The biggest news surrounding this program during last week's bye was that the Chief will be returning.
Chief Illiniwek, the controversial symbol of the athletic department, appeared to be headed for the retirement home.
The university's Board of Trustees were scheduled to vote the chief into "retirement" last week. For years, American Indian supporters and sympathizers have decried using a Native American in full ritual dress as a symbol of the athletic department. The university has always defended its use of Illiniwek as "respectful."
The board of trustees never brought the subject up for vote and instead tabled the resolution. That means Illiniwek will continue to represent the university ... for at least another year.
"It's a part of the Illinois history and tradition," Turner said. "It's something that has been around a long time and is very important. But we also have to be careful. Whatever the Board of Trustee votes on, that's what we're going to go with."
As far as the season finale is concerned, Illinois is trying to avoid its first winless Big Ten season since 1997. The injury-depleted Illinois can also ensure that Northwestern won't be going to a bowl game if the Illini can beat the Wildcats this Saturday.
QB Dustin Ward, who started the season on the bench behind Jon Beutjer, will get the start once again. He might have luck through the air, since the Northwestern pass defense was ravaged by Michigan last week and isn't as athletic as most in the Big Ten.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Illini will try to get back to a balanced attack in the regular-season finale against Northwestern. RB E.B. Halsey could be back for this game after missing significant time due to injuries. Halsey has excellent speed and showed moves in the early season to get into and through the secondary. Marcus Mason has done a solid job in relief of Halsey, Pierre Thomas and Morris Virgil. Mason does not have breakaway speed, but he is tough and can win the battle after initial contact.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense has been brutal throughout the season. While LB Matt Sinclair (10.3 tackles per game) has played with effort, too many of his teammates have either been out of position or unable to make significant plays. The Illini are not as athletic as most Big Ten teams, but the inability to tackle and get in the correct position to make plays has been the main issue for this team during the past two seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our No. 1 motivation is to win. Our seniors have been through a lot of ups and downs in this program. They've been part of a championship and a lot of other things, and we need to send them out with a victory. That's important for them, and important for the guys coming back." - Head coach Ron Turner on the goals for the season finale.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Northwestern at Illinois, Nov. 22 - Ending Northwestern's bowl hopes would be a decent note on which to end a nightmarish season. This is the last chance for Illinois to avoid a winless Big Ten season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Dustin Ward - The senior gets to finish his career as a mop-up man for the beleaguered Illini program. Ward has a strong arm, but has had a tendency to take too long to get rid of the ball and often throws late or gets nailed for key sacks.
LB Matt Sinclair - In a season in which the Illinois defense has regularly failed to get the job done, Sinclair has been a key exception. He is third in the Big Ten with 113 tackles and also has three sacks.
INJURY IMPACT: Running back E.B. Halsey (knee), wide receiver Kelvin Hayden (ankle) and defensive lineman Jeff Ruffin (leg) are questionable for Saturday's game against Northwestern.
The Hoosiers have made progress this season. As they prepare to close the season at home against in-state rival Purdue, head coach Gerry DiNardo can look at freshman RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis and realize that his team has put together a solid running game.
Green-Ellis ran for 203 yards in the 52-7 loss to Penn State and has gotten better as the season has progressed. He should be a solid asset for the team in the coming seasons.
The defense, however, still needs a lot of work. It failed to stop Penn State and there are no indications it will slow down a very solid Purdue team, either. The Boilermakers lost a heartbreaker at Ohio State last Saturday and very likely will want to take out their frustrations on the Hoosiers before they start preparing for the bowl season.
Indiana ranks last in the Big Ten in total yards allowed and is ninth in passing yards allowed. Boilermaker QB Kyle Orton should have an easy time going up against the Hoosiers after facing a very aggressive Ohio State front seven last week.
The Hoosiers will try to win the possession battle with the Boilermakers. That is their only hope of competing for two or three quarters. But that won't matter if they can't stop big plays. The Hoosiers actually had a 37:27-22:33 time of possession advantage over Penn State, but were blown out anyway.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Freshman RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a solid contributor, who has rushed for 783 yards and six touchdowns. QB Matt LoVecchio is an accurate passer when he gets decent production. His game-winning TD vs. Illinois earlier this month shows he knows how to get away from pressure.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: A lot of work needs to be done in this area. The previously struggling Penn State team put 52 points on the board - and did it before the end of the third quarter. Indiana's lack of speed on defense could be fatal against Purdue.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They gave us some trouble with some of the play-action stuff they ran and kind of isolated us a little bit. And that hasn't been that significant of a problem for us. That was an area that definitely took me a little by surprise." - Head coach Gerry DiNardo on Indiana's ability to stop the play-action pass against Penn State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Purdue at Indiana Nov. 22 - Keeping this game moderately close would be a major victory for Indiana. The Hoosiers beat the Boilermakers 13-7 two years ago at home, but the two programs now appear to be light years apart.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis - The Hoosiers have found a solid running back in this freshman. He had 203 yards vs. Penn State and has rushed for 783 yards while averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
QB Matt LoVecchio - Head coach Gerry DiNardo was hoping that Notre Dame transfer Matt LoVecchio could provide a major upgrade the QB spot. However, going into the season finale, LoVecchio has a 3-8 TD-interception ratio and rarely has been a difference-maker.
INJURY IMPACT: Running backs Brian Lewis (concussion) and Chris Taylor (leg) and fullback John Pannozzo (leg) are questionable for Saturday's game against Purdue.
The Hawkeyes have proven to be one of the biggest surprises in the Big Ten this season.
Not much was expected from the Hawkeyes after their remarkable run in 2002. Preseason expectations had listed Iowa as a bottom-half of the Big Ten type of team.
With one game to go in the regular season, the Hawkeyes still have a chance to play in a New Year's Day bowl game. If they can find a way to win at Wisconsin this Saturday, they could go to either the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl.
Of course, the Hawkeyes would need Michigan, Ohio State and the BCS to cooperate.
Iowa needs two Big Ten teams to get to the BCS. That is most likely to happen if Ohio State beats Michigan and stays ahead of USC at No. 2 in the BCS standings. While the Buckeyes would go off to play in the national title game, Michigan would go to the Rose Bowl.
That would leave the Capital One and Outback bowls to Purdue and one other Big Ten team.
If the Hawkeyes lose to Wisconsin, that spot would likely go to Minnesota. But it would be the Hawkeyes - most likely - if they win at Madison.
Iowa will not have an easy time against the Badgers. Wisconsin WR Lee Evans is coming off a mind-blowing five-TD performance against Michigan State and is clearly at the top of his game. Badger QB Jim Sorgi has returned from a surgical procedure on his knee and is playing extremely well. The Hawkeyes rank sixth in the Big Ten in pass defense, allowing 220.2 yards per game and five touchdowns.
If Sorgi is allowed to remain upright and Evans can run free in the secondary, it's a battle the Hawkeyes will probably lose. However, Iowa can turn the tables by playing a physical game. Sorgi is not known for his durability, and if Iowa can put a hit on him early he may not be able to scorch the Iowa secondary the way he did against Michigan State.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Hawkeyes have a solid running game with Fred Russell and Jermelle Lewis. The passing game should be decent as well since WR Maurice Brown is healthy and Ramon Ochoa knows how to get open. QB Nathan Chandler has been solid this season, even though he doesn't move the way Brad Banks did a year ago. The Hawkeyes generally play much better offense at home than they do on the road.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Hawkeyes got physical against Minnesota and did a good job of forcing turnovers and preventing touchdowns. However, Minnesota QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq had no problems throwing against the Iowa secondary. If the Hawks don't show some improvement against Wisconsin, they could get overwhelmed.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know Lee Evans can catch it and do something with it and Jim Sorgi can throw it. I imagine we might see a (lot) of them." - Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz on Wisconsin's top pitch-and-catch combination.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Iowa at Wisconsin, Nov. 22 - The Badgers have been one of the most enigmatic teams in the Big Ten. Early in the season, they were beaten by UNLV at home, but then they came back to beat Ohio State. Following that monumental win, the Badgers lost three in a row before overwhelming Michigan State. Head coach Kirk Ferentz should expect the best from Wisconsin as the Hawkeyes fight for a winning Big Ten record.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Jermelle Lewis - He had a very fine effort against Minnesota, carrying the ball nine times for 63 yards and a touchdown. While Fred Russell is the No. 1 back at Iowa, Lewis is a speed back who can bust the long play. He scored on a 34-yard run against the Gophers.
WR Ramon Ochoa - He was forced to become a solid receiver this year after Mo Brown was slowed by injuries. Ochoa grew up and he is coming off a eight-catch, 92-yard effort against Minnesota. Ochoa has solid hands and the toughness to hold on to the ball after taking a big hit.
INJURY IMPACT: Offensive lineman Sam Aiello (leg) and defensive linemen Derreck Robinson (leg) and Matt Neubauer (flu) are questionable for Saturday's game against Wisconsin.
As has happened so many times, the Big Ten championship comes down to Ohio State-Michigan, this time with an extra twist.
The winner of this year's matchup could also have a chance to play in the national championship game.
At worst, the winner would be the first Big Ten team to go to the Rose Bowl since Purdue represented the Big Ten following the 2000 regular season.
Michigan is peaking as it comes into this matchup. The offense is cooking with Chris Perry running the ball, John Navarre throwing it and Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant making spectacular catch after spectacular catch.
Steve Breaston has been a huge threat on special teams all season.
But perhaps most importantly, the defense has been playing its best football of the year. The Wolverines held Purdue to three points on Oct. 25 and has not been threatened since. Head coach Lloyd Carr is counting on a continued sensational effort from that unit.
If he gets it, the Wolverines should have a good chance at stopping Ohio State's two-game winning streak in the series. Michigan has the advantage of playing at home and the Buckeyes simply can't match Michigan's offensive firepower.
The emotional level should be off the charts.
"It's really hard to explain," Michigan linebacker Carl Diggs told the Detroit Free Press. "It's kind of like something just taking over your body. After the Northwestern game (Saturday), running off the field, my face just let up with a big smile. I knew the time had finally come."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wolverines have been dynamic most of the season, but Ohio State can match Michigan's firepower with their own defensive strength. Execution and game planning will determine which side is successful. After losing two previous games to Ohio State, QB John Navarre has a lot to prove and a ton of pressure on his shoulders. If he plays tight, the Wolverines could be in trouble.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This appears to be a major advantage for Michigan since the Ohio State offense has been largely disappointing this season. Ohio State has gotten to 10-1 at this point of the season with Maurice Clarett, but he was a difference-maker last season in games like this, and the Buckeyes aren't anywhere near as effective this year without him. Michigan should be able to stuff the OSU running game, which would go a long way toward determining the winner of the game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "By far Michigan. They are a great team. Offensively they are balanced and have so many weapons. Defensively they fly around. By far Michigan. Head and shoulders." - Northwestern LB Pat Durr, evaluating whether Michigan or Ohio State is better. The Wildcats lost to both teams this season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 22 - Big Ten title - and more - on the line. The Wolverines have lost two in a row to Ohio State and desperately want to hand Jim Tressel his first loss in the series, while making sure the Buckeyes don't get a chance to repeat as national champs. Given the fact that the Wolverines are at home and appear to have a more balanced team, it would be a huge disappointment - in Big Blue fans' eyes - if the Wolverines didn't win. Michigan leads the series 56-37-6.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB John Navarre - He has had a fine season and has put big numbers on the board. Navarre has completed 222-of-378 passes for 2,782 yards with a 21-8 TD-interception ratio. However, Navarre's tenure as Michigan starting quarterback isn't likely to be remembered fondly if the Wolverines lose this game.
RB Chris Perry - Perry is the leading rusher in the Big Ten with 1,435 yards and 15 touchdowns. But he hasn't played the mighty Ohio State defense yet. He's going to have to raise his level of play once again.
LT Adam Stenavich - He has to go up against Ohio State DE Will Smith, and the matchup will be a vital one. Stenavich is very good, but Smith has 10.5 sacks and 20 TFLs this season and should be at his best.
INJURY IMPACT: Defensive back Jacob Stewart (leg) is doubtful for Saturday's game against Ohio State.
The Spartans are playing for a lot more than improving their bowl scenario when they host Penn State this week.
They want to go to a solid bowl game, and the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, is a possibility. But the Spartans are more interested in stopping a three-game losing streak and showing Penn State that they are not patsies.
Last year, Penn State handed the Spartans a fearful 61-7 beating. That team bears little resemblance to the team that John L. Smith has put on the field this season, and the Spartans are eager to let Penn State know it as well.
"We're going to talk about Penn State and Penn State only," Smith said. "Whatever happens, will happen. We don't have control over the other things. We just have to focus on them and try to play respectable. I think our football team was embarrassed [in a 56-21 loss last Saturday at Wisconsin]."
As the Wisconsin game got out of hand, several Michigan State players seemed to lose interest and stopped contributing. That effort has left a very bad taste in Smith's mouth.
"If three guys don't play with great effort and abandon and look like they're quitting," Smith said, "then the entire team gets labeled that way. Because we're all a part of one another. We're all in this together. It can't be that eight of us are playing correct and hard and trying to do what's right and three aren't. We're all looking like we're surrendering, which they did not. But that's what it looks like.
"I think we had some guys surrender, without a doubt. Didn't play as hard as we could. That's our fault. We've got to kick them in the tail and make sure that happens."
Call that a momentary lapse. Michigan State may not have played well in earlier losses to Michigan and Ohio State, but they played hard in those games. Look for Jeff Smoker and Co. to get untracked in this game.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Michigan State's running game has never been its strong point this year, but QB Jeff Smoker needs to get at least a small contribution from Jaren Hayes. If the running game can pick it up a bit, Smoker should be able to make plays to solid WRs Agim Shabaj and Ziehl Kavanaght.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Spartans need to put last week's pounding by Wisconsin in the rear-view mirror. Forget about it and concentrate on Zack Mills and Penn State. Mills appears to have found his game again. They need to pressure him and make him throw on the run because he often loses accuracy when he doesn't set his feet.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wouldn't be happy with it, personally. But as far as the program and where we were last year, I guess it's a positive." - QB Jeff Smoker, to the Detroit Free Press, on the prospect of playing in the Motor City Bowl.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Penn State at Michigan State, Nov. 22 - The Spartans are looking to end the regular season on a winning note after losing their last three games. Despite a poor effort against Wisconsin, the Spartans have played hard and well this year and are looking for a little revenge after losing 61-7 last year to the Nittany Lions.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: LB Seth Mitchell - Mitchell leads the Spartans with 74 tackles and has the speed to cover receivers coming out of the backfield.
LB Mike Labinjo - He is a big hitter who also has soft hands. Labinjo has three interceptions this season and is capable of making the diving catch if he needs to stretch out. Despite his size and strength, Labinjo is quite nimble.
INJURY IMPACT: Offensive linemen Gordon Niebylski (knee) and Stefan Wheeler (neck) are questionable for Saturday's game against Penn State. Defensive back Eric Smith (shoulder) and defensive linemen Greg Yeaster (knee) and Brandon McKinney (foot) are expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Not only will a win in the regular-season finale give the Wildcats a legitimate shot at going to the Motor City Bowl, but they are actually favored to get that victory.
Northwestern should beat Illinois this Saturday. The Wildcats are better, and are clearly playing much harder than Ron Turner's team.
However, there is always something a little scary when the Wildcats are favored.
As underdogs, they don't think twice about going out on the field and competing to the best of their abilities. On the rare occasions when they are favored, they seem to press a bit.
Perhaps the chance of getting to the postseason will keep Randy Walker's team on track.
A win would get Northwestern to 6-6. The Big Ten already has seven teams with at least seven wins - and it also has seven bowl affiliations. In order for Northwestern to get to the Motor City Bowl, it needs the league to send two teams - the combination of Ohio State and Michigan - to the BCS.
That would open up a bottom-level spot in the Big Ten bowl tie-ins, and Northwestern could slide right in with a win over Illinois.
Look for a heavy dose of RBs Jason Wright and Noah Herron against the Illini. Wright is the team's best back and he should be close to 100 percent after being slowed by an ankle injury. Herron is a power back who could eat up the poor-tackling Illini.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wildcats should have a much easier go after seeing Michigan last week. Look for the Wildcats to go to their ground game, but Brett Basanez could make life much easier if he can hit a big pass or two in the early going. The Illini secondary should be fertile ground for a team that has had limited success through the air this season.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: LB Pat Durr and DE Loren Howard need to provide the emotional leadership. Illinois QB Dustin Ward often holds on to the ball much longer than he should, and the Wildcats should be able to get to him.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we beat Illinois, we have a chance. I told our guys to take care of business and just think about the game." - Northwestern head coach Randy Walker on trying to keep his team focused on the regular-season finale against the Illini rather than consider the possibility of a bowl berth.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Northwestern at Illinois, Nov. 22 - The Wildcats are playing an unhappy Illinois team - one that may be playing its last game under head coach Ron Turner. If Northwestern can get off to a good start, it could bury the Illini. The worst thing the Wildcats could do is start slowly and give Illinois hope it can win its first Big Ten game of the year.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Jason Wright - With his ankle woes likely behind him, the Wildcats need a big game from Wright, who has rushed for 900 yards and 15 TDs this season. Wright is extremely resourceful and can turn a five-yard run into a 50-yarder with one missed tackle.
P Brian Huffman - The Wildcats have done a decent job in the field position battle all season and Huffman has been a good weapon. He is averaging 41.0 yards on 64 punts this season.
INJURY IMPACT: Running back Jason Wright (ankle) is expected to play in Saturday's game against Illinois. ... Wide receiver Roger Jordan (chest) and defensive back Louis Ayeni (shoulder) are questionable.
The Buckeyes are in the driver's seat to win a spot in the national championship game - for the moment. You just can't trust those BCS computers.
Ohio State moved up to No. 2 in the BCS standings this week, zipping past what most consider to be a superior USC team, and is apparently in control of its own destiny.
But not so fast, my friend.
That status is tenuous for two reasons. The fluid nature of the BCS is one reason - and this week's opponent is the other.
Ohio State travels to Michigan to take on their archrival for the Big Ten championship. Ohio State has beaten the Wolverines twice under head coach Jim Tressel and the Wolverines are aching to get revenge. Unlike the last two years, the Wolverines appear to have the more talented roster.
The Buckeyes simply can't match the Wolverines in offensive firepower. Ohio State has built a 10-1 record, but has struggled to score against teams like Purdue, Penn State and even Northwestern. Michigan's offense is loaded with QB John Navarre, RB Chris Perry and WR Braylon Edwards, among others.
This is one game in which the Buckeyes would seemingly appear to be significantly hurt by the absence of RB Maurice Clarett. His power and speed came to the fore in the fourth quarter of last year's 14-9 win. Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall have done a decent job in his absence, but they just don't have the same game-breaking burst.
And yet, just about the worst mistake you can make in college football is counting out the Buckeyes. Through confidence, resilience - and a fabulous defense - Ohio State is knocking on the door of the national title game.
But Tressel doesn't want any of his players thinking about the BCS standings. He wants them concentrating on Michigan. They seem to understand.
"We'd be remiss to say that we don't pay any attention to the BCS or know what the situation is," Ohio State center Alex Stepanovich told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"That still doesn't change the situation we're in. The most important thing for us is winning at Michigan. We realize that we control our destiny a little more now that we're second, so that gives us a little extra oomph."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Buckeyes have lacked punch most of the season, and although they played well against Indiana and Michigan State, they followed both of those games with poor offensive showings against Penn State and Purdue. QB Craig Krenzel will - once again - need to play the kind of gutsy football that made the Buckeyes national champs a year ago. The offensive line has surprisingly struggled most of the season, but can make a statement against a dangerous and tough Michigan front.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This is how the Buckeyes might be able to register the upset. Michigan is loaded with offensive weapons, but the Buckeye defense - led by DE Will Smith (10.5 sacks) and LB A.J. Hawk (team-leading 88 tackles) - can force mistakes from quarterback John Navarre. The matchup to watch in the entire game is Ohio State's best-in-the-nation run defense (50.5 yards per game) vs. Michigan running back Chris Perry, who can lift the entire Wolverine offense on his back if need be.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "What is most important at this time is the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and the Big Ten championship. Right now, the BCS rankings are secondary." - Ohio State Jim Tressel on his team's focus this week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 22 - The 100th renewal of perhaps the most glittering rivalry in the nation should be able to live up to the hype. This one is for the Big Ten title and will help decide who plays for the national championship. The Buckeyes, with their frequently anemic offense, are underdogs, but when a team can stop the run as well as Ohio State does, all things are possible.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Craig Krenzel - He has not been as effective this season as he was in 2002. However, if Ohio State is going to beat Michigan on the road, Krenzel will have to mix in a couple of significant plays against the Wolverines in addition to his usual fine job of managing the game.
DE Will Smith - He leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 20.0 and is tied for second in sacks with 10.5. Smith is a one-man wrecking crew and his matchup with Michigan LT Adam Stenavich will be crucial to the Buckeyes' upset chances.
INJURY IMPACT: Tight end Louis Irizarry (suspension) is questionable.
One game left in a season to forget for Penn State.
Even a win in the finale at Michigan State won't rescue this year. If the Nittany Lions manage to upset Michigan State at East Lansing, the Nittany Lions will finish the year with a two-game winning streak.
That would leave them with a 4-8 record.
A 52-7 win over Indiana ended the team's six-game losing streak - the longest in Joe Paterno's tenure. Zack Mills looked comfortable in the offense and he got a stellar three-TD performance from WR Tony Johnson. The win gave the Nittany Lions a brief respite from their disastrous year. Despite the losing streak and the "Time to go, Joe" chants, Paterno reiterated his desire to return to Happy Valley next season.
"I told you before, I've made up my mind. I'm coming back next year," Paterno was quoted as saying in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"The best thing that's happened to me out of all the losses is so many of my former players called and wrote, and the fans. We've gotten tons of letters - 'Don't let those SOBs out there get you down.' I've been amazed. All of that has made me feel good about what we've been trying to do. So I really felt good about the seniors winning their last home game."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: If the Nittany Lions are going to hang in with the Spartans on the road, QB Zack Mills has to continue his recent roll. He threw three TD passes in the win over Indiana, and he might need at least as many to keep pace with a high-powered Michigan State offense.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Nittany Lions have the weapons to challenge Jeff Smoker and the Spartans. Smoker loves to throw the ball all over the field, but Penn State DBs Alan Zemaitis and Yaacov Yisrael have the ability to cause a lot of havoc. Both are among the interception leaders in the Big Ten.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's something that's pretty successful for us - just get him in there and move him around to different positions. He might be a third receiver for us or he can be a running back. At the same time, we can use him at quarterback." - QB Zack Mills on multi-talented Michael Robinson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Penn State at Michigan State, Nov. 22 - Penn State can close the season with two wins in a row, but it might take its best effort of the year to do it. The Spartans have a lot of offensive firepower and will play with last year's 61-7 Penn State triumph burning in their minds.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Zack Mills - Mills had his first three-TD game of the year against Indiana. He can escape pressure and make plays outside the pocket. However, if he has to throw the ball on the run, he makes too many mistakes.
WR Maurice Humphrey - The redshirt freshman caught a 41-yard pass from Mills against Indiana. It was the longest pass play of Humphrey's career.
INJURY IMPACT: Linebacker Gino Capone (knee) missed the Indiana game and is questionable for Michigan State.
Winning the Big Ten title is no longer an option. Preparing for an upper-echelon bowl game is.
Purdue played a tough, hard-fought game before losing in overtime to Ohio State last week. Now the Boilers get to close the season against an overmatched Indiana team.
The Boilermakers can probably name their score. Even if they play poorly, they are likely to win by multiple touchdowns, as the Hoosiers have been unable to stop upper-echelon teams all season.
It seems unlikely that Indiana has the defensive weapons to stop RB Jerod Void, QB Kyle Orton or WRs John Standeford and Taylor Stubblefield.
Look for backup QB Brandon Kirsch to get playing time in this game. Last year, Kirsch and Kyle Orton split time until the end of the season. This season, Orton is clearly the No. 1 quarterback, but Joe Tiller will likely want to get his talented backup some activity.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Boilermakers will have to pick themselves up after their heartbreaking loss to Ohio State, but should get a comfortable win, as Purdue's balance picks apart the Hoosier defense, which is susceptible against the pass and the run.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense won't give the Hoosiers any room to breathe. DE Shaun Phillips has the toughness to punish Indiana QB Matt LoVecchio. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis coming off a 203-yard game vs. Penn State, the Boilermakers will focus on stopping the Indiana running game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "What would have made it really sweet if we had pulled it out was that was the most difficult environment we played in this year."-- Joe Tiller on the overtime loss at Ohio State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Indiana at Purdue, Nov. 22 - Even if the Boilermakers are tempted about thinking about what might have been at Ohio State, they will be reminded all week about how important it is to retain the Old Oaken Bucket. Nothing like a little rivalry game - even against one that is clearly outmatched - to get the blood moving again.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: DE Shaun Phillips - One of the best defensive players in the Big Ten. Not only does Phillips lead the Big Ten in sacks with 12.5, he has a very quick first step and regularly causes havoc in the backfield. He also has 19.5 tackles for loss.
LB Niko Koutivides - A hard-hitting and instinctive tackler, Koutivides leads the Boilermakers with 85 stops. He has good quickness and excellent form, rarely failing to bring down a ball carrier once he gets his hands on him.
INJURY IMPACT: Linebacker Gilbert Gardner, who missed most of the second half against Ohio State because of a head injury, has been cleared to practice and should play at Indiana. Wide receiver John Standeford should also play despite a foot injury.
The Badgers are hitting on all cylinders as they prepare to close the regular season at home against Iowa.
Jim Sorgi's return to the lineup has given the offense a lift. Sorgi came back from a surgical procedure on his knee two weeks ago against Minnesota. After a slow start that saw the Badgers trail 24-6 late in the first half, Sorgi has gotten the Badgers into the end zone 12 times in their last 19 possessions.
That kind of productivity has led to a new confidence even though star RB Anthony Davis remains on the sideline with an ankle injury. While the Badgers have a ton of respect for the Iowa team that comes to Madison this weekend, Sorgi thinks he can keep the beat going.
"Iowa's defense is pretty good, especially to hold a potent Minnesota offense to 22 points and to force four turnovers," Sorgi said. "But if we don't turn the ball over and give ourselves opportunities to score every time we touch the ball, I think we'll be pretty successful."
Head coach Barry Alvarez is thrilled with the direction of his offense.
"It's fun to watch them work when they're hitting on all cylinders," Alvarez told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It is fun to watch Jim when he is playing like he has, throwing the ball around with confidence and knowing where he is going with the ball."
WR Lee Evans is coming off a magnificent five-TD performance against Michigan State. If the Badgers don't get bitten by the turnover bug, they should be able to move against an Iowa team that does not play as well on the road as it does at home.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Badgers are playing their best offensive football of the year. In addition to Jim Sorgi and Lee Evans, RB Dwayne Smith is a solid back who has done a nice job of filling in for Anthony Davis. Smith ran for 207 yards and three TDs against Michigan State.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wisconsin defense prides itself on pressure and big plays. Look for LB Alex Smith to pressure Iowa QB Nathan Chandler, and DB Jim Leonhard is one of the best combination punt returner/coverage men in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have a solid offense, but they lack explosiveness.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We will not get anything cheap. Everything you get against Iowa you will have to earn. They've got a very physical front. You never have anyone in the wrong gap. Their secondary is going to stay basic and you're not going to get many balls over the top. You're going to have to be real patient and earn everything." - Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez on the Iowa defense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Iowa at Wisconsin, Nov. 22 - The Badgers are rolling on offense as the Hawkeyes come to Madison. QB Jim Sorgi has directed Wisconsin into the end zone 12 times in its past 19 possessions, and the Badgers explosiveness could be the difference in this one.
PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Jim Sorgi - He is on fire. In the last game-and-a-half against Minnesota and Michigan State, Sorgi has completed 30 of 45 attempts for 587 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception.
WR Lee Evans - He has come all the way back from last year's knee injury. Evans had five TD catches against Michigan State and has shown tremendous run-after-the-catch ability. That was his hallmark before the injury and he looks just as fast as he ever was.
INJURY IMPACT: RB Anthony Davis (ankle) and backup RB Booker Stanley (ankle) are both questionable against Iowa.
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