Previewing the Big Ten noon games

Happy start of Big Ten conference play.

League action officially begins in a couple of hours, starting with three intraconference noon games. Here's a quick preview of those early matchups:

Indiana (2-1) at Northwestern (4-0): Pat Fitzgerald said this week that Hoosiers-Wildcats games are usually close and entertaining. He's right. Before Northwestern’s 59-38 win in Bloomington last year, the previous seven meetings between these two were decided by a total of 26 points, including the Wildcats' three-point win in 2010, and huge comeback for a one-point victory in 2009. Indiana will have to try and stop a Northwestern rushing attack, led by Venric Mark, that has been one of the best in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers have the league's top passing attack and remain dangerous with Cameron Coffman at quarterback.

Penn State (2-2) at Illinois (2-2): We've had this game circled since late July, when the Illini sent eight coaches to State College to try and recruit some Penn State transfers. Nobody on either side said anything inflammatory this week, but it clearly is a major subplot in this game. Illinois' defense has struggled against spread offenses, which doesn't really describe the Nittany Lions. But Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson are the leading passer and receiver in the league, respectively. Illinois has some quarterback questions. Nathan Scheelhaase is expected to start, but he was pulled early for Reilly O'Toole in last week's Louisiana Tech game when he didn't look completely healed from a Week 1 sprained ankle.

Minnesota (4-0) at Iowa (2-2): The Gophers are looking to win the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for the third straight year. That hasn't happened since 1998-2000. During that stretch (1999) was also the last time Minnesota won in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes should be an angry team after losing last week to Central Michigan, but James Vandenberg and his receivers must be on point against the No. 11 pass efficiency defense in the FBS. Max Shortell makes his second straight start at quarterback for the injured MarQueis Gray, and will have to avoid turnovers like he did last week versus Syracuse.