Big Ten Football Preview: Week Four

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Big Ten Football Preview: Week Four

Can the Big Ten go undefeated in non-conference play for the second time this season?

It looks highly possible, even with a slate of tough opponents, including BCS foes Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, as well as strong FBS teams Troy, Ball State, Central Michigan, and Florida Atlantic.

Big Ten offensive players to watch this week: Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Michigan State's Javon Ringer, Iowa's Shonn Greene, Penn State's Daryll Clark, and Purdue's Kory Sheets.

Big Ten defensive players to watch this week:  Ohio State's Lawrence Wilson, Northwestern's Corey Wootton, Iowa's Mitch King, and Indiana's Greg Middleton.

This week in Big Ten action:

TROY at NO. 13 OHIO STATE (-21.5)  12:00 PM ET   Big Ten Network

If there ever was a time to catch a down Ohio State team, this would be it.  Troy is just the type of team that could shock Ohio State, too.

They have a strong, physical defense with an outstanding secondary that could be able to keep the Buckeyes passing in check.  And these Trojans can also rush the passer, which has been OSU's Achilles of late.

The Buckeye defensive line is way overdue for a big game and Troy's pass protection has been suspect in the first two games against inferior talent.  And while the Buckeyes defense had its problems last week, they are still among the best in the nation.

Who to watch:  For Troy, the defensive line.  If they can keep Todd Boeckman dancing when he is in the game and contain Terrelle Pryor when he is in the game, the Trojans could keep this game close enough to pull the shocker.

For Ohio State, Terrelle Pryor.  The Buckeye nation is clamoring for the freshman phenom to start, and Jim Tressel has given the young quarterback the majority of the snaps in practice all week.  If Pryor can live up to the hype, watch out.

Prediction:  Ohio State 27, Troy 17

TEMPLE at NO. 16 PENN STATE (-27.5)   12:00 PM ET   Big Ten Network

Temple has improved tremendously from last season, but you can't really tell from their 1-2 record.  It took overtime for UConn to beat the Owls.

In last week's loss to Buffalo, the Owls offense calmly marched down the field for what could have been the game-winning touchdown. Instead, Buffalo was celebrating a miracle Hail Mary reception for the win.

Penn State has come out of the gates full steam ahead, dominating Coastal Carolina, Oregon State, and Syracuse in the first three games.  The Nittany Lions have been offensive juggernauts and should continue to roll against a Temple defensive front that is allowing an average of 201 rushing yards per game.

Who to watch:  For Temple, quarterback Adam DiMichele.  He is a steady, veteran leader who won't be fazed by Penn State's speed and talent.  He will be able to move the chains against the Lions. Just how much remains to be seen.

For Penn State, quarterbacks Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin.  The quarterbacks rotated liberally in last week's blowout of Syracuse.  Is there a controversy brewing in Happy Valley?  Probably not.  Clark remains the starter after a hot start that includes five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Prediction:  Penn State 45, Temple 13

FLORIDA ATLANTIC at MINNESOTA (-6.5)   12:00 PM ET   Big Ten Network

Last season, Florida Atlantic stunned the Gophers with a 42-39 win.  Minnesota then went on a 10-game losing steak.  The Owls haven't looked all that impressive against the two BCS teams they have played thus far, losing to Texas and Michigan State by a combined score of 69-10. 

The good news: Minnesota isn't at the same level as Texas or Michigan State, and FAU should have a better showing in the Metrodome.

The Gophers were just plain awful last season, but it's 2008 and at 3-0 they have tripled their win total from a season ago.  The Gophers should be able to run the ball with success against the Owls.  Texas had 232 yards and Michigan State's Javon Ringer rolled up 282-yards.

Who to watch:  For FAU, quarterback Rusty Smith should be able to have a big game.  Minnesota hasn't been all that great defending the pass, while the Owls have been great in pass protection. The offensive line hasn't allowed a sack yet this season.

For Minnesota, the young and inexperienced offensive line must produce for Tim Brewster.  The Gophers' success rests on the backs of the line. If they can get blocks, the Gophers will be able to run the ball with great success.  If they can't, it could be a long day in Minneapolis.

Prediction:  Minnesota 31, Florida Atlantic 27

IOWA at PITTSBURGH (-2.5)   12:00 PM ET   ESPN2

The Panthers have been a disappointment this season.  Pitt is coming off a bye week, and before that, the Panthers struggled against two MAC teams.  The opening-game loss to Bowling Green is looking far worse after the Falcons dropped the last two games by lopsided scores.
Just how good are the Hawkeyes?  Iowa's first road trip of the season should provide a few answers as to how the rest of 2008 will go. 
Iowa's defense has played really well, and Kirk Ferentz has to be pleased with the running game.  The offense struggled last week against Iowa State under first-time starter Ricky Stanzi who will face a tougher test this week.
Who to watch:  For Pitt, LeSean McCoy.  The tailback entered the season on nearly everyone's Heisman watch list but has been mediocre at best so far this season.  The Iowa defense may not allow him to get anything going, but McCoy has to find a way to get some yards for the Panthers to be successful.
For Iowa, the defense.  Iowa's offense has struggled to put points on the board this season, but the defensive play has been spectacular.  If they continue to play with the same intensity, eventually the young offense will catch-up and when they do, Iowa will be very tough to beat.
Prediction:  Iowa 24, Pitt 21

CENTRAL MICHIGAN at PURDUE (-10.5)   12:00 PM ET   Big Ten Network

This will be the fourth time these two teams have met in the last two calendar years.  Central Michigan hasn't quite shown the same offensive fire they showed in the previous three meetings, but quarterback Dan LeFevour and the offense does have the ability to keep pace with the Boilermakers. 

Purdue is coming off a heartbreaking loss to Oregon, in which they had the game in hand before choking it away in overtime.  The Boilermakers are eager to prove they are one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten this season and that they are capable of rebounding from last week's loss.

Who to watch:  For Central Michigan, Antonio Brown.  The speedy return man is averaging 34.75 yards per return. Purdue is struggling this season with the punt, averaging 25.92 yards per punt.  If Brown can break one for a touchdown, the Chippewas could make a game of it.

For Purdue, Kory Sheets.  The speedy back broke an 80-yard touchdown run on Purdue's first possession last week against Oregon and finished with 180 yards and two touchdowns on the day.  All that came against an Oregon defense that is statistically one of the best in the country.

Prediction:  Purdue 38, Central Michigan 27

OHIO at NORTHWESTERN (-11)   12:03 PM ET   Big Ten Network

Ohio should have won at Wyoming, could have won at Ohio State, and almost won against Central Michigan, but instead they are 0-3.  This team needs something to break their way, and Frank Solich will have his team prepared to give the Wildcats a tough game.

Northwestern is a team on the rise under Pat Fitzgerald and even though they aren't quite clicking on all cylinders yet, they are 3-0 and would like nothing more than to be 4-0 heading into the Big Ten season.

Who to watch:  For Ohio, the Bobcat secondary will cause havoc against a sputtering Northwestern passing attack.

For Northwestern, defensive end Corey Wootton has prototypical NFL size and speed and has been spectacular in three games with four sacks and 12 tackles.  He will put a scare into Ohio quarterback Boo Jackson.

Prediction:  Northwestern 28, Ohio 23


Notre Dame and Michigan State always play each other tough, and more times than not, the two teams make an interesting game out of it. 

Notre Dame was not impressive in a 21-13 win over San Diego State, and last week they were better, but not by much, in a win over Michigan Wolverines.  They have shown they are scrappy bunch and will fight for a win.

Michigan State has bounced back nicely after falling to Cal in the first week.  They followed that loss with two lopsided victories over Eastern Michigan and Florida Atlantic.  The Spartans, more importantly, have found their identity, and his name is Javon Ringer.

Who to watch:  For Notre Dame, the Jimmy Clausen-to-Golden Tate connection will only get stronger as the weeks progress.  Irish fans are hoping the duo are as strong as the Quinn-to-Samardzija connection.

For Michigan State, two words:  Javon Ringer.  The senior has been on fire.  He followed a 135-yard, five touchdown performance against Eastern Michigan with a 43-carry, 282-yard, two touchdown performance against Florida Atlantic. 

If he has another monster day, against the Irish and on national television, the Ringer for Heisman talk will surely start.

Prediction:  Michigan State 28, Notre Dame 17

BALL STATE at INDIANA (-3.5)  7:00 PM ET   Big Ten Network

Ball State has a loaded offense with enough firepower to score on anyone, and the Cardinals are looking for a signature win to jump-start their season with conference play starting next week.  The Ball State passing game is averaging 308 yards per game and will have success against the Indiana secondary.

Indiana will get constant pressure on Ball State quarterback Nate Davis with one of the nation's best pass rushing units.  The return of Greg Middleton only helps the Hoosier's defensive front, which has generated seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss in two games.

Who to watch:  For Ball State, Nate Davis.  If the quarterback can withstand the Indiana pass rush, he will have a huge day passing against the Hoosier secondary.  Davis has the ability to move around in the pocket and even scramble for big gains.

For Indiana, Kellen Lewis.  The quarterback has some solid numbers as well.  In his first two games, he has completed 67 percent of his passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 185 yards and two scores.

Prediction:  Indiana 34, Ball State 30

Bye Week:  Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin

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