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What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
10:15
AM ET
Ten items to keep your eyes on around the Big Ten in week 4:

1. Ohio State with its full roster actually available … probably. If Braxton Miller is good to go (he practiced yesterday but didn’t go full speed), that means that Urban Meyer -- for the first time this season -- will have each of his starters at his disposal come game time. Between Miller’s knee injury, running back Carlos Hyde’s three-game suspension and cornerback Bradley Roby’s one-game suspension, Ohio State has been playing a man (or two) down at times. Florida A&M will be the first team to face the fully loaded Buckeyes.

2. Bo Pelini’s reception in Memorial Stadium. Less than a week after audio surfaced of Pelini saying less than kind things about the Nebraska fan base, he’ll take the field with his Cornhuskers for a 3:30 p.m. ET kick against South Dakota State. It sure doesn’t help that Nebraska failed to hold on for a win over UCLA after leading 21-3, but the Nebraska fans will likely have their own reactions for Pelini during Saturday’s game.

3. The opening game of 2013-14 Big Ten football. It’s finally here. Big Ten football is kicking off in Week 4. Purdue travels to No. 24 Wisconsin for a 3:30 ET kick off on Saturday. The two teams will open the 118th season of Big Ten football with the earliest conference opening game since 1996. The Badgers, who begin their quest for a fourth consecutive Big Ten title, will look to take down Purdue, a team that started the season 1-2.

4. The Spartans’ progress under Cook. Keep an eye on how redshirt sophomore QB Connor Cook -- in his second start for Michigan State -- continues to develop. The Spartan offense took major steps forward last week in a win over Youngstown State, but this will be Cook’s first real challenge with a stout defense on the road. In eight of the last 13 meetings between these two teams, the game has been decided by a late, fourth-quarter or overtime score. If that’s the case this season, Cook could be in for quite the challenge so early in his starting career.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin running back Melvin Gordon will face a challenge in Purdue's defense.
5. Big rushing performances. The conference’s top three rushers will all have big opportunities to make statements this weekend. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon has averaged 159 yards per game and will be up against Purdue’s defense, which has only given up 117 yards per game. It’s an opportunity for him to make a big statement against a defense that has contained pretty well. On the other hand, Iowa running back Mark Weisman -- who leads the nation in rushing attempts -- has averaged 142 yards per game and will face Western Michigan, whose defense has allowed 245 yards of rushing per game. It will also be interesting to see what happens with Ohio State running back Jordan Hall, who has averaged 134 yards per game this season without Hyde, facing Florida A&M’s defense, which has given up 201 yards of rushing per game.

6. Teams getting back on the horse. Michigan looked nothing like a top-25 team Saturday as it escaped a major upset against Akron. Wisconsin, on the other hand, had some interesting officiating decide the final margin. These two teams will take the field this week with something to prove and major chips on their shoulders.

7. Jerry Kill’s return to TCF Bank Stadium. Last weekend he suffered a game-day seizure and had to leave the game early. The Gophers went on to beat Western Illinois 29-12 and upon his return, Kill said he didn’t want to discuss his medical issues and that he only wanted to focus on San Jose State. It will be interesting to see how the fan base reacts to his return -- whether there’s more excitement, trepidation, uncertainty (or all the above) surrounding the Gophers’ head coach.

8. QBs battling injuries and the possibilities for their backups. Between Miller’s knee, Taylor Martinez’s turf toe and Philip Nelson’s hamstring, there is a chance that we could see some backup QBs taking some snaps this weekend. Buckeye backup Kenny Guiton has proven himself and would likely be fine to go against Florida A&M. Minnesota is in the same boat with redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner leading the Gophers on a 22-point run to take down Western Illinois last weekend. Martinez’s backup situation is a bit murkier. He has controlled the starting spot at Nebraska his entire career so Pelini would likely look to senior Ron Kellogg III or redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. against South Dakota State.

9. Iowa’s possibility of momentum. The Hawkeyes held out for a 27-21 win over Iowa State last weekend and with one of the toughest schedules in the Big Ten (Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska) this might be one of their best chances for another win this season. But the question is: Can Jake Rudock and Weisman hold onto that momentum and carry it over to Western Michigan?

10. Indiana’s offense against SEC speed. Missouri might be one of the one of the lesser-respected SEC powers, but it still has to play against those SEC powers. Indiana’s offense is going to be facing a new speed level with Missouri and the Hoosiers will have to make their own luck. Missouri has given up 124 rushing yards and 218 passing yards per game, so it’s not an impossible game by any means, but it will be a test for Kevin Wilson and IU.

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