Every week during the season, we’ll give you our picks of Big Ten players to watch in the upcoming weekend. It could be a breakout guy, someone lined up for a big performance or a player in a pivotal role.
Here’s who to keep an eye on in the final week of the regular season:
Brian Bennett: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
Well, duh. But Barkley’s performance -- and his health -- might make the difference in Indianapolis. The sophomore left the Michigan State game with an apparent ankle injury, but said on Monday that he was feeling fine. Will he have the same explosiveness and ability to cut on Saturday night? Penn State will need him at his best to counter Wisconsin’s ferocious defense. Barkley is the biggest star in this surprising matchup, and stars have to show up in these kinds of games.
Austin Ward: Wisconsin WR Jazz Peavy
Whether it’s through the air as a target in the passing game or making life miserable for opponents by flying around the edge on the jet sweep as a rusher, Peavy has the speed and elusiveness to create problems for any defense. The Nittany Lions have done impressive work after losing defensive coordinator Bob Shoop in the offseason, but there is still a bit of a gap between them and the league’s elite units -- and Peavy has already enjoyed some success against one of them. He turned his 10 combined rushes and receptions into 146 yards and a touchdown in the overtime thriller against Ohio State, and for some reason, that workload still stands as the junior’s season high in touches. He could be a difference-maker if Wisconsin commits to keeping him involved.
Josh Moyer: Penn State DE Garrett Sickels
For Penn State to find success Saturday, it’s obvious that it will need to shut down Wisconsin’s rushing attack. And nowhere are the Badgers more effective than running behind left tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Wisconsin has gained twice as many yards behind Ramczyk as it has behind the right tackle -- 900 yards to 445 yards -- so Sickels will need to set the edge and help keep running back Corey Clement and Wisconsin's ground game in check. Sickels has shown before that he can be a playmaker, as he finished with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in the second half against No. 2 Ohio State. So he’ll need to be just as dominant this time around.
Jesse Temple: Wisconsin RB Clement
Yes, this is an obvious answer. But Clement also is responsible for more offensively than any player on Wisconsin's team. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in six of the past seven games. During that stretch, he's also averaging 27 carries per game. Nobody else on the Badgers is taking more than 7.3 carriers per outing this season. Clement generally keeps the chains moving, which is why Wisconsin leads the FBS in time of possession. If Penn State can shut down Clement, the Nittany Lions should be in great shape.
Dan Murphy: Penn State WR Chris Godwin
One would imagine that Wisconsin will try to stop Penn State by taking away Barkley. The Badgers' Big Ten-leading rush defense should put up a good fight there. That leaves the Nittany Lions' passing game with some pressure to create big plays against a Wisconsin secondary full of ballhawks. If Penn State is going to put up points, look for Chris Godwin down the field to make a few big catches. The junior averaged nearly 30 yards per reception against Michigan State last week, and he has nine touchdowns among his 47 receptions so far this season.