NCF Nation: Jack DiNardo

Northwestern has issued its official injury report for Saturday's road game against Army. Like the first two weeks, quarterback Dan Persa is listed as questionable. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall told ESPN.com earlier today that while it's possible Persa could play against the Black Knights, he's still waiting on full clearance from the medical staff.

Here's the full rundown:

OUT
  • DT Brian Arnfelt, foot
  • DT Jack DiNardo, leg
  • S Jared Carpenter, wrist
  • CB Collin Ellis, hand
  • LB Roderick Goodlow, leg
  • WR Tony Jones, leg
  • RB Adonis Smith, leg
QUESTIONABLE
  • QB Dan Persa, leg

Northwestern will need veteran Niko Mafuli and its younger defensive tackles to step up against Army's triple-option offense. Although Smith will be missed at running back, Mike Trumpy is expected to return from a concussion after missing last week's game.
The position rankings move from offense to defense. We'll start with the group that has produced more Big Ten stars than any other position group in recent years.

The Big Ten had five defensive linemen, all from different teams, selected in the first round of April's NFL draft: Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, Illinois' Corey Liuget, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward. Iowa lost three starting D-linemen to the draft, and almost every Big Ten squad has to replace major contributors.

The personnel losses make the preseason D-line rankings both tricky and fun. The first three groups look very good, while there's not much difference in the middle of the league.

Let's take a look:

[+] EnlargeJared Crick
Brett Davis/US PresswireJared Crick and Nebraska join the Big Ten as the league's top defensive line.
1. Nebraska: The Big Ten's newest member should fit in well with its strong play up front. Star defensive tackle Jared Crick stiff-armed the NFL draft and returned for his final season, giving Nebraska a terrific centerpiece up front. He'll be complemented by veterans Baker Steinkuhler and the mustachioed Cameron Meredith. If converted linebacker Eric Martin builds off of a strong spring, Nebraska should be fine at the end spot.

2. Ohio State: Heyward's leadership and versatility will be missed, but Ohio State always finds ways to fill the gaps up front. Junior John Simon should be primed for a breakout season. Like Heyward, Simon can play both line spots but might see more time on the edge this fall. Nathan Williams adds experience at end, and promising sophomore Johnathan Hankins could wreak havoc on the interior this fall.

3. Michigan State: Like several Big Ten teams, the Spartans build their line around a potential superstar tackle in Jerel Worthy. The junior already is projected as a potential first-round pick in the 2012 draft after recording four sacks last fall. Anthony Rashad White emerged this spring as a nice complement to Worthy. Michigan State needs a better pass rush from the end spots, and hopes are high for William Gholston and Tyler Hoover.

4. Wisconsin: Watt is a huge loss because he contributed in so many ways, but Wisconsin could account for his production with greater depth. Ends Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert both have played a lot of football, and junior Brendan Kelly came on strong toward the end of spring practice. Senior tackle Patrick Butrym has emerged as one of the leaders on defense. Wisconsin needs young tackles like Jordan Kohout and Beau Allen to help Butrym.

5. Michigan: This is a projection pick, but I think Michigan's defensive front takes a significant step forward this season. Senior tackle Mike Martin is a bona fide NFL prospect and will lead the way, and players like Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh should be among the primary beneficiaries of the new defense under coordinator Greg Mattison. Michigan needs to build depth with Jibreel Black, Will Campbell and others, but there's great potential here.

6. Iowa: The Hawkeyes face a tough task in replacing multiyear starters in Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug. Senior tackle Mike Daniels is ready to lead the group after recording 11 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2010. The biggest key is getting Broderick Binns back to his 2009 form. Iowa also needs to build depth with Lebron Daniel and others, and avoid major injuries.

7. Purdue: Defensive tackle is a major strength for Purdue as Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston Jr. form one of the league's top tandems. Short quietly turned in an extremely productive season last fall (12.5 TFLs, 6 sacks). The big unknown is how Purdue replaces Kerrigan. The Boilers need veteran Gerald Gooden to stay healthy and others to emerge alongside him.

8. Penn State: Much like Purdue, Penn State looks strong at tackle and has question marks at end. Devon Still could contend for All-Big Ten honors after a terrific performance in the Outback Bowl against Florida. Still and Jordan Hill should lock up the middle, but Penn State needs Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore to get healthy at the end spots. If not, the Lions will turn to unproven players to spark their pass rush.

9. Illinois: Liuget is a significant loss in the middle and Illinois also must replace veteran end Clay Nurse. The Illini will rely on Akeem Spence to step in for Liuget, and Spence showed some good things this spring. There's talent on the edges with Michael Buchanan, Whitney Mercilus and others, but Illinois needs more consistent production.

10. Northwestern: This group took a step back last fall and got manhandled down the stretch as Northwestern hemorrhaged yards and points. Senior end Vince Browne is a playmaker who put up impressive numbers (15.5 TFLs, 7 sacks) in 2010. He'll need help from tackles Jack DiNardo and Niko Mafuli, and Tyler Scott could provide a lift at the other end spot. The Wildcats need their line to regain the edge it displayed in 2008.

11. Indiana: It wouldn't surprise me to see Indiana's front four rise up these rankings during the season. There are some nice pieces back, namely senior end Darius Johnson, who can be a force when healthy. Junior Adam Replogle has been productive at defensive tackle. There's plenty of competition at the other two spots as Indiana tries to turn a page on defense.

12. Minnesota: The Gophers' pass rush was practically invisible in 2010, as they finished last nationally in sacks (9). The good news is new defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will turn his linemen loose more often, giving players like Brandon Kirksey chances to make plays. We've heard a lot about Minnesota's talent up front but haven't seen nearly enough production on Saturdays.
National Signing Day is just about a week away, so let's take a look at the recruiting needs for each Big Ten team.

In compiling these lists, I tried to look at positions that have depth issues for 2011 and/or 2012.

Let's start off with the Legends division.

IOWA

Running back: Marcus Coker's breakout performance in the Insight Bowl got Iowa fans excited for the future, but there's still a significant depth issue here. If Adam Robinson can't get reinstated, the Hawkeyes will be looking for No. 2 and No. 3 options behind Coker. As we've seen the past two seasons, freshmen backs will see the field at Iowa.

Linebacker: Iowa felt the losses of Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds this season, and it must continue to rebuild the depth at the three linebacker spots. Multiyear starter Jeremiha Hunter departs along with players like Jeff Tarpinian and Troy Johnson. Iowa needs to build around rising star James Morris.

Wide receiver/tight end: Iowa loses Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Allen Reisner and Colin Sandeman this year. Also, receiver Marvin McNutt and tight end Brad Herman depart after the 2011 season. Although the Hawkeyes boast young talent at both positions, they need to build depth with this class.

MICHIGAN

Secondary: The Wolverines couldn't find many answers here in 2010, and though the return of players like cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd will help, there are opportunities for freshmen to make an immediate impact. Michigan simply needs more options at both secondary spots in 2011.

Defensive line: It's crucial for coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to begin building depth up front. Future NFL player Mike Martin departs after 2011 along with Ryan Van Bergen, so Michigan needs to solidify both line positions.

Kicker: Field goals were an adventure in 2010, and Michigan simply can't have so much uncertainty at kicker going forward. The Wolverines need a reliable leg here ASAP.

MICHIGAN STATE

Linebacker: I like some of the young linebackers the Spartans bring back in 2011, but you can't overlook the losses of multiyear starters Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, not to mention reserve Jon Misch. Michigan State should have a decent group of first-string 'backers, but wants to build depth in the defensive midsection.

Offensive line: Not only do the Spartans lose three starters from the 2010 line, but they're still not where they need to be depth-wise up front to become a consistent top-tier Big Ten program. Michigan State wants to become like Iowa and Wisconsin. The big step is to keep fortifying both lines, especially on the offensive side.

MINNESOTA

Pass rusher: Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in sacks last season (9) and hasn't had an intimidating pass rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008. The recent departure of defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards, who led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009, underscores this need.

Offensive line: The Gophers lose three starters up front, and while they boast some promising young linemen like tackle Ed Olson, the depth just isn't there yet. Minnesota's best teams had powerful offensive lines, and new coach Jerry Kill must continue to create competition up front.

NEBRASKA

Running back: The Huskers lose standout Roy Helu Jr., and while Rex Burkhead quickly will become one of my favorite Big Ten players, he might not be an every-down back for Nebraska going forward. You always want options in the backfield, and Nebraska must continue to address its run game with the 2011 class.

Wide receiver: Nebraska loses Niles Paul and wants to identify playmakers to surround Taylor Martinez or whomever starts at quarterback. Brandon Kinnie departs after the 2011 season, and while Burkhead helps in the receiving department, Nebraska needs others to emerge.

NORTHWESTERN

Running back: Although Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith emerged as possible answers late in the 2010 season, Northwestern needs to create real competition here. The Wildcats have lacked a dominant back during the Pat Fitzgerald era and need a dangerous rushing option to complement Dan Persa.

Defensive line: The Wildcats lose only one starter (Corbin Bryant) from the 2010 squad, but four more rotation players (Vince Browne, Jack DiNardo, Kevin Watt and Niko Mafuli) depart after 2011. Fortifying the pass rush is a major priority going forward.

Big Ten Week 4 rewind/Week 5 preview

September, 27, 2010
9/27/10
2:10
PM ET
Let's take a look back at Week 4 before sneaking a peek at the first group of conference games, which take place Saturday.

Team of the week: The scoreboard operators around the Big Ten. These folks had a very busy Saturday as two Big Ten teams (Ohio State and Wisconsin) eclipsed 70 points and another (Michigan) surpassed the 60-point mark. The Big Ten combined for 428 points, 55 touchdowns and 5,212 total yards. According to Big Ten Network stats guru Chris Antonacci, the 42.8 points-per-game average is the highest for a week in nonconference play since at least 1996. No Big Ten squad scored fewer than 20 points, and only three teams -- Purdue, Penn State and Minnesota -- failed to record 30 points or more.

Best game: Temple at Penn State. Al Golden brought a good Owls team to his alma mater and surged out to a 13-6 lead. Penn State led by only two points entering the fourth quarter and gave Temple several chances to pull off a historic upset. But Tom Bradley's stifling defense shut down a one-dimensional Owls offense, and freshman quarterback Rob Bolden led an impressive 12-play, 96 yard touchdown drive that sealed the victory and allowed Nittany Nation to exhale.

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State quarterback Rob Bolden delivered big plays in the second half against Temple.
Biggest play: We go back to State College. On third-and-6 from the Penn State 8-yard line, Bolden showed off his arm strength with a tough throw to a diving Graham Zug along the sideline for a 19-yard gain. If the pass falls incomplete, Temple regains possession and likely has excellent field position, needing only a field goal to take the lead. Instead, Penn State drove downfield and finally got into the end zone. The most electrifying play from Saturday came from -- who else? -- Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who took a going-nowhere run play and cut back across the field for a 47-yard touchdown against Bowling Green.

Specialist spotlight: Senior kicker Collin Wagner has been Penn State's most valuable offensive weapon so far this season. He tied a team record with five field goals Saturday against Temple, converting attempts from 45, 42, 32, 32 and 21 yards. Wagner had a chance to set the record, but missed from 32 yards out in the fourth quarter. Wagner is tied for the national lead with 10 field goals this season and ties for second nationally in field goals per game (2.5). Northwestern defensive tackle Jack DiNardo merits a mention after blocking a PAT attempt and a field-goal attempt in a 30-25 win against Central Michigan.

Game balls (given to players from winning teams not selected for helmet stickers):

  • Indiana QB Ben Chappell: The senior signal caller has been nothing short of spectacular this season. He put up huge numbers for the third consecutive game, completing 23 of 33 passes for 342 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-20 win against Akron. Chappell leads the Big Ten in passing average (296.7 ypg), boasts nine touchdown passes and no interceptions and ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency (179.04 rating). He'll share the ball with receiver Terrance Turner (6 receptions, 121 yards, 1 TD).
  • Iowa DL Mike Daniels: Daniels likely would start on any other defensive line in the country, and he showed why Saturday against Ball State. The junior recorded four tackles for loss, including a sack, as Iowa blanked Ball State and held the Cardinals to 112 total yards. Iowa loses three starting defensive linemen after the season, but there's hope as Daniels and Broderick Binns both return.
  • Northwestern QB Dan Persa: He made his first mistake of the season -- an interception in the red zone -- but was spotless the rest of the game against Central Michigan. Persa completed 23 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. The junior leads the nation in completion percentage (80.2) and ranks third in pass efficiency (186.3 rating).
  • Penn State S Nick Sukay and LB Nate Stupar: Both men stepped up for a Penn State defense that totally shut down Temple in the second half Saturday. Sukay recorded two interceptions, bringing his season total to three, and Stupar recorded an interception and a sack, part of his seven tackles on the day.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: It was important for Michigan State to continue to show offensive balance Saturday, and Cousins answered the challenge. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 14.5 yards per completion against Northern Colorado.
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien: Like Cousins, Tolzien faced weak competition Saturday, but any time a quarterback completes 15 of 17 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, it's worth noting. After a few hiccups in the first two games, Tolzien has settled down nicely, completing 34 of 42 passes for 463 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in the past two games. Tolzien shares this with tight end Lance Kendricks (6 receptions 103 yards, 1 TD).
  • Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher: I mentioned No. 12 in helmet stickers, but he deserves a game ball of his own after hauling in four touchdown passes from Terrelle Pryor. Sanzenbacher had nine catches for 108 yards in the rout of Eastern Michigan. The senior leads the Big Ten in touchdown receptions (5) and ranks fourth in the league in both receptions (5 rpg) and receiving yards (79 ypg).
  • Michigan WR Roy Roundtree: Roundtree is starting to distinguish himself as a reliable weapon for the Michigan offense. He recorded nine receptions for 118 yards, including a 36-yarder against Bowling Green.

OK, enough on Week 4. Let's look ahead to the start of Big Ten play Saturday!

No. 2 Ohio State (4-0) at Illinois (2-1): The Buckeyes hit the road for the first time this season and face an Illinois team that will be healthier following a bye week. Two improved units clash as Pryor and the nation's No. 8 offense go up against an Illinois defense that has made strides under new coordinator Vic Koenning.

Northwestern (4-0) at Minnesota (1-3): Standout quarterback Dan Persa and the Wildcats aim for their third road win of the season, which would make a 6-0 start very realistic. Minnesota is in desperation mode after dropping three consecutive home games. Coach Tim Brewster is under fire, and he needs to get things turned around fast against a team the Gophers beat last year.

No. 19 Michigan (4-0) at Indiana (4-0): I'm not a betting man, but I'd take the over in this matchup. Both offenses rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring, and both defenses have struggled to stop people this season. Michigan's Robinson should be fine following his knee injury Saturday, and he'll try to outshine Indiana senior signal caller Chappell, the Big Ten's leading passer (296.7 ypg).

No. 11 Wisconsin (4-0) at No. 24 Michigan State (4-0): This is the most fascinating matchup of the day in the Big Ten. You've got two potentially explosive offenses and two defenses with some individual talents (J.J. Watt, Greg Jones) and some question marks. I can't wait for the matchup between Jones and Badgers running back John Clay, who needs a big game to boost his Heisman hopes. And we still don't know whether or not Mark Dantonio will return to the Spartans' sideline.

No. 22 Penn State (3-1) at No. 17 Iowa (3-1): In each of the past two years, an unranked Iowa team has stunned a Penn State squad ranked in the top 5 nationally. The roles reverse on Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium, as Penn State will be the underdog against the Hawkeyes, who have looked very impressive aside from the first half at Arizona. Can the Lions pull off the upset, or will Adrian Clayborn and Iowa's defensive line gobble up freshman quarterback Bolden?

Bye: Purdue (2-2)

Halftime reports from around Big Ten

September, 25, 2010
9/25/10
1:45
PM ET
Most Big Ten teams are taking care of business today, with one notable exception (Purdue).

Here are some quick thoughts at halftime around the league:

Bowling Green-Michigan: Denard Robinson was off to another brilliant start before suffering an apparent left knee injury near the sideline in the first quarter. Robinson's injury doesn't appear to be too severe, but backups Devin Gardner and Tate Forcier likely will lead the offense the rest of the way. Forcier got his first action of the season late in the first half and led Michigan on an impressive 69-yard touchdown drive, going 6-for-6 on his pass attempts. Gardner also has a touchdown pass, and receiver Roy Roundtree continues to look impressive. The Michigan defense still seems shaky, allowing an explosion play midway through the second quarter.

Toledo-Purdue: You have to feel for Danny Hope. The Purdue coach has lost his best running back (Ralph Bolden), his best receiver (Keith Smith) and now his best quarterback (Robert Marve) to injury. Marve suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and isn't expected to return. Backup Rob Henry is running the ball well, but he still looks shaky as a passer. Toledo is passing the ball extremely well and could be on its way to a shocking blowout victory. This isn't the same Rockets team I saw against Arizona in the season opener, but this isn't the same Purdue team, either.

Austin Peay-Wisconsin: This one's over, Guvna. Wisconsin is just toying with Austin Peay today, as quarterback Scott Tolzien has been nearly perfect (13-for-14 passing, 196 yards, 2 TDs) and freshman running back James White continues to impress with two touchdown runs, including a 66-yarder. As expected, Austin Peay looks totally overmatched against the Badgers' offensive line, and Wisconsin has dominated every offensive category so far. You'll see a lot of the second and third string after halftime.

Ball State-Iowa: Adam Robinson might be Iowa's only healthy proven running back, but he's a pretty good one. The sophomore already has eclipsed 100 rushing yards. I wouldn't expect Iowa to keep feeding Robinson as much in the second half, especially as Ricky Stanzi continues to throw the ball well. Tight end Allen Reisner is having another big day, and the Hawkeyes defense has rebounded nicely from the Arizona loss by shutting down the Ball State offense and forcing two turnovers.

Central Michigan-Northwestern: Very bizarre game so far in Evanston. There have been a ton of flags, two blocked PAT attempts, three turnovers and some decent ball movement by both teams. Northwestern appeared poised to take a two-score lead midway through the second quarter, but quarterback Dan Persa made his first mistake of the season, throwing an interception in the red zone. Persa's pick turned the game and Central Michigan mounted an impressive drive to tie the game. Northwestern linebacker Quentin Davie and defensive tackle Jack DiNardo both are playing well so far, but it's been too sloppy for the Wildcats with all the penalties.

Northern Colorado-Michigan State: The Spartans honored ailing Mark Dantonio by wearing a "D" on their helmets, and so far they're making the coach proud. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is dissecting the Bears defense so far, completing 12 of 15 passes for 235 yards and two passing touchdowns. After three plus years with no interceptions, Michigan State star linebacker Greg Jones already has two in the first half. The run game has been decent so far, but Michigan State really seems to be emphasizing the pass game.

Big Ten stock report: Week 4

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
9:08
AM ET
Invest wisely.

STOCK UP

Scott Tolzien: After a bit of shakiness in Wisconsin's first two games, Tolzien looked very sharp against Arizona State despite not having two of his top receivers (Nick Toon and David Gilreath). The senior quarterback completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

Anthony Santella: Special teams play hasn't been a Big Ten strength so far this season, but Santella is a bright spot. The Illinois senior leads the nation in punting with a 48.9-yard average. Santella has improved from 50th nationally in punting in 2009 and 75th in 2008.

Northwestern's defensive line: The loss of third-round draft pick Corey Wootton hasn't fazed the Wildcats, who are receiving excellent play up front from defensive tackles Jack DiNardo and Corbin Bryant and end Vince Browne. The three combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup against Rice.

Penn State's third-down efficiency: The Lions have been excellent on third down on both sides of the ball. They rank 12th nationally in third-down conversions at 53.7 percent, a testament to an offensive line that has yet to allow a sack. Penn State leads the Big Ten and ranks 12th nationally in third-down defense at just 25 percent conversions.

STOCK DOWN

Greg Robinson: His Michigan defense showed some shakiness in the first two games but made up for it by forcing turnovers. There was nothing to sugarcoat the struggles Saturday against Massachusetts, which rolled up 36 points and 439 yards, keeping things very interesting until the end.

Iowa's offensive line: After holding up well the first two weeks, Iowa's inexperience up front showed against Arizona. The Hawkeyes surrendered six sacks, including three on the final four offensive plays. Though senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi needed to get rid of the ball, he didn't have much chance to do so.

Special teams: Major breakdowns are becoming an epidemic around the Big Ten. You saw it Saturday with Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State. The mistakes need to be fixed ASAP.

Now it's time to check in on the league award races.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: OFFENSE

(Player, Week 3 performance)

1. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: 10-for-14 passing, 241 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 17 rushes, 104 yards, 1 TD.

2. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: 22-of-29 passing, 235 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs; rushing TD; had school-record 16 consecutive completions in first half.

3. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: 24-for-32 passing, 307 yards, 1 TD; 34 rush yards, 1 TD.

4. Michigan State RB Edwin Baker: 14 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD.

5. Wisconsin RB John Clay: 22 carries, 123 yards, 1 TD.

6. Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure: 24 carries, 180 yards, 1 TD.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: DEFENSE

1. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: Recorded five tackles, two for loss and a sack. Leads Big ten with 8.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 more than any other player.

2. Michigan State LB Greg Jones: Recorded nine tackles, including a sack and had a quarterback hurry. Leads the Big Ten with 29 tackles.

3. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Played through pain against Arizona State to record a pass breakup and three quarterback hurries.

4. Ohio State S Tyler Moeller: Recorded a forced fumble, an interception and 1.5 tackles for loss. Ties for league lead in forced fumbles with two.

5. Northwestern LB Quentin Davie: Recorded a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and had an interception returned for a touchdown. Leads the Big Ten in both interceptions (3) and passes defended (5).

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR RACE


1. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: 17 rushes, 114 yards, 1 TD.

2. Wisconsin RB James White: 6 rushes, 40 yards, 4 kick returns for 93 yards.

3. Penn State QB Rob Bolden: 17-of- 27 passing, 217 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT; 4 carries, 33 rush yards, 1 TD.

4. Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase: 16 carries, 115 yards, 1 TD; 8-of-16 passing, 70 yards.

Big Ten Week 3 rewind/Week 4 preview

September, 20, 2010
9/20/10
2:03
PM ET
Let's look back at Week 3 before gearing up for a riveting slate of games Saturday in the Big Ten (sarcasm, people).

Team of the Week: Michigan State. After suffering a series of close losses in the past three years, Michigan State finally turned the tables -- against one of its top rivals, no less. A seesaw game featured some offensive fireworks on both sides, and for certain stretches, Michigan State achieved the type of offensive balance that could make it very dangerous when Big Ten play rolls around. But the Spartans once again seemed to wilt in the clutch as quarterback Kirk Cousins took some costly sacks. Notre Dame regained the momentum late in regulation and in overtime, but Michigan State changed everything with a gutsy fake field goal call that resulted in the game-winning 29-yard touchdown pass. Although coach Mark Dantonio's health setback put the celebration on pause, Michigan State has an opportunity to build off this win.

[+] EnlargeBates
Matt Cashore/US PresswireAaron Bates' touchdown pass in overtime lifted the Spartans to a victory.
Best game: Notre Dame at Michigan State. The game featured four lead changes, 938 yards, 65 points and the most memorable play of the young college football season, as punter/holder Aaron Bates found tight end Charlie Gantt for a 29-yard touchdown on the fake field goal try in overtime. Quarterbacks Cousins and Dayne Crist both had their moments, as did receivers Michael Floyd and B.J. Cunningham. Just a very entertaining game between rivals. Honorable mentions go to Wisconsin-Arizona State, which featured several wild special-teams plays, and Iowa-Arizona, which featured a furious Hawkeyes rally from a 27-7 halftime deficit and an Arizona counterpunch in the clutch.

Biggest play: Isn't it obvious by now? No one expected the fake field goal, especially from a typically conservative coach like Dantonio. It was the right call at the right time and Bates, a former high school quarterback, deserves credit for going to his second read after Le'Veon Bell was covered. If Michigan State goes on to have a big season, we'll all point to this play. Wisconsin also received two huge special-teams plays from safeties Shelton Johnson and Jay Valai. Johnson tripped up Arizona State kick returner Kyle Middlebrooks at the 1-yard line as the second quarter clock expired, saving six points and a huge momentum swing going into halftime. The 5-foot-9 Valai showed off his hops by blocking the potential game-tying PAT attempt with 4:09 left as Wisconsin won 20-19.

Specialist spotlight: Bates had a huge night against Notre Dame, and his game-winning pass to Gantt overshadowed his prowess as a punter, as he averaged 45.4 yards on eight punts. Illinois punter Anthony Santella leads the nation in punting average (48.9 ypg) after averaging 48.7 yards per boot on Saturday against Northern Illinois. Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts against Rice, and Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman averaged 43 yards on four punts and had one downed inside the 5-yard line against Arizona State.

Game balls (given to players from winning teams not selected for helmet stickers):

  • Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks: Kendricks knew he'd have to step up Saturday as Wisconsin played without two of its top receivers (Nick Toon and David Gilreath). The senior tight end looked like a wide receiver again as he hauled in seven receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown, even though he was interfered with in the end zone. He shares the game ball with quarterback Scott Tolzien (19-25 passing, 246 yards, 1 TD).
  • Michigan RB Michael Shaw: Denard Robinson didn't have to do it all against UMass as Shaw racked up career highs in both rushing yards (126) and touchdowns (3) on only 12 carries. He shares the game ball with Robinson, who had another big day, and receiver Darryl Stonum (3 receptions, 121 yards, 2 TDs).
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan: Homan has carried over his stellar play from 2009 and continues to become one of the league's top defensive playmakers. The senior had seven solo tackles, a forced fumble and an interception against Ohio. Kudos also go to fellow Buckeyes defender Tyler Moeller, who recorded his first career interception, a forced fumble and 1.5 tackles for loss.
  • Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: Bell is the early leader for Big Ten Freshman of the Year after recording his second 100-yard rushing performance in his first three collegiate games. The big man rumbled for 114 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against Notre Dame. He shares the game ball with receiver B.J. Cunningham (7 receptions, 101 yards, TD) and fellow back Edwin Baker (14 carries, 90 rush yards, TD).
  • Northwestern LB Quentin Davie: The senior leads the Big Ten in interceptions after recording his third -- a pick-six, no less -- in Saturday night's blowout win at Rice. Davie recorded a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss and a pass breakup. He shares the game ball with defensive linemen Vince Browne, Corbin Bryant and Jack DiNardo, who combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
  • Purdue WR Cortez Smith: The Boilers need a No. 1 receiver to emerge after losing Keith Smith, and Cortez Smith looks reads to fill the void. He recorded five receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns against Ball State. He'll share the game ball with defenders Gerald Gooden (5 tackles, forced fumble, pass breakup), Kawann Short (two pass breakups, blocked PAT) and Jason Werner (INT, 1 TFL).
How bizarre: The league-wide special teams struggles as well as a few odd highlights stood out in Week 3. Who can remember the last time the Big Ten had so many meltdowns with punting, kicking, kickoff coverage and punt coverage? Then again, the three biggest plays on Saturday came in the kicking game: Michigan State's game-winning fake field goal, Johnson's touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff return and Valai's PAT block to preserve a 20-19 lead.

OK, moving on to Week 4. Do we have to? I know it's my job to get your excited for Big Ten football 24-7-365, but this week provides a major challenge, to say the least.

Northern Colorado (2-1) at Michigan State (3-0): Spartans offensive coordinator Don Treadwell takes over the head-coaching duties from Mark Dantonio, who suffered a mild heart attack following the Notre Dame win. The Spartans look for a more complete defensive performance before Wisconsin visits on Oct. 2.

Central Michigan (2-1) at Northwestern (3-0): Northwestern aims for its second perfect nonconference mark in the past three seasons after going 35 years with at least one non-league loss. Central Michigan should test Davie and the Wildcats' defense, which has forced nine turnovers in the first three games.

Bowling Green (1-2) at Michigan (3-0): The Wolverines' sputtering defense likely won't face Falcons starting quarterback Matt Schilz, who isn't expected to play because of a shoulder injury. Michigan's offense will light up the scoreboard, but the D has to get better before Big Ten play.

Austin Peay (2-1) at Wisconsin (3-0): Yawn. If Wisconsin can't dominate the Governors (ello, guvna!), Badgers fans should get worried. This provides a good chance for the Badgers to assess their depth on both sides of the ball.

Ball State (1-2) at Iowa (2-1): Although the Cardinals hung in there at Purdue, Iowa should have no trouble Saturday. The bigger question is whether the Hawkeyes can clean up their play in the kicking game, on the offensive line and in the secondary after the Arizona loss.

Toledo (2-1) at Purdue (2-1): Quarterback Robert Marve's left knee injury doesn't appear to be serious, and the Boilers need to get No. 9 through this game and into the bye week without further setbacks. Arizona shredded Toledo's defense in the season opener, and Purdue should have opportunities to further develop a receiving corps missing star Keith Smith.

Eastern Michigan (0-3) at Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes could score 70 in this one. I'm not kidding. Eastern Michigan has surrendered 111 points in its first three games.

Temple (3-0) at Penn State (2-1): This is the most interesting game in the Big Ten. Temple heads to State College with a ton of confidence as coach Al Golden might be auditioning for the Nittany Lions' faithful. Penn State's running back race now is open as slumping senior Evan Royster tries to hold off junior Stephfon Green and dynamic freshman Silas Redd. Should be a good one in Happy Valley.

Akron (0-3) at Indiana (2-0): Ben Chappell and the Hoosiers' offense likely will carve up another bad team Saturday, as Akron has been blown out by Syracuse and Kentucky and lost at home to Gardner-Webb (ouch). The bigger question is whether the Hoosiers' defense can shut down the Zips.

Northern Illinois (1-2) at Minnesota (1-2): It's must-win time for embattled coach Tim Brewster and his Golden Gophers, who performed a lot better Saturday against USC but still couldn't finish off a good team. Northern Illinois will test Minnesota's new-look defense with quarterback Chandler Harnish, and Minnesota needs to reignite the run game despite Duane Bennett's ankle issues.

Bye: Illinois (2-1)

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