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September 23, 2010

Week 4 preview in the Big Ten

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | MWC | Pac-10 | SEC | Others

This is the last chance for Big Ten teams to get fat and happy playing schools from lesser leagues.

Austin Peay at Wisconsin, noon
Ball State at Iowa, noon
Bowling Green at Michigan, noon
Central Michigan at Northwestern, noon
Northern Colorado at Michigan State, noon
Toledo at Purdue, noon
Eastern Michigan at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m.
Temple at Penn State, 3:30 p.m.
Akron at Indiana, 7 p.m.
Northern Illinois at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m.
The scheduling break couldn't come at a better time. Rough-and-tumble conference action is just around the corner, and the Big Ten is coming off of a Saturday to forget.

No. 9 Iowa went down at Arizona 34-27. Minnesota got dumped 32-21 by USC. Wisconsin needed a blocked PAT to avert overtime with Arizona State, 20-19. Michigan's defense got shredded in a too-narrow victory over FCS member Massachusetts, 42-37. Michigan State needed a trick play to beat an average Notre Dame squad in overtime, 34-31. Illinois (28-22 over Northern Illinois) and Purdue (24-13 over Ball State) struggled to topple MAC teams.

This is the league some were hailing as the best in the country?

At least top dog Ohio State looked dominant in dispatching Ohio, 43-7.

This Saturday is all about getting better. How pathetically soft is the Big Ten slate? No league school plays a team from a Big Six conference, and every Big Ten team plays at home.

The soft and mushy details: There are eight games with MAC schools and two games against FCS squads.

Danger still looms. In the past two seasons, the MAC has six victories over Big Ten squads. Two came last season, with Central Michigan dumping Michigan State and Northern Illinois clipping Purdue.

It wouldn't be a shock if Toledo beats Purdue, Northern Illinois tops Minnesota or Central Michigan gets by Northwestern.

And some across the nation are predicting Temple to beat Penn State. This looks like the best game of this weekend of games to forget in the Big Ten.

"I think the whole Temple team presents a problem," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "Al Golden, he has two other kids that played for us that are on his staff; one is defensive coordinator [Mark D'Onofrio], one is the offensive coordinator [Matt Rhule]. I think this is going to be a tough ballgame, a really tough ballgame."

Even contests with FCS foes can be treacherous. Just ask Minnesota, which is one of six FBS schools to lose to an FCS opponent this year, falling 41-38 to South Dakota. It was the second time Minnesota has lost to a FCS team under coach Tim Brewster; North Dakota State beat the Gophers in 2007.

The FCS matchups: Wisconsin plays Austin Peay, while Michigan State takes on Northern Colorado.

But the easiest game belongs to Ohio State, which plays a horrid Eastern Michigan club.

"I'm sure [Eastern Michigan] Coach [Ron] English can see a lot of progress simply on the practice field and understanding of his guys, so he's going to bring a team over here that's better than we've ever seen, and to me that's real," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said.

Not really. Eastern Michigan will arrive in Columbus with a 15-game losing streak, the second longest in the nation to Western Kentucky's 23-game skid.

Cue "Carmen Ohio."

And watch the victories roll in this weekend.

Best matchup: Penn State's defensive front seven vs. Temple RB Bernard Pierce. Don't take this Owls team lightly, Nittany Lions. Temple is good. It's coming off its first victory over a Big Six school since 2004, a 30-16 whipping of Connecticut. That makes the Owls 3-0 for the first time since 1979. Thank Pierce, who ran for 169 yards vs. UConn; Pierce, a sophomore from the Philadelphia area, will be one of the two or three best running backs Penn State sees all season. If he runs wild, the Owls may have a shot to notch their first win over Penn State since 1941, when Joe Paterno was in junior high.

Player on the spot: Purdue QB Robert Marve. He is the 11th-rated passer in the Big Ten. And his four interceptions are the second-most in the league to Penn State quarterback Robert Bolden's five. Marve, who last week tweaked the knee he had surgery on in 2009 and missed much of the game, needs to hit some deep balls to take pressure off a limited Boilermakers ground game. If Marve struggles, Purdue could get dumped by Toledo.

Numbers game: Six Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 25 in both major media polls (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State). That is tied with the SEC for the national lead and is the most Big Ten schools ranked in both polls since 2004.

What they're saying

"Everybody has kind of rolled up their sleeves and said, 'OK, let's get done what needs to be done until the boss gets back in his chair.' I would think without 'Coach D' sitting there right now physically that they will rally to make sure that what 'Coach D' has put in place remains and they stay focused on the task at hand." -- Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, who is acting coach with Mark Dantonio sidelined after he suffered a heart attack following the Notre Dame game Saturday night

"It's very stressful. The hours, it's total life-consuming. During the season, if it was an 80-hour week, a short week, and you usually dip into the 100-hour week. Those aren't exaggerations, those are legit, and it goes on for hundreds of days in a row. It's a stressful occupation in a lot of ways." -- Purdue coach Danny Hope, on the stresses of the profession in the wake of Dantonio's heart attack

"Technology has added to your life as far as demands, and so as we get all these creative things, it's just adding more things to do. We can study so many things nowadays because the way the computer [works] -- just sort them in your computer and, poof, here comes [information that tells us that] it's third down and it's raining on the left hash and your eyeballs fall out and you've got to try to be disciplined." -- Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, on how his job has gotten more complex and stressful

"We can play a lot better defensively. In the first couple games, we had really good moments of very good defense. The last ballgame, we just didn't play well; we were tight and tentative. I could see a little bit of confidence erode because they were moving the ball. We were kind of on our heels." -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, on his defense, which yielded 37 points and 439 yards to UMass last week

Etc.: Illinois is off this week. Wisconsin received a big blow with the loss of sophomore LB Chris Borland for the season because of recurring shoulder issues. He was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2009. Iowa's running back depth took a hit with the announcement that Jewel Hampton needs season-ending knee surgery after tearing his left ACL in the loss at Arizona. He also missed 2009 with a knee injury. The Hawkeyes also will be without RB Paki O'Meara this weekend after he sustained a concussion at Arizona. Like Iowa, Purdue has been hammered with injuries at running back. Ralph Bolden (knee) and Keith Carlos (foot) have been out all season. Al-Terek McBurse (toe) missed last week's game and Dan Dierking (ribs) was limited. Northwestern is trying to go unbeaten in non-conference play for the second time in the past three seasons. Before that, NU had gone 35 consecutive seasons with at least one non-conference loss. Penn State RB Evan Royster is off to a slow start and is being pushed for his job by Stephfon Green and freshman Silas Redd. Special-teams play has been horrendous in the Big Ten. And last week was the worst yet. Michigan had a punt blocked and missed a 38-yard field goal. Minnesota yielded a kickoff return for a touchdown. Wisconsin allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown and nearly permitted another before knocking the runner out at the 1. Iowa had a punt blocked and allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown. With a victory this weekend, Indiana will start 3-0 for just the 14th time in school history and the second time in the past three seasons. Purdue is one of 10 teams in the nation that hasn't lost a fumble. The Wolverines will face former Michigan K Bryan Wright, who now is the kicker and punter at Bowling Green, where he is in his first year of graduate school. Michigan State has indefinitely suspended TE Dion Sims after he was charged as part of an alleged laptop theft ring.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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