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October 25, 2006
Together at the top: For the first time, two Big Ten teams are 1-2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. Michigan jumped over idle USC in this week's BCS standings, with the Wolverines taking the No. 2 spot behind No. 1 Ohio State. The Big Ten becomes the first conference to produce the top two programs in a BCS poll since Oct. 27, 2001, when Nebraska and Oklahoma of the Big 12 were ranked first and second.
Best matchup: Penn State's front seven vs. the Purdue pass offense. The Nittany Lions are third in the conference and 15th in the nation in sacks per game (3.25). The Boilermakers are fourth in the nation in pass offense (309.6 yards per game) and have yielded only eight sacks this season.
Worst matchup: The Northwestern offense vs. the Michigan defense. The Wildcats are last in the Big Ten in scoring despite last week's 38-point effort. The Wolverines are third in the conference in scoring defense, and they're No. 1 in the country against the run. That makes for a whole lot of passing from a redshirt sophomore quarterback making his second career start.
The pressure is on: Purdue coach Joe Tiller. The Boilermakers jumped out of the gates 4-0 and looked like a sure bowl team. Standing at 5-3 heading into Saturday against Penn State, Tiller's squad is hardly a bowl shoe-in anymore. The big problem is that Purdue's schedule includes a 13th regular-season game, at Hawaii. So the Boilermakers have to get to seven wins to qualify. They'd love to beat the Nittany Lions, because three of Purdue's final four games are on the road.
Upset alert: Indiana got drubbed at Ohio State. Meanwhile, Michigan State pulled off the greatest comeback in Division I-A history, rallying from a 38-3 third-quarter deficit to beat Northwestern 41-38 in regulation. The Spartans are seven-point favorites. Which Michigan State teams shows up, the one exhilarated by the comeback or the one that somehow got down by 35 points to a Northwestern team that hadn't scored more than 21 points all season? The Hoosiers stunned then-No. 15 Iowa the week before crashing in Columbus. It says here they'll be seeing red in Bloomington and knock off the Spartans.
BCS implications: This line will play out the rest of the season: Ohio State and Michigan must avoid colossal upsets to stay on target for their showdown and possible BCS berths for both.
Who's hot: Wisconsin defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. The Badgers' unsung defense continues to perform solidly. It has given up more than 14 points only once all season, and that was to No. 2 Michigan. UW is seventh in total defense and fourth in scoring defense in the nation coming off its 24-3 walk over Purdue. The Badgers held the Boilermakers to 187 passing yards, almost 140 yards below their season average. ? Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall. The sophomore, a former Rivals100 prospect, has raised his game the past two weeks. After setting a career high with 94 yards on Oct. 14 against Ohio, he torched Penn State for 161 yards on just 14 carries. Mendenhall's 79-yard run against the Nittany Lions was the longest they had given up since 1974. The Illinois native has 255 yards the past two weeks on just 21 carries, a stunning average of 12.1 yards per carry.
Who's not: The Northwestern defense. It gave up 248 passing yards and 35 points to Michigan State in the second half. ? Illinois quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams. Since being named Rivals.com's National Freshman of the Week for his game against Michigan State on Sept. 30, the true freshman has gone three consecutive games without hitting on 50 percent of his passes. He's 39 of 88 in that span (44.3 percent).
Must see TV: Calling anything on the Big Ten schedule this week must-see TV is a stretch. The Purdue-Penn State game is an intriguing matchup that ABC will carry at noon Eastern. Eric Collins and Andre Ware will call the action.
Newcomer/Backup that could have an impact: Indiana will start three redshirt freshmen on defense against Michigan State ? one on the line (Jammie Kirlew), one at linebacker (Josh Bailey) and one in the secondary (safety Austin Thomas). If the Hoosiers are going to upset the Spartans, all three will have to play well.
Key stat: Indiana redshirt freshman quarterback Kellen Lewis is the only starting signal-caller who has not thrown an interception in conference play this season.
Take the line: Indiana is getting seven points at home against Michigan State. Take the home underdog. If the Hoosiers don't win it outright, they should keep it close. Season against the line: 5-3.
They said it: "I'm challenging the Hoosier Nation to pack 'The Rock' with 50,000 screaming fans when we play Michigan State. We want you to celebrate homecoming and help us earn another victory. Our fans have played a huge role in our progress this season. We have come a long way, but we have a ways to go. It's always a lot more fun to have the fans with us on our journey to play 13 (meaning reach a bowl game)." ? Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner. ? "We go out and play them one at a time. I don't know that that (record-setting comeback against Northwestern) saved anything. We'll have to wait and see. I think it was a great thing that hopefully we can build on. There was a lot of positive in that, and if we can build on it that will be great." ? Michigan State coach John L. Smith.
Injury update: Iowa quarterback Drew Tate had surgery Tuesday to repair ligament damage in his left thumb. He hopes to return to practice next week. Senior Jason Manson is the probable starter against NIU, but redshirt freshman Jake Christensen could be a factor. ? Northwestern senior linebacker and co-captain Nick Roach, the Wildcats' leading tackler, suffered a broken right leg on a punt in the third quarter against Michigan State and is out for the rest of the season. ? Michigan State senior wide receiver Matt Trannon could make his return this week. He has been out with an ankle injury since the Michigan game on Oct. 7. Spartans starting running back Jehuu Caulcrick is probable after leaving the Northwestern game last Saturday with a foot injury. ? Michigan receiver Mario Manningham isn't expected to play against Northwestern, but Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr said the super soph is "making rapid progress" after arthroscopic knee surgery and is "ahead of schedule."
Worth noting: Jack Nicklaus will dot the "I" during Script Ohio at halftime of Saturday's game against Minnesota. Nicklaus is just the fifth non-band member to be accorded that honor. The others are: former Ohio State President Novice G. Fawcett, actor/comedian Bob Hope, former Buckeyes football coach Woody Hayes and former OSU ticket director Bob Ries. ? Ohio State has at least one interception in every game this season. ? The Buckeyes' current winning streaks are: 15 overall, 11 in the Big Ten, 10 at home and three against Minnesota, this week's opponent. ? The Michigan defense held Iowa to 41 rushing yards, the sixth time this season the Wolverines have held an opponent under 50 yards. ? Running back Tyrell Sutton, with his 172-yard rushing effort against Michigan State, became just the eighth player in Northwestern history to reach the 2,000-yard mark. ? Wisconsin is the only team to hold Michigan running back Mike Hart under 100 yards this season. ? With a 189.5-yard rushing average per game, Illinois is posting its best average on the ground since the 1978 season. ? The Illini are tops in the Big Ten in the red zone, scoring on 17 of 18 trips inside the 20 (94.4 percent). ? Purdue running back Jaycen Taylor has not lost yardage on any of his 61 carries. He's averaging a sterling 6.8 per carry. ? Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli hasn't thrown a TD pass in three of his last four games. ? The Indiana-Michigan State game is one of the Big Ten's many trophy games. A can of chew for those of you who knew the Old Brass Spittoon is on the line in this one.
Looking back: Mike Hart topped the 100-yard mark for the seventh time this season as Michigan beat Iowa 20-6. ? Michigan State rallied from a 38-3 third-quarter deficit to stun Northwestern 41-38. ? Wisconsin got another 100-yard game from redshirt freshman running back P.J. Hill and a terrific defensive effort to throttle Purdue 24-3. ? Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith had four TD passes and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. caught one of them and threw one of his own in a 44-3 trouncing of Indiana. ? Penn State struggled to subdue Illinois 26-12. The Nittany Lions were outgained 358 yards to 184. ? Minnesota barely escaped against Division I-AA North Dakota State, 10-9.
Freshman who impressed: Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill ? again. He racked up 161 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries in a 24-3 whipping of Purdue.
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