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September 13, 2006
Kicking it off: A week after going 11-0 for the first time in conference history the bottom nearly dropped out for the Big Ten. The league went 7-4, with ugly losses by Penn State (41-17 to Notre Dame), Illinois (33-0 to Rutgers) and Northwestern (34-17 at home against I-AA New Hampshire). And sure, a win is a win, but Purdue barely beat visiting Miami (Ohio), and Iowa had to stop Syracuse eight times inside its own 5 to survive in overtime. Top-ranked Ohio State carried the banner for the league admirably by going to Texas and dominating the No. 2 Longhorns. Other than that, not much to get excited about for the conference. The pressure is on the Michigan schools this week to prop up the league.
Best matchup: Michigan RB Mike Hart vs. Notre Dame's front seven. Hart has returned to the form of his freshman season after injuries plagued him throughout 2005. He has a pair of 100-yard games and the Wolverines are 2-0. Meanwhile, the Irish - despite yielding only 27 points through two games - haven't been particularly stout against the run. They're giving up 4.5 yards per carry. If Michigan can get it to Hart in the neighborhood of 28-30 times, it will be good news for Lloyd Carr.
Worst matchup: If worst to you means most lopsided, take your pick between Ohio State-Cincinnati and Minnesota-Temple. If worst to you means nearly unwatchable, there's a veritable cornucopia ? Indiana against I-AA Southern Illinois; Northwestern fresh off its home-opener loss to a I-AA team against Eastern Michigan; Penn State against I-AA Youngstown State.
The pressure is on: Michigan State coach John L. Smith. The Spartans simply have to find a way to win at Pittsburgh. Their schedule in the four weeks following the game against the Panthers is extremely difficult. It includes No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 11 Michigan.
Upset alert: Illinois is a two-point favorite a week after being shut out. Northwestern is a 17-point favorite a week after losing by 17 to a I-AA team. Anybody comfortable with either of them as overdogs?
BCS implications: It's all on the line for Michigan against Notre Dame. A victory over the Irish would keep the Wolverines alive as a contender for a BCS bowl regardless of the outcome of the season-ending showdown with Ohio State.
Who's hot: Wisconsin redshirt freshman running back P.J. Hill has only two collegiate starts under his belt but already he has two 100-yard games. ? Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith is completing 68 percent of his passes and has five touchdowns without on interception through two games.
Who's not: Despite playing a I-AA school and a MAC school in its first two games, Purdue is ranked 108th in the country in total defense, yielding 435 yards per game. ? Illinois quarterbacks have yet to throw a touchdown pass this season, are completing only 52.4 percent of their passes, have been intercepted twice, sacked six times and are averaging 117 yards per game through the air (109th in the country).
Must-see TV: You already know Michigan-Notre Dame is a big one. But don't overlook the Michigan State-Pitt game, an ESPN2 noon appetizer before the monumental games of Shakeout Saturday. Senior signal-callers Drew Stanton of the Spartans and Tyler Palko of the Panthers have been sharp so far, and the winner of this game figures to work its way into the top 25.
Newcomer who could have an impact: Indiana interim head coach Bill Lynch. Lynch, who has a number of years of head coaching experience, took the reins Tuesday from Terry Hoeppner, who will undergo surgery Wednesday on what his surgeon called "a possible recurrent tumor." Lynch, the Hoosiers' offensive coordinator, has a record of 81-67-3, most of it as the coach at Butler and then Ball State.
Key stat: The team that has led after the first quarter of the Iowa-Iowa State game has won the past 15 years (one game was tied at the end of 15 minutes).
Take the line: Northwestern, which is averaging 19 points per game against less than stellar competition, is a 17-point favorite against Eastern Michigan. So basically all the Eagles have to do is come up with any kind of score and they should cover. Season against the line: 1-1.
They said it: "They'll be a lot of orange in the stadium, and hopefully most of it will be Illini. We're just gonna tee it up and see what happens." ? Illinois coach Ron Zook.
Injury update: Iowa QB Drew Tate will be a game-time decision against the rival Cyclones, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. "He's been cleared medically," Ferentz said. "It becomes a coach's decision. If he can't perform at the level he'd expect and we need to give ourselves the best chance to win, then we'll go with Jason (Manson), who proved himself more than competent last week."
Worth noting: Ohio State has the nation's second-longest winning streak (nine games). Six of those nine wins have come against ranked teams. TCU has the longest streak at an even dozen. ? Cincinnati coach Mark Dantonio is familiar with Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes. Dantonio was Tressel's defensive coordinator in Columbus from 2001-2003. ? Over the past four years Ohio State is 21-2 at home. Only Southern Cal has a better home record over that span (18-0). ? Michigan State QB Drew Stanton and Pitt QB Tyler Palko have remained friends since meeting at the Elite Eleven camp five years ago. ? The Spartans have never lost to the Panthers (4-0-1), though the teams haven't met since 1960. ? In its 2-0 start Indiana has outscored its opponents 36-14 and outgained them 460 yards to 224 in the second half. ? Already this season three quarterbacks have thrown touchdown passes for the Hoosiers. The last time three different signal-callers had TD passes in a season for IU was in 1974. ? Minnesota is the only team in the country to have an offense that has rushed for 2,000 yards and passed for 2,000 yards in each of the past seven seasons. ? The Golden Gophers are tops in the Big Ten with a plus-four turnover ratio through two games. ? Penn State and Youngstown State have never met. Penguins head coach Jon Heacock is the brother of Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. The Nittany Lions play in Columbus next weekend. ? Purdue is 15-6 against instate rivals under coach Joe Tiller, including a 2-0 mark against Ball State - this week's opponent.
Looking back: The Buckeyes looked impressive in their dismissal of No. 2 Texas, 24-7. Troy Smith looks like he'll battle Brady Quinn all the way for the Heisman Trophy. Ohio State receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez looked nearly unstoppable. And best of all for the Buckeyes and worst of all for the rest of the conference, the revamped defense looks to be improving steadily.
Freshman who impressed: Indiana redshirt QB Kellen Lewis. The Jacksonville, Fla., native rescued the Hoosiers from a 23-7 deficit against Ball State. In the first action of his collegiate career, Lewis passed for 228 yards and a touchdown and ran for 88 more and another TD as Indiana rallied for a 24-23 victory. It was the best debut by an Indiana quarterback since a guy you may have heard of ? Antwaan Randle El.