Thursday, December 3, 2009
What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 14
By Adam Rittenberg
Two Big Ten teams in action, and five items to track this weekend.
1. Badgers try to rebound in paradise: Wisconsin basically has traveled halfway to Australia to face Hawaii on Saturday night (ESPN2, 11:30 p.m. ET), and a win could get the Badgers all the way to the Outback. The Outback Bowl, that is. A Wisconsin victory would give the Badgers a better overall record (9-3) than their primary competitor Northwestern (8-4), even though Northwestern holds the head-to-head victory. As long as the Big Ten gets two teams into BCS bowls, Wisconsin would have a pretty good shot at the Outback Bowl, where it would face Auburn on New Year's Day. Last time the Badgers came off a loss, they drilled Purdue 37-0 on Halloween.
2. One last taste of Juice: Juice Williams concludes his unique college career Saturday when Illinois wraps up its season against Fresno State (Big Ten Network, 12:30 p.m. ET). Williams started all four years at quarterback for the Illini, helped the team to the Rose Bowl in 2007, set total offense records in three separate stadiums in 2008 and saw his production decline sharply this fall. Despite the ups and downs, Williams has handled everything with class and deserves a good sendoff from the Illinois faithful on Saturday. He comes off a pretty decent showing against Cincinnati and faces a Fresno State defense that ranks 108th nationally against the run.
3. The Big 12 championship game: No game this weekend means more to the Big Ten's bowl lineup than the Big 12 title match at Jerry World (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). If No. 3 Texas beats No. 22 Nebraska, the Longhorns would be virtually assured of a spot in the BCS title game. This would free up the Fiesta Bowl to select a second at-large team, and it's hard to imagine the Fiesta not selecting Iowa or Penn State with its replacement pick (most likely the No. 2 overall selection). If Nebraska pulls off the upset, Texas would be a lock for an at-large selection, and it could limit the Big Ten to only one BCS entry. It also would bring the Orange Bowl more into the mix, which could be good for Penn State.
4. Clay's response and Wisconsin's secondary: John Clay's fourth-quarter fumble proved costly in Wisconsin's loss to Northwestern, so it will be interesting to see how the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year bounces back. He should be licking his chops against a Hawaii defense that ranks 104th nationally against the run. Then again, Hawaii comes off a 24-17 victory against run-happy Navy and has won four straight games to revive its bowl hopes. The islands haven't always been kind to Big Ten teams -- Wisconsin is 3-1 at Hawaii -- and the Warriors will test the Badgers' secondary with star wide receiver Greg Salas.
5. The aftermath in Champaign: Illinois' season will end on Saturday, and the changes that athletics director Ron Guenther said were coming could begin very soon. Head coach Ron Zook still should be safe, but he'll certainly look to make some staff changes after back-to-back extremely disappointing seasons. There's also the case of junior wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who many expect will declare for the NFL draft despite an unproductive year. And it will be interesting to see what happens to Illinois' recruiting, as the 2010 class is small and just lost its top prospect, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, to Iowa.