What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 10

October, 31, 2008
10/31/08
10:32
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Both Penn State and Ohio State are off this week, but plenty of interesting subplots remain throughout the Big Ten. Here's your weekly checklist to follow as you watch the games on Saturday.

1. Illinois' response to head coach Ron Zook -- The Zooker wasn't pleased after last week's loss to Wisconsin and said personnel changes would be forthcoming against Iowa (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Illinois has been the league's least consistent team, and it needs to beat the Hawkeyes to boost its bowl hopes. Running back Daniel Dufrene might not be available, so quarterback Juice Williams and others need to step up. Zook is looking for his first win against Iowa.

2. Purdue's quarterback situation -- Head coach Joe Tiller said Curtis Painter will make the call on whether he can play against Michigan after sustaining a first-degree separation of his throwing shoulder last week. Painter has struggled this season but still seems like Purdue's best option. Backup Justin Siller has spent most of the season practicing at running back, and the Boilers are coming off their worst passing performance (109 yards) in Tiller's 12-year tenure.

3. Northwestern's new-look offense -- Running back Tyrell Sutton (wrist) will miss at least the rest of the regular season, and quarterback C.J. Bacher (hamstring) is questionable for Saturday's game at No. 17 Minnesota (ESPN2, noon ET). If Bacher can't go -- a strong likelihood given his limited participation in practice -- junior Mike Kafka would start for the first time in two years. Kafka gives Northwestern another rushing threat, but his inexperience could prove costly against an opportunistic Gophers defense.

4. Michigan bowl streak in jeopardy -- The nation's longest current streak of consecutive bowl appearances (33) could end Saturday at Purdue. A Michigan loss ends the run and ensures the team's first losing season since 1967. First-year coach Rich Rodriguez maintains that no one has quit, but Michigan's repeated struggles to put together a complete game have to be taking a toll on the players.

5. Shonn Greene vs. Brit Miller -- Arguably the Big Ten's top running back takes on one of the league's most productive defenders at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Greene is slowly gaining national attention but needs another big performance against Illinois to fuel his Heisman campaign. The 235-pound Iowa junior has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all eight games this season. Miller leads the Big Ten in tackles and ranks third in tackles for loss, but he'll need help from other defenders to slow down Greene.

6. Mystery man leads Indiana offense against Central Michigan -- Hoosiers head coach Bill Lynch has a tough decision to make at quarterback. Junior Kellen Lewis is expected back from a high ankle sprain that ended his streak of 27 consecutive starts. Sophomore Ben Chappell filled in nicely last week, leading Indiana to its first Big Ten win and committing no turnovers against Northwestern. Lewis has struggled this season, but if healthy, he remains the team's top offensive threat.

7. Michigan State's mood following the Michigan win -- The Spartans got over the hump against their archrival, but their emotional state always seems to be a hot topic, given late-season collapses in recent years. Michigan State is in position for a New Year's Day bowl but needs to continue its momentum against Wisconsin (ESPN, noon ET), which has won five of the last seven games in the series. Coach Mark Dantonio emphasizes mental toughness, and the Spartans should avoid a letdown against the Badgers.

8. Minnesota tries to continue nation's top turnaround -- Head coach Tim Brewster regularly recites Minnesota's history -- six national championships and 18 Big Ten titles -- even though the last four decades have produced few milestones for the program. But Minnesota has the chance to connect to its storied past on Saturday. A win against Northwestern makes the Gophers 8-1 for the first time since 1960, the year of their last national title and Brewster's birth. After going 1-11 last season, the Gophers can continue to march toward a New Year's Day bowl berth.

9. Wisconsin's running back rotation -- Redshirt freshman John Clay is listed as the top running back on this week's depth chart after making his first career start in last week's win against Illinois. But three-year starter P.J. Hill is getting healthier and could play a greater role against Michigan State. It will be interesting to see how head coach Bret Bielema divides the carries between Clay, considered the team's back of the future, and the more experienced Hill.

10. The Big Ten bowl picture shapes up -- Several teams can either take a step toward bowl eligibility or make things tougher for themselves down the stretch. Illinois needs two more wins to get bowl eligible and enters a closing stretch featuring four teams with winning records. Iowa has looked good as of late, but a loss to Illinois could make things tough with a home date against No. 3 Penn State up next. Wisconsin tries to get above .500 again, while Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern can move closer toward better bowls. Indiana can keep its slim postseason hopes alive by beating Central Michigan, while Michigan and Purdue likely are playing for pride.

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