Thursday, October 28, 2010
What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 9
By Adam Rittenberg
Ten items to track in what figures to be an exciting Week 9 in the Big Ten.
1. Spartans try to stay perfect: Michigan State isn't being viewed as a legit national title contender just yet, and the odds makers and others expect the Spartans to go down Saturday at No. 18 Iowa. But if Mark Dantonio's edgy team gets out of Iowa City with a win, look out. Michigan State's remaining schedule is very favorable and a 12-0 mark certainly will be within reach. Standing in the Spartans' way is an Iowa team that must win Saturday to remain in the Big Ten title race. The past three games between the Spartans and Hawkeyes have been decided by a total of 12 points, so expect another close one at Kinnick Stadium.
Mark Dantonio's Spartans could be looking at a 12-0 record if they can survive Saturday's game at Iowa.
2. Moment of truth for Michigan, Rodriguez: It's not the first so-called "must-win" for Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, but the Wolverines and their constantly scrutinized coach would really benefit from a victory at Beaver Stadium. A win makes Michigan bowl eligible for the first time since 2007, ends a two-game slide and quiets talk about Rodriguez's job and a second straight collapse. A loss would turn up the heat even more on Rodriguez and the Wolverines before a challenging November slate.
3. Dan Persa vs. Ben Chappell: Two underrated and underappreciated quarterbacks meet up at Indiana's Memorial Stadium. Most of the quarterback hype in the Big Ten centers elsewhere, but these two signal callers have been outstanding. Persa gained some national respect with his gutsy performance last week against Michigan State, but his Davey O'Brien Award snub suggests he still has something to prove. The junior will look to strike against a vulnerable Indiana secondary. Chappell has been brilliant at home and tries to bounce back from a rough afternoon at Illinois against a Northwestern defense that has struggled to stop the pass.
4. Robs reeling: Both Penn State and Purdue are dealing with injuries at the most important position on the field. Penn State could be without starting quarterback Rob Bolden against Michigan, as the freshman continues to recover from a head injury suffered last Saturday. If Bolden can't go, Matt McGloin likely will make his first career start for the Lions. Purdue will make a game-time decision on starting quarterback Rob Henry, who suffered a laceration on his throwing hand against Ohio State. If Henry isn't ready at Illinois, the Boilers will turn to true freshman Sean Robinson, who entered the season No. 4 on the depth chart.
5. Banged-up Buckeyes secondary to be tested: Injuries have been the big story for Ohio State's defense, especially in the secondary. Though the Buckeyes posted a shutout last week against Purdue, they faced a team that didn't test them through the air. Ohio State shouldn't have trouble beating last-place Minnesota, but Gophers wideouts Da'Jon McKnight and MarQueis Gray and tight end Eric Lair have combined for 98 receptions, 1,381 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Expect Minnesota to air it out against an Ohio State secondary very thin at the safety spot.
6. Royster approaches rushing record: Seven games into the season, Evan Royster still needs 31 rushing yards to break Curt Warner's all-time Penn State record. The Nittany Lions senior should reach the mark against a Michigan team allowing 144.7 rush yards per game, although Royster has only one 100-yard rushing performance this season. Aside from the record, Penn State likely needs a big game from Royster and/or freshman Silas Redd, especially if Bolden sits out. It's important for the Lions to control the clock and keep Michigan's explosive offense off of the field.
7. Hyde vs. Hyde: Asked about getting tickets for the Iowa game, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose grandfather played for the Hawkeyes, said he didn't want to take any away from teammate Marcus Hyde. Saturday will be special for the Hyde family as Marcus, a senior safety for Michigan State, goes up against his younger brother, Micah, a sophomore cornerback for Iowa. Although both brothers play in the secondary, they had a run-in on a kickoff play in last year's game at Spartan Stadium. "He kind of hit me in my back," Marcus Hyde said. "I thought it was somebody else. When I saw it was him, I started laughing." It should be fun watching these two on Saturday.
8. Zook aims for a Big Ten sweep: Name the only Big Ten team Ron Zook hasn't beaten in his Illinois tenure? If you guessed Purdue, well done. Zook is 0-3 against Purdue in his six seasons as Fighting Illini coach. Illinois has dropped five consecutive games against the Boilers and last captured the Cannon in 2002. A victory Saturday would continue Illinois' surprising surge and put the team one step close to bowl eligibility with four games to play.
9. Pivotal game for Lynch, Hoosiers: Bill Lynch calls it simply "the next game," but Saturday's contest against Northwestern could have major implications for the Indiana program. The Hoosiers are 0-3 in Big Ten play this fall and 2-17 in the league since the start of the 2008 season. Athletic director Fred Glass has been loyal to Lynch and has spoken publicly about the need to honor contracts, but another loss would increase the calls for change. Lynch and the Hoosiers only need two more wins to become bowl-eligible, but they need to show they can get over the hump in league games.
10. Stanzi, Cousins take center stage: The Big Ten is a quarterback's league in 2010, and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins are two of the best. Both men have a chance Saturday to distinguish themselves in the race for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and possibly get some Heisman Trophy love. Stanzi has been one of the nation's most improved players, although he'd like to recapture some of his crunch-time magic from 2009. Cousins returns to a stadium he visited often as a boy and has a chance to lift Michigan State one step closer to Glendale.