- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ten items to track as you watch every Big Ten squad in action Saturday.
1. Hawkeyes head west: History doesn't favor Iowa -- or any Big Ten team, for that matter -- when it comes to early season road games out west. Iowa has dropped its past six games west of the Rockies, and as columnist Mike Hlas points out, the Hawkeyes have lost their past three road games against Pac-10 members by an average of 28 points. Fortunately for Iowa, it boasts a senior-laden team that should be able to handle the difficulties of a time change, a late kickoff time, the absence of defensive coordinator Norm Parker and some potentially steamy weather in Tucson against No. 24 Arizona (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET). This is a chance for Iowa to showcase itself on the national stage and beat a solid Wildcats team. The elements will be tough, but Iowa is a tough team that won in tough places last fall.
2. Spartans' secondary put to the test: Michigan State's secondary was the team's No. 1 concern entering the season. We should get an excellent read on whether the Spartans have taken a step forward or not Saturday night against Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph and the Notre Dame offense (ABC/ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). Floyd is a handful for any secondary, and Rudolph showed once again against Michigan that he's not a typical tight end. Michigan State needs strong performances from safety Trenton Robinson, cornerback Chris L. Rucker and others, and it'll be interesting to see if All-American linebacker Greg Jones provides a lift in coverage, a point of emphasis for him in returning to school.
3. Big Ten reunion of sorts: When Wisconsin began watching tape in preparation to face Arizona State on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), coach Bret Bielema made sure to include a clip of a Michigan quarterback leading a historic comeback against the Badgers in 2008. That quarterback was Steven Threet, who will lead the Arizona State offense into Camp Randall. Threet is one of several former Big Ten players reunited with foes from their old league Saturday. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, formerly of Michigan State, faces Iowa, while Rice running back Sam McGuffie, formerly of Michigan, faces Northwestern. And let's not forget about Arizona coach Mike Stoops, who goes up against his alma mater.
4. Minnesota picks up the pieces: This could go one of two ways for Tim Brewster's crew. Minnesota either will let Matt Barkley and USC go nuts Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET) and increase the calls for a coaching change. Or, the Gophers will use last week's inexcusable loss to South Dakota as a rallying cry and play good football against a USC team asking to get beat. Obviously, Minnesota needs to take a huge step with a young defense, which will regain the services of senior safety Kyle Theret. Overshadowed by the Dakota Debacle were the strong performances of Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber and running back Duane Bennett, who need even better days against the Trojans.
5. Michigan's quarterback rotation: Unless we see an Appalachian State re-run, Michigan should be able to rest sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson for part of Saturday's game against Massachusetts. If and when Robinson leaves the game, it should get interesting. Will coach Rich Rodriguez continue to call on true freshman Devin Gardner before last year's starting signal caller, Tate Forcier? How will they perform? Forcier seemed to be in better spirits last week at Notre Dame, and you know he's itching to play and show what he can do in a game.
6. Penn State running on E: E as in All-Big Ten running back Evan Royster, who needs a strong performance very soon after racking up only 72 rush yards in the first two games. Whether it's Royster's weight gain, the offensive line or a limited playbook, Penn State hasn't gotten much from No. 22. Saturday provides an interesting challenge as Penn State faces a Kent State team (ESPN2, noon ET) that leads the nation in rush defense (11 ypg allowed). The Golden Flashes certainly aren't Alabama, but they did a nice job of holding Boston College's ground game in check last week. This is a good chance for Royster to show he's still got it and make a move in his pursuit for the school's career rushing record.
7. Purdue behind the 8 ball: Life without No. 8 (Keith Smith) begins for Purdue, which must identify a new top target for quarterback Robert Marve. Smith was an outstanding possession receiver, and the Boilers will look to Justin Siller, Antavian Edison, Cortez Smith, Gary Bush, O.J. Ross and others to help fill the void beginning Saturday against Ball State. Purdue also can't also lose sight of the need to identify a deep threat. Through two games, Marve has completed 54 passes for only 391 yards (7.2 yards per completion). Siller seems like a good candidate to stretch the field.
8. A family affair for Poseys: Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey squares off against his older brother, Julian, a defensive back for Ohio, on Saturday in Columbus. It's one thing for brothers to play on opposing teams, but the Poseys likely will be matched up directly against one another. DeVier Posey has been excellent so far this season, recording eight receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. But Julian Posey can hold his own -- three pass breakups and a 38-yard fumble return to the end zone this year for the Bobcats -- and he knows his little brother better than anyone. Said Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel: "I told DeVier, 'If big brother shuts you down, it's going to be a long lifetime for you.'"
9. Illini aim to own the state: Illinois is 12-0 all-time against public schools from the state, a streak it tries to continue Saturday against Northern Illinois. It's only Week 3, but this is another must-win for Ron Zook's team, which looked very good last week against Southern Illinois. After the NIU game, Illinois has a week off before opening Big Ten play with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. So this is crucial. Linebacker Ian Thomas and an improving Illinois defense faces a Northern Illinois team favored to win the MAC West but struggling a bit so far this season. NIU also could be without ailing coach Jerry Kill for the game.
10. Wildcats, Hoosiers hit the road: Northwestern and Indiana both are favored to win Saturday, but September road games always are tricky. The Wildcats head to Houston, which will be a homecoming for several players, but provides some unique challenges, namely the weather. Rice held its own in the season opener against Texas and should test on-target quarterback Dan Persa and his NU teammates. Remember Indiana? It seems like the Hoosiers haven't played for eons (actually Sept. 2), but they're back at it Saturday afternoon at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers top this week's Bottom 10, but they'll be excited to face a Big Ten squad in their house. Indiana's defense must perform better than it did in the opener.