What to watch in the Big Ten, Week 8

October, 17, 2008
10/17/08
10:53
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ten things you don't want to miss this weekend in the Big Ten.

1. Javon vs. Beanie -- We're on a first-name basis with these two superstar running backs, who match up Saturday at Spartan Stadium (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Michigan State's Javon Ringer remains in the Heisman mix and can help his cause with a big game in the national spotlight. Chris "Beanie" Wells has been solid since his return from injury, but with Ohio State's passing game struggling, his workload likely will increase. Wells has been at his best in big games, and he needs another strong effort against the Spartans.

2. The scoreboard at Beaver Stadium -- How bad will it get for Michigan? No. 3 Penn State enters Saturday's game (ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET) on a nine-game losing streak to the Wolverines, and the Lions undoubtedly have the ability to run up the score. Michigan's defense needs a big performance to keep things close, but the Lions could be looking for revenge. Wolverines quarterback Steven Threet could be limited with a bruised elbow, and the offense likely will struggle against the league's top defense.

3. The man taking snaps for Wisconsin -- Badgers head coach Bret Bielema opened up the competition at quarterback this week, and it seems likely that junior Dustin Sherer will replace Allan Evridge against Iowa. The Hawkeyes allow fewer than 100 rushing yards a game, and Wisconsin will need its quarterback to make some plays. Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst liked the spark Sherer provided in mop-up time against Penn State. They might make a switch after seeing too many mistakes from the quarterback spot.

4. Terrelle Pryor and the passing game -- There was some grumbling this week in Columbus about a punch-less passing attack, and it will be interesting to see how Pryor responds against Michigan State. Pryor has taken too many sacks in recent weeks, and he needs to make some quicker decisions and get wideouts Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline more involved. Ohio State has slipped to 108th nationally in pass offense (143.6 ypg).

5. C.J. Bacher vs. Curtis Painter -- Both senior quarterbacks have struggled this season, ranking eighth and ninth in the league in pass efficiency. Northwestern is 10-0 in games when Bacher starts and throws fewer than two interceptions and 3-10 when he throws two or more picks. Painter hasn't thrown a touchdown pass this month and needs to inspire confidence in his teammates with a strong performance at Ryan Field.

6. Juice and the record books -- Illinois quarterback Juice Williams has set stadium records for total offense in each of his last two games. That's 934 yards of offense in eight quarters. Mercy. He now takes aim on an Indiana defense that has allowed 42 points or more in three of its last four games. Williams already has eight completions for 50 yards or more this season -- the most for any FBS quarterback -- and Indiana's secondary is susceptible to the big play.

7. Jim Tressel vs. Mark Dantonio -- Tressel and his former defensive coordinator square off for the third consecutive season, and though their teams are the bigger story this time, it will be interesting to see the two coaches match wits. Both men admit they don't enjoy facing one another, but Dantonio and Michigan State can take a major step forward by beating Tressel and the three-time defending Big Ten champions. "I sort of enjoy playing Ohio State," Dantonio said. "I always did when I was here before. I don't enjoy playing people that are close friends, I guess, but I enjoy playing against a football team that is from where I grew up."

8. Indiana's quarterback situation -- Kellen Lewis sat out practice this week and is listed as questionable for the Illinois game with a high ankle sprain. Indiana trusts sophomore Ben Chappell, who has shared the field with Lewis at times this season. But Lewis remains Indiana's biggest threat, and the Hoosiers will need more playmakers to develop if the junior is limited or unavailable against the high-powered Illini.

9. Penn State and the trap game -- Lions players insist they're not concerned about the losing streak to Michigan or the psychological effect such a slide could have on Saturday. But if Michigan somehow jumps ahead, it will be interesting to see how Penn State responds. These teams aren't comparable on paper, but college football always has some surprises and Penn State has a huge game next week at Ohio State. As Penn State coach Joe Paterno said recently, "I don't know what an upset is any more."

10. Do-it-all backs in Evanston -- Tyrell Sutton and Kory Sheets don't get the same attention as Ringer, Wells, Shonn Greene and Evan Royster, but there aren't two more versatile running backs in the conference. Sutton is quietly averaging 100.5 rush yards per game and ranks third on the team with 24 receptions. Sheets ranks second in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (156 ypg), accounting for 34 first downs (29 rushing, 5 receiving) this season.

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