With the end of a frustrating non-conference slate coming to an end, the Big Ten schedule offers a chance for league teams to start with a clean slate in the quest for a conference title.
With mediocrity comes parody, and their is not a single eligible squad that looks to be an odds-on favorite to reach Indianapolis in either division. The road to Lucas Oil Field should be unpredictable and intriguing, to say the least.
With that being said, here is a look at news and notes from around the conference, starting with a look at key injuries from around the league:
-After suffering his second concussion in two months against UTEP, superstar Wisconsin junior running back fully expects to participate in Badgers contest against Nebraska this Saturday.
"I'm going to play, no doubt." Ball, a 2011 Heisman finalist, said.
Ball has yet to be cleared by doctors, and his status remains questionable heading into the prime-time matchup.
-Minnesota senior quarterback Marqueis Gray, who missed last week's 17-10 victory over Syracuse with a high ankle sprain, appears unlikely to see action in the Gophers' Big Ten opener against Iowa.
"I don't anticipate him playing next week," head coach Jerry Kill said. "It would be a minor miracle if he was ready to play."
Sophomore quarterback Max Shortell was serviceable as a replacement a week ago, completing 16-of-30 passes (53.3 percent) for 231 yards.
-Penn State sophomore running back Bill Belton, who started the Nittany Lions season opener against Ohio prior being carted off the field with an injured ankle, is listed as probable on the team's depth chart this week.
-Indiana sophomore quarterback Cameron Coughman should start for the squad this week after sitting out the Hoosiers' 41-39 Sept. 15 loss to Ball State with an injured hop.
-Iowa sophomore running Damon Bullock remains questionable for the Hawkeyes' home matchup with Minnesota following a concussion suffered two weeks ago. Walk-on sophomore running back Mark Weisman has been spectacular in his stead, rushing for 338 yards and six touchdowns on 53 carries (6.4 yards per carry).
Stat of the week:
Seven different Big Ten running backs picked up at least 100 yards on the ground, four quarterbacks stockpiled at least 200 passing yards, and five defensive players notched at least two tackles for loss in week four.
Big Ten weekly awards for Sept. 22:
Offensive Player of the Week: Michigan State junior running back Le'Veon Bell earned his second Offensive Player of the Week award after bullying the Eastern Michigan front seven for a career-high 253 yards and a score in the Spartans' 23-7 victory over the Eagles. It was the second time this season that Bell has rushed for at least 200 yards, and the sixth-best single-game total in school history.
Defensive Player of the Week: Wisconsin junior linebacker Chris Borland made 12 stops, including 3.5 for loss and two sacks, to spearhead the Badger defense in a 37-26 conquest of UTEP. He is now tied for second in the history of the conference with four-career Defensive Player of the Week awards.
Special Teams Player of the Week: Nebraska sophomore I-Back Ameer Abdullah returned a punt 81 yards for a score to set the tone for Huskers' 73-7 victory over Idaho State. He totaled 129 all-purpose yards on the day.
Freshman of the Week: Nebraska I-Back Imani Cross made the most of his playing time in the Huskers' 73-7 blowout victory over Idaho State, rambling for 100 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries (8.3 yards per carry).
Game to look forward to: No. 14 Ohio State at No. 20 Michigan State
Coming off of an abysmal performance against a winless Eastern Michigan team, the Spartans look to regain some semblance of credibility at home against a Buckeye team that has struggled, but consistently prevailed, this season.
While the MSU offense has looked beyond lackluster outside of junior back Le'Veon Bell, but a highly-touted defense has lived up to the hype. Michigan State leads the Big Ten in scoring defense (11.8 points per game), total defense (233.5 points per game), rushing defense (69.2 yards per game) and ranks second in passing defense (164.2 yards per game), and the menacing Green and White defenders must continue to dominate against a Urban Meyer offense led by budding superstar signal caller Braxton Miller, who has accounted for 298.8 yards of total offense per game and 14 total touchdowns.
A lot will be learned about both teams in this one, and ESPN College GameDay will be in attendance to add to the festivities. For the record, the last time these two met in East Lansing, Ohio State decimated the Spartans 45-7 in 2008.
Friday's Around the Big Ten article will offer a prediction for not only this contest, but the rest of the Big Ten schedule.
Big Ten teams ranked in the AP Top 25:
No. 14 Ohio State
No. 20 Michigan State
No. 22 Nebraska
Others receiving votes: Northwestern (89), Michigan (44), Wisconsin (13), Purdue (5).
Big Ten schedule for Sept. 29:
Indiana at Northwestern, Noon, Big Ten Network
Penn State at Illinois, Noon, ESPN
Minnesota at Iowa, Noon, ESPN2
Marshall at Purdue, 3:15 p.m., Big Ten Network
No. 14 Ohio State at No. 20 Michigan State, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Wisconsin at No. 22 Nebraska, 8:00 p.m.. ABC
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