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What to watch in the SEC: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
11:07
AM ET
With the regular season winding to a close, here’s a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 12:

1. FCS Celebration Week: The reality is that this isn’t the most compelling week of matchups in the SEC. In fact, seven of the 14 schools are squaring off against FCS opponents. Five years ago, the SEC made it mandatory for all schools to play on Thanksgiving weekend, and because so many of those season-ending games are fierce rivalries, a lot of the schools have attempted to schedule lesser opponents for the week prior. The only three SEC league games this weekend are Ole Miss at LSU, Arkansas at Mississippi State and Tennessee at Vanderbilt.

The next-to-last weekend should be a little more intriguing next season. Five league games are on the docket, highlighted by Texas A&M’s visit to LSU. The other thing to keep in mind is that it’s not always a given that an SEC team is going to roll over an FCS foe. Jacksonville State played Arkansas close in the season opener earlier this year and beat Ole Miss 49-48 in two overtimes to open the 2010 season. Maine defeated Mississippi State 9-7 in 2004, and although Georgia Southern didn’t win last season at Alabama, the Eagles churned out 302 rushing yards against the Crimson Tide’s vaunted defense.

2. Bowling for wins: Unless a few teams get busy here at the end of the season, the SEC’s not going to be able to fill all of its bowl tie-ins. Missouri and Ole Miss both are sitting at five wins and can become bowl eligible this weekend. Missouri gets Syracuse at home, and Ole Miss has to play at LSU. The Tigers probably need to get it done this weekend because they travel to Texas A&M the final weekend of the regular season. The Rebels close the regular season at home against Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

Arkansas and Tennessee will have to win both of their remaining two games to make it to a bowl. The Hogs have the more difficult path: They play at Mississippi State Saturday, then face LSU at home the following Friday. The Vols travel to Vanderbilt, then get Kentucky at home. The SEC has agreements to send 10 of its schools to bowls, which includes the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Even if the SEC is shut out of the Discover BCS National Championship Game this season, it still will get a second school in a BCS bowl as an at-large team.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesAuburn's game against Alabama A&M might be Gene Chizik's final one at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
3. Coach watch: Already, Arkansas and Kentucky are looking for new coaches. John L. Smith will not be back at Arkansas after serving this season in an interim role, and Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart announced two weeks ago that Joker Phillips would not be back. Two more announcements could be coming as early as next week. Derek Dooley is on his way out at Tennessee, even though athletic director Dave Hart has not made any public statements, and Gene Chizik isn’t expected to make it at Auburn. That means Saturday’s game against Alabama A&M likely will be Chizik’s final game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Between them, Dooley and Chizik have lost 22 of their last 23 SEC games. If all four coaches are indeed gone, it would be the first time in SEC history that four coaches were either fired or pushed out in the same season.

4. Brissett steps in: After battling for the starting job all spring and preseason, Jacoby Brissett steps back in as Florida’s starting quarterback. Jeff Driskel is out of Saturday's game against Jacksonville State with an ankle sprain, and it’s not a certainty that he will be back next week for the Florida State game. Brissett came off the bench last week after Driskel was injured and helped Florida rally past Louisiana-Lafayette 27-20. Brissett, a sophomore, started the season opener against Bowling Green, but was replaced the next week by Driskel. Not as mobile as Driskel, Brissett is more of a pocket passer, although he’s attempted just 13 passes this season. He started in the LSU and Auburn games last season.

5. Defending the option: No defense looks forward to facing a triple-option offense, especially when it’s this late and you haven’t gone against that style of offense all season. But that’s the task that awaits both Georgia and South Carolina. Georgia faces Georgia Southern, which leads all FCS teams in rushing this season, averaging 401.2 yards per game, and has 42 rushing touchdowns. Wofford is second nationally among FCS teams, averaging 357.1 rushing yards per game, with 35 rushing touchdowns. Georgia coach Mark Richt said his team has practiced in full pads all week to get ready for the cut blocks they’ll see from Georgia Southern. It’s not just a one-game deal for the Bulldogs, either. They get Georgia Tech the final week of the regular season, and the Yellow Jackets also run the option.

6. Murray moving on up: With his three touchdown passes last week against Auburn, Georgia’s Aaron Murray moved into fifth place on the SEC’s career chart with 83 touchdown passes. Florida’s Danny Wuerffel holds the SEC record with 114. Murray also can become the first quarterback in SEC history to pass for 3,000 yards in three straight seasons, a feat such greats as Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Tim Couch, David Greene and Wuerffel didn’t accomplish. Murray has 2,656 yards after throwing for 3,149 last season and 3,049 in 2010 as a redshirt freshman. Counting the SEC championship game and bowl game, Murray still has four more games to reach 3,000 yards.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Derick E. HingleZach Mettenberger has played some of his best football the past two weeks, passing for 571 yards and three TDs with no picks.
7. Mettenberger comes to life: In his past two games, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger has thrown the football the way everyone expected when the season began. He’s passed for 571 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the 37-17 win over Mississippi State and the 21-17 loss to Alabama. He’s completed 66.1 percent of his passes in those two games, and even more telling, has been much more accurate on longer passes. He’s completed half of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer the past two weeks, including seven last week against Mississippi State. In his first four SEC games, Mettenberger completed just 16.7 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer.

8. Johnny Football: The nickname has become the rage around college football and so has Johnny Manziel when he's on the move. The Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback is continuing to put up monster numbers and is well on his way to securing a trip to New York City as one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy. He’s leading the SEC in rushing with 1,014 yards, and 728 of those yards are on scrambles. That’s 51 more yards scrambling than Marcus Mariota, Denard Robinson, Braxton Miller and Collin Klein have combined. Manziel has scrambled for 31 first downs this season, including 20 on third down. Talk about a machine when it comes to moving the chains.

9. Wrapping up: Granted, it’s been hard to watch Florida on offense for much of this season. But the Gators have been rock-solid on defense. Not only are they third nationally in scoring defense and fifth in total defense, but they’re about as well-schooled as it gets when it comes to tackling. In 10 games this season, they’ve missed just 43 tackles. That’s 15 fewer than any other SEC team.

10. Stacy probable: Vanderbilt senior tailback Zac Stacy suffered a leg/knee injury last week early in the Ole Miss game and was unable to return. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has been mum about Stacy’s status Saturday against Tennessee, but Stacy practiced Wednesday, and the feeling now in the Vanderbilt camp is that he will be healthy enough to play. Stacy leads the Commodores with 769 rushing yards and has been a main cog in their offense. He’s also been tough as nails throughout his career and repeatedly has played through injuries. Getting him back in the lineup would be huge for the Commodores, although they also have a lot of confidence in backups Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
10:15
AM ET
Here are the top storylines to watch in the ACC heading into Week 12.

1. Can Virginia keep up its momentum? Week 12 begins tonight when the Hoos host Coastal Division rival North Carolina in the 117th meeting between the schools. After losing six in a row this season, Virginia has won two straight. Why? First, more production out of the offense. UVa has 928 total yards over the past two games with 10 offensive touchdowns. Second, the Hoos are doing much better taking care of the football. For the first time all season, they have gone consecutive games without losing the turnover battle. North Carolina has won two straight in the series. But the last time ESPN came to Charlottesville for a Thursday night game was back in 2006. The opponent? North Carolina. Virginia won 23-0.

2. Duke faces big test. Folks, the biggest ACC game this weekend is in Atlanta, where Duke has a chance to take control of the Coastal Division against Georgia Tech. If the Blue Devils win out, they go to the ACC championship game. The last time the stakes were this high? Back in 1989, when Duke beat NC State and North Carolina to close out the season and win a share of the league title. That was the Blue Devils' final season under Steve Spurrier.

[+] EnlargeDuke's David Cutcliffe
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDuke and coach David Cutcliffe control their own destiny in the ACC's Coastal Division.
3. Georgia Tech is hot. The Jackets have a shot at the Coastal Division with a victory, making this game a virtual must-win for both teams. Georgia Tech has won three of its past four games to get itself in position to compete for the division after being written off. At the very least, Georgia Tech has assured itself an 18th straight non-losing season in conference play -- the longest active streak in FBS. A win also would make the Jackets bowl-eligible for the 16th straight year -- the nation’s fourth-longest streak.

4. Meanwhile, in the Atlantic ... Ho hum, no drama on the other side of the division race, where Florida State gets into the championship game with a win over severely depleted Maryland. Though the Terps have lost four straight, there is no such thing as a "slam-dunk Florida State road win." The Noles have survived a scare in each of their away games this season. The latest happened in Blacksburg last Thursday night, when EJ Manuel threw his first career game-winning touchdown pass on the team's final possession.

5. Can NC State slow down Clemson? After scoring 45 points against Maryland last week, Clemson became the only team in ACC history to score 37 or more points in nine consecutive games. Clemson has averaged 44.8 points a game during the streak. Florida State opened the 1995 season with seven straight games of 42 or more points and averaged 56.1 points per game during that span.

6. Can the Hokies win their first road game? The ACC has three of the four longest active bowl streaks in the nation with Florida State (31), Virginia Tech (19) and Georgia Tech (15). But the Hokies and Jackets are not bowl-eligible just yet. The last time Virginia Tech missed a bowl was in 1992, when most -- if not all -- of the team's freshman class was not born yet. The Hokies travel to Boston College hoping for better road results. Virginia Tech is 0-5 away from home this year.

7. Duke Johnson, encore? Johnson had the best day for a freshman in ACC history last week, with 368 all-purpose yards against Virginia. The previous mark of 345 yards was set by Sammy Watkins last year. So what will Johnson do against a USF defense that has been inconsistent for the entire season? Miami clinches bowl eligibility with a victory.

8. Hello again, Notre Dame. For the second straight week, an ACC team gets a chance to knock off the No. 3 Irish. This time, the task falls to Wake Forest, which played the Irish close in a loss last year. The last time the Deacs beat a team with zero or one loss in November was back on Nov. 4, 2006, in a 21-14 win over Boston College. Wake Forest was ranked at the time and ended up in the ACC title game. But before that win, the last time the Deacs accomplished that feat was in 1967 with a 31-24 victory over Tulsa, which came into the game 5-1.

9. More special teams? For the first time in league history, the ACC had three kickoff returns of 90 yards or more on the same day last Saturday. Georgia Tech's Jamal Golden returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against North Carolina; NC State’s Tobais Palmer also returned one 100 yards against Wake Forest; and Miami’s Duke Johnson ran a kickoff back 95 yards for a score against Virginia. The previous high of two returns was 11 years to the day -- Nov. 10, 2001 -- when Clemson’s Derrick Hamilton (against Maryland) and Virginia’s Tavon Mason (against Georgia Tech) each had 100-yard kickoff returns for scores.

10. Third downs at Clemson. When the Tigers have the ball against NC State on third down, it will be a battle of team strengths. Clemson is third in the nation in converting on third down at 53.21 percent (83-156), while NC State is third in the nation on defense when it comes to third down, allowing opponents to convert just 25.33 percent (38-150) of the time.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
10:15
AM ET
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on in the Big 12 this week:

1. Remember all the little people. K-State has dealt with the distraction and hype really well this season. The Wildcats have been consistent and solid every week. This week, though, the pressure is at a whole new level. They're the nation's No. 1 team. Collin Klein's presence will test the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Oklahoma State lost in its 11th game last season. K-State should roll Baylor on paper, but can it keep its focus in uncharted territory?

2. To care or not to care, that is the question. West Virginia was hyped all offseason for this game. Carrying a four-game losing streak into the Oklahoma game was not part of the plan, though. It's asking a lot for fans to come in droves and provide a big-time atmosphere. Will the Mountaineers fans do it and try to help their team reach bowl eligibility? Tough test for a fan base that has had a pretty terrible month or so and hasn't seen a win since Oct. 6 or a win in its home stadium since Sept. 29.

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Lache Seastrunk
Denny Medley/US PRESSWIRELache Seastrunk (25) rushed for 91 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries against Oklahoma.
3. Baylor breaks out its Jet Ski. Lache Seastrunk was officially set free last week, emerging as Baylor's No. 1 back with three touchdowns. Can he go to work against K-State's front seven this week, a solid unit headlined by Arthur Brown but still missing Tre Walker? Jarell Childs has played well, but Seastrunk's game-breaking speed could come into play.

4. Just do it. If Kansas is going to beat Iowa State, it will do so on the backs of its, uh, backs. Tony Pierson and James Sims are fantastic. Charlie Weis talked about needing to do creative things to run the ball when everybody knows the Jayhawks are going to run the ball. Well, everybody knows KU is going to run the ball. What does Weis have prepared this week for KU's best chance to crack its 19-game Big 12 losing streak?

5. Get a medical team on it, stat. Klein's injury saga is over, but K-State has more injury issues this week to keep an eye on. Starting safety Ty Zimmerman left the stadium in a boot last week, and Tyler Lockett suffered an ankle injury late against TCU. Both are key pieces to the nation's No. 1 team. Will they play, and will they do so effectively? All bets are off in this one.

6. At what point does someone start swiping chairs? Oklahoma State has played musical chairs at quarterback, and it shocked a lot of folks when Mike Gundy confirmed J.W. Walsh was available last week but didn't play. He is not on the depth chart this week, instead with an "or" between Clint Chelf and Wes Lunt. The good news: All three can play, and OSU can win with all of them. The bad news: This is turning into a bit of a circus. At least it's unpredictable for opponents, so that plays to OSU's advantage while the competition has to prepare for all three.

7. If you're so inKleined. A.J. Klein has had a quiet couple of games since Jake Knott's injury, making just 11 tackles total in the past two games after tallying at least 11 in three of the past five before Klein left the field. Klein has moved to weakside linebacker and wants more production out of the position. Iowa State needs that while Jeremiah George replaces Knott and the duo teams up to slow KU's running game.

8. Gotta fix the leaks. Oklahoma dominated Baylor's passing game, but the defense was hot after the game after giving up a season-high 252 yards on the ground to the Bears. Can WVU's Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie have a little success? Dana Holgorsen wasn't happy with the Mountaineers' run game, but this matchup will have an influence on the winner in Morgantown.

9. Time for the hook ... again? Steele Jantz has gone back to struggling after tearing up Baylor. He completed just more than 50 percent of his passes in consecutive weeks -- both losses -- and hasn't topped 200 yards through the air with one touchdown to three picks. If he struggles again, does Jared Barnett get a shot against KU? I seem to remember another Big 12 team switching QBs late and having it pay off.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
10:15
AM ET
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week:

  1. And the winner in the North is ...? Could be Oregon. If the Ducks can get past visiting Stanford this week, they'll lock up the division and earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. They still have to go through Oregon State next week -- but wins over both of those clubs should help them in the BCS standings. Well, at least on the computer side. The Ducks hold the No. 1 spot in both human polls. So if they win out, they will be in the national championship game. The North Division winner could be Stanford, too. If the Cardinal win this weekend and close out with a victory at UCLA next week, Stanford and Oregon will each have one conference loss, with the Cardinal holding the tiebreaker.
  2. And the winner in the South is ...? We'll see Saturday, but we know it will be from Los Angeles. The USC-UCLA rivalry hasn't been one of late. UCLA's last victory over the Trojans came in 2006 -- a 13-9 win that snapped USC's NCAA record of 63 consecutive games scoring at least 20 points and also cost the Trojans a spot in the BCS title game. The scenario is winner-take-all -- regardless of what happens next week.
  3. On the bubble: Arizona State and Utah are both trying to make the postseason. ASU has the easier road, needing just one win to lock up bowl eligibility. And it hosts a Washington State team that is winless in conference play. Utah has to first beat Arizona at home this week, then win at Colorado next. The Utes are yet to win a road game this year.
  4. QB carousel: Seems like it wouldn't be a normal week in the Pac-12 if there weren't quarterback issues. Almost half of the league has uncertainty at the position heading into this weekend. Arizona's Matt Scott might not be able to go again this week; same for Cal's Zach Maynard. Nick Hirschman suffered a concussion last week for Colorado, Jeff Tuel was injured for Washington State, opening the door for Connor Halliday's five touchdowns. And the Sean Mannion-Cody Vaz back-and-forth continues at Oregon State, pending Vaz's health.
  5. [+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
    Rick Scuteri/US PresswireUtah's chances at the postseason hinge on doing a better job stopping Ka'Deem Carey than Colorado.
    Quality matchups: If the Utes do want to get into the postseason, they'll have to find a way to slow down Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, who rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns in last week's victory over Colorado. It's Utah's strength as a defense versus Arizona's strength as an offense. You can say the same for the Oregon-Stanford matchup, which pits Oregon's league-best rushing attack against Stanford's conference-leading rush defense.
  6. Gone in 60 seconds: Per the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, Stanford is the only FBS team that hasn't allowed a touchdown drive of three plays or fewer; it is also one of only five teams that has not allowed a touchdown in less than a minute. Oregon, of course, leads the FBS in touchdown drives that last one minute or less. Stopwatches at the ready.
  7. The SoCal tight-end factor: More super-cool stuff from the Stats & Info group: Matt Barkley and Brett Hundley have combined to throw 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions when targeting their tight ends. Hundley completes 75.6 percent of his passes when targeting a tight end; Barkley is at 67.2 percent. Could make for an interesting sidebar to Saturday's matchup.
  8. Off and running: Washington's Bishop Sankey heads to Colorado as one of the hottest running backs in the conference right now. He ha rushed for 351 yards and four touchdowns in his past two games and last week became the 11th player in UW history to reach the 1K milestone. Expect him to add to that total. Colorado ranks last in the conference against the run, yielding 227.6 yards per game on the ground to go with a conference-worst 25 rushing touchdowns allowed.
  9. Decisions, decisions: When California coach Jeff Tedford gets back to the Bay Area following the Bears' trip to Oregon State, he'll have sit down with athletic director Sandy Barbour to discuss the future of Cal football and what role -- if any -- he plays in it. Walking into that meeting with a victory over the No. 16 Beavers would probably go over better than closing out the year on a five-game losing streak.

What to watch: Week 12 vs. Wake

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
10:15
AM ET
Here's what to keep an eye on Saturday as the Irish look to improve to 11-0.

1. Emotions aplenty. Saturday is Senior Day, in case you missed that announcement. Expect this pregame ceremony to be more emotional than most, particularly when program-changer Manti Te'o walks through the tunnel, as this was one of the moments he had said he came back for.

2. A full Everett Golson home performance. Golson has missed all or parts of every home game because of injury or production. That changes in the Irish's home finale, as he'll lead the team from start to finish against the Deacs.

3. Ball distribution early. Six different players took the ball from Everett Golson on the Irish's first six plays of their latest home game. Expect plenty of players to get involved with the offense early, especially with DaVaris Daniels out. Daniel Smith, John Goodman and Chris Brown figure to get more touches.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
10:15
AM ET
Here's what to keep an eye on Saturday.

1) Temple's QB. It is a three-man race to take the first snap under center for the Owls, with Chris Coyer, Clinton Granger and Kevin Newsome vying for the spot. One will be tasked with getting the Owls out of their four-game funk, with Army awaiting.

[+] EnlargeSavon Huggins
Joe Camporeale/US PresswireRutgers may need Savon Huggins to carry the offensive load at Cincinnati if Jawan Jamison is out.
2) Can Rutgers' offense keep up? The Scarlet Knights have been underwhelming on offense of late, to say the least. They had seven turnovers against Kent State and needed a very late run to pull away from Army, and now, heading to Cincinnati, are facing their biggest Big East test to date, possibly without star running back Jawan Jamison, too.

3) Brendon Kay goes for Round 2. The fifth-year senior's starting debut last week against Temple couldn't have gone much better. Now he has to do it against Rutgers' defense, with conference title implications on the line.

4) South Florida's QB. Skip Holtz, like Temple's Steve Addazio, has not announced a starter. Matt Floyd or Bobby Eveld will get the call against Miami -- a team Eveld beat two years ago. How the Bulls respond without B.J. Daniels the rest of the way -- and after finally snapping their losing streak … and after a bye, too -- is worth watching for a team that still has a chance at bowl eligibility.

5) Syracuse goes for bowl eligibility. Frankly, it would typify the Orange's past two seasons to follow up a masterpiece against Louisville with a letdown at Missouri. Winners of three of its past four, Syracuse instead hopes to build off a big win this time, with its offense clicking on all cylinders as it readies for a Tigers team that also is going for win No. 6.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
10:15
AM ET
Ten items to track around the Big Ten entering Week 12:

1. Ballin' for history: Thirteen years after Ron Dayne broke the NCAA career rushing record, another Wisconsin running back is on the doorstep of a major milestone. Badgers senior Montee Ball, who, unlike Dayne, spent a year and a half as a reserve, needs one more touchdown Saturday against Ohio State to tie the NCAA career mark of 78 held by former Miami (Ohio) star Travis Prentice. Ball has scored 13 touchdowns in his past six games and is averaging 179.1 yards and three touchdowns in his past nine November games. A big performance against the unbeaten Buckeyes will once again put Ball on the radar for top national honors. Ball's next rushing touchdown will mark his 72nd, moving him past Dayne for the Big Ten career record.

2. Holding serve in the Legends: Nebraska and Michigan are tied atop the Legends Division at 5-1, and on paper, they should stay that way after Week 12. Both teams are favored to take care of Minnesota and Iowa, respectively, on senior day in Lincoln and Ann Arbor. Nebraska's magic number (wins and Michigan losses) to punch its ticket to Indianapolis is 2. A Huskers loss and a Michigan win puts the Wolverines in control of their own fate in the division. One senior day subplot is whether face-of-the-program stars like Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will play after missing time with injuries. Burkhead (knee) returned to practice this week and seems closer to a return, while Robinson (elbow) remains day-to-day.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireLe'Veon Bell and the Spartans plan to finish strong against Northwestern on Saturday.
3. Finishing school: Northwestern and Michigan State easily could be playing for a Legends Division title Saturday. Instead, both teams' inability to finish against the likes of Nebraska and Michigan has left them looking for a full 60-minute performance. Michigan State's four Big Ten losses have come by a combined 10 points. Northwestern held double-digit second-half leads in all three of its Big Ten losses. Something's gotta give Saturday as the teams meet at Spartan Stadium. "Their problem, just like ours, has been closing out games," Spartans linebacker Chris Norman told ESPN.com this week. "... It's going to come down to who can finish the best. Saturday is going to be interesting."

4. Hope and a prayer: There's growing talk that Purdue will make a head-coaching change after the regular season no matter what happens in the final two games. But can fourth-year boss Danny Hope save himself with a three-game win streak to become bowl-eligible? It's reason enough to tune in for an otherwise off-the-radar game between Purdue and slumping Illinois on Saturday. A loss to the Illini would prevent Purdue from getting bowl-eligible and likely seal Hope's fate, while a Purdue win adds intrigue to next week's Bucket game against Indiana. The Boilers' offense got on track last week behind quarterback Robert Marve and running back Ralph Bolden, while defensive tackle Kawann Short had his best game of the season at Iowa.

5. Rivalry renewed: Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium won't decide which Leaders Division team goes to the Big Ten title game, as Wisconsin already punched its ticket last week. But Ohio State can lock up the Leaders Division championship -- the only title it can win this season -- while Wisconsin can legitimize its trip to Indy by handing Urban Meyer's Buckeyes their first loss of the season. Looking ahead, the Ohio State-Wisconsin game likely will be the signature contest in the division for years to come. Illinois is a mess, Purdue has backslid this season, Indiana is still building and Penn State still has three more years of postseason bans. "I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan," Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown said this week. While Meyer and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema say their post-signing day spat is a thing of a past, it could bubble up Saturday depending on how the game goes.

6. Taking a pass: The Big Ten might not be flush with elite quarterbacks and high-powered offenses this season, but a few of its teams can sling the ball a bit, and two of them meet at Beaver Stadium. Indiana and Penn State are the Big Ten's top two pass offenses, ranking 26th and 40th nationally, respectively. They'll share the field Saturday as they try to rebound from different types of losses. Indiana quarterback Cameron Coffman struggled with his accuracy (25-for-46) in last week's loss to Wisconsin and looks for a sharper afternoon. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin wasn't a happy guy after the Nebraska loss and will try to take it out on IU. The game features two of the Big Ten's top receivers in Penn State's Allen Robinson and Indiana's Cody Latimer.

7. Hawkeye hex: Iowa has been in a funk for much of the season and particularly in the past month, dropping four consecutive Big Ten contests. Perhaps a date with Michigan can put the Hawkeyes back on track. See, Iowa has won three straight against Michigan for the first time in team history and five of its past eight against the Wolverines. Michigan's seniors are anxious to finally get over the hump against Iowa, one of two Big Ten teams (Penn State the other) they have yet to beat. But maybe it works the other way and Iowa finally shows a spark on offense and stiffens its defense. If not, the Hawkeyes won't be going bowling for the first time since the 2006 season, and it'll be a very long winter for Kirk Ferentz. "It doesn't hurt, obviously," Ferentz said of his team's Michigan win streak, "but it doesn't guarantee us anything."

8. Backs of different sizes: Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell is the biggest featured running back in the Big Ten, checking in at 6-2 and 244 pounds. Northwestern's Venric Mark is the smallest, checking in at 5-8 and 175 pounds. But both have been extremely effective this season with the ball in their hands. Bell leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,249), while Mark ranks third in rushing yards (1,181) and first in all-purpose yards (1,917). Each has been the MVP of his respective offense, and it'll be interesting to see them on the same field at Spartan Stadium. Both Michigan State and Northwestern defend the run well, too, both ranking in the top 25 nationally.

9. Illini look for a spark: Illinois ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total offense, and lingers near the bottom of the FBS in all the significant categories. The Illini need some sort of boost on offense or a 2-10 season is a virtual certainty. Head coach Tim Beckman, whose background is defense but who had a high-powered offense at Toledo the past few years, took a more active role with the offense this week in an effort to get things going. Beckman also noted that co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales call plays on different downs. Hmmm. Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne took more reps with the wide receivers this week and could see an increased role against Purdue. Illinois aims to win on senior day for the first time since 2007.

10. Bowl picture taking shape: We learned a little more about the Big Ten bowl contingent last week as Minnesota became bowl-eligible, Purdue took a big step toward the postseason and both Iowa and Indiana took a step toward a winter at home. There should be some more answers in Week 12. Michigan State aims for its sixth win to go bowling for the sixth consecutive season under coach Mark Dantonio. Purdue must keep its bowl hopes alive at Illinois, while both Iowa and Indiana must win on the road to avoid loss No. 7. It won't be easy for the Hawkeyes or Hoosiers. Indiana never has won at Beaver Stadium in 15 previous meetings with Penn State. Iowa never has won consecutive games at Michigan Stadium.

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