Five B1G Things To Watch For -- Week Six

Posted Oct 4, 2013

Phil Harrison scours the heartland of this great country of ours looking for the holy grail of what to watch for in this weekend's slate of Big Ten games. You have questions and he has answers -- or something like that.

By Phil Harrison
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Five B1G Things To Watch For - Week 6

5. Time for a new era under center in West Lafayette

Clearly Purdue's coaching staff believes it's time to start working on the future rather than trying to salvage a season going south. And who can blame them? The Boilermakers have looked like a bunch ready for the post-game meal each week rather than a team looking to make a statement. To say that things have been ugly so far would be an insult to the word.

What better way to build for future years than to make a quarterback change with development in mind. Truthfully,now lame-duck-starter Rob Henry did not do the things he needed for this team to be competitive. Time to usher in freshman QB Danny Etiling. Maybe it's a move to shake things up, but more than likely it's time to turn the page on a season that doesn't have much promise. Good luck kid. Hopefully the rest of the team follows.

4. Litmus test Saturday

So far this year we have mainly just non-conference games to try and decide how good the Big Ten landscape is in 2013. Some teams like Illinois and Iowa look improved from last year, while others are still undecided voters looking to punch their tickets to Big Ten contention. To that end, this week has some salty matchups between teams that we think we have a decent idea about, but still want to see more.

Four of the five matchups -- Michigan State at Iowa, Penn State at Indiana, Ohio State at Northwestern, and Illinois at Nebraska should all give us a pretty good idea on the pecking order of the conference. Welcome back Big Ten play. It should be fun.

3. Can Michigan get its Mojo back?

Remember when things looked brighter than a mirror in the Arizona sun for the Wolverines? Yeah, then we all realized that Notre Dame is a shell of its 2012 self. That's right. Michigan looked fantastic against the Irish, but then turnovers and bad decisions began to plague the team against less-than-stellar squads Akron and UConn. Fact is, Brady Hoke and gang are lucky to not have a blemish on their record.

Now the Maize and Blue get a chance to regroup after a bye-week with the suddenly not-so Golden Gophers in the Big House. Minnesota is not the Minnesota of the Tim Brewster era, but Iowa exposed Minnesota's lack of offensive firepower last week in a 23-7 loss. For Michigan to get eyes on them again, it'll need quarterback Devin Gardner to cut down on the mistakes and begin making the plays we got accustomed to late in 2012. Time to strap it up and turn things back due north.

2. Is Northwestern ready to get over the hump?

When Pat Fitzgerald took over as the Northwestern head coach, he talked about ratcheting up expectations by winning Big Ten titles and playing for BCS bowls. That hasn't quite happened yet, but clearly the Wildcat program has become one that can be more than competitive as an annual bowl-bound team. Now it's time to turn the bright lights on.

Saturday's game is what Fitzgerald envisioned when he started building things in Evanston. Both teams are ranked and undefeated, ESPN College Gameday will be on-site, and the game will be televised nationally in prime time. If ever there were a stage to make a statement that purple is the new "in color," it's now. BUT, if Northwestern can't pull off the big upset then ...

1. Can Ohio State finally look the part?

Yes the Buckeyes are undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the latest USA Today poll. Yes they are coached by one of the best coaches in all of college football over the last ten years, and yes there is talent galore on the roster. But something has been missing. There is certainly no shame in winning by 76 over a hapless Florida A&M, but OSU gave up a lot of points to California, looked lackluster against Buffalo, and went into super-wedgie mode against Wisconsin once a decent lead was attained.

Now it's time to impress folks -- mainly poll voters -- because in today's day and age, it does matter. Oregon isn't letting up on the gas pedal, Alabama is Alabama, and there is a whole host of SEC and Pac-Twelve teams breathing down a scarlet and gray neck. It's time for the defense to punish a smaller Northwestern team, and for Braxton Miller to utilize all of his weapons byeth land and air ... on national television ... under the lights.

There is simply no guarantee that Ohio State will get into the BCS national championship by waltzing through a less-than-imposing league schedule. The program has to put its foot down this week and get those style points, because there isn't much left between this game and the fairly big one in Ann Arbor at the end of the year.

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