Indiana at Ohio State
Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
How long has it been? Since 1988. That’s the last time Indiana claimed a win over Ohio State. And Hoosiers fans shouldn’t hold their breath this week, either. Underdogs usually need to win the turnover battle or play ball-control football. Indiana has given up the fewest number of turnovers in the Big Ten so far (two) but they’ve also created the fewest (five), and the Hoosiers own the 99th ranked running game in the nation — not exactly a formula for success. What Indiana does have is the conference’s best passing game, which should keep Ohio State’s top-ranked secondary occupied all day. The Buckeyes hope to get their coach his 100th conference win by operating the same balanced attack they’ve employed all season. Terrelle Pryor hasn’t dazzled much this year, in part because he hasn’t had to. Ideally, Ohio State will limit Pryor to 20 attempts and eight carries again this week, using this game against the Hoosiers to get more work for running backs Dan Herron and Brandon Saine. Both teams are without a key defender: Ohio State has lost Tyler Moeller for the year, while Indiana is without cornerback Richard Council.
Illinois at Penn State
Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
The Nittany Lions are in a sorry state right now. At 3–2, they are fighting to remain relevant, and the offense presently ranks dead last in the Big Ten in scoring (19.2 points per game). While it’s tough to blame them for losing road games at Alabama and Iowa, it was clear the Nittany Lions didn’t belong in either contest. Expect Joe Paterno to have his club take it out on visiting Illinois this Saturday. The Illini are one of five schools in the conference to average 200 or more yards on the ground this season, but they will have a difficult time reaching that total in this game; with all of its woes, Penn State’s defense has done well against the run. If things do break down on the ground, run-first quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will need to turn to receivers A.J. Jenkins and Jarred Fayson. Scheelhasse has attempted fewer than 20 passes per game this year, but he may enjoying throwing on a Penn State unit that permitted Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi to throw for 227 yards on 16-of-22 passing last week.
Minnesota at Wisconsin
Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
This weekend will revisit one of college football’s great border rivalries. With Paul Bunyan’s Ax on the line, both clubs will play inspired football. Wisconsin has the obvious advantage — both in terms of size and talent — and should walk over Minnesota (the spread is 22 points). But Bret Bielema’s club is still wounded from its loss to Michigan State, while the Gophers gained confidence in their Big Ten opener — a one-point loss to Northwestern. The key for Minnesota in this contest may be to maintain balance on offense; the team has been at its best when quarterback Adam Weber has attempted fewer than 25 passes. Wisconsin, meanwhile, will serve up plenty of freshman James White, who has been superb in relief of John Clay. With Clay slowed by an ankle, White will eat up lots of yards against the Big Ten’s 10th-ranked run defense.
Michigan State at Michigan
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
This is the most meaningful meeting for these two bitter rivals in some time. Both ranked, both excited about their perfect starts — it has the makings of an in-state classic. Both offenses rely on their ability to run the football. For Michigan, it’s NCAA leader Denard Robinson; for Michigan State, it’s the 1-2 underclassmen punch of Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell. Michigan State must find ways to limit Robinson from making long runs — easier said than done. Linebacker Greg Jones has played some of his best football the past two weeks, though, and will make it his mission to keep the NCAA’s No. 3-ranked ground game under wraps. The challenge for the Wolverines is two-fold. Kirk Cousins is also a fine passer, and when the teams met last year, the Michigan defense was successful in holding Cousins to 7.2 yards per attempt and forcing two interceptions (Michigan State won in overtime). Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said he expects to be in the press box for this contest — his first since suffering a mild heart attack three weeks ago.
Purdue at Northwestern
Saturday, 6:30 p.m. CT
Northwestern is one of four unbeaten schools in the Big Ten, but getting to 5–0 hasn’t been pretty; three of the Wildcats’ wins have come by a margin of five or fewer points. Purdue probably doesn’t have the firepower to keep this game that close. Without quarterback Robert Marve and wide receiver Keith Smith, the Boilermakers are very much an offense in transition. Freshman quarterback Rob Henry has completed 21-of-41 passes in two appearances this year, with two touchdowns and an interception. He must produce in the passing game to protect the Boilermakers’ 35th-ranked running game. Purdue’s six top rushers have all averaged better than 5.0 yards per carry (including Henry). If not for Heisman candidates Denard Robinson and Terrelle Pryor, Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa would be the frontrunner for Big Ten offensive player of the year honors. Persa has thrown 10 touchdowns, as compared to just two interceptions, and has passed for 280 or more yards in each of his team’s last three games. He should have a field day against a Purdue secondary that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to completed 68.6 percent of their attempts so far this season.