NCF Nation: John Gagliardi

A perfect 10 today: 10 items to track in Week 10 in the Big Ten.

1. JoePa goes for No. 400: The all-time coaching wins leader in major college football can reach another milestone if Penn State beats Northwestern on Saturday. Joe Paterno can join John Gagliardi and Eddie Robinson as the only college football coaches to record 400 career victories, and he can become the first man in Division I-A/FBS history to do so. This is a moment likely never to be seen again, as the 83-year-old Paterno, in his 45th year as Penn State's coach, is truly one of a kind. A win Saturday also would make Penn State bowl eligible.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
AP Photo/Pat LittleJoe Paterno can reach 400 career victories by beating Northwestern on Saturday.
2. Michigan's D tries to stop the bleeding: The Michigan Wolverines have been one-third of a team for most of the season, excelling on offense but stumbling repeatedly on both defense and special teams. Michigan's defense seemed to regress after the bye week, bringing more heat on head coach Rich Rodriguez and coordinator Greg Robinson. Rodriguez shot down talk of defensive staff changes, but he's taking on a greater role with the defense as Michigan tries to end its three-game Big Ten slide. The Wolverines on Saturday face an Illinois offense beginning to surge.

3. Endgame in West Lafayette: Two of the front-runners for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year meet Saturday at Purdue's Ross Ade Stadium. Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan has been simply unstoppable this season, cementing himself as a first-round draft pick in April with 7.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. Kerrigan leads the Big Ten in both categories, but not far behind sits Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, who boasts five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss to go along with six pass breakups, five quarterback hurries and two blocked kicks. There's plenty of mutual respect between the two stars. Kerrigan goes up against Wisconsin left tackle Gabe Carimi, another likely first-round pick.

4. Spartans rushing to rebound: Despite what he called an "embarrassing performance" at Iowa, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio maintained that "the sky is not falling around here." He's right, too, as the Spartans still are very much alive for the Big Ten title and a possible trip to the Rose Bowl. Michigan State can get well Saturday against last-place Minnesota, and it would be well served to reignite a rushing attack that has gone cold the past three weeks. Minnesota allows a league-worst 201.8 rush yards a game and will miss starting defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey because of a suspension. Spartans backs Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper need a big day.

5. Iowa faces trap game: Everyone in Iowa City wants to fast-forward to Nov. 20 and the Ohio State game, but the Hawkeyes first must take care of business on the road against two teams that give them trouble. Up first is Indiana, which dominated Iowa for the better part of three quarters last year and picked off Ricky Stanzi five times before the Hawkeyes rattled off 28 fourth-quarter points. Indiana beat Iowa in 2006 and 2007 and boasts a passing attack that will challenge the Hawkeyes' secondary. It's important for Iowa to keep the pedal down in Bloomington.

6. The joy of six: Three Big Ten teams -- Michigan, Illinois and Penn State -- enter Saturday's games with five victories, needing one more to become bowl eligible. One team will reach the magic number in Ann Arbor as Michigan and Illinois lock horns. The Wolverines would remove a lot of pressure by beating the Illini and virtually ensuring the end of their postseason drought. Like Michigan, Illinois hasn't been to a bowl since after the 2007 season and can continue its surprising surge with a victory. Teams like Indiana and Purdue also can inch closer to bowl eligibility with upset wins Saturday.

7. Persa back in Pennsylvania: Dan Persa was a high school star in Pennsylvania, but he barely got a sniff from Penn State in the recruiting process. He landed at Northwestern and has been the biggest reason for the Wildcats' 6-2 start. Persa, whose mother and sister went to Penn State and who grew up attending Nittany Lions games, heads back to his home state to try and spoil Paterno's 400 party. The Northwestern junior is cleared to start after suffering a concussion last week. While Persa heads home, Northwestern is at its best on the road, winning six consecutive games stretching back to last season. The Wildcats also fare well in November under coach Pat Fitzgerald, compiling a 9-4 record, including a 6-1 mark the past two seasons.

8. Scheelhaase takes aim at shorthanded secondary: Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has put himself in the mix for Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, and he gets another chance to shine Saturday at the Big House. Scheelhaase, who last Saturday completed 16 of 20 passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns, faces a struggling Michigan secondary that lost starting cornerback J.T. Floyd to a season-ending ankle injury this week in practice. True freshman Courtney Avery starts in Floyd's spot opposite James Rogers, the Wolverines' lone non-freshman cornerback. Illinois is a run-first offense, but don't be surprised if Scheelhaase takes to the air against the vulnerable Wolverines.

9. Penn State's quarterback situation: Freshman Rob Bolden might be Penn State's future, but sophomore Matt McGloin has been on the field at the end of back-to-back Nittany Lions victories. Bolden has fully recovered from a concussion suffered Oct. 23, and the coaches let the two quarterbacks compete for the starting job throughout practice this week. McGloin performed well in his first career start last week against Michigan, but quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno indicated after the game that Bolden still held the top job. Joe Paterno mentioned he might play both quarterbacks against Northwestern, so it'll be interesting to see how things play out.

10. Purdue turns to Robinson: Purdue expects to start its third quarterback this season as true freshman Sean Robinson gets the nod against Wisconsin. Robinson played most of the Illinois game last Saturday, completing just 7 of 20 passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. The Boilers will use Rob Henry if his throwing hand improves, but Robinson is their top option. "If he was an immature freshman, didn't have some of the same intangibles, we could be in some real trouble," coach Danny Hope said. "This guy can come over and make a commitment from a maturity standpoint to become a quarterback we can win with."
It took a little longer than expected for Joe Paterno to reach the doorstep of career win No. 400.

[+] EnlargePaterno
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJoe Paterno needs one victory to be the first coach to reach 400 at the Division I-A/FBS level.
But after 61 years of Paterno at Penn State, the past 45 as Nittany Lions head coach, what's an extra week or two?

Besides, these days are worth savoring for anyone who loves college football. Especially since we won't see this again.

Paterno recorded his 399th victory Saturday night against Michigan, and he'll take his first stab at 400 this week when Penn State hosts Northwestern at Beaver Stadium. ESPNU will look back at Paterno's journey to the historic milestone during a show called "Going for 400: the Life and Legacy of Joe Paterno," which airs tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

Only two college coaches have recorded 400 victories: John Gagliardi, who has 476 and counting at Division III St. John's University in Minnesota; and the late Eddie Robinson, who won 408 games at Grambling before retiring in 1997. Paterno would be the first to reach the milestone at the Division I-A/FBS level.

"Coach Paterno is college football," said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, whose team tries to put No. 400 on hold for another week. "Anyone that has the goal of head coach aspires to be able to run the kind of program coach Paterno has run for 45 years. ... What makes Joe so much fun is, he is who he is. He doesn't try to be someone he shouldn't be."

We'll never see another one quite like Paterno, who undoubtedly will want to spend more time this week talking about who will start at quarterback than his road to No. 400.

He recorded his 100th victory in 1976 against NC State, when Fitzgerald was a month shy of his second birthday. Win No. 200 came 11 years later as Penn State opened the season by blowing out Bowling Green. Another 11 years passed before Paterno recorded No. 300, also against Bowling Green.

The jump from 300 to 400 has brought some unique challenges, as Paterno went through the roughest stretch of his career between 2000-04, suffering four losing seasons. He became the all-time Division I-A wins leader in 2001, but his Penn State tenure appeared to be on life support after a 4-7 campaign in 2004.

But Joe wasn't ready to go, and the Penn State program revived itself in 2005 with a Big Ten championship. The Lions have averaged 10 wins since 2005.

This year has brought more adversity for the Lead Lion. Health issues after spring practice forced him to cancel several appearances, and he looked frail at Big Ten preseason media days, leading many to believe this would be his final season.

After Penn State stumbled to a 3-3 start, it seemed like No. 400 might not come in 2010. Back-to-back wins have eased some anxiety, and while Penn State isn't out of the woods, Paterno needs only one more for the milestone.

Fitzgerald, who has won 33 games at Northwestern, was asked Monday if he could ever see himself approaching 400 wins in his eighties.

"I'll be in margaritaville," Fitzgerald said. "No way."

Paterno could have headed in the same direction decades ago, but he's still here, trying to win football games.

Everyone wants to know what comes next and who comes next at Penn State. Those are valid questions.

But it's a lot more fun to enjoy Paterno, and to enjoy this moment.

SPONSORED HEADLINES