Michigan State at Northwestern, Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Aside from an Oct. 30 visit to Iowa City, this may be the most dangerous contest remaining on Michigan State’s schedule. Why? Because Northwestern is a disciplined and opportunistic club (+5 turnover ratio). Last year the Wildcats knocked off 8–2 Wisconsin at Ryan Field. Their coach, Pat Fitzgerald, does not care about ‘statement games,’ only playing winning football. It helps to have a quarterback as talented as Dan Persa, who hopes to take advantage of a Spartans secondary giving up 213.3 passing yards per contest. Michigan State has a capable passer, too (Kirk Cousins) and a pair of backs ready to make amends for last week’s poor showing. How well Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker bounce back will be a deciding factor in the outcome of this contest. Another deciding factor: Penalties. Northwestern ranks 10th in the league, having committed 46 penalties this season for an average of 65.8 penalty yards per contest. The Spartans rank dead last (55, 73.0).
Penn State at Minnesota, Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Interim coach Jeff Horton will try to keep the Gophers focused for this week’s contest against the Nittany Lions. As bad as Minnesota’s record may appear, this club has played a number of tight games at home this year, including a one-point loss to Northwestern and a 32–21 loss to USC. Minnesota’s best weapon last week was junior wide receiver Da’Juan McKnight, who will try to crack a Nittany Lion secondary that has allowed the fewest number of yards and completions among all Big Ten schools. As for Penn State’s offense, the verdict is still out, but things have not gone well for Joe Paterno’s squad. Quarterback Rob Bolden has thrown seven interceptions as compared to just four touchdowns, and running back Even Royster still hasn’t found his legs. If the offense cannot move the ball against a Gopher defense allowing more than 400 yards per game, fans will know there is more to Penn State’s struggles than inexperience.
Purdue at Ohio State, Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Quick: Name the three Big Ten teams unbeaten in conference play. Michigan State, Iowa and … Purdue? Yep, it’s been an easy path so far for the Boilermakers, but the back stretch is unfriendly, beginning this week against an agitated Ohio State squad. The Buckeyes now have to play catch-up to both Wisconsin and conference leader Michigan State. Terrelle Pryor has an opportunity to flex his leadership abilities by rallying the unit on Saturday. If the line can keep Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan under wraps, Pryor should have a big day against a Boilermaker unit allowing 220.8 passing yards per game. Ohio State’s defense is still recovering from being manhandled by Wisconsin’s rushing attack. Purdue has a capable rushing tandem in quarterback Rob Henry and running back Dan Dierking (126 yards last week). The Boilermakers will try to run early, and may find some success with linebacker Ross Homan out of the lineup.
Indiana at Illinois, Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
With its 4–2 record, the Hoosiers need to pick up at least a couple of conference victories in order to secure a bowl bid. No luck so far. This week’s contest with Illinois provides as good an opportunity as any. In last year’s contest, Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell passed for 333 yards and threw three touchdowns in a 27–14 victory — Indiana’s only win in Big Ten play. Chappell is the current leader in the conference in passing yards (1,858) and touchdowns (16). To stop Indiana, Illinois’ underrated defense must frustrate Chappell and limit Tandon Doss, who leads the nation in all-purpose yards (202.0 per game). The Illini will try to exploit an Indiana run defense allowing opposing ball carriers an average of 5.5 yards per carry — a number sure to make Nathan Scheelhasse and Mikel Leshoure salivate.
Wisconsin at Iowa, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
Much more is riding on this game than the Heartland Trophy. A win would push Wisconsin further up the polls and leave the Badgers in a good position to challenge for the conference crown; a win for Iowa would keep its perfect Big Ten mark intact. Ultimately, the team that has the most success running the football will win this contest. Sounds simple, but these are two very similar, very basic football teams. In last year’s game, Adam Robinson averaged 4.6 yards per carry to help Iowa beat the Badgers for the sixth time in the last eight years. Robinson is one of five Big Ten backs this season who are averaging more than 100 yards per contest, and he leads the conference in attempts per game (21.5). Of course, Wisconsin has a couple of backs it thinks are special, too. The combination of John Clay and James White is unlike anything the top-ranked Hawkeye run defense has faced this year. Fans can expect the Badgers to use the same formula that worked in last week’s upset — a heavy dose of Clay early, blended later on with some play-action passing and White’s quickness. Again, simple, but difficult to stop.