What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 7

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Let's be honest: Week 6 was a little boring, except for the Michigan-Iowa game. Here's hoping for a little more drama in Week 7.

Can you believe the season is halfway done? Crazy.

1. Heartland hype -- The Big Ten's showcase matchup takes place in Madison, as longtime rivals Iowa and Wisconsin square off on homecoming for the Badgers. The Heartland Trophy is at stake, and so is Iowa's undefeated record. The Hawkeyes are off to their best start since 1985. Wisconsin owns a 34-3 record at home since the start of the 2004 season, but one of those losses came against Iowa in 2005. The Hawkeyes have won two of their last three meetings at Camp Randall Stadium and own the nation's second-longest win streak at 10 games.

2. Penn State's self assessment begins -- Penn State is 5-1, but do we really know anything about this Nittany Lions team? Head coach Joe Paterno and his players share a similar curiosity/anxiety halfway through the season. They'll learn a lot more during a stretch against four teams with winning records, which begins Saturday against Minnesota (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). An improving Lions run game squares off against the Big Ten's most improved linebacking corps in Minnesota, while a Penn State defense that seems to be getting healthier must contend with superstar wideout Eric Decker. Lions linebacker Sean Lee could be back after missing the last three games with a sprained knee.

3. Pryor at home on the road -- Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has played his best football away from Columbus. Pryor has thrown six touchdown passes and three interceptions in games against Indiana (road) and Toledo (neutral site) this season, versus three touchdowns and three picks in four home games. The sophomore also came up big in road wins against Wisconsin, Michigan State, Northwestern and Illinois last season. He once again hits the road to face struggling Purdue, which could have a tough time containing his running ability.

4. Desperation in Bloomington -- Something's got to give when Illinois and Indiana meet Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington (Big Ten Network, 7 p.m. ET). The Illini are in must-win mode after four noncompetitive performances against BCS opponents. Embattled head coach Ron Zook must decide whether Juice Williams or Eddie McGee starts at quarterback and hope his team finally scores a first-half touchdown against a BCS opponent. Indiana, meanwhile, comes off a disastrous showing at Virginia and tries to snap a three-game slide.

5. Forcier's health -- Michigan's glorified scrimmage against Delaware State shouldn't feature much drama, but there is the matter of Tate Forcier. The freshman quarterback sustained a mild concussion last week at Iowa and has been dealing with a right (throwing) shoulder sprain for the last three weeks. Forcier returned to practice Wednesday and likely will make the start. We'll find out if Michigan rushed him back too soon in a game where the team doesn't really need him. Backup Denard Robinson figures to get plenty of playing time no matter what.

6. Improved defenses clash in East Lansing -- Veteran-laden defenses figured to be the strengths for both Michigan State and Northwestern entering the season. After slow starts by both units, things seem to be coming together nicely. Northwestern has forced 10 turnovers in its last two games, while Michigan State has recorded 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in back-to-back victories. Both teams' offenses figure to pass the ball a lot on Saturday, so the secondaries will be tested.

7. Stanzi vs. Tolzien -- Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien have led their teams to a combined record of 11-1. Both have made big plays and major mistakes, and Saturday's game likely will come down to which signal-caller performs better. Tolzien, the Big Ten's surprise player through the first half of the season, threw two pick-sixes last week against Ohio State, while Stanzi has had interceptions returned for touchdowns in each of his last two games. Both Iowa and Wisconsin boast extremely opportunistic secondaries, so the quarterbacks will need to be careful with their decisions and throws.

8. Purdue's ball security -- Warning to Danny Hope and the Boilermakers: This item will be on What to Watch every week until things start to improve. Purdue ranks 118th nationally in turnovers lost with 18, and most of them have come from veteran players. The Boilers are a better team than their record shows and boast several of the league's statistical leaders, but they'll have absolutely no chance against Ohio State if they give away the football. Quarterback Joey Elliott and his receivers need to be on the same page and do a better job of ball security against a ferocious Buckeyes defense.

9. Minnesota's mission -- When Tim Brewster was hired as Minnesota's head coach, he talked about competing for Big Ten championships again. The Gophers still look like a team in transition, but they have a great opportunity to move up the league's pecking order the next two weeks with trips to No. 14 Penn State and No. 7 Ohio State. Minnesota recorded road wins against No. 2 Penn State in 1999 and No. 6 Ohio State in 2000. An upset win or two would provide some concrete evidence to support Brewster's optimism.

10. Spartans, Wildcats provide drama -- Most Big Ten fans might not be aware of it, but Michigan State and Northwestern have produced one of the league's most entertaining series this decade. Three years ago, the Spartans recorded the biggest comeback in NCAA history against Northwestern. Two years ago, the Wildcats outlasted the Spartans 48-41 in an overtime shootout. The teams also had a wild finish in a 2001 game at Ryan Field, which Northwestern won 27-26 on a last-second field goal. Be sure to tune in Saturday at Spartan Stadium (ESPN2, noon ET) and find out what happens next.