November 25, 2010

Week 13 preview in the Big Ten

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THE SCHEDULE
Indiana at Purdue, noon
Michigan at Ohio State, noon
Michigan State at Penn State, noon
Northwestern at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m.
Iowa at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m.

The winds of coaching change may start blowing on a few Big Ten campuses, but Penn State's Joe Paterno says that despite rumors to the contrary, he is coming back in 2011.

"I had no intentions, and I've never indicated to anybody, including myself, that I was not coming back," Paterno said. "No, it's always been in my mind that now is not the time to go. I think we've got a good, young team. They may not be there yet, but they will be soon."

While Paterno, who will turn 84 in December, remains in State College, Tim Brewster already has been swept away at Minnesota. He was fired in mid-October following a loss to Purdue that dropped the Golden Gophers to 1-6. He didn't even last four seasons. Before the season, many felt Illinois coach Ron Zook needed to show significant progress to return for a seventh season in 2011. Following last week's win over Northwestern, which made the Fighting Illini bowl eligible, Zook appears to be safe.

But some other Big Ten coaches may suffer the same fate as Brewster, with speculation that Indiana's Bill Lynch and Michigan's Rich Rodriguez may be in peril.

Lynch forever will be remembered by Hoosiers fans for following through on the late Terry Hoeppner's goal of "Playing 13" and guiding Indiana to a bowl in 2007. It was the Hoosiers' first postseason appearance since the 1993 season. But since then, Indiana has struggled. The Hoosiers have won just two Big Ten games since 2008, and Lynch is 18-30 overall and 5-26 in the Big Ten.

Lynch professes not to be worried about his job status. He just doesn't want to end the season with a loss to Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game, which IU has dropped the past two seasons.

"I don't think there is any question it hurts more [to end the season with a defeat]," he said. "The last game always stays with you. I don't care if it's a rivalry game or not. I have coached at places where the last game of the season was not a rivalry game. Losing that last game is a different environment in the offseason.

"When it is a rivalry game, it certainly sits with you longer, and when it is a blowout, it sits with you even longer. There is no kidding around that. That is the unfortunate thing about sports. When you lose that last game, you expect it to stay with you for a while."

Entering the season finale at Purdue, IU is 4-7 overall and 0-7 in the Big Ten. This season has been especially brutal, with the low point coming in an 83-20 loss at Wisconsin earlier this month.

"I think he has done a good job each week of getting us prepared, so it has come down to a few plays where if one person steps up on the field, we would see different outcomes," Hoosiers quarterback Ben Chappell said. "It is obviously tough, but we all have the utmost respect for him. We all enjoy playing for him and would do anything for him."

From the get-go, Rodriguez has seemed like a bad fit for Michigan. After two losing seasons, he has Michigan bowl eligible at 7-4. But some feel that may not be enough for him to keep his job.

RichRod's biggest sin may not be his inability to develop a defense. It may be that under his watch, Michigan's football program is on probation for the first time. New athletic director David Brandon is saying all the right things about supporting Rodriguez, but he didn't hire him.

"I didn't get this job by getting a lottery ticket that said, 'Congratulations, you're the coach at Michigan,' " Rodriguez said. "We didn't get stupid overnight. Every program has unique circumstances that maybe alter the time frame."

Unfortunately for Rodriguez, his time may be running out.

Best matchup: Penn State's offense vs. Michigan State's defense. The Spartans' defense was ripped for 31 points and 378 yards by Purdue last week in a near catastrophic loss. The Nittany Lions' attack is more formidable and has come to life with former walk-on Matt McGloin at quarterback, scoring 33, 41, 35 and 41 points in the past four victories. If the Spartans' defense struggles again on Senior Day in State College, Pa., it could prove costly. A loss will cost Michigan State a share of the Big Ten title and a possible shot at a BCS bid.

Player on the spot: Michigan QB Denard Robinson. If Michigan has any chance to pull a huge upset at Ohio State, Robinson has to play like a superstar. Last week, he became the first player in FBS history to have 1,500 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards in a season. Robinson's 1,538 rushing yards are the most for a quarterback in FBS history. But "D-Rob" is going against a Buckeyes defense that ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 3 in the nation against the run (86.4 ypg).

Numbers game: Ohio State has won five in a row and eight of the past nine against Michigan. The Wolverines haven't won in Columbus since 2000.

What they're saying

"A lot of times when those two are yelling at each other that's the love-hate [relationship]. There's got to be a good guy and a bad guy. I'm usually the good guy and 'Sic' is the bad guy. That's the way I designed it. He knew that when I hired him." -- Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, on the relationship between Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor and quarterback coach Nick Siciliano

"I'm not planning on it. I'm a football coach; other people lobby and market. But the best way I know to do anything is just perform well. I've said it before and I say it to our team all the time: For the most part, you get what you deserve. And I think it's fair to say so far we've gotten what we deserve. If we play well Saturday, I'm confident something good is going to happen. If we don't, then you leave the door open for whatever. Best thing we can do is just worry about our play this week. That's what we need to focus on." -- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, on whether he will lobby for certain bowls

"The part that we have to control is how we handle our business. I think last year's game, and the tale of two halves, is something we can emphasize this year." -- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, on Saturday's game against Northwestern, which ended the Badgers' hope of winning 10 regular-season games last season with a 33-31 upset

Etc.: Illinois is off before finishing at Fresno State on Dec. 4. But every other league team finishes the regular season this week. This is a big trophy week. Iowa and Minnesota play for Floyd of Rosedale; Purdue and Indiana play for the Old Oaken Bucket; and Penn State and Michigan State play for the Land Grant Trophy. The last time three schools shared the Big Ten title was 2000, when Purdue, Northwestern and Michigan shared the crown. Wisconsin may be without RB John Clay again. But RBs James White and Montee Ball have filled in admirably. The past two weeks, that duo has run for 665 yards and 11 touchdowns. Penn State has beaten Michigan State in each of the past two seasons. Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins played with a banged-up left shoulder and left ankle against Purdue last week, but he says he will be OK for the game at Penn State. Purdue has won 12 of the past 15 meetings with Indiana. Iowa RB Adam Robinson will miss the Minnesota game because of injury. He's expected back for the bowl. Wisconsin has scored at least 30 points in each of its past six games. Northwestern is 4-4 in its past eight games against ranked teams. Purdue senior DE Ryan Kerrigan needs 1.5 sacks to tie Rosevelt Colvin's school record of 35. In an interview with The Associated Press, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee said he didn't think TCU or Boise State was worthy of an invitation to the BCS title game. "I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it's like murderer's row every week for these schools," he said. "We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day. So I think until a university runs through that gantlet, that there's some reason to believe that they not be the best teams to [be] in the big ballgame."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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