Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, October 1, 2015

Conference play begins in earnest, with six Big Ten games. And all eyes will be on two Big Ten West tilts that will go a long way in shaping what looks like a wide-open race: Iowa at Wisconsin and Minnesota at Northwestern.

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The perfect Hawkeyes are an early-season surprise, while the Badgers look to be coming together after opening with a loss to Alabama in Arlington, Texas. The road team has won the last four games in the series, in which the winner earns the Heartland Trophy.

Minnesota?s recent rise has coincided with Northwestern?s slide, as the Golden Gophers have won the last two meetings vs. the Wildcats. Before that, NU had won three in a row and five of six vs. Minnesota. The unbeaten Wildcats are a feel-good story, while the Golden Gophers are feeling their way through a 3-1 start that has them on a three-game winning streak since opening with a loss to TCU.

Ohio State?s visit to Indiana is interesting. Really, it is. The Buckeyes are No. 1 in the nation, while the Hoosiers are 4-0 for the first time since 1990 and are dreaming big. If you can believe it, Indiana went 2-1-1 vs. Ohio State from 1987-90-including a victory in Columbus in 1987. Since then, the Hoosiers have lost 20 in a row to the Buckeyes. When will this skid end?

Nebraska comes to Illinois for the first time since 1986. The Fighting Illini are winless in their last six meetings against the Cornhuskers. The QB battle between Nebraska?s Tommy Armstrong and Illinois? Wes Lunt looks fun. But this may come down to which team?s struggling defense can make some plays.

Michigan is facing a Maryland team that has allowed 45-plus points in two of its last three games. The Terrapins are last in the conference in rush defense, allowing more than 200 yards per game on the ground. This one could get ugly.

Michigan State may not have to break much of a sweat when Purdue visits. This is a Boilermakers squad that has one Big Ten victory in the last two years. The Spartans have won six in a row vs. Purdue. The Boilers have won only one Big Ten game under Darrell Hazell. However, they trailed by only a touchdown in the fourth quarter in each of the last two meetings against Michigan State before the Spartans eventually pulled away.

The lone non-conference tilt is Army at Penn State. Penn State hasn?t played Army since 1979, winning the last nine meetings. Army last beat the Nittany Lions in 1966, Joe Paterno?s first year as head coach.

Rutgers is off, the first Big Ten team to enjoy a bye in 2015.

Here is a look at the Best of Week 5.

BEST GAME: Iowa at Wisconsin. This tilt drips with storylines and intrigue. Are the Hawkeyes and their 4-0 start legit? Are the Badgers ready for a big roll, riding a three-game winning streak? Remember, Wisconsin was the pick by most of the Milky Way Galaxy to win the West in 2015. This team is good. The Hawkeyes have lost the last three games-and five of the last seven–vs. the Badgers, who are led by new coach Paul Chryst. Interestingly, this will be Iowa?s first trip to Madison since 2009, when it took a 20-10 decision as the last three meetings have been in Iowa City because of scheduling quirks. Each team plays tough defense, so points could be scarce. Wisconsin hasn?t allowed a touchdown in its last three games and has only allowed three points combined in that stretch. The Iowa defense is also making a lot of plays, as it had two defensive touchdowns last week and has 14 sacks on the season.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson. The redshirt freshman will need to make some plays if the Wildcats want to beat Minnesota and remain perfect. Last week vs. Ball State, Thorson threw an interception and fumbled twice. However, he threw for a career-high 256 yards with three touchdowns. Thorson also had his first 300-yard game in terms of total offense. The kid is hitting 53 percent of his passes for 583 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. How far can Northwestern go if Thorson can?t compliment the running game?

BEST MATCHUP: The Indiana offense vs. the Ohio State defense should be good. The Hoosiers are No. 1 in the Big Ten in total offense (522.2 ypg) and No. 1 in scoring (38.2 ppg). Ohio State is No. 2 in total defense (253.2 ypg) and No. 4 in scoring defense (12.2 ppg). If IU can?t score over 30 points, it likely has no shot to win.

BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: I never thought I would have typed this back in August, but it has to be Iowa?s C.J. Beathard vs. Wisconsin?s Joel Stave. Beathard looks like one of the best players in the conference early on. He has 962 passing yards and 151 rushing yards. Beathard also is ranked first in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, hitting 68 percent of his attempts with six TDs and just one pick. Stave is completing 66 percent of his attempts for 830 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. The arrival of Paul Chryst has been a god-send for Stave.

BEST COACHING MATCHUP: The battle between Minnesota?s Jerry Kill and Northwestern?s Pat Fitzgerald will fly below the national radar. But, that?s OK. Kill has his Gophers rolling, going 8-5 in each of the last two seasons and finishing second in the West last season. Minnesota keeps getting better and could be the best team in the division, going to its first New Year?s Day bowl in 2014 since the 1961 season. The Golden Gophers are 3-1 this season and may be gaining steam with three triumphs in a row. Fitzgerald and his Wildcats have been a feel-good story thus far, forging a 4-0 mark with two of the Big Ten?s best wins (Stanford and Duke). Expectations were modest coming off consecutive 5-7 marks. Maybe NU can recapture its 10-win glory from the 2012 season. Don?t expect many points in this game in Evanston. How about a 10-9 final?

BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: How about Wisconsin?s Paul Chryst (who is his own OC) vs. Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker? Nice. The Badgers are not their usual ground-pounding self with stud RB Corey Clement out with injury, ranking ninth in the Big Ten in rushing (188.2 ypg). So, Chryst is leaning on QB Joel Stave and the passing game. Smart. Parker?s defense is No. 6 in the Big Ten (294.8 ypg), ranking No. 4 vs. the run (84.0 ypg) and No. 8 vs. the pass (210.8 ypg). It?s a bend-but-don?t break unit that wants to limit big plays.

UPSET ALERT: Illinois has a shot to dump Nebraska for the first time since ? 1924. Illini QB Wes Lunt is hampered by a wideout corps that has been depleted by injury. But he still can do damage vs. this Husker defense. Nebraska has one of the worst pass defenses in the nation. It is allowing 379.5 yards per game through the air, which is the most in the nation. The Cornhuskers have also allowed 57 passes of 10-plus yards and 24 passes of 20-plus yards, both are the most in the nation.

Ranking Oct. 3 Games
1. Iowa at Wisconsin
2. Minnesota at Northwestern
3. Ohio State at Indiana
4. Nebraska at Illinois
5. Michigan at Maryland
6. Purdue at Michigan State
7. Army at Penn State