NCF Nation: Danny Fortener
WHO TO WATCH: Blair White and Keshawn Martin. Michigan State's wave of suspensions hit the wide receivers harder than any other position group. The Spartans will be without their No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts in B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell, who combined for 74 receptions and five touchdowns this season. White and Martin need to pick up the slack for the Big Ten's top passing offense in a game where Michigan State likely needs to score 28 points or more. Quarterback Kirk Cousins can rely on White, a first-team All-Big Ten selection who has a knack for finding the end zone. Martin also emerged as a difference maker down the stretch, especially on special teams. The Spartans need Martin to break off some nice returns to win the field-position edge.
WHAT TO WATCH: Michigan State's secondary. Head coach Mark Dantonio talked up this group in the preseason, but the secondary has fallen well short of expectations. Quarterbacks like Dan LeFevour, Jimmy Clausen, Scott Tolzien and Adam Weber had their way with Michigan State's defensive backs, who face arguably their biggest challenge in Taylor Potts and the nation's No. 2 pass offense (380.7 ypg). The Spartans will be without starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker (suspension), so they need big performances from defensive backs Danny Fortener, Jeremy Ware, Trenton Robinson and others.
WHY TO WATCH: Do you really need an explanation here? You've got one team (Michigan State) missing 14 scholarship players because of one very troubling stretch on Nov. 22. You've got another team (Texas Tech) that learned Wednesday that its head coach had been fired after wide receiver Adam James filed a complaint. I'm about to make a prediction on this game, but who really knows what will happen? One team will come out of the game looking extremely resilient amid adversity. The other could end up looking like a train wreck.
PREDICTION: Mike Leach's shocking dismissal will impact Texas Tech early, as Michigan State takes a lead. But I don't have enough confidence in the Spartans' secondary to think they'll keep the Red Raiders in check for 60 minutes. Potts gets hot late and Texas Tech rallies to win, 31-27.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten picks recap is back by popular demand!
Actually, one of my readers living in Kenya politely asked last week. And when you're craving more Big Ten coverage in Kenya, you deserve it, so here goes.
Not a bad week for the picks, as I went 4-2. I had a feeling Michigan State would prevail but just couldn't pull the trigger. Oh, well.
Michigan at Michigan State
- The pick: Michigan 38, Michigan State 37
- Actual score: Michigan State 26, Michigan 20 (OT)
- 20-20 hindsight: Both defenses played better than expected, and Michigan State totally shut down Michigan's run game, which produced just 28 yards. Tate Forcier made a few plays against the Spartans secondary down the stretch, but Danny Fortener and Chris L. Rucker got the last laugh in overtime.
- The pick: Wisconsin 28, Minnesota 26
- Actual score: Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 28
- 20-20 hindsight: Pretty close on this one, though it was running back John Clay, not quarterback Scott Tolzien, who gave the Gophers fits. Minnesota star Eric Decker had another big day, as predicted, and the Gophers committed three second-half turnovers, not two. Still, I'll take this prediction overall.
- The pick: Purdue 37, Northwestern 33
- Actual score: Northwestern 27, Purdue 21
- 20-20 hindsight: Two struggling defenses met the challenge, and Northwestern held Boilers running back Ralph Bolden in check for most of the game. I also swung and missed on Wildcats quarterback Mike Kafka, who came through in the clutch to lead the game-winning touchdown drive after committing late turnovers in each of his last two games.
- The pick: Iowa 30, Arkansas State 10
- Actual score: Iowa 24, Arkansas State 21
- 20-20 hindsight: My prediction looked pretty good when Iowa scored to open the second half and went ahead 21-7. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi nearly backed me up with a "steady and complete performance," but his interception returned for a touchdown put a damper on his day. Stanzi ended up finding Marvin McNutt for two touchdowns, not Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.
- The pick: Penn State 26, Illinois 17
- Actual score: Penn State 35, Illinois 17
- 20-20 hindsight: I pegged Illinois' score right on the number, but I thought the Illini would be competitive throughout the game, not just in the first half. Penn State running back Evan Royster got on track (105 rush yards, touchdown), just as I predicted, but so did Stephfon Green and Daryll Clark as the Lions' running game finally caught fire.
- The pick: Ohio State 27, Indiana 14
- Actual score: Ohio State 33, Indiana 14
- 20-20 hindsight: I ended up pretty close on the score, though it should have been more lopsided. Ohio State still struggles to put together complete 60-minute games. I was right about quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Brandon Saine having a big night on the ground against the Hoosiers defense.
Season record: 31-13 (.705)
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams preparing for the second round of league games.
Illinois: Head coach Ron Zook will increase his rotation on defense after the Illini dropped to last place in the Big Ten in points allowed (32 ppg). LinebackersRussell Ellington and Sam Carson and safety Donsay Hardeman all are expected to see more plays Saturday at Michigan (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Zook has some versatility with Travon Bellamy , who can play both safety and cornerback. The coach attributed Illinois' run-stopping struggles (182.5 ypg allowed) to the back half as the team tries to overcome the losses of All-American middle linebacker J Leman and talented safetiesKevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison. "I don't foresee starting lineup changes," Zook said, "but I do see guys that are going to be held accountable. ... We're going to play more guys and our job is to make sure we fix it."
Michigan State: Defensive back Kendell Davis-Clark could be back soon after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury. Davis-Clark's return presents some interesting decisions for head coach Mark Dantonio, who originally shifted Davis-Clark from cornerback to safety afterRoderick Jenrette was asked to take a leave of absence from the team. Danny Fortener replaced Davis-Clark in the season opener at Cal and has performed well, ranking second on the team in tackles (29) with three pass break-ups and an interception. Davis-Clark, who started 11 games at cornerback last season, is listed behind Fortener on the depth chart for Saturday's game against Iowa (ESPN2, noon ET).
Minnesota: The Gophers continue to list three players as possible starters at running back on this week's depth chart, but head coach Tim Brewster acknowledged that freshman DeLeon Eskridge has taken the lead. Eskridge racked up a team-high 131 all-purpose yards in Minnesota's league-opening loss to Ohio State last week. With five touchdowns, he's already halfway to reaching Minnesota's freshman record of 10 set by Laurence Maroney in 2003. Another freshman, Shady Salamon, and junior Jay Thomas also remain in the mix for playing time. "If you had to say one of three guys stepped out, you'd say DeLeon Eskridge," Brewster said. "The other two guys will definitely continue to play some."
Ohio State: Aside from left tackle Alex Boone, none of the spots on Ohio State's offensive line are set in stone. True freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center, but Jim Cordle could move back over from guard if necessary. Cordle and a healthy Steve Rehring are listed as co-starters at left guard. Right tackle Bryant Browning also can play a guard spot, and Rehring is a possibility at tackle. Freshmen tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams also could be the mix at some point as much-needed competition increases up front.
Purdue: The Boilers' spread offense is at its best with a large rotation of receivers, and they're starting to see more playmakers emerge. Senior Desmond Tardy is listed as a starter on this week's depth chart ahead of junior Keith Smith after catching 10 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown last week against Notre Dame. Purdue also has seen encouraging moments from junior college transfer Aaron Valentin. Head coach Joe Tiller wants to see more from his other juco wideout, Arsenio Curry, who brings excellent size (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) but has yet to catch a pass. Tight end remains a question mark, as starter Kyle Adams is doubtful for Saturday's game against Penn State. Adams hasn't played since he hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the season opener.