Big Ten viewer's guide: Season's final month opens with tests for contenders


The chase is on now.

The final month of the regular season has arrived in the Big Ten, and the battle for division titles is about to get even more interesting and a lot more heated -- matching some of the weather around the league, where it hardly feels like November.

All three undefeated teams in the conference have intriguing matchups Saturday, and that alone should make for an interesting day in the Big Ten. Perhaps more important is there will be only one week left in the season with all 14 teams in action after this, so enjoy it while it lasts.

To set the table, let's zip around the league with a viewer's guide that should always be kept handy. All times are Eastern.

Noon games

Penn State (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) at Northwestern (6-2, 2-2), ESPNU: As far as undercards go, this is a pretty strong way to open a Saturday as the Nittany Lions try to keep Christian Hackenberg rolling against a stout Northwestern defense. Penn State has been somewhat overlooked as a contender in the East Division thanks to Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan, but James Franklin's club is lurking right behind that three-headed monster, waiting for any of them to trip up down the stretch. The Wildcats won't make it easy to stay in the race, though, and they're also angling for position in the postseason pecking order.

Illinois (4-4, 1-3) at Purdue (2-6, 1-3), BTN: The Boilermakers apparently only needed to see one conference victory to commit to another season with Darrell Hazell on the sideline, so they won't be playing to defend their coach. But Purdue is still mathematically alive in the hunt for a bowl bid, and if it can match the explosive offensive performance it delivered in last week's humbling of Nebraska, there's a chance it could make a late push for the postseason. Illinois has more room for error as it tries to get back to a bowl game, but this is a win it was likely counting on before the season as part of that effort, and it now looks a bit tougher than anticipated.

3:30 games

No. 9 Iowa (8-0, 4-0) at Indiana (4-4, 0-4), ESPN: Much has been made about the seemingly easy schedule down the stretch for the unbeaten Hawkeyes, but the road trip to take on the Hoosiers and their high-scoring offense shouldn't be taken lightly. Kevin Wilson had an extra week to prepare his Indiana club and get it healthier, and it will have no shortage of motivation to wreak Iowa's College Football Playoff dreams while also putting postseason eligibility for itself within reach.

Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) at Maryland (2-6, 0-4), BTN: The Badgers are still going to need assistance to win the West Division, but they appear to be hitting their stride and are looking like the contender many expected they would be under Paul Chryst this season. It hasn't always been pretty -- and at times the program has been almost unrecognizable thanks to all the passes in the air -- but right now, few teams would sign up to play against Wisconsin. The Terrapins and Mike Locksley obviously don't have a choice, but they've shown fight lately since the interim coach took over for Randy Edsall last month.

Rutgers (3-5, 1-4) at No. 17 Michigan (6-2, 3-1), BTN: The Scarlet Knights have continued their troubling trend of falling flat against the conference's elite, and the Wolverines have earned their spot back in that category this season under Jim Harbaugh. That doesn't bode well for Kyle Flood, who was having a tough enough time dealing with issues off the field before problems on it started popping up again over the past couple weeks.

Night games

No. 7 Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) at Nebraska (3-6, 1-4), ESPN (7 p.m.): There may not be any lower for a proud program to sink, and November is as good a time as any for Nebraska to start climbing out of the hole it has dug so far this season. Bowl eligibility appears to be a long shot, and with Michigan State showing signs of getting healthy and focused for the stretch run, turning it around this week won't be easy for the Huskers. The Spartans might also be looking to send a message that they were slighted in the first College Football Playoff rankings, yet another chip to add to the collection on their shoulders.

Minnesota (4-4, 1-3) at No. 3 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0), ABC (8 p.m.): The quarterback drama has somehow spilled all the way into the final month of the season for the Buckeyes, which would have qualified as an almost unthinkable situation back in training camp -- or two weeks ago when J.T. Barrett reclaimed the starting job. But with Barrett suspended for the prime-time matchup with Minnesota, Cardale Jones is once again returning as a potential savior for the defending national champions, who learned last season that the Gophers are more than capable of making life tough on them.