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September 27, 2006
Best matchup: Ohio State DT Quinn Pitcock vs. the Iowa offensive line. The Hawkeyes have yielded only five sacks this season. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have registered 16 sacks, led by Pitcock's four (for minus-30 yards). Iowa has a sophomore at one of the tackle spots and a redshirt freshman center. They've performed admirably, and if they can give Drew Tate time to throw the Hawkeyes could throw a scare into No. 1.
Worst matchup: The Michigan State running game vs. the Illinois rush defense. The Spartans are fifth in the nation in rushing, averaging 255.5 yards per game and more than 6 yards per carry. The Illini are 89th in the nation against the run, yielding 157 yards per game. Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick figure to get Michigan State back on the winning track.
The pressure is on: Michigan State coach John L. Smith. Notre Dame's rally stunned the Spartans and could have a lingering effect. A victory over Illinois should be a given, but the Spartans imploded after a 4-0 start last season. They won only one of their last seven games to miss the postseason. After the Illini, Smith's team draws No. 6 Michigan in Ann Arbor then has a home date with No. 1 Ohio State.
Upset alert: The Wolverines are in a classic "trap" setting at Minnesota. It's just their second road game of the season, and the Golden Gophers will be fired up with the Little Brown Jug on the line. Michigan could get caught looking ahead to playing host to Michigan State. It's not likely Minnesota wins, but this one could be close.
BCS implications: If Iowa can spring the upset of Ohio State, it throws the BCS into a tizzy. The Hawkeyes are ranked only 13th at the moment, with three one-loss teams ahead of them. Would they vault all of them? Where would they land? Would they even be ahead of the Buckeyes?
Who's hot: Sophomores. Michigan super soph wide receiver Mario Manningham has been unstoppable the past two weeks, piling up 11 receptions for 250 yards and five touchdowns. ? Purdue sophomore quarterback Curtis Painter also has found a groove the past two weeks, completing 73 percent of his passes for 659 yards and five touchdowns. ? Ohio State sophomore linebacker James Laurinaitis has an interception in each of the past three games. ? Four sophs - Michigan State's Javon Ringer (fourth), Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton (seventh), Purdue's Kory Sheets (eighth) and Minnesota's Alex Daniels (10th) - are among the league's top 10 rushers. The leaders in both punt return average (Minnesota's Dominic Jones) and kick return average (Indiana's Marcus Thigpen) are sophomores. Jones is also second in kick return average and Sheets is third. Another second-year player, Andy Brodell of Iowa, is right behind Jones in punt return average.
Who's not: Seniors. Penn State's Tony Hunt is the only senior in the league's top 10 in rushing, and Michigan's Steve Breaston joins him as the only other senior in the top 10 in all-purpose yardage. In addition, only one senior (Michigan linebacker Prescott Burgess) has multiple interceptions so far this season.
Must-see TV: Ohio State at Iowa, 8 p.m., ABC. "The only downside to night games is you have to wait. The rest of it's good. Shoot, it's fun," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. "You love knowing that the whole country is watching you and everyone is back in from their games that they went to in the afternoon and they've settled in and they're going to watch the Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes. That's good stuff."
Newcomer who could have an impact: Purdue true freshman kicker Chris Summers. Who knows if the Boilermakers can stay within a field goal of Notre Dame. If they do, the 6-1 Hoosier State native has been all right so far this year, converting five of six field-goal attempts, including all four from inside 40 yards.
Key stat: Ohio State has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season.
Take the line: Michigan State is a 26-point favorite against Illinois. That might sound like a lot of points, but the Spartans ground game is not a good matchup for the Illini. If Michigan State is right mentally after the loss to Notre Dame, covering the 26 shouldn't be a problem. Season against the line: 3-1.
They said it: "We know we have to come out a lot faster than we have in the past two weeks. Our slow starts against Cincinnati and Penn State were the result of us making mistakes and causing penalties and not executing our plays."
Injury/suspension update: Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner will return to the sideline for the conference opener against Wisconsin just over two weeks after undergoing brain surgery. Hoeppner, who had surgery last December to remove a tumor from his right temple, underwent a second procedure on Sept. 13 after a routine scan revealed a spot on his brain. ? Hoeppner said this week that wide receiver James Hardy will return to the team following a two-game suspension for personal issues.
Worth noting: The nation's oldest coach, 79-year-old Joe Paterno, and the nation's youngest coach, 31-year-old Pat Fitzgerald, meet in State College, Pa., as Northwestern opens its Big Ten season at Penn State. Paterno was in his ninth season as Nittany Lions head coach when Fitzgerald was born. ? Michigan is No. 1 in the country in rushing defense, allowing less than 20 yards per game on the ground. The Wolverines haven't given up a rushing TD this season through four games. ? Michigan is 10-0 against Minnesota in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, site of Saturday's game. ? Ohio State enters the Iowa game not having allowed a touchdown in the second half in its past three games. It also has not allowed a TD in its past seven quarters. ? The Buckeyes have won nine of the past 10 meetings with the Hawkeyes dating to 1992. ? Mario Manningham became just the second Michigan player in history to win Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors in consecutive weeks. The other was Desmond Howard in 1991. ? Illinois has played 16 true freshmen this season. Only Temple (0-4) has played more (19). ? Indiana sophomore Marcus Thigpen leads the nation in kickoff return average at a staggering 52.6 yards, 16-plus yards more than his nearest competitor. He already has two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season, including an 87-yarder last week against Connecticut for his team's only TD. ? Wisconsin punter Ken DeBauche was busy last week against Michigan, setting a school record with 514 punting yards. He averaged 46.7 yards on 11 attempts. He figures to get less work at Indiana.
Looking back: Notre Dame 40, Michigan State 37. An epic collapse by the Spartans, who led 37-21 entering the fourth quarter. But Terrail Lambert's 27-yard interception return for a touchdown off Drew Stanton with 2:53 to play capped a 19-point final stanza for the Irish. The Spartans outrushed Notre Dame by 201 yards and still managed to lose.
Freshman who impressed: Redshirt defensive end Keith Burrus responded with seven tackles ? including one for loss ? in his first collegiate start for Indiana in its 14-7 loss to Connecticut.