebraska.

7 p.m.

Penn State (4-1) at Michigan (2-4), ESPN2: The visitors from Happy Valley, after an off week, get an opportunity to show that their anemic performance against Northwestern was just a fluke. With an upcoming stretch of three challenging games, no better time exists for PSU to get healthy than at Michigan, trying to avoid its first 0-3 start in the Big Ten since 1965. Against a good Penn State front, the Wolverines must protect Devin Gardner and throw the football, neither of which they’ve done well in recent weeks.

Required reading

Irish face new challenges for bye week

October, 11, 2011
With four straight wins and two consecutive 500-plus-yard, zero-turnover performances, Notre Dame enters its bye week on a roll.

At 4-2 halfway through the season and on the brink of cracking the national rankings, the Irish's momentum is at a season-high. But Brian Kelly isn't worried about the bye possibly slowing that down, instead looking at it as the perfect opportunity for his team at the exact midway point of the regular season.

"I'm answering honestly from my perspective as a head coach, and having been a head coach for 21 years, momentum is needed when there's not a lot of wind in the sails," Kelly said. "When you have confidence in your ability, momentum is not a necessary part of that. I think that momentum then becomes a turnover in a first series and capitalizing on it with a touchdown. That to me is momentum within the game now."

The circumstances surrounding this year's bye week present a different set of challenges from last year's. Many of Notre Dame's players had mid-terms entering this past Saturday's game against Air Force, and next week -- the week leading up to its prime-time showdown with USC -- the school is on fall break.

Last year's bye came on Nov. 6, nine games into the season. At 4-5, Notre Dame was coming off consecutive losses to Navy and Tulsa, the latter coming in the aftermath of the Declan Sullivan tragedy.

Recharged coming off the bye week, the Irish ran over No. 14 Utah, 28-3, the first of four straight wins to close out the season.

Kelly said Sunday that Notre Dame was scheduled to lift weights Monday and run 11-on-11 action Tuesday and Wednesday to keep the players moving for their next game.

USC, which had a bye this past weekend, plays Cal on Thursday before its Oct. 22 trip to South Bend.

Kelly won't install the game plan for the Trojans just yet, instead just running some of their basic plays and defensive schemes.

"For example, if they run some two-by-two combination routes, I'm sure I've got a couple of those in my offense that we'll run against our defense without going into a scout team situation and a demo squad," Kelly said. "We are going to stay away from doing that and really go 11-on-11 so we get some good speed work. That's what I'm referring to more so than going scout team this week."

Different year, different situation, different feeling. But in a fast-paced environment, a midseason pause in the action for Kelly and his players is never a bad thing.

"I think we need it; we need a break," Kelly said. "Our kids, they have got a lot on their plate. As I said, we had a very stressful week this week. You know, they will have the bye week and then mid-winter break and that's going to be, you know, key for our guys to just relax a little bit."



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