Ten items to track in Week 10 of Big Ten action.
1. Holding serve: If things go as expected, the division races won't look much different on Saturday night than they do right now. But as we see every week, things rarely go as expected in this conference. Four Big Ten contenders are heavy favorites on their home fields Saturday afternoon: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska. A loss by any could mean the end of their Big Ten title quest. So this is no time for a let-up.
2. Michigan's QB rotation: Wolverines coach Brady Hoke continues to back Denard Robinson as his starting qurterback, but backup Devin Gardner has been used in recent weeks and should see time again Saturday at Iowa. For the most part, Michigan has overcome Robinson's erratic passing and interceptions, but the team can't live on the edge forever. Robinson will look for a more polished performance against an Iowa defense ranked last in the Big Ten against the pass (238.6 ypg allowed). But it will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Al Borges uses his quarterbacks at Kinnick Stadium.
3. Scarlet fever in November: Ohio State might be the Big Ten's hottest team -- and the league's most dangerous team -- as it enters a month it has dominated in recent years. The Buckeyes are 14-1 in November games since 2005 and haven't lost a game during the month since 2007. They'll likely need to sweep their four November games to have a chance to reach the Big Ten championship game, an accomplishment that could mean big things for coach Luke Fickell.
4. The Hangover Part II: No team in America has endured a more heartbreaking two-week stretch than the Wisconsin Badgers. After losing to Michigan State on a Hail Mary as time expired, the Badgers had a mix-up on defense that led to Braxton Miller's game-winning 40-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left last Saturday in Columbus. Despite the disappointment, Wisconsin still has a very real chance to reach Indianapolis for the title game. But it can't avoid a hangover as it returns home Saturday to face Purdue.
5. Speeding through Lincoln: Two of the nation's most uptempo offenses take the field Saturday at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium. Northwestern and Nebraska both employ no-huddle offenses designed to keep defenders off balance and eventually wear them down. Dan Persa and the Wildcats come off of a 59-point, 616-yard performance against Indiana in a game that they easily could have eclipsed the 70-point barrier. Nebraska's offense has been terrific in the second halves of games and will challenge a Northwestern defense that has allowed a league-worst 21 rushing touchdowns.
6. Hawkeyes aim for historic three-peat: How can Iowa raise the spirits of its downtrodden fans Saturday? Beating Michigan for the third consecutive year might do the trick. Iowa never has defeated the Wolverines three consecutive times and has a chance to do so. Kirk Ferentz's crew hasn't lost at home this season and averages 39.2 points at Kinnick Stadium. Running back Marcus Coker comes off of a career performance (252 rush yards), and along with QB James Vandenberg and receiver Marvin McNutt, Iowa's offense should give Michigan all it can handle.
7. Rush week at MSU: Michigan State recorded its lowest points total (3) in eight years last week at Nebraska, and offensive coordinator Dan Roushar came under fire for what many considered an odd game plan. The Spartans tried to attack Nebraska downfield rather than truly commit to the run game. "The last three weeks prior to [Saturday], we made some explosive plays on the outside," Roushar said. "We thought we could still do that. And in hindsight, maybe you continue to run the ball a little bit more." Expect Roushar to return to the "Pound Green Pound" philosophy Saturday against Minnesota, which surrendered 269 rush yards in last week's win against Iowa.
8. Boilers' run game looks to recharge: Purdue averaged 206.5 rushing yards through the first six games, mixing ball-carriers and getting production from several different sources. But after a strong first half Oct. 22 against Illinois, Purdue hasn't done much offensively, especially on the ground. The Boilers had just 42 second-half rush yards against the Illini and gained only 89 yards on 29 carries last week at Michigan. To have any chance to upset Wisconsin, Purdue must control the clock and effectively rush the football against a Badgers defense that allowed 268 rush yards last Saturday at Ohio State.
9. Young guns at The Shoe: Two of the Big Ten's dynamic young quarterbacks will display their skills Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State's Miller tries to build on his heroic performance against Wisconsin, where he rushed for 99 yards and completed 7 of 12 passes. Fellow freshman Tre Roberson looks like the answer at quarterback for Indiana, racking up 571 yards of total offense (366 pass, 205 rush) in the past two games. Miller tries to capitalize on a struggling Indiana defense playing a ton of young players, while Roberson faces a much tougher task against an Ohio State defense playing at an extremely high level.
10. Blackshirts building momentum: Nebraska's defense is finally looking like the unit most of us thought it would be entering the season. So much so that coach Bo Pelini awarded Blackshirts to the Huskers' top defenders after Monday's practice. The Blackshirts symbolize progress, and the unit has made strides in the past nine and a half quarters of play. A strong effort Saturday against a Northwestern offense that averages 431.8 yards per game would be big for Nebraska before road tests against Penn State and Michigan.