NCF Nation: Dan Dierking
It's time to identify an All-Big Ten team comprised only of seniors. There were easy picks like Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, but several positions created some tough choices.
Reminder: This team includes only fourth-year or fifth-year seniors, not redshirt juniors.
Bowl performance is included in this rundown, if applicable.
In case you forgot, my All-Big Ten team included only 12 seniors, all of whom will appear below. I also selected 14 underclassmen.
Without further ado ...
QB: Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
RB: Dan Dierking, Purdue
WR: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
WR: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa
TE: Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
C: Bill Nagy, Wisconsin
T: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
T: D.J. Young, Michigan State
G: John Moffitt, Wisconsin
G: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
DL: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
DL: Karl Klug, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Brian Rolle, Ohio State
LB: Eric Gordon, Michigan State
CB: Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
CB: Chris L. Rucker, Michigan State
S: Jermale Hines, Ohio State
S: Brett Greenwood, Iowa
K: Collin Wagner, Penn State
P: Aaron Bates, Michigan State
Returns: David Gilreath, Wisconsin
- I really struggled with the quarterback spot. Tolzien ultimately made fewer mistakes than Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, who had superior statistics and had fewer weapons surrounding him. You can make a good case for Stanzi or Indiana's Ben Chappell, but Tolzien gets a slight edge.
- No disrespect to Royster or Dierking, but the Big Ten really struggled to produce many decent senior running backs this season. Perhaps that's a promising sign for the future, but typically there are more experienced ball-carrying options. Royster was the only senior ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 rushers. I thought about Ohio State's Brandon Saine, but Dierking did more as a ball carrier.
- The No. 3 linebacker was a really tough call between Gordon and Ohio State's Ross Homan. Ultimately, Homan missing time with a foot injury and Gordon displaying remarkable consistency alongside Greg Jones made Gordo the pick.
- Another tough call was DJK ahead of Indiana's Terrance Turner, who had 21 more receptions but fewer yards and seven fewer touchdown catches.
- The deepest position among Big Ten seniors (by far): offensive guard. I went with Moffitt and Carimi, but players like Ohio State's Justin Boren, Michigan's Stephen Schilling, Iowa's Julian Vandervelde and Illinois' Randall Hunt all were good options.
- Five teams didn't produce selections: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern. Is that a good omen or a bad one for 2011?
They come off of their first loss of the season, a 31-18 setback at Wisconsin that likely eliminates them from the national title race. They return home to face a Purdue team that stunned them last year in West Lafayette, leaving Buckeyes players to later say they overlooked the Boilers.
"I don't think you can play this game really mad, or you get yourself in trouble," receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. "Maybe a little pissed, I'll give you that. But a controlled pissed. I don't think you want to go out there foaming at the mouth like a madman."
Despite trailing Purdue in the Big Ten standings, No. 10 Ohio State is heavily favored to handle the Boilers on Saturday.
And history is on Ohio State's side: coach Jim Tressel has lost 22 games in his Buckeyes' tenure, but only once has he dropped back-to-back contests, during a three-game slide in 2004. And the fortunate few Big Ten teams that beat Ohio State in recent years always dropped the rematch.
Sanzenbacher and many of his teammates were on the field last October at Ross-Ade Stadium, as the Buckeyes committed four turnovers, fell behind 23-7 and had no answer for Purdue star defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who recorded three sacks, four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
"I don't think we'll have any problem getting focused and up for this game," Sanzenbacher said. "Purdue played us tough last year, so it's not like we're going to come in here and think we're going to walk through them."
Sanzenbacher, a co-captain, has been pleasantly surprised by the mood he's seen around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this week.
"I've been around for a few tough losses and seen mixed responses from the team," he said. "I don't know if I attribute it to having an older bunch or people being through it before, but the attitude's actually pretty good."
Much like a Week 1 trip to Notre Dame, the Boilers head to Columbus without much pressure and with a lot to gain.
"As big a challenge as it is, it's an even bigger opportunity," head coach Danny Hope said. "And that's exciting. ... We know that we're out-manned in some ways, and we have to execute very well in all phases of the game to manufacture a win."
Purdue isn't blind to Ohio State's current state, but the Boilers have turned their focus inward this week.
"We have to get better this week or we won't be able to beat Ohio State," Hope said. "So we can't really focus a whole lot on where their mindset is at. We're really involved in the development of our squad. ... Regardless of who won the game last year, regardless of who won last week, it's going to boil down to who can play the best this Saturday.
"We have our work cut out for us."
There's a new No. 1 after Ohio State's stumble in Madison, and the ripple effects are being felt throughout the power rankings. The league title race is totally wide open and things are getting very interesting heading toward the home stretch.
Let's take a look.
1. Michigan State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten): Only one unbeaten team remains in the Big Ten, and it's the surging Spartans. Michigan State came out flat on offense but poised on defense against Illinois and surged in the second half. Mark Dantonio's team continues to make fewer mistakes than its opponents and continues to execute in all three phases. The next challenge is winning games outside the state for the first time this season. Michigan State hits the road the next two weeks.
2. Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1): Bret Bielema's big-game blues are over and Wisconsin has put itself back in the Big Ten title picture after an impressive performance against Ohio State. Wisconsin got back to winning the Wisconsin way, a good sign heading into a game against a mirror-image opponent -- Iowa. Bielema got over the hump against an elite team at home. The next step: Can he lead the Badgers to a signature road win?
3. Iowa (5-1, 2-0): The Hawkeyes handled their business in Ann Arbor despite allowing more than 500 yards of offense to the Wolverines. They capitalized on Michigan's mistakes and showcased a balanced and dynamic offense with quarterback Ricky Stanzi and running back Adam Robinson. The Hawkeyes now return home for the first of three showcase games at Kinnick Stadium as Wisconsin visits.
4. Ohio State (6-1, 2-1): It's odd to see the Buckeyes drop down this far, but they looked overmatched for most of Saturday night's game at Camp Randall Stadium. The only thing more surprising than Ohio State's continued breakdowns on special teams is the way the defensive line got steamrolled by Wisconsin's big and talented offensive front. Ohio State can still help shape the league title race, but it has no margin for error.
5. Purdue (4-2, 2-0): Surprise, surprise. Few would have envisioned a 2-0 start to league play several weeks ago, but Purdue continues to make strides on both sides of the ball. Freshman quarterback Rob Henry delivered another impressive performance against Minnesota and got help from running back Dan Dierking. Purdue could get a rude awakening this week at Ohio State, but life is good right now.
6. Illinois (3-3, 1-2): The final score looked ugly, but Illinois continued to show progress on the defensive side, shutting down a very potent Michigan State rushing attack. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase still looks like a freshman at times, and his miscues certainly cost Illinois in the second half. But this is a much improved team that can do some damage during a favorable second-half schedule.
7. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1): The bye week came at a good time for Northwestern, which needs to figure out how to stop beating itself before taking aim at unbeaten Michigan State. The Wildcats typically pull off one significant upset per year, but they'll need to be much more polished and avoid penalties and turnovers when the Spartans visit Ryan Field.
8. Michigan (5-2, 1-2): Rich Rodriguez's offense clearly isn't the problem. Even after starting quarterback Denard Robinson hurt his shoulder Saturday, the Wolverines continued to move the ball against a very good Iowa defense with Tate Forcier at the helm. But a great offense combined with weak defense and woeful special teams simply isn't a formula for success in the Big Ten. Michigan has to spend the bye week finding some way to improve its D and its kicking game before a trip to Happy Valley.
9. Indiana (4-2, 0-2): Bill Lynch's crew made it through the nonconference slate at 4-0, but not without a scare on Saturday from Arkansas State. Like Michigan, Indiana has no trouble piling up yards and points on offense. But can the Hoosiers expect to win in the Big Ten if their defense doesn't significantly improve? It's one thing to let Denard Robinson go crazy, but Arkansas State's Ryan Aplin had a huge performance against IU. I still think Indiana makes a bowl this year, but the defense has to make strides soon.
10: Penn State (3-3, 0-2): The Nittany Lions really needed a week to regroup after an ugly home loss to Illinois and the finger-pointing that ensued after the game. Key injuries throughout the defense really put the spotlight on the offense to get things together. It's time for Evan Royster to look like an All-Big Ten running back again, and Penn State has to start getting creative to put up points because the defense likely will have some ups and downs the rest of the way.
11. Minnesota (1-6, 0-3): The tough times continue in the Twin Cities, as six straight losses have brought the end for fourth-year coach Tim Brewster. Minnesota needs to win out just to get bowl eligible, and with Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State still on the schedule, it's hard to imagine. The Gophers don't quit in games, but they still make far too many mistakes to win them.
Michigan State's secondary: Much maligned a year ago for allowing too many big plays and making too few of their own, the Spartans defensive backs really have stepped up lately. They factored into all four takeaways in a 26-6 win against Illinois, as Marcus Hyde, Trenton Robinson and Johnny Adams all recorded interceptions. Freshman cornerback Darqueze Dennard forced and recovered a fumble in his first start in place of the suspended Chris L. Rucker.
Iowa RB Adam Robinson: He's the only healthy proven running back on a team that lives by a run-first philosophy. Robinson isn't merely holding up under constant pounding, but he's thriving as Iowa's featured back. The sophomore rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, a Herculean performance during 38-28 win in Ann Arbor. Also meriting mentions are quarterback Ricky Stanzi and wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who had three touchdown catches and became Iowa's all-time leading receiver.
Wisconsin's offensive line: Teams simply don't push Ohio State around, and that's exactly what Wisconsin's front five did Saturday night during a 31-18 win at Camp Randall Stadium. They set the tone on the Badgers' first possession, creating huge holes for John Clay on a 6-play, 58-yard drive. Wisconsin racked up 184 rush yards and three touchdowns; Ohio State had allowed three rushing scores all season entering the game. Clay became the first player to eclipse 100 rush yards against the Buckeyes in 29 games. On this night, Wisconsin looked like the best offensive line in the country.
Purdue RB Dan Dierking: Sure, quarterback Rob Henry deserves some love as well after accounting for four touchdowns against Minnesota, but the always-overlooked Dierking was fabulous on Saturday during a 28-17 win over Minnesota. The senior rushed for 126 yards on only 12 carries, breaking free for a 42-yard burst in the first quarter. Purdue is 2-0 in Big Ten play, and the Boilers have found their running back.
Indiana QB Ben Chappell: The senior took a beating in the first half, and then handed out one in the final 30 minutes. Chappell passed for 297 yards and three touchdowns after halftime to help Indiana rally past pesky Arkansas State, 36-34. He finished with 382 pass yards and four touchdowns and once again got plenty of help from receivers Damarlo Belcher (121 receiving yards, 1 TD) and Tandon Doss (103 receiving yards, 1 TD). Given Indiana's continued struggles on defense, arguably no Big Ten player means more to his team than Chappell.
Purdue is 2-0 and tied for the Big Ten lead after a 28-17 victory.
The Boilers have turned around their season following a bye week and claimed back-to-back victories in Big Ten play. Quarterback Rob Henry continued to impress, rushing for three touchdowns and looking a lot more polished in the pass game. Running back Dan Dierking had another big day, eclipsing 100 rush yards. Purdue's defense also continues to make strides, shutting out Minnesota for a half and keeping the Gophers out of the end zone for three quarters. Danny Hope's team might get a reality check next week in Columbus, but life is good right now.
The Gophers had to abandon their run game in the second half, and quarterback Adam Weber made some good throws but just wasn't efficient enough.
So what's next for Tim Brewster? His team didn't quit today, but falling behind 21-0 can't help his chances with school officials, who are pondering whether to make a coaching change with six games left. Brewster told ESPN before the game that a report that he'd be let go with a loss to Purdue wasn't accurate, but the vultures clearly are circling.
It's amazing to think that two years ago, Minnesota was on its way to a 7-1 start and a No. 17 national ranking. But very little has gone right for Brewster since that point, as he has gone 7-18.
We now wait and see if Minnesota makes a decision now or waits a little longer.
A road game in Big Ten play at night. A fourth-quarter deficit. A touchdown required. Only 8:13 left in the game.
By the way, it happened to be Henry's first career start at quarterback for the Boilermakers after taking over for the injured Robert Marve.
Henry completed 3 of 5 passes for 22 yards and had four carries for 19 yards, including a 10-yard gain on third-and-3. Minutes after the touchdown, Henry finished things off by drawing a personal foul penalty on Northwestern's Quentin Davie, allowing Purdue to run out the clock.
The performance would be notable for any first-time starter, much less a guy who seemed to have no chance of playing months ago. But Henry's heroics didn't surprise coach Danny Hope. Not even a little.
"Nothing that we didn’t already believe," Hope said. "He's a guy that the players have always believed in. So I wasn’t surprised with the success that he had or with the effectiveness that he ran our offense.
"We expected it going in and he did a great job with it."
Henry lives by the lesson that you never stay the same as a player; you either get better or get worse. He undoubtedly got a lot better last week in Evanston, and so did the Boilers, who were reeling after a 2-2 start and rash of key injuries.
"It was great," said Henry, who happens to wear the same jersey number (15) as former Boilers star Drew Brees. "We went a little hurry-up offense there on that last drive. Coach [Gary] Nord called great plays and we got the right fronts and coverages for the plays that were called. ... It was a great experience, a great win for us."
Interestingly enough, Henry's low rung on the depth chart this spring has helped him acclimate to the games. Marve was still limited by a surgically repaired knee, and Purdue didn't want to risk an injury to backup Caleb Terbush.
Consequently, Henry was the only quarterback who went "live" in drills.
"Even though he had less reps than the others," Hope said, "he executed the offense very well under duress."
Henry's athleticism jumped out to Hope during recruiting, and the Ocala, Fla., native put up impressive numbers at Purdue's camp for prep prospects. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Henry rushed for 350 yards and six touchdowns as a high school senior and also participated in both basketball and track.
But Henry's strong measurables didn't hook Hope as much as what he had from the neck up.
"As we got to know him, we really fell in love with the intangibles he has," Hope said. "He's an excellent person, very logical thinker, he's really, really smart, he has a lot of pride about him, he's extremely loyal.
"He's a winner."
He showed it at Northwestern, and his performance helped the Boilers get back on track.
Best game: Purdue at Northwestern. Not many choices here as four of the five Big Ten games were decided by 17 points or more. At least the Boilers and Wildcats provided some fourth-quarter drama. Down 17-13, Purdue mounted a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive that featured two third-down conversions and a fourth-down touchdown run by Dan Dierking to give his team the lead with 3:54 left. Northwestern quickly moved the ball into Purdue territory and appeared set up for the game-winning touchdown when Jacob Schmidt dashed inside the 5-yard line on third-and-5. But a holding penalty negated the run and Northwestern had to settle for a potential game-tying field-goal attempt, which senior Stefan Demos missed badly. The banged-up Boilers left Evanston with a confidence-boosting win.
Biggest play: Not a clear choice this week. Purdue made several big plays to win its Big Ten opener, including Dierking's 7-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-inches and Kawann Short's field-goal block early in the fourth quarter. Bussey's pick-six against Penn State was huge for Illinois, and Michigan State set the tone for a big second half at Michigan with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Mark Dell early in the third quarter. Cousins got the ball away just before absorbing a hit and made a perfect throw to Dell for the score.
Specialist spotlight: Illinois kicker Derek Dimke gets the nod this week after going 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts at Penn State, connecting from 50, 41, 37 and 31 yards away. His 50-yarder put Illinois up 17-10 in the second quarter, and he closed the half with a 31-yarder. Dimke became the first Illinois kicker to make four field goals in a game since 2006. Several Big Ten punters had good days Saturday, including Michigan State's Aaron Bates (45-yard average, two punts inside the 20), Penn State's Anthony Fera (6 points, 44-yard average) and Purdue's Cody Webster (6 punts, 47.7-yard average).
Most talked-about call: Bret Bielema's decision to attempt a two-point conversion with Wisconsin leading Minnesota 41-16 midway through the fourth quarter. Bielema claimed he was following the coaches' guide on when to go for two, but Minnesota coach Tim Brewster and many others saw it as an attempt to run up the score. Brewster might not get a chance for revenge in the rivalry, but you can bet Minnesota's underclassmen will remember what happened.
- Illinois LB Nate Bussey: Bussey made an athletic play to record a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown against Penn State and tied his career high with eight tackles in the victory.
- Purdue's defense: Hard to give this to only one player, so the Boilers' defenders will have to share after an outstanding effort at Northwestern. Some notables include linebacker Joe Holland (12 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack), tackle Kawann Short (8 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 blocked kick, 1 pass breakup) and safety Logan Link (6 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup). Ryan Kerrigan had a sack and created a ton of problems for Northwestern.
- Michigan State S Trenton Robinson: Robinson came up big on the opening drive against Michigan, recording a touchdown-saving tackle on Michael Shaw and then intercepting a Denard Robinson pass in the end zone. The much-hyped Spartans junior finished with seven tackles and a pass breakup in the win.
- Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Cousins has been brilliant in his last six quarters of football and dissected Michigan for 284 pass yards on 18 of 25 attempts with a touchdown and no interceptions.
- Ohio State WR DeVier Posey: Somewhat overshadowed by fellow receiver Dane Sanzenbacher this year, Posey led Ohio State in both receptions (8) and receiving yards (103) in Saturday's blowout win against Indiana. He hauled in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Terrelle Pryor in the second quarter.
- Wisconsin LB Mike Taylor: Taylor recorded a career-high three tackles for loss against Minnesota and finished with seven stops in the game.
OK, now let's take a quick look at Week 7.
Illinois (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at No. 13 Michigan State (6-0, 2-0): In most years, this would be a classic trap game for Michigan State, which comes off of two emotion-charged victories against ranked opponents. This Spartans team seems much more grounded and mentally tough. Still, Illinois' improved defense and strong running game provides a good test. Two the Big Ten's best running backs match up with Michigan State's Edwin Baker and Illinois' Mikel Leshoure.
Minnesota (1-5, 0-2) at Purdue (3-2, 1-0): What looked like the Basement Bowl before Saturday night suddenly becomes an opportunity for Purdue to start 2-0 in league play. Freshman quarterback Rob Henry tries to gash a Minnesota defense that allows 196.3 rush yards a game, last in the Big Ten. Minnesota has won back-to-back games in the series and needs a victory in the worst way Saturday.
Arkansas State (2-4) at Indiana (3-2): After back-to-back losses, Indiana should get well against an Arkansas State team that ranks 88th nationally against the pass (237.7 ypg). That said, the Hoosiers shouldn't overlook a Red Wolves team that can throw the ball with talented sophomore Ryan Aplin and has been in every game since a season-opening 26-point loss to Auburn. Indiana needs to get its defense in order before resuming Big Ten play at Illinois.
No. 15 Iowa (4-1, 1-0) at Michigan (5-1, 1-1): Extra prep time usually translates to Iowa success, and the Hawkeyes have had two weeks to prepare for Denard Robinson after shutting down Penn State. Robinson ran for 49 yards and a touchdown against the Hawkeyes last year, and he'll provide a good test for Adrian Clayborn and the defense. Look for Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi to attack Michigan's shaky secondary down the field with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.
No. 1 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at No. 18 Wisconsin (5-1, 1-1): All eyes will be on Madison as Ohio State tries to take a big step toward the national championship game against a Wisconsin team that is 40-4 at home since the start of the 2004 season. Wisconsin's home dominance is offset by Ohio State's brilliant play in Big Ten road games under Jim Tressel. Ohio State boasts the more accomplished defense, but Wisconsin can be the Big Ten's best offense when hitting on all cylinders.
Bye: Northwestern (5-1, 1-1), Penn State (3-3, 0-2)
How bad have the Boilers been bitten?
"I've been here a year and a half," said offensive coordinator Gary Nord, hired at Purdue on Dec. 1, 2008. "For this week's game, we don't have a quarterback that was here when I got here. We don't have a receiver that's going to play who was here when I got here. And we don't have a tailback who was here when I got here."
A quick check of Purdue's depth chart for Saturday's game at Northwestern reveals that Nord is mistaken.
Senior running back Dan Dierking, listed as the starter, is expected to play Saturday night. He had just finished his sophomore season at Purdue when Nord came to West Lafayette.
But other than Dierking, Nord is spot on. The offense Nord will send on the field in Evanston will be filled with players not part of the program less than two years ago.
- Quarterback Rob Henry, who makes his first career start, is a redshirt freshman. He'll be backed up by true freshman Sean Robinson, who has yet to take a snap in a game.
- Backup running back Al-Terek McBurse is a true sophomore, while third-stringer Keith Carlos is a junior college transfer.
- The starting wide receivers consist of a junior college transfer (Cortez Smith), a true sophomore (Antavian Edison) and a redshirt freshman (Gary Bush). Purdue's No. 4 receiver is true freshman O.J. Ross.
"Everybody," he said, "is inexperienced."
Purdue has little choice after knee injuries have claimed its starting quarterback (Robert Marve, out for season with torn ACL), its No. 1 wide receiver (Keith Smith, out for season with ACL/MCL tears) and its top running back (Ralph Bolden, out indefinitely with ACL tear). More bad news arrived earlier this week as coach Danny Hope said No. 2 wideout Justin Siller will miss three to six weeks with a sprained foot.
At least Purdue caught a break with the schedule, as the bye week came at an ideal time to shuffle things before opening Big Ten play.
The Boilers went back to the basics during the open week, working on alignment, stance and "all those things you take for granted that kids get better at with experience," Nord said. This week, they transitioned to game-planning.
Henry relieved Marve in Purdue's loss to Toledo and played the final three and a half quarters. The redshirt freshman has all the qualities Purdue wants in its starting quarterback -- except experience.
"His strength is his athletic ability and his intelligence," Nord said. "He understands everything. His demeanor also is very good, and he's a very confident kid. He just hasn't been a quarterback very long."
The 6-2, 198-pound Henry is Purdue's second-fastest player behind Carlos. He owns the best vertical leap and shuttle run time on the team.
"He'll be one of the best athletes on the field no matter who we play every Saturday," Nord said.
Henry is such a good athlete that the coaches considered moving him to free safety this spring. The staff felt so good about Marve and backup quarterback Caleb TerBush, who took all of the snaps with the first-team offense in spring ball, and didn't want Henry's talent to be wasted on the sideline.
Nord said Henry also has worked at both wide receiver and running back in practice. Fortunately, Purdue's staff didn't make the move, a decision that looks better now that Marve is out and TerBush is academically ineligible.
"We don’t have to call a new offense because of Rob Henry," Hope said. "Whatever we have in the playbook that we’ve been utilizing or have in our arsenal so far this season, it’s still alive. Obviously, some quarterbacks like some throws better than others and we'll hand-pick some that he likes the best, but I don’t think we're limited at all from a playbook standpoint."
The bye week also allowed Purdue to get healthier at the running back spot.
Carlos logged seven carries against Toledo and should have an increased role Saturday. The Boilers also hope to get McBurse back in the fold, though Nord said Wednesday that the sophomore hasn't done much in practice. Edison and Ross, who moved to running back in emergency roles earlier this season, are back at wide receiver.
Hope has made speed his top priority in recruiting, and because of the injuries, youth will be served Saturday night and he'll get a glimpse at Purdue's future on offense.
"We still have some firepower," Hope said. "We’re still a relatively fast offense with Rob Henry as one of our fastest players. Keith Carlos, one of our faster players, [is] available now. O.J. Ross, one of our faster players, [is] available now. We still have some redeeming qualities.
"Thank goodness the open week came when it did, because it gave us some time to get ourselves squared away."
Came this close to another perfect week of picks last Saturday. If only Iowa had completed its comeback. Oh, well.
Here's another stab at perfection:
Michigan 41, Bowling Green 26: I just can't imagine Michigan's defense playing as poorly as it did last week against UMass, and the Falcons will be without their starting quarterback. Denard Robinson gets a much needed rest in the fourth quarter as the Wolverines pull away thanks to a big first half.
Michigan State 45, Northern Colorado 20: The Spartans' offense continues to show good balance as backs Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell both eclipse 120 rush yards. Northern Colorado can score -- the Bears come in averaging 45.3 points -- and start quick before the Spartans take control in their first game without head coach Mark Dantonio.
Northwestern 34, Central Michigan 28: This should be one of the better games on a mostly uninspiring slate around the Big Ten. Central Michigan jumps ahead early as Northwestern's offense starts slow for the second straight week. But quarterback Dan Persa turns in another dominating second half and finds Jeremy Ebert for three touchdowns as the Wildcats survive.
Wisconsin 48, Austin Peay 10: The Badgers surge out to a quick lead behind the running of John Clay and James White. Quarterback Scott Tolzien gets some rest in the second half as Bret Bielema gets a good look at his linebacking corps without star Chris Borland.
Iowa 40, Ball State 10: Iowa comes out throwing the ball downfield to conserve its only healthy proven running back, Adam Robinson. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi has a big first half connecting with Marvin McNutt, and the defense holds Ball State to one offensive touchdown in an easy win.
Purdue 27, Toledo 17: Toledo has looked a lot better since the opener, and the Rockets jump ahead in this one. Quarterback Robert Marve takes a little while to get comfortable, but he'll be helped by a healthier Dan Dierking in the backfield as the Boilers' offense surges in the third quarter to take control.
Ohio State 45, Eastern Michigan 3: Terrelle Pryor passes for a couple of touchdowns but takes a backseat as the running game gets going behind Brandon Saine and Dan Herron. Just like last week, Ohio State surges out to a big lead but doesn't run up the score like some of the other teams in the top 10.
Penn State 23, Temple 13: Penn State fans are awfully chesty about this matchup, and given the series history, I guess they should be. But Al Golden brings his best Temple team to State College and the Owls hang around for a while as the Nittany Lions' offense struggles early. Ultimately, Penn State's defense will be too strong for Temple.
Indiana 38, Akron 17: Coach Bill Lynch receives a more balanced offensive performance as running back Darius Willis rebounds nicely from a subpar performance last week. Still, Indiana leaves too many questions on defense heading into next week's Big Ten opener against Robinson and Michigan.
Minnesota 26, Northern Illinois 24: This is my Pick of the Week. Check back later for a video post breaking down my selection.
Last week: 10-1
Season record: 30-2 (.938)
Michigan 43, Massachusetts 14: Denard Robinson does his thing for two and a half quarters before the real drama begins. Does Devin Gardner get the first call after Shoelace, or will it be Tate Forcier? Both reserve quarterbacks end up playing well as Michigan improves to 3-0.
Ohio State 41, Ohio 6: The Buckeyes receive an efficient performance from Terrelle Pryor, and receiver DeVier Posey beats his big brother Julian for two touchdowns. No special teams meltdowns this week, and the defense keeps the Bobcats out of the end zone.
Penn State 35, Kent State 10: After two quiet weeks, Evan Royster arrives in a big way against Kent State. The senior running back goes for 140 yards and three touchdowns against a good run defense, and quarterback Rob Bolden bounces back nicely from the Alabama loss.
Illinois 26, Northern Illinois 14: I'm buying into Illinois' defensive improvement under Vic Koenning, and the Illini receive another solid performance from Ian Thomas, Tavon Wilson and crew. Northern Illinois seems to be struggling to put it all together, and the Illini need this game more.
Purdue 34, Ball State 17: Receivers Justin Siller and Antavian Edison emerge as Purdue begins life without star wideout Keith Smith. The Boilers start slowly for the second consecutive week but get it going in the second quarter, as Dan Dierking eclipses 100 rushing yards for the second consecutive week.
USC 35, Minnesota 23: I've got a strange feeling about this one. Minnesota isn't as bad as it looked against South Dakota, and USC seems to be just skating by on its talent right now. I can't pick the Gophers to win, not with their issues on defense, but they'll come out energized after the Dakota Debacle. Minnesota takes an early lead, but Matt Barkley and his receivers prove to be too much in the second half.
Wisconsin 30, Arizona State 20: This is my Pick of the Week. Check the blog later as I'll have a video explaining my prediction in greater detail.
Indiana 45, Western Kentucky 21: The Hoosiers' offense shows no rust from the 16-day layoff, as Ben Chappell, Darius Willis and Tandon Doss all have big days against a woeful Western Kentucky defense. Indiana's defense struggles against Bobby Rainey, raising some concerns as Big Ten play beckons.
Northwestern 27, Rice 21: Another tricky road game for Pat Fitzgerald's crew against a Rice team that did some good things against Texas in the opener. The Owls jump ahead early and former Michigan running back Sam McGuffie reaches the end zone, but the Wildcats control play in the second half behind quarterback Dan Persa and receiver Jeremy Ebert.
Michigan State 33, Notre Dame 31: A very tough call here. Expect an entertaining shootout in East Lansing, as both offenses find their groove. I'm not sold on the Spartans' defense, and Notre Dame takes advantage as Michael Floyd has a big night. But Michigan State's balanced attack also steps up as Kirk Cousins rallies the team in the fourth quarter and Dan Conroy kicks a 42-yard field goal as time expires.
Iowa 26, Arizona 21: Arizona feeds off an electric atmosphere and jumps ahead behind Nic Grigsby, but Iowa duplicates what it did all last year and rallies on the road behind quarterback Ricky Stanzi. The senior signal caller overcomes an early interception and leads the game-winning touchdown drive, hitting Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the decisive touchdown.
Last week: 9-1
Season record: 20-1 (.952)
Best game: Michigan at Notre Dame. For the second consecutive season, the Wolverines and Irish provided plenty of drama. And once again, a young quarterback became the hero for the Maize and Blue. Denard Robinson's brilliance helped Michigan overcome a late defensive breakdown and rally for a 28-24 victory in South Bend. The game featured plenty of plot twists, as Notre Dame jumped ahead early, lost quarterback Dayne Crist to injury, got him back and took the lead before falling. Just great theater in one of college football's great cathedrals.
Biggest play: Going with three of them this week. Robinson set a Notre Dame Stadium record with his 87-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, a beautiful display of pure speed. And who doesn't like to see a defensive lineman rumble? That's exactly what Ohio State's Cameron Heyward did on an 80-yard interception return against Miami early in the third quarter with the game still very much in doubt. Purdue running back Al-Terek McBurse also deserves props for keeping his balance while rolling over a Western Illinois defender and then scooting into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown run.
Specialist spotlight: Michigan State entered the season with major questions at the kicker spot after losing standout Brett Swenson. Dan Conroy eased the concern Saturday against Florida Atlantic, converting field goal attempts of 50, 44 and 41 yards. Conroy is 4-for-4 on field goals for the season. Ohio State kicker Devin Barclay tied a team record with five field goals before missing his sixth attempt. "It was the first time I've ever been in a game where the kicker cramped up," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said afterward.
Game balls (given to players from winning teams not selected for helmet stickers):
- Northwestern QB Dan Persa: Robinson and Terrelle Pryor get all the pub, but Persa is leading the nation in pass efficiency with an amazing rating of 212.06. He has completed 86.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no picks. It's still early, but Persa is answering NU's biggest question mark entering the fall.
- Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: Kerrigan is continuing his dominant play from 2009 and recorded four tackles for loss with a sack and a forced fumble against Western Illinois. He leads the league in both tackles for loss (6.5) and forced fumbles (2), and ranks fifth in tackles (19).
- Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure: Another player who has carried over his success from last fall, Leshoure racked up 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns on only 15 carries against Southern Illinois. Imagine what he'll do if he ever gets a full carries load.
- Michigan State WR/KR/PR Keshawn Martin: Martin showed against Florida Atlantic why he can be so dangerous for the Spartans this year. He had a 42-yard reception, a 46-yard kickoff return and a 47-yard punt return. He finished with a game-high 204 all-purpose yards.
- Michigan WR Roy Roundtree: Labeled as doubtful last Monday after taking a huge shot against UConn, Roundtree not only played against Notre Dame but led Michigan with eight receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. Plus, he took another big hit in the game. Gutsy performance.
- Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Watt is performing like an All-Big Ten player so far this season, and he came up big against San Jose State with 2.5 tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and a blocked field goal attempt.
- Purdue RB Dan Dierking: Dierking eased some concerns about the Boilers' run game with 14 carries for 102 yards and two touchdowns against Western Illinois. He broke career bests for rushes, rushing yardage and touchdowns for the second straight game.
Now, let's take a quick look at the Week 2 slate ...
Massachusetts (2-0) at Michigan (2-0): What will Robinson do next? Tune in for the first half, as he might not be around for much of this one. The real subplot should be how Michigan uses backup quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Tate Forcier.
Ohio (1-1) at Ohio State (2-0): Frank Solich's Bobcats gave the Buckeyes a real scare two years ago, but Ohio is coming off of a home loss to Toledo. Can't see Ohio State letting Ohio hang around very long.
Kent State (1-1) at Penn State (1-1): The Lions should finally be able to get Evan Royster and the run game going, right? One problem: Kent State leads the nation in rush defense, allowing just 11 yards per game.
Northern Illinois (1-1) at Illinois (1-1): The Illini looked great against Southern Illinois and try to continue maintain their unbeaten record (12-0) against public schools from the state. NIU coach Jerry Kill could miss the game after being hospitalized Sunday.
Ball State (1-1) at Purdue (1-1): Life without star wide receiver Keith Smith begins for the Boilers, who still are looking for more consistency on both sides of the ball. Can Dierking nail down Purdue's top running back spot?
USC (2-0) at Minnesota (1-1): These are the big-ticket games Tim Brewster wants to play at Minnesota, but the heat is rising on the fourth-year coach after an embarrassing loss to South Dakota. USC's Matt Barkley takes aim at a Gophers' secondary that made South Dakota's Dante Warren look like superman.
Arizona State (2-0) at Wisconsin (2-0): Steven Threet sparked Wisconsin's downward spiral in 2008 after leading Michigan to a historic come-from-behind win at the Big House. Now Threet leads the Sun Devils into Madison looking for an upset.
Indiana (1-0) at Western Kentucky (0-2): Remember the Hoosiers? It feels like months since they last played. All-Big Ten wideout Tandon Doss is expected to make his season debut as Indiana hits the road for the first time.
Northwestern (2-0) at Rice (1-1): The Michigan-Big Ten reunion continues as former Wolverines running back Sam McGuffie faces Northwestern. This could be a tricky game for the Wildcats, but if Persa continues to perform like he has, they should be fine.
Notre Dame (1-1) at Michigan State (2-0): We should learn a lot more about the Spartans in this prime-time affair, as Notre Dame should test a secondary that struggled mightily in 2009. Linebacker Greg Jones and the Michigan State seniors try to go 3-1 against the Irish.
Iowa (2-0) at Arizona (2-0): Stay up late for this one, people. Both teams have looked dominant so far, and Iowa will have to adjust to the elements in the desert. Nick Foles and the Arizona offense will test Adrian Clayborn & Co., but Arizona also must contend with an Iowa offense that looks very strong so far.
Ohio State and Iowa have separated themselves so far, while Wisconsin needs to put together a complete performance this Saturday against Arizona State. Michigan makes another mini jump after a dramatic win against Notre Dame, although I still want to see a little more from the Maize and Blue. Penn State gets a pass this week, but there won't be any more. Minnesota pays the price in the rankings after crumbling on defense against South Dakota.
And away we go ...
1. Ohio State (2-0): The Buckeyes once again showed why turnover margin is so important, as they picked off Miami quarterback Jacory Harris four times and committed no major mistakes on offense. The formula helped Jim Tressel's squad overcome two uncharacteristic special-teams meltdowns and some inconsistency from quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Ohio State easily could have beaten Miami by 25 points, but the Buckeyes will take the win and move on.
2. Iowa (2-0): No Big Ten team has looked more dominant in the first two weeks than the Hawkeyes. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi is avoiding mistakes, Adam Robinson is sparking the run game and the defense is performing like we all expected. Iowa gave in-state rival Iowa State no chance Saturday, storming out to a 35-0 lead. Things get much tougher this week at Arizona, but the Hawkeyes appear ready for the challenge.
3. Wisconsin (2-0): The Badgers haven't been in any real danger of losing a game so far this season, but their victories are leaving everyone a little unsettled. Running back John Clay is a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate in my mind, but there have been too many turnovers on offense, and the Badgers missed several chances for more points against San Jose State. Wisconsin needs to clean things up in a hurry as Arizona State visits this week.
4. Penn State (1-1): There's little shame in losing to top-ranked Alabama on the road, especially with a true freshman quarterback (Rob Bolden) making his first career road start. But Penn State won't be getting any more passes from me. The Lions need to get Evan Royster and the run game going beginning this week against Kent State. Bolden will get better and better, but if Penn State's offensive line can't create room for Royster, the Lions are no better than an eight-win team.
T-5. Michigan (2-0): In Denard they trust. Quarterback Denard Robinson has been nothing short of brilliant for the Wolverines, and he's showing no signs of slowing down. Michigan still has some issues with a young secondary -- the Kyle Rudolph touchdown was a major breakdown -- and the Wolverines must identify more weapons on offense to help Robinson. But two quality wins have lifted spirits in Ann Arbor, and Michigan once again is off to a great start.
T-5. Michigan State (2-0): The Florida Atlantic game raised some red flags on defense, as the Spartans struggled to finish the Owls and get off the field on third down. But the rushing attack, led by sophomore Edwin Baker, has been spectacular so far this season. Spartans backs are finding open space and making big plays. Kicker Dan Conroy and the overall special-teams play also looked good Saturday. The defense needs to step up this week against Notre Dame.
7. Northwestern (2-0): After letting an inferior Vanderbilt team hang around in Week 1, Northwestern left no doubt Saturday against Illinois State. Besides Michigan's Robinson, Wildcats junior Dan Persa has been the Big Ten's most impressive quarterback so far this season, completing 38 of 44 passes (86.4 percent) for 462 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Linebacker Quentin Davie led a strong defensive effort, while the run game, despite showing signs of life, remains a concern.
8. Purdue (1-1): The Boilers evened their record and might have found an answer at running back in Dan Dierking (102 rush yards, 2 TDs), but the win against Western Illinois came at a cost. Purdue will have to survive without leading receiver Keith Smith, which puts pressure on Cortez Smith, Justin Siller and others to answer the bell. The Boilers also need to shore things up on defense after allowing 406 yards to WIU. I still like how the schedule sets up for Purdue.
9. Illinois (1-1): Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illini learned from their mistakes in Week 1 and delivered an impressive performance against a good FCS opponent (Southern Illinois). Scheelhaase limited mistakes and displayed impressive accuracy (14-for-18 passing) and got help from running back Mikel LeShoure (115 rush yards, 2 TDs) and receiver A.J. Jenkins (114 receiving yards, TD). Illinois' defense also is showing legit improvement from 2009.
10. Indiana (1-0): The Hoosiers were idle Saturday as they have an unusual 16-day break between games. We know less about Indiana than any Big Ten team to this point, and I'm not sure a soft upcoming schedule will reveal much more. All-Big Ten wideout Tandon Doss is expected back this week at Western Kentucky, where Indiana must clean up some things on defense.
11. Minnesota (1-1): You lose to South Dakota at home, you pay a price, especially when your defense allows 41 points and 444 yards. I recognize that Minnesota had to replace nine starters on defense this year, which isn't easy, but to let South Dakota quarterback Dante Warren do what he did was simply unacceptable. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber and running back Duane Bennett did their part, but the defense let them down. Up next: USC.
Hope's first season at the helm of the Boilermakers' program won't make it to the wall. There's no bowl championship trophy, no pictures of players and coaches wearing T-shirts and shades in the dead of winter. Hope's players don't tote any bowl swag, because they didn't get any.
A 5-7 season doesn't produce any tangible rewards. But it left Hope feeling very optimistic about the future.
After a 1-5 start filled with turnovers and near misses, Purdue rallied to go .500 in Big Ten play. The Boilers stunned then-No. 7 Ohio State, snapping a 19-game slide against ranked opponents. They also notched their first win at Michigan Stadium since 1966.
So, what exactly did Purdue accomplish in 2009?
"We made some noise," Hope said. "We've got a lot of work to do, and we haven't arrived yet, but we made some noise on the field the second half of the season. We weren't that far off, and everybody could see that. We kept swinging away, and we kept getting better as a team.
"When it was all over, we had some special moments in 2009."
The next steps are obvious for Purdue. Find ways to win close games, avoid the 10-minute disaster stretches that cropped up throughout last season, improve ball security, run defense and special teams, and, most importantly, get back to the postseason.
Simply making a lower-tier bowl isn't enough for first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver Keith Smith.
"We want to go to a January bowl game," he said. "That's our goal."
Purdue might have the personnel to get there. Despite losing 20 seniors, including quarterback Joey Elliott, safety Torri Williams and defensive tackle Mike Neal, the Boilers should be a deeper team in 2010.
Wide receiver was a major question mark for Purdue entering last season, but Smith emerged as the team's latest top option with a league-leading 1,100 receiving yards on 91 catches. He'll lead a group of wideouts and tight ends that also features Kyle Adams, Keith Carlos, Antavian Edison, Cortez Smith and others.
Ralph Bolden came out of nowhere to finish third in the Big Ten in rushing (77.9 ypg) and second in scoring (5.5 ppg), and the speedy junior expects big things this fall, especially if Purdue can reload along an offensive line that loses three starters. Al-Terek McBurse is a promising No. 2 option, and fullback Dan Dierking also returns.
"From a skill standpoint, we could have as much skill as Purdue has had on offense in many, many years," Hope said. "We're very promising at running back, we have all our tight ends back, we have Keith Smith back.
"There's some firepower there. We have to develop it."
Many eyes will be on the quarterback competition this spring, specifically Miami transfer Robert Marve. Marve, who will compete with Caleb TerBush for the top job, gets a fresh start after a tumultuous two years at Miami that got ugly at the end.
Purdue coaches and players say Marve has matured a lot in the last 10 months, and Marve's ability as a former blue-chip recruit has never been in doubt.
"In [offseason workouts], he's taking control," Bolden said. "He pretty much knows our offense. I don't know how, but he just jumped in and knew it, telling people to run this, changing routes and everything. He pretty much knows what he's doing, so I'm just following his lead."
Big Ten sacks leader Ryan Kerrigan leads a defense that must get tougher against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in each of the last two seasons. The Boilers are helped by greater depth up front and the return of standout linebacker Jason Werner, who received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA last month.
Hope and his assistants will spend much of the spring evaluating the secondary, which must replace all four starters.
"Obviously, the bar has been raised," Hope said. "The record that we had last year, even though we had some signature wins, was not good enough. We didn't make postseason play.
"The standard is set, and the expectation level is always high at Purdue."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Every Big Ten team circled and underlined a few questionable positions entering spring practice. Some of those concerns went away as young players blossomed and depth was built. Where did each Big Ten team get better this spring?
Here's a snapshot:
Illinois' running backs -- The development of sophomores Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure this spring gives Illinois plenty of options at running back heading into 2009. Ford and LeShoure both improved physically and mentally and will compete with senior Daniel Dufrene to be the featured runner. Bottom line: Juice Williams' job should be easier.
Indiana's offensive line -- After being decimated by injuries last season, Indiana can feel a bit better about the front five. Tackle James Brewer might finally be reaching his potential, and center Will Matte impressed the coaches in the middle of the line.
Iowa's offensive line -- This group figured to be pretty solid no matter what, but Iowa got some help from a familiar name in the interior line. Dace Richardson might finally be healthy, and he worked with the first-team at left guard as Iowa tries to replace all-conference linemen Seth Olsen and Rob Bruggeman.
Michigan's offensive line -- Not a major surprise here, considering the Wolverines bring back all their starters from last season. But an extra year of experience plus several talented redshirt freshmen (Ricky Barnum, Patrick Omameh) joining the mix should pay off big time this fall.
Michigan State's quarterbacks -- The Spartans felt great about the progress of quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, who both threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns in the spring game. Head coach Mark Dantonio is in no rush to name a starter, but unlike many men in his position, he really has two viable options here.
Minnesota's wide receivers -- With superstar Eric Decker playing baseball, Minnesota needed to identify other solid options at receiver. Return specialist Troy Stoudermire emerged as a big-play threat, and quarterback Adam Weber liked what he saw from Brandon Green and Da'Jon McKnight.
Northwestern's running backs -- Of the three offensive skill positions where Northwestern loses starters, running back appears to be the most stable. Sophomore Jeravin Matthews emerged this spring and will push Stephen Simmons for the starting job. Northwestern has several options in the backfield after losing four-year starter Tyrell Sutton.
Ohio State's linebackers -- You can't deny all the production Ohio State loses in its defensive midsection, but the spring revealed several solid players who can step in. Austin Spitler and Tyler Moeller have waited their turn for the spotlight, and Brian Rolle had an excellent spring. With returning starter Ross Homan back on the outside, the Buckeyes should once again be solid.
Penn State's defensive line -- Despite losing three defensive ends with starting experience, Penn State should once again boast one of the league's top pass rushes. Sophomore Jack Crawford looks like the Nittany Lions' next superstar pass rusher and should fill the void on the edge with Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham.
Purdue's running backs -- Even with Jaycen Taylor still rehabbing from a torn ACL, Purdue got a lot better at running back this spring. Ralph Bolden came out of nowhere to steal the show in spring scrimmages (420 rush yards, 4 touchdowns), and Dan Dierking also looked impressive. The Boilers will need a viable rushing attack this fall, and they can feel a lot better about this group.
Wisconsin's wide receivers -- Dropped passes dogged the receivers throughout 2008, but the group definitely got better this spring. Nick Toon emerged as a potential No. 1 target with an excellent performance in practice, and Isaac Anderson, Kyle Jefferson and David Gilreath all showed progress at times.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten whiffed on several opportunities to boost its national reputation in Week 1. Now it's time to make sure things don't get worse. The Week 2 slate is underwhelming, to say the least, but still extremely important for Big Ten teams to take care of business.
Here's a look:
Ohio at Ohio State (ESPN2, noon ET)
Beanie Wells' foot injury has overshadowed any intrigue about the game, and the spotlight likely will be on the sideline rather than the field Saturday. If Wells doesn't play -- a strong possibility -- it will be interesting to see how Ohio State's coaches readjust. Do Dan Herron, Maurice Wells and Brandon Saine split carries? How will freshman sensation Terrelle Pryor be used differently? Ohio has some good team speed and should provide somewhat of a challenge for a Buckeyes defense that smothered Youngstown State last week. The Bobcats haven't faced the state's flagship team since 1999, so they'll be up for this one.
Marshall at Wisconsin (noon ET)
The Badgers hope to get healthier and more precise before a huge road matchup against Fresno State in Week 3. Though the running game surged and the offense put up 38 points against Akron, Wisconsin had two turnovers inside the Zips' 10-yard line. Quarterback Allan Evridge must build off his first start in three years against a Marshall defense that struggled last season. Badgers star tight end Travis Beckum practiced earlier this week and might play against the Thundering Herd.
Eastern Illinois at Illinois (noon ET)
Illlinois will unveil its renovated stadium, wear throwback jerseys and welcome back dozens of program greats, including iconic linebacker Dick Butkus. It should be an interesting day on the field as well as the Illini try to atone for a season-opening loss to Missouri against Eastern Illinois. The Panthers feature two former Illinois players, defensive tackle D'Angelo McCray and defensive end Jeff Sobol, and come off a 31-12 loss to Central Michigan.
Eastern Michigan at Michigan State (noon ET)
Despite some positives from wide receiver Mark Dell and others, Michigan State is 0-1 and can't afford to backslide against Eastern Michigan. The Spartans defense needs a much stronger performance against an Eagles team that thumped Indiana State 52-0 and boasts a versatile quarterback in Andy Schmitt. Better discipline also is a priority for the Spartans after being penalized for 82 yards against Cal. Michigan State has scored 47 points or more in its last four meetings with Eastern Michigan.
Miami (Ohio) at Michigan (ESPN, noon ET)
It's only Week 2, but Michigan faces a must-win situation against a Miami (Ohio) program that has regressed in recent years. Don't be surprised if redshirt freshman Steven Threet replaces Nick Sheridan as the Wolverines' starting quarterback, though both men could play. Michigan has to get more from its running backs, particularly freshmen Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw, against a Miami defense that surrendered 269 rushing yards against Vanderbilt last week. The RedHawks also could go with two quarterbacks, though Daniel Raudabaugh will start.
Florida International at Iowa (noon ET)
It's important for the Hawkeyes to settle on a starting quarterback before games with Iowa State and Pitt, so the spotlight will be on Jake Christensen. The junior had some bright spots and some not-so bright ones against Maine in Week 1, but coach Kirk Ferentz seems to want him to step up and claim the spot for good. Iowa should have no problem with Florida International as long as it can stop T.Y. Hilton, who ranks second nationally in punt returns (44.5 ypr) and 23rd in kickoff returns (25 ypr).
Northern Colorado at Purdue (noon ET)
The Boilers open the season and can finally see what they have at wide receiver. There's little concern about Greg Orton, but expect coach Joe Tiller to use a sizable rotation of receivers to see who else can contribute. Kory Sheets plays his first game as Purdue's featured running back, though it'd be wise to get backup Dan Dierking a decent number of carries. Northern Colorado was picked last in the preseason Big Sky polls, so the Boilers shouldn't be tested too much before a big matchup against Oregon.
Oregon State at Penn State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)
What looks to be the day's best game by far lost a little luster after Oregon State dropped its opener against Stanford. Beavers quarterback Lyle Moevao provides a good test for a Penn State defense that's stacked up front but inexperienced at linebacker. Oregon State struggled to contain Stanford's run game and could be in trouble against Evan Royster and Stephfon Green, but if the Beavers flood the box and make Daryll Clark beat them with his arm, this could get very interesting.
Murray State at Indiana (7 p.m. ET)
Indiana and Iowa should co-author a book entitled, "Easing into the season." Like the Hawkeyes, it will be tough to get a great read on the Hoosiers until later this month. Star pass rusher Greg Middleton returns to the field for Indiana after serving a one-game suspension, and the defense looks to limit the pass after allowing 219 yards against Western Kentucky. Murray State allowed 73 points last year against Louisville in its only game against an FBS opponent.
Northwestern at Duke (7 p.m. ET)
If Northwestern wants to change its national perception, beating teams like Duke is a must. The Wildcats failed to do so last year, falling 20-14 at home following an unsightly series of penalties, turnovers and missed opportunities. Duke looks to be improving under new coach David Cutcliffe, but the difference Saturday could be Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton, the best player on either squad and a guy who missed last year's game with an ankle injury. Keep an eye on the weather as Hurricane Hannah should hit North Carolina on Friday night.
Minnesota at Bowling Green (ESPNU, 7:30 p.m. ET)
The Gophers deserved to celebrate a bit after a season-opening win against Northern Illinois, but if they want to prove they're really a better team, this is the perfect stage. Bowling Green comes off a Week 1 road upset of Pitt and stunned Minnesota last season with a two-point conversion in overtime to seal a 32-31 win. Falcons quarterback Tyler Sheehan will test
a still-unproven Gophers secondary, but Adam Weber should also be a handful for Bowling Green.