October 4, 2007

Heavyweights face important tests

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BUCHANAN'S BIG TEN PICKS
Saturday's games
Wisconsin 27, Illinois 24
Indiana 35, Minnesota 23
Penn State 24, Iowa 17
Michigan 41, Eastern Michigan 10
Michigan State 38, Northwestern 21
Ohio State 24, Purdue 20
Overview: This weekend's Wisconsin-Illinois game offers the chance for a Big Ten team to prove itself. Surprisingly, though, the burden of proof may be on the fifth-ranked Badgers. While Illinois (4-1) has posted back-to-back victories over Indiana (4-1) and Penn State (3-2), unbeaten Wisconsin's caliber of competition remains in question. Last week's 38-35 victory over Michigan State was the Badgers' only triumph over a Division I-A opponent with a winning record – and three of Michigan State's wins have come against 2-3 Pittsburgh, 1-3 UAB and 0-5 Notre Dame. Even if Wisconsin does knock off the Illini, some doubters might not be convinced until the Badgers face Ohio State on Nov. 3. Ohio State - which faces Purdue - has to do some proving, too. The Buckeyes also have not beaten a Division I-A opponent with a winning record.

Best matchup: Purdue's pass offense vs. Ohio State's pass defense. The Big Ten's best pass offense challenges the conference's premier pass defense. The Boilermakers average 309.8 passing yards per game behind QB Curtis Painter, who already has passed for 1,542 yards and 18 touchdowns. But Purdue hasn't faced a defense as good as Ohio State's. The Buckeyes have surrendered just two touchdown passes and have seven interceptions.

The pressure is on: Northwestern QB C.J. Bacher. It literally figures to be on Bacher, who has been sacked nine times in the past two games. Northwestern has allowed 16 sacks and this week faces a Michigan State defense that has 23 sacks – No. 2 in the nation. DE Jonal Saint-Dic leads the Spartans with seven sacks.

Who's hot: Penn State LB Sean Lee posted a team-high 17 tackles in last week's loss to Illinois, marking the third consecutive games in which he has recorded at least 12 stops. … Ohio State's defense has allowed just 36 points this season; only one opponent (Washington) has scored in double-figures against the Buckeyes. … Purdue WR Dorien Bryant leads the league in receptions with 40 and in kickoff returns at 32.4 yards per return. … Indiana leads the nation with 27 sacks.

Who's not: Penn State QB Anthony Morelli committed turnovers on each of the Nittany Lions' last four possessions in last week's 27-20 loss to Illinois. Three of those turnovers – two interceptions and a fumble – came on plays that started at Illinois' 25 or closer. … Minnesota already has committed 18 turnovers. A big reason: QB Adam Weber has thrown 10 interceptions. … Iowa has converted a league-low 31.2 percent of its third-down conversions (25-of-80). … The Hawkeyes are last in the Big Ten in scoring, total offense and first downs.

Keep your eye on: Indiana's passing offense in general, and Hoosiers WR James Hardy in particular. The 6-foot-7 Hardy has caught at least one touchdown pass in every game and is averaging 20 yards per catch. Expect him to have another productive game Saturday against Minnesota, which has allowed 16 touchdown passes and is statistically the worst pass defense in the country. The Gophers have allowed six touchdown passes of at least 24 yards.

BIG TEN STANDINGS
TeamConf.All
Ohio State2-05-0
Wisconsin2-05-0
Illinois2-04-1
Michigan2-03-2
Purdue1-05-0
Indiana1-14-1
Michigan State0-14-1
Penn State0-23-2
Iowa0-22-3
Northwestern0-22-3
Minnesota0-21-4
Numbers game: Michigan TB Mike Hart has exceeded 100 yards rushing in all five games this season. … Iowa has lost seven consecutive conference games. … Since the beginning of last season, Penn State is 0-6 when trailing entering the fourth quarter. … Over the past three games, Northwestern's Bacher has thrown seven interceptions and no touchdowns. … Purdue is undefeated, but its opponents are a combined 4-16. Ohio State is also unbeaten, and its opponents are a combined 7-13. … Indiana is trying to go 5-1 for the first time since 1994. … Purdue is looking for its first 6-0 start since 1943.

Freshman to watch: This category could go to Illinois WR Arrelious Benn every week, but that's especially the case this week against Wisconsin. If Illinois has a chance of posting a second consecutive victory over a ranked team, it needs another strong performance from Benn. The former five-star recruit returned a kickoff for a touchdown and caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in last week's victory over Penn State. Wisconsin allows an average of 235 passing yards per game and has given up nine touchdown passes.

Injury update: Iowa LB Mike Klinkenborg (concussion) and SS Devan Moylan (concussion) are questionable for the Penn State game. TE Tony Moeaki (dislocated elbow) is out. … Michigan TE Mike Massey (knee) is out for the season. … Indiana TB Demetrius McCray (foot) is questionable for the Minnesota game. … Michigan State Gs Kenny Shane (knee) and Roland Martin (leg) and CB Ross Weaver (leg) are questionable for Saturday. …Northwestern LB Prince Kwateng (shoulder) is questionable and TB Tyrell Sutton is out. … Ohio State LB Ross Homan (toe) is questionable, and TB Brandon Saine (knee) is doubtful. … Penn State G John Shaw (knee) is questionable for Iowa.

They said it: "We looked like a pretty good football team – what's it been … 10, 11 days ago? And four days ago we didn't look so good. But I don't think anybody's ready to throw in the towel right now."
— Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz

"That's ludicrous. That's probably somebody from Wisconsin trying to get them fired up. I don't think there's anyway a team like us could be favored over a team like Wisconsin."
— Illinois coach Ron Zook on the Illini being favored by 21?2 points over Wisconsin

"In-house, everybody's got the full, utmost confidence in him. He's disappointed. He's doing everything he can to correct what's been done. He gets a lot of criticism. … A lot of it is unjust as times."
— Penn State C A.Q. Shipley on Nittany Lions QB Morelli

Etc.: Mario Manningham, Michigan's top receiver, has been suspended for violating team rules and will not play Saturday against Eastern Michigan. … Despite its 4-1 start, Indiana is averaging just 33,539 fans for its home games despite offering the lowest-priced tickets in the Big Ten. The only Big Ten team averaging smaller crowds is Northwestern. … Penn State has scored a touchdown on just one of 10 opportunities inside the red zone in Big Ten play. … Illinois has won four games this season; it won four games combined the past two seasons. … Wisconsin leads I-A with a 14-game winning streak.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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