Thursday, October 21, 2010
What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 8
By Adam Rittenberg
Ten items to track in a five-pack of Big Ten games on Saturday.
1. Lines collide in Iowa City: If you love line play and power football, pay attention Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium. Wisconsin boasts the nation's No. 12 rushing attack and an offensive line boasting 130 career starts among its top six players. Iowa ranks seventh nationally against the run and has 100 career starts among its top five defensive linemen. Two future first-round draft picks match up in Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn and Wisconsin left tackle Gabe Carimi. The Richter scale had better be working in Iowa City because there could be a few tremors.
Future first-round pick Adrian Clayborn of Iowa, above, will match up with future first-round pick Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin.
2. Spartans head across state lines: Michigan State is off to its best start since 1966, but all seven Spartans wins have taken place within the confines of the state. Some see this as a bigger deal than it really is -- an impressive win at Michigan should count for something -- but the Spartans can help their case for national respect with a good performance against 5-1 Northwestern in Evanston. Plenty of Michigan State fans should turn up at Ryan Field as the Spartans try to maintain perfection before another big road test at No. 15 Iowa.
3. Gophers resume play without Brewster: The Tim Brewster era is over at Minnesota, but the Gophers still have five games left to play. Interim coach Jeff Horton leads Minnesota in its first game without Brewster as it hosts Penn State. How will the Gophers respond? Perhaps more importantly, how will their fans respond after booing regularly during five consecutive home losses? "We're coming into two home football games, and I don't think it's fair for the kids to be booed," Minnesota AD Joel Maturi said Sunday in announcing Brewster's firing. "Quite frankly, it's why I have my plea out to our fans, don't boo our kids."
4. Buckeyes boiling: Don't expect Ohio State to overlook Purdue like it did last year. For starters, most Buckeyes players were on the field at Ross-Ade Stadium when Ryan Kerrigan and the 1-5 Boilermakers recorded the upset. Add in the fact that Ohio State comes off of a humbling loss to Wisconsin, and Jim Tressel's crew should be locked and loaded. Tressel has been masterful at exacting revenge, but his team faces some obstacles Saturday. The offensive line must keep Kerrigan away from Terrelle Pryor, and a banged-up defense will be without star linebacker Ross Homan and nickel safety Christian Bryant.
5. Bowling in Champaign: There's still time left for both Indiana and Illinois, but the loser of Saturday's game in Champaign could face an uphill battle to reach six wins and a bowl game. Indiana recorded its only Big Ten win of 2009 against the Illini, and Bill Lynch's crew needs two more wins to qualify for its second bowl game in four seasons after going 14 years without making the postseason. Illinois has survived its toughest stretch at 3-3, but this is a game the Illini need on their home field to show that things really are turning around.
6. Penn State faces must-win: Joe Paterno keeps stiff-arming the "must-win" label, but everyone knows it applies for Penn State on Saturday. If the Lions stumble against 1-6 Minnesota, they'll have a hard time reaching a bowl game and getting Paterno his 400th career win. This week, Paterno scoffed at a suggestion of in-fighting among the coaching staff, and Penn State players know they need to play with greater passion after a lackluster performance against Illinois. Rob Bolden and the offense need to step up against the Big Ten's worst scoring defense, especially since Penn State's own D continues to deal with some key injuries.
7. Wildcats back to being underdogs: The Northwestern Wildcats are underdogs for the first time this season, and that could spell good things Saturday against No. 7 Michigan State. Northwestern has been at its best as an under-the-radar, unranked underdog since 2003, recording eight wins against ranked opponents, including two last season. But Michigan State is executing at an extremely high level in all three phases, so Northwestern needs to clean up its mistakes, particularly with penalties and special-teams meltdowns.
8. Norm chant: Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker still hasn't returned to the team following foot amputation surgery last month, but Hawkeye Nation is keeping him in their thoughts Saturday. Every time Wisconsin's offense faces a third down on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa fans are being encouraged to chant "Norm! Norm! Norm!" This is a great idea to honor a great coach, and you can find out more about it here.
9. Opportunity knocks again for Purdue: No one outside Mollenkopf Athletic Center expected Purdue to be 2-0 in Big Ten play after a rash of injuries claimed starting quarterback Robert Marve and other key players. And no one expects the Boilers to be 3-0 in the conference after Saturday's trip to No. 10 Ohio State. Danny Hope's team has no pressure and once again gets a great opportunity to showcase itself on the national stage. Much like Illinois, Purdue typically plays Ohio State tough: the Boilers are 3-5 against the Buckeyes since 2000 with two losses by a combined seven points and only one loss by more than 16 points.
10. Rough road for Badgers: Bret Bielema and the Wisconsin Badgers overcame their big-game bugaboo against Ohio State. But if they intend to remain in the Big Ten title race, they need to back it up with a signature road win. Bielema still needs more of those, especially after Wisconsin's Oct. 2 loss at Michigan State. He has a 2-2 record against his alma mater, Iowa, but has dropped back-to-back games. Divisional alignment puts the Wisconsin-Iowa series on a two-year hiatus, so Saturday's game has extra meaning. "I graduated from Iowa," Bielema said. "They treat me very badly when I go down there. So it’s a hostile environment."