Some B1G teams already in must-win mode

The creative folks in Bristol branded Week 2 as Road Test Weekend around college football.

I'm not quite as creative, but you could call Week 7 Must-Win Saturday around the Big Ten.

Too soon? Maybe. The must-win label typically isn't applied until the temperature plummets and the number of games left on the schedule begins to dwindle.

It's downright balmy in most of Big Ten Country. Feels like late August. And most teams have more than half of their schedules left to play.

So why does it feel like panic time for several programs?

Let's start with Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 3-3, 0-2 in Big Ten play. They haven't been in this position since the 2004 season, when they dropped their first three Big Ten games (Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa). Until the past two weeks, Ohio State hadn't dropped consecutive games -- of any kind -- since the three-game slide back in '04.

While Ohio State still has six games to play, the future looks daunting. A brutal October slate continues Saturday against No. 16 Illinois, which is 6-0. After a bye week, Ohio State hosts No. 4 Wisconsin, which is 5-0. The regular season wraps up with games against Penn State (5-1) and Michigan (6-0).

Ohio State might be favored in just two of its final six contests (Indiana, Purdue). The Buckeyes haven't missed the postseason since 1999, but they have an uphill climb to get there, and it has nothing to do with the impending infractions committee ruling.

Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller is expected to play against the unbeaten Illini. How effective he'll be after a sprained ankle suffered Saturday night at Nebraska remains to be seen. The alternative makes most Ohio State fans shudder.

A loss Saturday in Champaign would drop Ohio State below .500 for the first time since the Buckeyes lost the 1999 season opener to No. 12 Miami. Ohio State hasn't been below .500 in October or later since 1988, its last losing season and coach John Cooper's first at the school.

A possible silver lining for Ohio State is neither of its Big Ten losses have occurred within the Leaders division. Illinois marks the Buckeyes' first division game.

It seems appropriate to call Saturday's game in Champaign a must-win for the Scarlet and Gray.

Speaking of two teams that need wins, Northwestern and Iowa meet Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium. Both teams are searching for their first Big Ten victories, and Northwestern already has dropped a Legends division game.

The Wildcats entered the season touting quarterback Dan Persa for the Heisman Trophy, while a sizable senior class talked about big goals for the team. The first half has been a colossal disappointment for Pat Fitzgerald's crew, which lost to a 2-4 Army team and squandered double-digit, second-half leads in each of the past two weeks in losses to Illinois and Michigan. Northwestern is below .500 for the first time since 2007, and a loss to Iowa would essentially remove the Wildcats from Legends division contention.

Like Ohio State, Northwestern might have a tough time simply qualifying for a bowl. On the plus side, Fitzgerald's teams always seem to play their best against Iowa. Northwestern has won three straight against Iowa and five of the teams' past six meetings, including the past three at Kinnick Stadium.

Iowa might not be in must-win mode as much as Ohio State and Northwestern, but the Hawkeyes can't feel too comfortable about their position. Saturday's buzz-killing 13-3 loss to Penn State leaves Iowa at 3-2, 0-1 in Big Ten play. Iowa failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2007 and recorded its lowest points total since 2005.

A win Saturday night could spur Iowa, which has favorable matchups the next two weeks against Big Ten bottom-feeders Indiana and Minnesota. The Hawkeyes still can capitalize on a schedule that brings Michigan and Michigan State to Kinnick and features only one major road test (Nebraska). But another loss to Northwestern could rattle a young Iowa team and make it tough to claw back into the Legends division race.

It doesn't always take a drop in temperature for the heat to rise in football complexes around the Big Ten.

For at least three Big Ten teams, Must-Win Saturday is coming.