September 15, 2011

Week 3 preview in the Big Ten

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Ohio State's visit to Miami has been derisively dubbed the "Ineligi-Bowl."

It makes sense. Several key players for both teams won't be available because of suspensions being served for breaking NCAA rules.

THE SCHEDULE
SATURDAY
Eastern Michigan at Michigan, noon
Penn State at Temple, noon
Southeast Missouri State at Purdue, noon
Pittsburgh at Iowa, noon
Miami (Ohio) at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m.
Northwestern at Army, 3:30 p.m.
Michigan State at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m.
South Carolina State at Indiana, 3:30 p.m.
Northern Illinois vs. Wisconsin in Chicago, 3:30 p.m.
Arizona State at Illinois, 7 p.m.
Ohio State at Miami, 7:30 p.m.
No doubt, the Buckeyes could use the services suspended players such as wide receiver DeVier Posey, tailback Dan Herron and offensive tackle Mike Adams. Miami would benefit from the presence of suspended players such as defensive end Olivier Vernon and strong safety Ray-Ray Armstrong.

But Ohio State received good news earlier this week when tailback Jordan Hall, cornerback Travis Howard (coincidentally, a Miami native) and defensive back Corey Brown were reinstated for this week's game. The trio was suspended the first two games for accepting illegal benefits in a case separate from the one that has ensnared Posey, Herron and Adams.

The Hurricanes also will get a boost. Miami welcomes back quarterback Jacory Harris, wide receiver Travis Benjamin, defensive tackle Marcus Forston and linebacker Sean Spence from suspensions associated with a rogue booster.

Each team hopes the return of the key players will help it get on track.

"Our guys have been through it time and time again," Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said. "There's always going to be distractions in Columbus or Miami. It's handling those things that ends up defining a team. ... It comes down to what you guys write and what they talk about on ESPN or whatever station, and what [the players] let sink into their heads."

Ohio State is 2-0 but has looked sluggish. Last week, the Buckeyes never put away pesky Toledo after dumping a horrible Akron team in the opener. Beating MAC teams at home is one thing. Beating a quality Big Six foe on the road is another.

Miami is 0-1 and was off last week after losing a tough season opener at Maryland, a game Harris missed. Harris is back, but he must play better than he did in last season's loss to the Buckeyes.

Harris chucked four interceptions in a 36-24 setback at Ohio State. The 'Canes ran back a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns but still didn't prevail. If Harris struggles again, Miami coach Al Golden has a competent alternative in Stephen Morris, who started some last season and in the opener.

"I'm very confident," Golden said. "Jacory has established that he's the starter right now. He's mature. He's worked really hard for this opportunity, and I'm excited about the opportunity he has and the opportunity we have as a team with him leading us."

Best matchup: Michigan State's offense vs. Notre Dame's offense. This game could come down to which team has the ball last. The Spartans have one of the top attacks in the Big Ten, led by QB Kirk Cousins and a deep and talented collection of running backs (Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell) and receivers (B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin). The Fighting Irish are averaging 510.5 yards but have been undone by the worst turnover margin in the nation (minus-3.5, 10 turnovers and only three takeaways). Michigan State's defense hasn't been tested yet by a schedule that has had FCS member Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic, and the Fighting Irish have been horrible against the pass, ranking 95th in pass efficiency defense.

Players on the spot: Iowa DT Mike Daniels. He needs help from his fellow linemen if the Hawkeyes hope to be legit contenders in the Legends Division. Iowa's defense entered 2011 with many questions. And it's still looking for answers after an ugly 44-41 triple-overtime loss at Iowa State last week. Another disturbing trend: Iowa still can't close games. Last season, the Hawkeyes' five losses were by a combined 18 points. Against Iowa State, Iowa blew five leads, including a 24-17 edge in the final minutes of regulation. Iowa ranks 10th in the Big Ten against the run (167.0 ypg). That must change, beginning this week with Pittsburgh's visit. Lose to an average Panthers squad, and it may be time to panic in Iowa City.

Keep an eye on: Illinois' defense. The unit entered 2011 with myriad questions. The front seven needed to be overhauled, with four starters having to be replaced from a group that melted down in the second half of last season. But so far, so good for the Fighting Illini, who have allowed just 18 points in wins over overmatched opponents Arkansas State and South Dakota State. But Arizona State's visit will be a major step up in competition. Led by 6-foot-8 quarterback Brock Osweiler, the Sun Devils have tallied a combined 85 points in wins over UC Davis and Missouri. If Illinois' defense is for real, now is the time to show. A win here would stamp the Illini as legit contenders in the Leaders Division.

Numbers game: Purdue has allowed eight sacks through two games. Only SMU (nine), Pitt (nine), New Mexico (10) and Akron (13) have yielded more. In 2010, the Boilermakers gave up only 18 sacks in 12 games.

What they're saying

"I knew playing Northern Illinois would put an interesting spin on things. I did everything I could to help him get that job. It's something Dave had earned. ... When you're at the position Dave is at, you're so locked into the game preparation. It's a neat storyline but has no factor on what you're doing." �" Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, on facing former Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, who is in his first year coaching Northern Illinois.

"I kind of feel like I'm ready to play; it's just them telling me not to. I understand why they're trying to be safe about it. In the long run, I'd rather miss two or three games then play two and then miss the season." �" Northwestern QB Dan Persa, on his continued recovery from a torn Achilles tendon suffered last season that has forced him to miss the first two games.

"I think people kind of want to see us fail." �" Ohio State S Tyler Moeller, on the public's perception of the Buckeyes.

Poll watch: In The Associated Press poll, Wisconsin is No. 7, Nebraska is No. 11, Michigan State is No. 15 and Ohio State is No. 17. Penn State dropped out. The rankings of the Badgers and Spartans appear to be spot on. But the Huskers and Buckeyes probably are ranked too high. Neither has impressed in opening 2-0 against lesser foes, and each probably should be six or seven spots lower. The Nittany Lions never deserved to be ranked in the first place.

Etc.: Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is expected to be on the sideline this Saturday when the Golden Gophers play host to Miami (Ohio). Kill suffered a seizure and collapsed on the sideline in the final seconds of last week's home loss to New Mexico State. Kill was hospitalized, put through a battery of tests and given a clean bill of health. Kill is a cancer survivor who has dealt with two sideline seizures in the past. ... Ohio State didn't play true freshman QB Braxton Miller in last week's win over Toledo because he had missed some practice time and the game was too close, Buckeye coach Luke Fickell says. Fickell expects to play Miller against Miami, but plans could change and Joe Bauserman could go the distance again. ... Purdue QB Robert Marve has been cleared to play and could make his season debut when FCS member Southeast Missouri State visits Saturday. He has been dealing with soreness in his right knee since camp, and missed the last eight games of 2010 after injuring his left knee. Boilermakers coach Danny Hope has said Caleb TerBush will make his third start of the season but that he'll try to get Marve into the game. Projected 2011 starter Rob Henry suffered a season-ending knee injury in camp. ... Wisconsin starting CB Devin Smith will miss the rest of the season after undergoing foot surgery. He will be replaced by junior Marcus Cromartie. ... Nebraska isn't sure if star CB Alfonzo Dennard will make his season debut this week when Washington visits. Dennard has been out since the middle of camp with a pulled leg muscle. Huskers coach Bo Pelini thinks it's a six-to-eight week recovery period for Dennard, who likely is in Week 5 of the process. ... Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase continues to get better. He threw seven interceptions the first half of last season. But he tossed 78 consecutive passes without a pick and has thrown only one in his past 175 attempts. ... Through two games, Michigan is plus-5 in turnover margin. They were a combined minus-32 the past three seasons. ... Purdue TE Crosby Wright's touchdown last week at Rice marked the first time a tight end caught a scoring pass for the Boilers since 2007. ... Wisconsin has started 2-0 for the 10th consecutive season. Illinois is 2-0 for the first time since 2005. ... Last week's crowd of 114,804 for the Michigan-Notre Dame game in Ann Arbor set a school record; it had been 113,090, at last season's opener against Connecticut.

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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