Title hopes on line for UW, MSU, OSU

Unless you've been hibernating for the past few weeks, you know that the Big Ten championship will be decided, or at least affected by what happens Saturday in State College, Columbus and Madison.

If you missed it from earlier today, here's how the Big Ten race looks heading into Week 13.

Now let's take a look at the three matchups of note this coming Saturday.


Vitals: noon ET at Ohio Stadium, ABC national broadcast

Records: Michigan 7-4, 3-4 Big Ten; Ohio State 10-1, 6-1

Series: Michigan leads 57-44-6 (Ohio State has won last six meetings)

Last result: Ohio State won 21-10 in Ann Arbor last November

League title impact: An Ohio State win gives the Buckeyes at least a share of the Big Ten title for the sixth consecutive year, tying a league record. Ohio State would need to win and have losses by both Wisconsin and Michigan State to win the championship outright.

The skinny: The Game is in an unfamiliar spot after the Thanksgiving holiday, but the scene is similar for both teams as they meet in college football's top rivalry. Ohio State is clearly the better team and aims for its seventh consecutive win against the Wolverines, which would mark the second-longest streak by any team in the series behind Michigan's run of nine straight wins between 1901-1909.

The heat is beginning to rise again for Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who has yet to beat the Wolverines' top two conference rivals (Ohio State and Michigan State) in his three years in Ann Arbor. To pull off what would be a major upset, Michigan will need to play its best game of the season on defense to slow down an Ohio State offense that ranks ninth nationally in scoring (39.6 ppg).

The matchup features two candidates for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Ohio State signal-caller Terrelle Pryor. The Buckeyes boast good speed throughout their defense, so it will be interesting to see if Robinson can break through for big plays. Michigan will need a fast start from an offense that has struggled early in all four of its losses. The good news for the Wolverines: Ohio State is a slow-starting team.


Vitals: noon ET at Beaver Stadium, ESPN2

Records: Michigan State 10-1, 6-1 Big Ten; Penn State 7-4, 4-3

Series: Penn State leads 14-12-1 (Penn State has won two straight meetings)

Last result: Penn State won 42-14 in East Lansing last November

League title impact: The Spartans need a win to clinch a share of their first Big Ten championship since 1990. A Michigan State win combined with an Ohio State loss will give the Spartans the Big Ten's automatic BCS berth no matter what happens with Wisconsin because Michigan State beat Wisconsin on Oct. 2

The skinny: This figures to be the most competitive of the three big-ticket games in the Big Ten on Saturday. Michigan State can set a single-season team record with its 11th victory, but it will need to win in Happy Valley for the first time since 1965, the year before Joe Paterno took over as Penn State's head coach. Speaking of Paterno, there's some talk that Saturday could be his final home game as Lions coach, although don't be surprised if he returns in 2011.

Michigan State has overcome so much adversity both on and off the field this fall, and a win Saturday would complete a truly special season, regardless of what bowl the Spartans end up visiting. The Spartans haven't looked quite as dominant since their win at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 9, as they struggled for stretches against both Northwestern and Illinois, got crushed by Iowa and needed a furious fourth-quarter rally to beat 4-6 Purdue this past Saturday. Does Mark Dantonio's squad have one more magical performance left in it? Michigan State should be tested by a Penn State team that has won four of five since its open week.

Spartans junior quarterback Kirk Cousins says he'll play Saturday despite dealing with ankle and shoulder injuries the past few weeks. Penn State counters with sophomore signal-caller Matt McGloin, who has been very good for stretches in three of the team's last four victories. The game also pairs two good groups of running backs as Michigan State's Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell go up against Penn State's Evan Royster and Silas Redd.


Vitals: 3:30 p.m. ET at Camp Randall Stadium, ABC regional (ESPN in outer markets)

Records: Northwestern 7-4, 3-4 Big Ten; Wisconsin 10-1, 6-1

Series: Wisconsin leads 55-33-5 (the teams have split the past four meetings)

Last result: Northwestern won 33-31 last November in Evanston

League title impact: Wisconsin clinches at least a share of the Big Ten championship for the first time since 1999 with a win. If the Badgers win and Michigan State loses, Wisconsin will win the Big Ten's automatic BCS berth regardless of what happens with Ohio State because of a head-to-head win Oct. 16.

The skinny: Wisconsin might know the results of the other two games before it takes the field at what should be an electric Camp Randall Stadium. If Michigan State stumbles in State College, the Badgers will be playing for a Rose Bowl berth. And while Northwestern handed Wisconsin a loss last year, this looks like a mismatch on paper.

The Wildcats aren't the same team without star quarterback Dan Persa, and their defense allowed an inexcusable 519 rushing yards Saturday to Illinois, 330 yards to Mikel Leshoure alone. A similar effort Saturday will produce a lopsided result, as Wisconsin ranks 12th nationally in rushing offense (239.9 ypg) and has averaged 41.7 points in its first seven Big Ten contests. The surging Badgers should get leading rusher John Clay back from a sprained knee, creating the nation's top three-headed backfield monster with Montee Ball and James White. Northwestern's defense had decent efforts against Iowa, Indiana and for stretches against Michigan State, but it will need a superb performance this week.

Although the Badgers' defense is vulnerable, Northwestern would need to see significant improvement from backup quarterback Evan Watkins to keep pace on the scoreboard. After Saturday's win against Michigan, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said his players "taste" what's in front of them. It's tough to see Northwestern hanging around in this one, although anything can happen in the Big Ten.