Overview: Having finally passed one supposedly tough test, Ohio State faces another. And then another. And then another. Skeptics doubted the undefeated Buckeyes deserved their No. 1 ranking because they faced what appeared to be inferior competition in their first eight games. But last week's 37-17 victory at Penn State should have settled that issue. If not, this week's game against Wisconsin should. The Badgers have won the past two games played in the series and four of the past six. Though the Badgers suffered back-to-back losses to Illinois and Penn State early last month, they remain a dangerous opponent, which was underscored in last week's 33-3 blasting of Indiana. But even if Ohio State prevails against Wisconsin, there still will be some doubters. In that case, the Buckeyes will have games against Illinois and Michigan to prove themselves.
Best matchup: Michigan vs. Michigan State The in-state rivalry always is bitter, but it also figures to be especially interesting this year. Not only is it the 100th game in the series, both teams are good. Also, first-year Spartans coach Mark Dantonio stressed the importance of the rivalry when he took the job by immediately installing in the football building a clock that counted down the days until the Michigan game. The date of the game is the key code to the locker room. Michigan's run defense, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten, will be tested by the Spartans, who rank second in the conference in run offense. Michigan State's Javon Ringer has rushed for 1,084 yards.
The pressure is on: Indiana. The Hoosiers celebrated mightily when they posted their fifth victory, which put them on the brink of bowl eligibility. But that was four weeks ago. Their 40-20 victory over Minnesota was followed by consecutive losses to Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin. Indiana still needs one victory to qualify for postseason play, but time is starting to run out. Three games remain, against Ball State, Northwestern and Purdue, and none of those is a sure bet. And it's not a sure bet the Hoosiers will play in a bowl even if they get another win. It might take seven victories to guarantee a bowl appearance.
Who's hot: Purdue DE Eugene Bright has notched two sacks in each of the past two games. … Michigan WR Mario Manningham has four consecutive 100-yard receiving games and 32 catches for 541 yards and six touchdowns during that span. … Ohio State QB Todd Boeckman has completed 72.3 percent of his passes in the past three games. In that span, he has thrown for 630 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He has thrown at least two TD passes in every game this season. … Illinois junior TB Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns in Illinois' 28-17 victory over Ball State last Saturday. Mendenhall had just over 100 yards by halftime and went over 1,000 yards for the season.
Who's not: Indiana's offensive line has allowed 16 sacks in the past three games. Injuries forced Indiana to use four players at center against Wisconsin last week. … Indiana QB Kellen Lewis threw two interceptions last week against Wisconsin after losing three fumbles the previous week in a loss to Penn State. … Minnesota has allowed at least 27 points in every game this season and surrendered at least 35 five times. … Ohio State is last in the league in kickoff returns, at 17.3 yards per return.
Keep your eye on: Iowa TB Albert Young is coming off a 179-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Hawkeyes' come-from-behind victory over Michigan State. Next, he faces Northwestern, which has allowed an opposing running back at least 100 yards in every Big Ten game this season. The last time Young played Northwestern in Evanston, he rushed for a career-high 202 yards.
BIG TEN STANDINGS
Numbers game: Joe Tiller-coached Purdue wide receivers now hold the top three spots on the Big Ten career receptions list. The top three are Taylor Stubblefield (325 receptions), Dorien Bryant (269) and John Standeford (266). … In his second game back from a broken arm, Purdue TB Jaycen Taylor rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns in last week's victory over Northwestern. … Illinois has lost six of its past seven games to Minnesota and the past four played in the Metrodome. … Iowa has played 11 true freshmen this season. … In the past seven games, Michigan's defensive line has posted 24 sacks and forced 22 fumbles. … Michigan's five-game winning streak over Michigan State is its longest since the Wolverines won eight in a row in the '70s.
Freshman to watch: Wisconsin TB Zach Brown may be thrust into the role as the Badgers' primary ballcarrier at Ohio State. Starting TB P.J. Hill has a badly bruised foot that could prevent him from playing, and backup Lance Smith isn't allowed to travel because of a university-imposed suspension. Brown has rushed for 118 yards this season. Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward has been getting more action of late. The son of former NFL player Ironhead Heyward was pressed into action when Lawrence Wilson broke his leg in the season opener and has gotten more playing time with Robert Rose limited by nagging injuries.
"They're definitely looking to spoil somebody's season. We've been in that position before. For the many years I've been here, it's the kind of thing where you look at every week as trying to ruin somebody's year. They have their backs to the wall. We know they're going to fight."
— Illinois G Martin O'Donnell on this week's opponent, Minnesota
"Well, we love trick plays because it maintains our reputation as a very creative and exciting-type offense."
— Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, asked to comment about the Wolverines' use of trick plays last week against Illinois. There was good-natured laughter from onlookers after Carr answered the question
"You're talking about a quarterback who has thrown for just about 2,000 yards with just four interceptions. With that being said, we have to win at the end of the game. If there is one thing he hasn't done yet, it is that."
— Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio on Spartans QB Brian Hoyer
Etc.: Northwestern TB Tyrell Sutton last week got his first rushing attempts since spraining an ankle in the second week of the season. … Iowa WR Dominique Douglas, who has been indefinitely suspended, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft for stealing three DVDs from a Wal-Mart. … Ohio State has won 19 consecutive conference games to tie Michigan (1990-92) for the longest Big Ten winning streak. … Michigan LB Shawn Crable ranks second nationally in tackles for loss with 22 and had at least 1.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage in all four October games.