Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, October 30, 2014

No games jump off the page this week, but there are some interesting clashes, beginning with Northwestern?s trip to Iowa in a battle between teams fighting for relevancy in the West.

The Illini have lost six in a row and are 1-9 in their last 10 games vs. Ohio State in the battle for Illibuck. OSU scored 60 points on Illinois last year and 52 in 2012. Will the Buckeyes look past an Illini team coming off its first win of the season?

The only way to describe the Penn State-Maryland series is ?lopsided.? The Nittany Lions are 35-1-1 all-time vs. the Terps. Maryland?s lone win came in 1961; the teams tied in 1989. The schools haven?t met since 1993.

Purdue will be making its first trip to Lincoln, Nebraska-and one of Bo Perini?s best teams will be waiting. The Cornhuskers smashed Purdue last season in West Lafayette, taking a 44-7 decision that wasn?t even that close.


Here is a look at the Best of Week 10.

BEST GAME: Northwestern at Iowa. This is a big game in the Big Ten West race, as each team has a sense of urgency. The Wildcats have lost their last two games and can?t afford another. A loss by NU probably knocks it out of contention in the West and puts bowl hopes in peril. The Hawkeyes are coming off a tough loss at Maryland. NU has lost its last two junkets to Iowa City, getting beat there 17-10 in overtime last season. Don?t expect a lot of points, as both offenses are struggling.

BEST MATCHUP: Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan vs. Indiana running back Tevin Coleman. These guys are two of the best in the Big Ten at what they do. Ryan is the epitome of a linebacker, ranking No. 10 in conference in tackles with an average of 8.5 per game. He?s everywhere, a true heart-and-soul guy. Coleman leads the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 170.3 yards rushing per game. And he?s ripping off 8.8 yards per tote.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Northwestern RB Justin Jackson. The freshman has been a revelation, running for over 100 yards in each of the last three games to give the Wildcats some balance. That makes the passing of QB Trevor Siemian that much more effective. Jackson will need to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark again for NU to have a good chance to win at Iowa this Saturday. A few big runs would help, too.

KEEP AN EYE ON: The Scarlet Knights? defense. The unit has been ripped asunder the last two weeks, allowing 616 yards rushing in losses at Ohio State and at Nebraska. Now comes a visit from Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin offense, which is No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing (338.4 ypg). If RU can?t slow the bleeding, its losing streak will grow to three games after a sterling 5-1 start.

BEST COACHING MATCHUP: Iowa?s Kirk Ferentz is a sage mind who has been on the job since 1999. Northwestern?s Pat Fitzgerald continues to emerge as a rising force in the coaching ranks. Each of these guys has become the face of his program. And each has had challenges this season with offenses that have sputtered. The Hawkeyes have the No. 11 scoring offense in the Big Ten (27.0 ppg); the Wildcats are No. 13 (20.9 ppg).

BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Not any headliners this week, so let?s go with Maryland?s C.J. Brown vs. Penn State?s Christian Hackenberg. Brown has had a solid season and is one of the league?s top dual-threats. He is hitting 55 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and six picks. And Brown?s 376 yards rushing are third among Big Ten signal-callers. The struggles of Hackenberg are well-documented. In the last five games, he has just two touchdown passes and five interceptions, as the Nittany Lions have lost three in a row. Hackenberg can?t force things.

BEST COORDINATOR BATTLE: How about Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley taking on Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop? It?s a bit under the radar but enticing nonetheless. Locksley has been at it a long time, forging his identity while pushing the buttons on Illinois? offense in the Ron Zook era. ?Locks? has some of the best skill talent in the Big Ten, boasting lots of speed. And he has something to prove coming off a seven-point effort last week at Wisconsin. Shoop is one of the most underrated defensive coordinators in the nation. The PSU defense is one of the best in the Big Ten, ranking No. 2 in scoring (17.4 ppg) and No. 3 overall (284.7 ypg). The rush defense is No. 1 in the league (83.4 ypg).

UPSET ALERT: Maryland owes Penn State in what has been a lopsided series. Each team is coming off a loss, as the Terps were blasted 52-7 at Wisconsin and the Nittany Lions lost in double overtime at home to Ohio State. It will be fun to watch the dynamic Maryland offense play the rugged Penn State defense. It?s the other matchup that could tip the scales toward the Terps, who have speed and athletic ability on defense to get after a sluggish PSU offense that is No. 12 in the league in scoring (21.6 ppg).

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 Twitterb 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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