November 17, 2011

Week 12 preview in the Big Ten

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Michigan fans, you may want to avert your eyes: A guy named Bo will be coaching at the Big House - but on the wrong sideline.

And the kicker: He's an Ohio State grad.

That may be enough to make any Wolverine's skin crawl, but Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has no hard feelings about facing Michigan.

Iowa at Purdue, noon
Wisconsin at Illinois, noon
Nebraska at Michigan, noon
Indiana at Michigan State, noon
Minnesota at Northwestern, noon
Penn State at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m.
"I wouldn't say I had venom for Michigan," Pelini said. "I actually visited Michigan [as a recruit]."

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Pelini signed with the Buckeyes to play defensive back for Earle Bruce and John Cooper. When Nebraska visits Ann Arbor on Saturday, it will be Pelini's first trip back since his playing days.

"You go to Ohio State, and that game took on extra meaning because it meant so much each and every year," Pelini said. "You have a lot of respect for their program and their history."

This game will have extra meaning, too. Both programs are 8-2 with a chance for 10-win regular seasons. Both are alive for a trip to the Big Ten championship game, but they need Legends Division front-runner Michigan State to lose.

As has been the case all season, both teams likely will go as their quarterbacks go.

Nebraska sophomore Taylor Martinez was a solid, if unspectacular, 13-of-26 for 143 yards in last week's 17-14 win at Penn State. After a dismal showing against Wisconsin on Oct. 8, Martinez has thrown just one interception in the past four games.

The bread-and-butter for Nebraska's offense, though, is tailback Rex Burkhead, who has rushed for at least 117 yards in each of the Huskers' Big Ten wins.

As Nebraska has learned with its backfield tandem, Michigan is figuring out two is better than one. After quarterback Denard Robinson was the centerpiece of the offense early in the season, the Wolverines have begun to rely more on tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint. Toussaint rushed for 192 yards and a touchdown against Illinois last week, accounting for more than half the total offense in Michigan's 31-14 win.

Robinson is expected to play against Nebraska despite leaving the Illinois win with a wrist injury.

"We've tried to limit where it's not a one-man offense," Michigan coach Brady Hoke. "The development of Fitz has progressed where the backs are doing a better job and so are the guys up front."

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BEST MATCHUP: Penn State DT Devon Still vs. Ohio State C Michael Brewster. The anchor of Penn State's stout run defense, Still has recorded a tackle for loss in each game this season and has a total of 16.5, tied for fourth-most in the nation. But Brewster may be the best interior lineman Still will face all season. TB Dan Herron needs to run the ball effectively if Ohio State is to win, which means Brewster and Ohio State's guards need to stymie Still.

PLAYERS ON THE SPOT: Iowa's offensive line. The Hawkeyes have faced Michigan's Mike Martin, Penn State's Still and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy this season, with mixed results. The Hawkeyes face another active defensive tackle this week in Purdue's Kawann Short. Short had three sacks in last week's upset of Ohio State, raising his season total to 6.5. Short has 13.5 tackles for loss this season.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Ohio State WR DeVier Posey. He's the final one of Ohio State's suspended players to return to the field. The Buckeyes' offense has been extremely conservative with dual-threat freshman Braxton Miller at quarterback, but perhaps Posey's return is enough to open up the passing game. Miller has not completed more than eight passes in a game this season.

NUMBERS GAME: Michigan QB Denard Robinson's November cold snap is not isolated to this season. Many of his on-field numbers have taken a dip as the temperature has dipped in the past two seasons. In his two seasons as the full-time starter, Robinson is completing 60.5 percent of his passes in September, 59.8 percent in October and 53.4 percent in November. His pass efficiency rating over two seasons is 148 in September, 149 in October and 133 in November. Robinson has averaged 8.3 yards per carry in September, 5.9 yards per carry in October and 4.2 yards per carry in November.

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"We've exceeded a lot of people's expectations defensively. I think people probably counted us down and out on defense after the performance we gave in previous years and stuff like that. We've been motivated and we've been focused the whole time on being a defense that traditionally has been seen at Michigan - a defense that alums would recognize." - Michigan DE Ryan Van Bergen

"Not bad for a guy who's a pre-med major. Pretty special." - Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, on backup QB Kain Colter, who has accounted for 555 rushing yards, 660 passing yards, 363 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns this season

"I think a lot of times, with everything that swirls around them, they enjoy coming to practice because it's the one time they can just kind of be with themselves." - Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley, on his players at practice

"In all my years of coaching ... I haven't been around many guys who have put in more and gotten less back in return from an athletic standpoint. ... He's been patient on waiting for a return on his effort." - Purdue coach Danny Hope, on QB Robert Marve, who transferred from Miami to Purdue but has suffered multiple knee injuries

POLL WATCH: The Big Ten has five teams in the BCS top 25, but none higher than 15th. Michigan State is No. 15, followed by No. 16 Nebraska, No. 17 Wisconsin and No. 18 Michigan. After the loss to Nebraska last week, Penn State dropped from 12th to No. 21. The human polls favor the Big Ten more than the BCS as a whole: Michigan State is 12th in the coaches' and Harris polls.

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ETC.: Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley said assistants Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden will call the defense this week. Graduate assistants Elijah Robinson (defense) and Bill Kavanaugh (wide receivers) have been elevated to full-time assistants. ... Penn State TB Silas Redd (shoulder) is expected to play Saturday. ... Wisconsin C Peter Konz could miss the final two regular season games after sustaining a dislocated ankle in the win over Minnesota. Ryan Groy, who has started at fullback and guard, will start in Konz's place. ... Ohio State TE Jake Stoneburner caught eight passes for 93 yards and four touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season. Since catching two touchdown passes against Nebraska and Illinois, Stoneburner has no catches in his past three games. ... Ohio State LB Andrew Sweat (concussion) will not play this week against Penn State. DT Jonathan Hankins (knee) is doubtful, and OT J.B. Shugarts (knee) is questionable. ... Wisconsin RB Montee Ball set a Big Ten single-season record with his 27th touchdown. He could join Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders, Boise State's Brock Forsey, Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards and UCF's Kevin Smith as the only players to score at least 30 touchdowns in a season. ... Northwestern WR Jeremy Ebert has caught 13 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games. ... Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray had been limited with a back injury since the Nov. 5 loss to Michigan State, going only 6-of-14 passes against Wisconsin last week. Gray said he is returning to full strength. ... Northwestern and Purdue are on the verge of bowl eligibility at 5-5. The Big Ten already has eight bowl-eligible teams, most of any conference. ... The Old Brass Spittoon will be on the line when Indiana meets Michigan State. The trophy first was awarded in 1950. ... Wisconsin's Phillip Welch has made 176 career extra points. He is seven away from tying former Penn State K Kevin Kelly for the league's career record. ... Last Saturday's Nebraska-Penn State game earned a 3.8 overnight rating on ESPN, the highest overnight rating ever for a noon college football game on the network.

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David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at, and you can follow him on Twitter.

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