Overview: It's like the old days in the Big Ten. Michigan and Ohio State are unbeaten and atop the league standings, and every one else has at least two conference losses. While Michigan plays Minnesota and should have no problem staying unbeaten in league play, Ohio State faces its toughest test to date with a road trip to Happy Valley to face Penn State. The Buckeyes have won four of the past five in the series, but they lost in their last visit in 2005. Indeed, that was the Buckeyes' last regular-season loss. Ohio State won 28-6 last season, getting two interception returns for TDs in the final 2:31 to blow the game open.
Best matchup: Ohio State run offense vs. Penn State run defense. The only way the Nittany Lions win is to shut down Ohio State's rushing attack. Buckeyes TB Chris Wells is banged-up but is expected to play. Penn State LBs Dan Connor, Sean Lee and Tyrell Sales must be active and make plays against Wells and the Buckeyes' other tailbacks – none of whom is close to being as good as Wells. Penn State is without starting DT Jared Odrick, putting more pressure on young DTs Ollie Ogbu (a redshirt freshman) and Chris Baker (a sophomore) to muck up the works in the middle.
The pressure is on: Penn State QB Anthony Morelli. Morelli, a senior, never has quite lived up to his high school billing. He has all the tools, but never seems to play consistently from quarter to quarter, much less game to game. He has 13 TD passes and seven picks this season, and can't afford to make any mistakes against a tough Ohio State defense. While Penn State's defense has to slow the Buckeyes' rushing attack for the Nittany Lions to have a shot, they won't win unless Morelli also is mistake-free. He has to take what the defense gives him and be sharp with his short passes. Penn State has allowed 16 sacks, and Morelli has been known to make mistakes when facing pressure.
Who's hot: Ohio State is No. 1 in the BCS, and the Buckeyes have won 26 regular-season games in a row overall and 18 in a row in league play. … Michigan State DE Jonal Saint-Dic already has forced a league-record eight fumbles this season. The Division I-A record is 10. … During its current three-game winning streak, Northwestern is averaging 572 yards and 41 points per game. The Wildcats now lead the Big Ten in total offense. … Purdue WR Dorien Bryant shook off two frustrating outings by torching Iowa with nine catches for a career-high 167 yards and two touchdowns last week. He goes against a weak Northwestern pass defense this week. … Penn State's offense seems to have found its stride. In their past three games, the Nittany Lions have run 34 more plays from scrimmage than their opponents – an advantage of a bit more than 11 per game.
Who's not: Iowa's offense is converting on just 31.8 percent of its third-down conversions. The Hawkeyes also have allowed a league-high 32 sacks. … Minnesota has lost six in a row and is at Michigan this week. The Golden Gophers have a minus-15 turnover margin. … Illinois is 10th nationally in rush offense at 230.1 yards per game. But the Illini have rushed for just 274 total the past two weeks, and lost both games. In their three losses this season, the Illini are averaging 131.0 yards per game on the ground. … Indiana has given up an average of 280.0 rushing yards per game the past two weeks. The Hoosiers get Wisconsin this week.
Keep your eye on: Indiana QB Kellen Lewis. Lewis' dual-threat capabilities will put a strain on Wisconsin's defense, which has struggled at times. Lewis and WR James Hardy are likely to have success in the passing game. If Lewis also can hurt the Badgers with his legs, this game becomes mighty interesting.
BIG TEN STANDINGS
Numbers game: Michigan QB Chad Henne has thrown 80 career TD passes, 10 shy of the league record held by Purdue's Drew Brees (1997-2000). … Purdue QB Curtis Painter is fourth nationally with 22 TD passes. He is one of just eight quarterbacks with 20 TD tosses. … Indiana junior WR James Hardy leads the league and is third nationally with 11 TD receptions. He has 31 for his career, eight behind the league record held by Michigan's Braylon Edwards (2001-04). … Penn State leads the nation with 35 sacks. Indiana is second with 34 and Michigan State fourth with 31. … Illinois is the only league team to have thrown more interceptions (nine) than TD passes (seven).
Freshman to watch: Penn State DT Ollie Ogbu has to play well against the run vs. Ohio State. Ogbu has been solid this season and that has to continue Saturday in what has become the Big Ten's biggest game of the season to date. … With injuries plaguing Purdue's secondary, particularly at safety, Boilermakers coaches may need to pull the redshirt off freshman Josh McKinley.
Injury update: Northwestern TB Tyrell Sutton, who has been bothered by an ankle injury, is expected to start against Purdue. … Michigan may be without QB Chad Henne (shoulder) and TB Mike Hart (ankle) against Minnesota. Hart is more likely to play than Henne. Given the opponent, Michigan coaches may choose to rest both. … Iowa TE Tony Moeaki (hand, elbow), TB Albert Young (knee), LB A.J. Edds (elbow) and DE Kenny Iwebema (concussion) are questionable to play against Michigan State. … Minnesota LB John Shevlin (neck) is questionable for the Michigan game. … Ohio State LB Ross Homan (toe) will miss the Penn State game, while DT Todd Denlinger (leg) is questionable. … Penn State FB Matt Hahn (knee) and DT Jared Odrick (ankle) will miss the rest of the season, and G Mike Lucian (concussion) is expected to miss the game against Ohio State. … Wisconsin G Andy Kemp (hand) is questionable for the Indiana game.
They said it:
"I hope we can have a crowd that's really into it every play and they come with the idea they can help us win the football game, because I think they can. I think they can help us, particularly with a young team." — Penn State coach Joe Paterno on the impact of a sellout crowd in State College, Pa., against Ohio State
"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
"I jokingly told him he's turned into a kicker. … I mean mentally. Not only is he carrying on a conversation with himself, but he's arguing with himself. That's fine – as long as he doesn't start losing those arguments." — Purdue coach Joe Tiller on Boilermakers P Jared Armstrong
"Where do you want to start?" — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz after he was asked to talk about the "hot spots" on Iowa's defense that Michigan State will look to attack
"What we've got to do is continue to work toward getting more speed and athleticism on the football field, particularly on the defensive side of the ball." — Minnesota coach Tim Brewster in the aftermath of his team's loss to North Dakota State
Bowl implications: Purdue and Wisconsin are looking for wins to stay in the hunt for a lesser New Year's Day bowl. Iowa still needs three victories to become bowl-eligible. While they obviously want to beat Michigan State, the Hawkeyes aren't out of the bowl picture if they lose because they close the season with Northwestern, Minnesota and Western Michigan – all beatable teams. Northwestern needs one more victory, and after Saturday's game with Purdue, the Wildcats have Iowa, Indiana and Illinois. None of those is easy. The same goes for Michigan State, which needs one more win and has Iowa, Michigan, Purdue and Penn State left.
Etc.: Ohio State is 8-0, and the past two times the Buckeyes have started 8-0, they've played for the national title. They won it in 2002 with a victory over Miami but lost last season to Florida. … Michigan State TB Javon Ringer leads the league in rushing; he's trying to become the first Spartan to do so since Tico Duckett in 1990. … Get ready for an air show in West Lafayette this weekend. The top two passers in the Big Ten (Painter and Northwestern's C.J. Bacher) lead the top two passing offenses against each other. And neither team is good at defending the pass – Purdue's defense is eighth in the Big Ten against the pass, Northwestern's 10th. … MAC member Ball State plays Big Ten teams each of the next two weeks. This week, Illinois plays host to the Cardinals. Next week, it's Indiana welcoming the Cardinals. … There's an interesting coaching sub-plot in the Indiana-Wisconsin game. Hoosiers co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic is the son of Wisconsin offensive line coach Bob Palcic.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.