Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, October 9, 2014

This is an abbreviated week of action, but there is no shortage of storylines, beginning with the Northwestern at Minnesota game. No one thought this would be a big game a month ago. Now, it?s the headliner.

Here?s a breakdown of Week 7.

BEST GAME: The Northwestern at Minnesota tilt grabs top billing in a big West Division showdown. The Wildcats started 0-2 but have won three in a row and are atop the West with a 2-0 Big Ten mark. The Golden Gophers are 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten. The winner will be positioned to take early control of the division and gain a bit of separation in what looks like a wide-open West race.


BEST MATCHUP: Minnesota RB David Cobb vs. Northwestern front seven. Yes, Nebraska?s Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin?s Melvin Gordon are awesome. But Cobb is a special back, too. He has carried 124 times for 722 yards and four touchdowns, despite being a marked man each Saturday. If he can ?get his? vs. the Wildcats, the Gophers should win. Wisconsin gashed the NU defense last week with 284 yards rushing with Gordon going off for a career-high 259. Just sayin?. If NU contains Cobb, it should win. Someone bring me some popcorn.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld. He hasn?t had a banner year, hitting 61 percent of his passes for 1,066 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He?ll likely need to have a big game if the Hoosiers want to pull off the upset in Iowa City. Indiana figures to find rough sledding vs. the Hawkeye run defense that ranks third in the Big Ten (93.2 ypg).

KEEP AN EYE ON: The offensive lines in the Penn State at Michigan game. Look, neither unit has distinguished itself this season. In fact, each front has struggled ? mightily. The Nittany Lions are 13th in the Big Ten in rushing (101.0 ypg); the Wolverines are seventh (180.8 ypg) with most of that damage coming vs. Appalachian State and Miami (Ohio). Whichever front can get a consistent push figures to lead its team to a much-needed victory.

BEST COACHING MATCHUP: The clash between Northwestern?s Pat Fitzgerald and Minnesota?s Jerry Kill will be good. Are there two coaches in America better suited for their respective jobs? Of course not. A big secret to the success of each has been staff loyalty. Each is a smart, pragmatic coach that knows how to motivate. Stand and applaud.

BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Not too many to choose from. So, let?s go with Penn State?s Christian Hackenberg vs. Michigan?s Devin Gardner. Each has had their issues this season. Hackenberg has gone three games in a row without a touchdown pass and has six interceptions to just four TD tosses in 2014. Gardner can sympathize with seven picks and just five touchdown passes. He was even benched for one game. But, this is the week each uber talent will break out, right? Right?

BEST COORDINATOR BATTLE: I will be watching Indiana offensive coordinator Kevin Johns take on Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker. Johns has stepped in for Seth Littrell, who left for the same job at North Carolina. Johns has flipped the script on the Hoosier offense, building a stronger running game (300.0 ypg) than passing game (213.2 ypg). Parker is one of the top defensive minds in the Big Ten. And this year?s Hawkeyes? D is rolling, ranking No. 3 vs. the run (93.2 ypg) and No. 4 overall (310.4 ypg). Something has to give in this clash. The battle in the trenches between the Hoosier o-line and Hawkeye d-line should be good.

UPSET ALERT: Indiana could stroll into Kinnick Stadium and win. The Hawkeyes have been largely uneven this year en route to forging a 4-1 mark. And now they plan to implement a two-quarterback system. How will that work? The Hoosiers have had their issues, mainly with a defense that ranks 12th in the Big Ten (414.2 ypg). If Iowa gets into a shootout with IU, it may be in trouble. The last time these teams met, the Hoosiers took a 24-21 decision in Bloomington in 2012. IU last won in Iowa City in 2007. Indiana already has shown it can beat anyone (at No. 18 Missouri) and lose to anyone (at Bowling Green). The Hawkeyes need to be careful.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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