It may not be the sexiest list of games slated for the Big Ten this weekend, but it’s a week that nevertheless features enough potentially important storylines. Take the following, which this writer feels could be the most intriguing as the weekend approaches:
10. Will The Real Iowa Please Stand Up?
Facing an improved Michigan team, the “Jekyll and Hyde” Hawkeyes will have their hands full, but which team will show up—the Iowa team that squeaked out wins against Northern Iowa and Arkansas State or the team that upended Penn State in Happy Valley?
09. The Paterno / Bowden Chase—Is the End Near?
What a difference a few weeks can make. The Seminoles were riding high after a blowout win vs. BYU, but after back-to-back losses to South Florida and Boston College, coach Bowden is hearing the retirement whispers yet again. And what does that leave with the chase for the most career victories? Could Paterno have a padded lead by season’s end, and could this race be nearing its conclusion?
08. Juice Gets Squeezed
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be…not for Juice Williams (one TD and four INT in ‘09) and not for the Illinois offense. Now, with Williams being benched for Eddie McGee, the question remains whether this is the end for Juice and a career that once yielded so much promise.
07. Buckeye Run Game—Where’s the Consistency?
The Ohio State running game may be ranked 35th in the nation, and while they spread it around to Saine and Herron, plus Pryor, one could argue as to where the consistency is. After all, Pryor leads the team in rushing, with 298 yards. But one should expect a ranking much higher after playing four of five games against the likes of Navy, Toledo, Illinois, and Indiana. In the one big game against USC, the Buckeyes had a measly 88 yards on 30 attempts. Want to land in the BCS? Then this needs to improve, starting with the Badgers this weekend.
06. O’Brien Schofield Overlooked
All this talk about guys such as Corey Wootton and Jammie Kirlew, when is the world going to take notice on O’Brien Schofield, defensive lineman for the Badgers? Well, take notice now, because the young man has been a force this year, with 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss (which is tops in the nation).
05. Penn State Schedule in the Spotlight Again
The Nittany Lions schedule critics are popping out of the woodwork again, as cupcake Eastern Illinois comes to town this Saturday. While Coach Paterno frustratingly snapped back question after question on the subject, this much is true, Penn State’s title hopes were likely dashed against Iowa a few weeks ago. This schedule won’t cut it and a miracle is needed now, including Iowa remaining strong all season, plus a number of SEC teams losing. Even then, it still likely won’t be enough.
04. Zooker’s Seat Getting Hotter—Or It Should Be
One has to feel for Coach Zook, but there’s no doubt that he could be on the hottest seat in coaching to date, what with Illinois being hyped up as a dark horse in the Big Ten for the season, led by an offense that was supposed to be the most explosive in the conference. Sure, there have been injuries, and Juice Williams has struggled too, but in the end, the coach is the one that always takes the fall.
03. Clay Is A Rock
At the beginning of the season, Wisconsin running back John Clay wasn’t even named the starter. But as the season has progressed, Clay has accumulated 582 yards and seven TDs in the first five games. The Badgers, sporting 217 plus rush yards per game (14th in the nation), now face a talented Buckeyes defense—and if Clay can put up a big performance against Ohio State, there should be an argument to include him in a Heisman race that is becoming surprisingly more wide open as the season progresses.
02. Playing with a Full Decker
During the preseason, the talk surrounded Arrelious Benn of Illinois as the big gun of receivers in the Big Ten, also included among the nation’s best with the likes of Dez Bryant, etc. But while many acknowledge the solid career of Minnesota’s Eric Decker, one could easily argue that he still doesn’t get enough national recognition…and that has to change. Decker, heading into this weekend’s game against Purdue, leads the nation with 639 receiving yards. It’s time to put this kid among the nation’s elite for good.
01. Big Ten Saggin’ via the Sagarin
In the latest Sagarin NCAA football ratings (via USAToday.com), the Big Ten conference is sixth among the BCS conferences. And yes, even the Big East is ranked ahead of the Big Ten, which isn’t exactly painting a pretty image among college football nation, but instead more of an abstract mess. While it all may be subjective… talk about fueling the backlash that the Big Ten has been receiving in recent memory.