Can the defense get on track? In each of the last three games, the Fighting Illini defense has yielded at least 31 points. And the defense has allowed at least 400 yards in three of six games. Want more? Illinois has been outscored 163-59 in its four losses. There is too much potential NFL talent on this defense for it to rank just No. 7 in the Big Ten (351.3 ypg). Up next: a trip to Michigan. Ugh.
Can the Hoosiers finish? Indiana built a 27-14 halftime lead last week vs. Michigan State and led 27-17 after three quarters. Alas, the Spartans outscored Indiana, 14-0, in the fourth quarter to take a 31-27 triumph. The Hoosiers also couldn’t find a way to hold off Ball State earlier this year in a 41-39 loss after Indiana rallied from a 38-25 deficit. This team needs to find a way to finish with Ohio State coming to Bloomington.
Will that win over Minnesota spark the Hawkeyes? The last time we saw Iowa, it was ripping off a 31-13 victory over the Golden Gophers, looking impressive in doing so. But Iowa was off last week, perhaps quelling momentum from that win. The Hawkeyes need to keep the mojo going with a trip to Michigan State on tap. The winner will position itself well in the Legends race. The loser?
How good is this defense? The unit has played very well the last three games and may be rounding into form. In the last three contests, the Wolverines have allowed 259 yards (UMass); 239 yards (Notre Dame) and 213 yards (Purdue). As a result, coordinator Greg Mattison’s unit ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten (311.8 ypg). Not bad for a unit that had some pressing issues (the line?) entering 2012. Up next is a visit from an Illinois team whose offense is No. 11 in the Big Ten (338.8 ypg).
Has the offense turned a corner? Yes, it was only the Indiana defense, but the Spartans roared back from a 17-point hole behind a spirited effort by the offense. Michigan State passed for 290 yards and Le’Veon Bell ticked off another 100-yard rushing game (121). Best of all: The Spartans may have found a go-to receiver in true freshman Aaron Burbridge, who paced the team with eight catches for 134 yards (16.8 per catch) in the 31-27 win at Indiana. He will need another big effort with Iowa coming to East Lansing.
Can the offense get on track without quarterback MarQueis Gray? The last time out with Max Shortell starting for the injured Gray, the Golden Gophers struggled in a 31-13 loss at Iowa. The offense gained just 290 yards. Not having Gray’s running threat really hampers the Minnesota ground game, making it easier for defense to focus on Shortell’s passing. Gray is still out with a leg/ankle issue. The offense must get back in the groove for a big visit from Northwestern this week.
Nebraska (on a bye)
Will the turnovers stop? The Cornhuskers have committed 15. The only Big Ten with more is Illinois with 16. And that’s not good company for the Huskers to be in. Nebraska had four vs. Ohio State; two vs. Wisconsin; three vs. Idaho State; four vs. Arkansas State; two vs. UCLA; zero vs. Southern Miss. Nebraska has lost 10 fumbles, most in the Big Ten, and five picks. Perhaps ball security will be a priority during this off week for Nebraska.
[RELATED: Dienhart’s Best of Week 7]
How will the Wildcats respond to their first loss? Northwestern was 5-0 before blowing a lead and falling, 39-28, at Penn State. The first taste of adversity can be a bitter one. But the Wildcats can’t hang their heads with a trip to Minnesota—which was off last week–this Saturday.
Will the Buckeyes lose a game? This team is rolling, opening the season with six consecutive victories. Ohio State is coming off a 63-38 annihilation of Nebraska with a game at Indiana next. The toughest remaining games: at Penn State (Oct. 27); at Wisconsin (Nov. 17); vs. Michigan (Nov. 24). Ohio State looks like it is on a mission.
Penn State (on a bye)
Will the Nittany Lions lose their momentum with this week off? Penn State is rolling, having won four in a succession after an 0-2 start. Each side of the ball is doing its job, with the defense being opportunistic (second in the Big Ten in turnover margin) and ranking second in scoring defense (16.0 ppg). The offense has developed a productive passing attack behind Matt McGloin (Big Ten-high 1,499 yards passing and 12 touchdowns), while seeing the ground game come to life behind tough Zach Zwinak. This has been a fun story to watch.
Can the offense come to life? The attack was stuffed by Michigan in a 44-13 loss last week, gaining a mere 213 yards. The offensive line needs to do a better job of getting a push in the running game. The quarterback spot also needs to be more productive. When Robert Marve entered last week’s game late, it seemed to spark the Boilermakers’ attack. Will we see more of him this week with Wisconsin coming to Purdue for a huge Leaders Division game? Danny Hope says Caleb TerBush will remain the starter.
Are the Badgers back on track? It seems like it. Wisconsin has won three of its last four games. The lone loss was at Nebraska, when the Badgers blew a 17-point lead. A big game at Purdue looms. Win that, and the Badgers figure to be in the driver’s seat in the division. The defense has played fairly steady all season. And the offense appears to be stabilizing with redshirt freshman Joel Stave under center. And Montee Ball has rushed for an aggregate 218 and five touchdowns the last two games. Welcome back!
|BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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