Penn State at Indiana, Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
This is a season to forget for the Hoosiers, as Bill Lynch’s club has failed to capitalize on too many opportunities. With two games to go, Indiana needs two wins to extend its season — highly unlikely. For one thing, the Hoosiers do not have a good history against Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions. The last time the two teams played in Bloomington, the Hoosiers kept it close but the team’s four second-half turnovers were too much to overcome. This game could also come down to turnovers — Penn State and Indiana are among four Big Ten teams with a negative turnover ratio — but a safer bet is that it will come down to which team’s quarterback makes more plays.
Last week, Matt McGloin was marvelous for Penn State in the first half, but not so much in the second. He needs to play well for four quarters to get Penn State back on track. The Hoosiers have no choice but to keep the ball in the air on offense, meaning another 40-attempt game is likely for Ben Chappell, who is expected to return to the lineup (hip). If Chappell is perfect, Indiana has a shot at its first conference win of the year. Anything short of that will not be enough.
Purdue at Michigan State, Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
There is no more impressive player in Big Ten football than Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, who has come as close as a defender can to being a game-changer. This week, Purdue must offer him more support. The offense has scored more than 20 points in conference action just once this season (Minnesota). That unit is still trying to find consistency in the running game and is in need of a primary receiver; Keith Smith, who played just a game and a half, still ranks fourth on the team in receptions. For Michigan State, the big news this week has been the return of Keshawn Martin, who was missed badly in games against Iowa and Minnesota. Martin is the Big Ten’s leading punt returner and the Spartans’ most explosive receiver. His return is welcome, but it won’t solve one of Michigan State’s problems: a squeaky running game. Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker exploded out of the gate but have both struggled the past month. A Purdue defense allowing 148.7 rushing yards per game could prove to be the cure. Fans may recall Michigan State needed 17 points in the final 12 minutes to beat the Boilermakers last year. The Spartans may only need 17 points total to put away Purdue this year.
Wisconsin at Michigan, Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Consider this Wisconsin’s last big test before booking its flight to Pasadena. Bret Bielema-coached teams have stumbled in their last two trips to Ann Arbor, so to complete this season’s goals the Badgers must first overcome that obstacle — and it appears they must do so without John Clay again. Perhaps it’s precautionary, but Clay continues to nurse his bum knee. No worries — the 1-2 combo of Montee Ball and James White did just fine without Clay last week (311 yards and five touchdowns combined) and should again this week against a run defense that has given up the second-most rushing scores in the Big Ten. In general, the Wolverines are giving up too many points (34 or more in five of the last six games) and must play well on both sides on Saturday to beat Wisconsin. Of course, the conversation with Michigan begins and ends with Denard Robinson. He has gained fewer than four yards per carry in each of the past two games but has the passing game clicking better than ever. Wisconsin’s secondary must respect Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemmingway this week, because if Robinson does not find open lanes to run through, he is perfectly capable of finding open receivers to throw to.
Illinois at Northwestern, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
This game has drawn plenty of attention due to its location (Wrigley Field) but it shouldn’t take away from what is an important contest for both clubs. For Illinois, there is no getting around it: They must win this game because there is no guarantee they will beat Fresno State in the season finale. Illinois’ pass defense has been suspect as of late, having made Adam Weber and Minnesota’s receivers look good a week ago. Now the Illini face a Northwestern club trying to fill a hole at quarterback. Dan Persa was a darkhorse candidate for conference offensive player of the year thanks to his 3,100 yards of total offense. Freshman Evan Watkins has thrown a total of seven passes. He has good size (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) but must learn where his safety blankets are in a hurry before he gets a face full of orange. Northwestern has beaten Illinois in each of the last two meetings.
Ohio State at Iowa, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
Once upon a time this game was categorized as one of the few contests that would help to decide the conference race. Not true anymore. Iowa’s two conference losses have dropped them from that race, and now all Kirk Ferentz’s club is hoping for is a dignified finish to what’s been a somewhat disappointing season. The silver lining is that the game will take place in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes have been dominant in all but one contest this year (Wisconsin — a game many feel Iowa should have won). Iowa has scored in bunches at Kinnick Stadium, but there will be no easy victories on offense for the team this week. The Buckeyes have the Big Ten’s top-rated pass defense and allow just 2.8 yards per carry on the ground. As they say, every yard must be earned. Ohio State’s task will be no less complicated. Iowa still has a respectable pass rush and a run defense allowing just 2.9 yards per carry. Chances are, the Buckeyes’ best bet for big plays will come via the passing game; the Hawkeyes give up 220.2 passing yards per game. It’s been six years since an Ohio State team has lost to Iowa, but that 2004 game was one Hawkeye fans have hardly forgotten — a 33-7 thumping in which Iowa outgained Ohio State by a ratio of almost three to one.