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November 4, 2010

Week 10 preview in the Big Ten

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | MWC | Pac-10 | SEC | Others

THE SCHEDULE
Illinois at Michigan, noon
Iowa at Indiana, noon
Minnesota at Michigan State, noon
Wisconsin at Purdue, noon
Northwestern at Penn State, 3:30 p.m.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno isn't much for milestones. But even he has to acknowledge that his next victory will be a big one: No. 400 of his career.

"I've not ever gotten to the point where I've felt, 'Hey, I'm going to get out of this thing,' " Paterno said. "But it's going to come. That's why I don't get excited about that 400 if it happens is because, geez, you hang around long enough ... "

The only NCAA coaches to have reached that milestone are John Gagliardi of Division III St. John's (Minnesota), who has 476, and the late Eddie Robinson, who notched 408 victories at Grambling. Paterno, whose Nittany Lions play host to Northwestern on Saturday, would be the first coach to hit the 400 mark while coaching in the FBS ranks.

"Coach Paterno is college football," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Anyone that has the role of head coach aspires to run the type of program he has run for 45 years."

While JoePa's quest for 400 is national news, the Big Ten title chase is drawing plenty of attention. In fact, it may be the most intriguing race in the country and promises to be a wild finish.

Four teams are tied for first with one league loss: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa.

"Anything can happen in the next month," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That's what makes it interesting. I don't know how that compares to other conferences."

The last time the Big Ten had a three-way tie for first was 2000, when Purdue, Michigan and Northwestern shared the crown and the Boilermakers went to the Rose Bowl. There also was a three-way tie in 1998 among Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin, with the Badgers going to Pasadena.

At the end of the regular season, there's a good chance there will be another three-way tie for first, which means a tiebreakers almost certainly will be needed to determine which team will get the conference's automatic BCS bowl slot.

If two teams tie, the tiebreakers are:

1. head-to-head
2. overall record
3. highest-ranked team in the BCS standings

If three teams tie:

1. If one team beat the other two, it goes
2. If two teams beat the third, the third team is out and the two-team tiebreaker kicks in
3. If two teams haven't played, overall record is used to eliminate one of them. If one team has a better overall record than the other two, it earns the spot. If a team is eliminated because of a weaker overall mark, the other teams revert to the two-team tiebreaking procedure.
4. If all three teams have the same overall record, the highest-ranked team in the BCS standings gets the bid.

The picture will clear up some Nov. 20, when Ohio State plays at Iowa. The loser almost certainly will be out of the running.

Assuming Wisconsin and Michigan State win out, here are the scenarios if Iowa beats Ohio State and if Ohio State beats Iowa:

Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin tie with 7-1 Big Ten marks. The Hawkeyes would be knocked out because they would have a worse overall record (10-2) than MSU and Wisconsin (each 11-1). Then, the two-team tiebreaker would kick in between Michigan State and Wisconsin, with the Spartans getting the nod based on their win over the Badgers.

Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin tie with 7-1 Big Ten marks. Since all three would have 11-1 overall records, and the Buckeyes and Spartans will not have played, the highest-placed team in the BCS standings would get the automatic BCS berth.

"If you're going to have a good team and have a good season, you have to play well in November," Ferentz said. "I think that goes without saying. We'll find out where we're at in four weeks, three and a half weeks.

"Yeah, this month will be a good month for fans to be paying attention."

The stretch run
Key game the rest of the way
Ohio State at Iowa, Nov. 20. Think of this as a Big Ten title elimination game between what have been the league's two best programs over the past decade. This one will come down to which offense can crack the code vs. a strong defense. The winner figures to share the crown with Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Offensive player of the year watch
Michigan QB Denard Robinson far and away has been the most dynamic weapon, with his electrifying running skills and underrated arm. But don't count out Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor, Wisconsin RB John Clay, Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins or Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi. This will be a close race.
Defensive player of the year watch
Purdue E Ryan Kerrigan may be the top defender -- he leads the nation in tackles for loss and is 14th in sacks -- but he plays on an awful defense. So look for this to be a race among Michigan State LB Greg Jones, Illinois LB Martez Wilson and Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt.
Newcomer of the year watch
While Wisconsin RB James White (570 yards rushing) and Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell (586) have impressed, Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase has run the Illini offense with aplomb and is the front-runner. Scheelhaase, a redshirt freshman, is a slithery runner and continues to develop as a passer for an Illinois team that has been one of the nation's biggest surprises.
Best matchup: Northwestern offense vs. Penn State offense. Which one will produce? The Wildcats rank No. 8 in the Big Ten in scoring (26.6 ppg), while the Nittany Lions are No. 9 (22.9). Since neither team has a steel-curtain defense, it will vital for the offenses to hum. The Nittany Lions showed signs of life last week, with QB Matt McGloin throwing for 250 yards and Evan Royster running for 150 yards in a 41-31 victory over Michigan. That will need to continue, as Penn State still needs one more victory for bowl eligibility. Northwestern, which already is bowl eligible, potentially is dangerous because of dual-threat QB Dan Persa, who got dinged up last week but is ready to go.

Player on the spot: Michigan QB Denard Robinson. He again is going to have to be super-human for the Wolverines to beat visiting Illinois, the Big Ten's most surprising team. Robinson is perhaps the nation's most dynamic playmaker, but he'll face an Illinois defense that ranks No. 3 in the Big Ten (301.4 ypg) and is No. 4 vs. the run (117.5 ypg). With Illinois likely to run wild against Michigan's horrid defense (No. 11 in Big Ten, 440.3 ypg), the Wolverines will have to win a shootout behind "D-Rob," who leads the Big Ten with 1,287 rushing yards.

Numbers game: Illinois' 34-point margin of victory over Purdue last week, combined with the 30-point win over Indiana on Oct. 23, marked the first time an Illini team registered consecutive 30-point wins since 1944 and the first time they won consecutive Big Ten games by 30 points since 1914.

What they're saying

"No way. I'll be in Naples somewhere. No way." -- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, 35, on if he'll be coaching until he's 85, like Joe Paterno

"I probably would not have done that, but I'm not going to cry about it. That's their choice, their call. I would not have done it. He's the coach. If it makes him feel better about him and his team, call it, chuck it and run it up. Game's over. It's his call. It's done. I'm not going to cry about it." -- Purdue coach Danny Hope, on Illinois coach Ron Zook continuing to throw the ball late during the Fighting Illini's 44-10 victory on Saturday

"I haven't had the opportunity to play TCU, Boise State or Utah, but watching them when they compete -- and I'm just a fan of college football -- I've been very impressed with their success. I think anytime you have success and you stay unblemished, that's a big feather in your cap. It's so difficult to win in this league week in and week out, and in college football, I think if you hold that unblemished record that's a significant thing." -- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema

"It's hard to shelter them. We don't talk about what everybody else is saying outside of our building because there's nothing we can do about it. But there's been that for two or three years now. We've probably gotten kind of accustomed to it." -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, on trying to shield his players from criticism

Etc.: Ohio State is off this week. ... While Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker was at Saturday's big win over Michigan State, it will be at least another week before he's back coaching, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. ... With four regular-season games remaining, Michigan's Denard Robinson already has set a Big Ten record for single-season rushing yards by a quarterback. He ran for 191 yards at Penn State on Saturday to increase his season total to 1,287 yards, breaking the previous Big Ten record of 1,270, set by Indiana's Antwaan Randle El in 2000. The FBS single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback is 1,494 yards, set by Air Force's Beau Morgan in 1996. ... Robinson is on pace to become the first Big Ten player since Ohio State's Archie Griffin in 1973 to lead the conference in rushing and total offense. Griffin won the first of his two Heismans that season. ... When Iowa meets Indiana, Ferentz and Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch each will be looking to notch their 100th career win. ... Minnesota has suspended DT Brandon Kirksey, CB Michael Carter and DL Ra'Shede Hageman for the Michigan State game. Kirksey is expected back for the Nov. 14 Illinois game. Carter and Hageman likely won't play the rest of the season, interim coach Jeff Horton said. ... Last week, Penn State's Matt McGloin became the first walk-on to start at quarterback in coach Joe Paterno's 45-year history as coach. ... The three foes that have toppled Illinois this season (Missouri, Ohio State and Michigan State) have a combined record of 23-3, with all three teams ranked in the top 15 of the BCS standings. Illinois led two of the three games at halftime (Missouri and Michigan State) and was on the verge of tying Ohio State late in the game. ... Earlier this week, Indiana QB Ben Chappell was wearing a walking boot. But Lynch said Chappell will be ready to go Saturday. ... Northwestern has won six road games in a row. ... Evan Royster passed Curt Warner to become Penn State's leading career rusher last week; he has 3,518 yards.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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