September 20, 2006

Big Ten: Week 4 Breakdown

McClellan's Big Ten picks national columnist Bob McClellan's predictions for Week 4 in the Big Ten.
Saturday's games:
Nevada 27, Northwestern 20
Iowa 42, Illinois 16
Minnesota 30, Purdue 26
Michigan 34, Wisconsin 20
Connecticut 23, Indiana 20
Ohio State 37, Penn State 19
Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 27
Last week: 7-4 Season: 27-6

Hail to the victors: All hail the state of Michigan, which did its job in propping up the Big Ten last weekend. The Wolverines crushed Notre Dame 47-21 in South Bend, Ind., and jumped to No. 6 in this week's Associated Press poll. The Spartans also went on the road and whipped an opponent, dropping Pittsburgh 38-23. Michigan State is 30th in the AP rankings and almost assuredly will crack in if it also can beat Notre Dame - its opponent in East Lansing this weekend.

Best matchup: Penn State at Ohio State. The only blemish on the Buckeyes' conference record last season came at the hands of the Nittany Lions. Jim Tressel's offense has looked downright scary through the first few games of the season, and Penn State's defense looked slow and ill-equipped against Notre Dame. Revenge appears to be on the menu. A big heaping bowl of it.

Worst matchup: Iowa at Illinois. The Hawkeyes have beaten the Illini the past three years by an average score of 33-10. Given that Illinois is coming off a home loss to woeful Syracuse, there isn't much reason to believe this outcome will be any different.

The pressure is on: Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack. The Boilermakers defense is ranked 100th in the country in total defense and last in the Big Ten in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense. This despite a non-conference schedule featuring two MAC teams and a Division I-AA school. After playing Minnesota at home, it's three consecutive road games for Purdue including trips to Notre Dame and Iowa.

Upset alert: Purdue is a home underdog to Minnesota, so if you consider that an upset Otherwise, it's slim pickings.

BCS implications: Only if Penn State or Wisconsin pulls a huge upset could any Big Ten game this week impact the BCS.

Who's hot: Michigan State QB Drew Stanton. Not only is he completing 68.3 percent of his passes, he's coming off a 100-yard rushing game against Pittsburgh. It was the first time he had reached the century mark on the ground in 18 games. Speaking of 100-yard ground gainers, Wisconsin redshirt freshman P.J. Hill turned in his third in three games. He pushed his career high to 184 yards. The Michigan defense is tops in the Big Ten and ninth in the nation in total defense, and it had a pair of touchdowns (an interception return and a fumble return) against Notre Dame on Saturday to bring its season total to three in just three games.

Who's not: The Northwestern offense. After finishing 2005 ranked fourth nationally in total offense, the Wildcats have stumbled out of the gate. They're last in the Big Ten in total offense, scoring and passing. No Illinois player appears in the Big Ten individual statistics in any offensive category save for kicker Jason Reda, who has made 100 percent of his extra points this season.

Must-see TV: Penn State at Ohio State. It may turn out not to be such a compelling game, but watching the Ohio State offense led by Troy Smith is always a treat.

Newcomer who could have an impact: Illinois true freshman quarterback Isiah Williams, aka "Juice". The Juice got loose in the second half against Syracuse, throwing TD passes of 76 and 69 yards in the fourth quarter. In doing so he became the first QB in school history to throw a pair of TDs longer than 65 yards in the same game. Illini coach Ron Zook has yet to decide whether Williams will start against the Hawkeyes. Williams has completed only 49.3 percent of his passes, but he still has a higher passer rating than senior Tim Brasic.

Key stat: Wisconsin has won its last 13 games played in September and its last three Big Ten openers. Can the Badgers keep both streaks alive at Michigan?

Take the line: Northwestern is getting seven points at Nevada. It's not enough. Take the Wolf Pack minus the seven. Season against the line: 2-1.

They said it: Penn State coach Joe Paterno, when asked how he planned to stop Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.: "I am going to have somebody put something in his food the morning of the game. Ted Ginn is a great athlete, but there is a kid by the name of (Anthony) Gonzalez on that team. There is a kid we tried like the dickens to get whose father is a great coach, (Brian) Robiskie (his father, Terry, is an assistant for the Cleveland Browns). They have a great quarterback. The tight end is a big-league player. The tailback is a big-league player. What do you do? You go in there and pray. You got a good prayer to St. Jude for hopeless causes or something?" Michigan State senior defensive tackle Clifton Ryan on Notre Dame: "Those guys got a lot of hype before the season and they deserved it. All that hype didn't help them win a football game last Saturday (against Michigan), and it won't this Saturday. Once you get on the field all the hype and notoriety goes away and you have to earn it again, it's just man on man, their team versus our team."

Injury update: Penn State defensive end Jim Shaw is listed as probable with an ankle injury, but it may be more serious. He did not practice Monday. Freshmen Maurice Evans and Jared Odrick, both of whom have seen significant time already, could have bigger roles against the Buckeyes.

Worth noting: The Big Ten leads the nation with six undefeated teams to this point. No other conference can boast more than four. Big Ten teams are 27-6 in non-conference play. Two of the losses are to Division I-AA teams. The Michigan State-Notre Dame game marks the 70th meeting between the schools. It also marks the 40th anniversary of the 1966 "Game of the Century" between the second-ranked Spartans and top-ranked Irish that ended in a 10-10 tie. To mark the occasion both teams will wear commemorative patches on the front of their jerseys. Michigan State will wear throwback (Spartan) decals on its helmets to replicate the look of the 1966 helmet. In addition to changing the side decals, a single white stripe will be added down the center of the helmet. A member of the MSU 1966 team, two-time All-American Charles "Bubba" Smith, will become just the third player in Spartans football history to have his jersey number (No. 95) retired, joining Don Coleman (No. 78, 1949-51) and George Webster (No. 90, 1964-66). Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith is completing 69.1 percent of his passes (56 of 81) and has not thrown an interception in his last 151 attempts, dating to last year's Northwestern game. The Buckeyes have yet to yield a rushing touchdown this season. Michigan's Steve Breaston became the Big Ten's career leader in punt return yardage with 64 yards on four returns at Notre Dame. He now has 1,352 yards in his career, breaking the record of Wisconsin's Jim Leonhard (2001-04). The Big Ten Conference announced that it will wait until the conclusion of the Major League Baseball regular season on Sunday, Oct. 1, to determine if it is necessary to move the Oct. 7 Penn State at Minnesota football game to Saturday, Nov. 25. If the Minnesota Twins do not qualify for the playoffs or win the American League Central division with the best or second-best record among division winners, the football game will be played on Oct. 7 as scheduled. If the Twins earn the wild card or win the division with the third-best record among division winners, the football game will be played on Nov. 25. ESPN's College GameDay will originate from State College, Pa., for the Ohio State-Penn State game. Redshirt freshman safety Austin Thomas is Indiana's leading tackler.

Looking back: Michigan 47, Notre Dame 21. The Wolverines were dominant on both sides of the ball in crushing the Irish in South Bend. It was one of the worst home defeats in Notre Dame history. Mike Hart finally had a breakout game against the Irish with 123 yards. Notre Dame had no answer for Mario Manningham (four receptions, 137 yards, three touchdowns). And perhaps most impressive of all was the Michigan defense, which knocked Brady Quinn silly. It intercepted him three times and forced him to fumble once. The fumble and one of the picks were returned for touchdowns.

Freshman who impressed: In his first career start, Iowa wide receiver Dominique Douglas had six receptions for 88 yards against Iowa State.

More Week 4 Conference Previews: ACC | Big East | Big 12 | Pac-10 | SEC

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