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Friday, September 5, 2008
Big Ten: What to watch in Week 2


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There's obviously not a great game selection this week, but the Big Ten features plenty of intriguing storylines on Saturday. And no, not all of them have to do with Beanie Wells' big toe.

Here are 10 things to keep an eye on:

1. Penn State's response to turmoil: The Nittany Lions thought they were past off-field melodrama, but the suspensions of starting defenders Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma and reserve tight end Andrew Quarless cast a shadow over Happy Valley. Will this team cave to the distractions or take care of business against a decent Oregon State team? The D-line will be shorthanded against Beavers quarterback Lyle Moevao.

2. Boom and Zoom: With Beanie Wells out, the spotlight turns to Ohio State's young running backs Dan "Boom" Herron and Brandon "Zoom" Saine, who along with Maurice Wells will carry the rushing load against Ohio. The Buckeyes need every weapon they can muster for USC, and the performances of the three backs against Ohio could loom large for next week.

3. Steven Threet era might begin: The Michigan redshirt freshman seemed to gain confidence toward the end of a season-opening loss to Utah and should get the starting nod against Miami (Ohio). Both Threet and Nick Sheridan are far from finished products, but Threet could take an important step in his evolution with an efficient performance against the RedHawks.

4. Tyrell Sutton faces Duke: The Northwestern senior sat out last season's embarrassing home loss to the Blue Devils, a game that kept the Wildcats out of a bowl. He'll be ready to roll on a potentially sloppy track in Durham, N.C., as Northwestern aims for redemption and a 2-0 start.

5. Star-studded crowd in Champaign: It should be a banner day for Illinois, which unveils the renovated Memorial Stadium and plays before a collection of living legends, including Dick Butkus. Eastern Illinois shouldn't present too much trouble, but the Illini are searching for a stronger defensive effort after last week's poor tackling display against Missouri.

6. Doyt Perry Stadium rocks as Gophers arrive: Bowling Green hosts its first-ever Big Ten opponent at Doyt Perry, and Minnesota will try to spoil the fun. The Gophers barely survived at home against a rebuilding Northern Illinois team last week and will need a much stronger effort, particularly on defense, to overcome Tyler Sheehan and the Falcons on the road.

7. Flipping quarters at Iowa: Is this the week Hawkeyes junior Jake Christensen cements himself as the starting quarterback? He'll have the chance to do so against Florida International, but improved sophomore Ricky Stanzi remains very much in the mix. It's important to see some separation soon, and Christensen still needs to improve his consistency and decision-making.

8. Beckum returns for Badgers: Wisconsin gets All-American tight end Travis Beckum back against Marshall, a potential tune-up for next week's trip to Fresno State. It's important for Beckum and new starting quarterback Allan Evridge to establish a good in-game rhythm, particularly in the red zone, where Wisconsin had two turnovers last week. Evridge can't rely solely on the run game, and he knows Beckum will be his greatest asset.

9. Penn State's Clark ready to run: We should get a much better read on Nittany Lions starting quarterback Daryll Clark this week against Oregon State. After facing no pocket pressure last week, Clark expects to showcase his running skills often against a Beavers defense that allowed 210 yards in a season-opening loss to Stanford. Clark will get help from Evan Royster and Stephfon Green as Penn State tries to run over the Beavers.

10. Purdue's offense takes flight: The Boilermakers finally make their debut and feature several offensive players in different roles. Senior Kory Sheets becomes Purdue's featured running back -- a spot he always coveted -- following a season-ending knee injury to Jaycen Taylor. Quarterback Curtis Painter gets to sample several wide receivers in more prominent roles (Brandon Whittington, Keith Smith, Desmond Tardy) against Northern Colorado.