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October 4, 2006

Big Ten: Week 6 Breakdown

McClellan's Big Ten picks
Rivals.com national columnist Bob McClellan's predictions for Week 6 in the Big Ten.
Saturday's games:
Iowa 34, Purdue 26
Wisconsin 37, Northwestern 16
Penn State 25, Minnesota 20
Illinois 25, Indiana 16
Ohio State 48, Bowling Green 13
Michigan 41, Michigan State 20
Last week: 5-1. Season: 37-9.

Best matchup: The Michigan State running game against the Michigan run defense. Despite a poor effort against Illinois that netted a season-low 82 yards, the Spartans still rank ninth in the country in rushing (220.8 yards per game). They had better relocate the ground game in a hurry, because the Wolverines are No. 1 in the country against the run, yielding just 36.4 yards per game. If Michigan State can't run it effectively and it will be more difficult without the injured Javon Ringer - John L. Smith and Co. will get hammered.

Worst matchup: Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill vs. the Northwestern defense. The Badgers' redshirt freshman has four 100-yard games so far this season. The Wildcats have yielded 100-yard rushers in each of the last two games. All signs point to a huge day for Hill and a big hill to climb for NU.

The pressure is on: Michigan State coach John L. Smith. Can you say four-game losing streak? First came the Notre Dame debacle, then the Spartans managed to give Illinois its first Big Ten win since 2004. So the losing streak stands at two. Now MSU goes on the road to face No. 6 Michigan this weekend, followed by a visit from No. 1 Ohio State. That's enough to make any program slap-happy.

Upset alert: The only potential for an upset is in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes come off the loss to top-ranked Ohio State and welcome in Purdue. The Boilermakers won't do much on defense, but they will score their fair share of points. They won't be able to pull off the upset, but this one may be closer than you think.

BCS implications: Only Michigan State can gum up the works with an upset of Michigan. The Wolverines' only other potential scare is next week at Penn State, otherwise Michigan should make it to its date with top-ranked Ohio State on Nov. 18 with an unblemished record - just like the Buckeyes.

Who's hot: It's a little strange to be talking about a Purdue defensive player in this spot given the team's struggles on that side of the ball, but Boilermakers end Anthony Spencer has been a one-man wrecking crew the past two weeks. Spencer has compiled 25 tackles (16 solo), including 7.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. Penn State running back Tony Hunt has three consecutive 100-yard rushing games, including games of 135 and 137 in his two conference games.

Who's not: Iowa quarterback Drew Tate struggled mightily against Ohio State, and he now has just two TD passes to go with four interceptions in the Hawkeyes' past two games. Northwestern first-year coach Pat Fitzgerald's team has gone 1-3 since its emotional, season-opening victory at Miami (Ohio) - the alma mater of Randy Walker. In those four games the Wildcats are averaging 14.7 points.

Must-see TV: The Michigan-Michigan State game is on ESPN at 4:30 Eastern. Who knows what meltdowns await for the Spartans coach and his team.

Newcomer who could have an impact: It's a matchup of freshman quarterbacks in the Indiana-Illinois game as Rivals.com's National Freshman of the Week Juice Williams leads the Illini against Kellen Lewis and the Hoosiers. Williams had 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in Illinois' upset of Michigan State.

Key stat: Minnesota has had more than 300 yards of total offense in 42 of its past 43 games. The exception? Last season at Penn State, the Golden Gophers' opponent this weekend.

Take the line: If Michigan State can lose to Illinois at home it's so far in the tank it couldn't get out with airfare. Take Michigan to cover the 17-point spread in Ann Arbor. Season against the line: 3-2.

They said it: Michigan sophomore defensive tackle Terrance Taylor on the Paul Bunyan Trophy, which is on the line in the rivalry with Michigan State: "Even though it is the ugliest trophy in college football, you do not really want to lose it. Every time you come to Schembechler Hall you look down and see it standing there. It is pretty big. With our trophies, you really do not care too much about them until you lose them. Going into this game, we want to keep Paul Bunyan right where he is." Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner: "The fact that we are playing some younger guys is because they are practicing best. To say that we are building for the future by playing young guys is incorrect. We are building for Illinois."

Injury update: Michigan State running back Javon Ringer sustained a torn medial collateral ligament against Notre Dame and is out for the season. Junior Jehuu Caulcrick will pick up most of the slack, with redshirt freshman A.J. Jimmerson figuring to see more action as well.

Worth noting: Deon Butler broke Penn State's single-game receiving record with 216 yards on 11 receptions last Saturday against Northwestern. Butler entered the game with only eight receptions for 112 yards on the season. When Rodger Saffold started at left tackle against Wisconsin, he became the ninth true or redshirt freshman to start for Indiana this season. If he can put up 100 yards against Michigan State, Michigan's Mario Manningham can become just the second player in school history with four consecutive 100-yard receiving games (Braylon Edwards also accomplished the feat). Manningham has six TD catches in the past three games. The Wolverines have won four in a row in the rivalry with the Spartans, though the past two games have gone into overtime. Ohio State is 21-1 all time in games against MAC teams. They beat Northern Illinois already this season, with Bowling Green up next. The Wisconsin game marks the third consecutive road contest for Northwestern. It's the longest trip away from Evanston, Ill., for the Wildcats in six years. NU is 0-2 so far. The Badgers-Wildcats game pits the nation's youngest coaches, NU's Pat Fitzgerald, 31, against UW's Bret Bielema, 36. Badgers QB John Stocco is one of just seven signal-callers nationally to have attempted 100-plus passes and have fewer than two interceptions.

Looking back: Notre Dame 35, Purdue 21. It's a shame the Boilermakers don't have a little more on defense, because their offense can hang with anybody. Purdue leads the conference in passing offense and total offense, and ranks in the top 10 in the nation in both categories. Curtis Painter lit the Irish up for 398 passing yards, 238 to Selwyn Lymon. It was the second-most yardage ever for a Purdue receiver and the most ever yielded to a single player by Notre Dame. A Purdue secondary that starts two freshmen couldn't hold up against Charlie Weis' attack.

Freshman who impressed: Penn State true freshman defensive end Maurice Evans had a team-leading 1.5 sacks in the victory against Northwestern.

More Week 6 Conference Previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Pac-10 | SEC

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