Big Ten preview: Penn State to the Big House

Also, Iowa and Michigan State battle for first place.

Josh Katzenstein

A few weeks ago the Penn State-Michigan game would have drawn a lot more attention. But since the Wolverines (5-2 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) have lost two of their last three games, the 13th-ranked Nittany Lions go to Ann Arbor as heavy favorites. Penn State (6-1, 2-1) enters the game leading the Big Ten in total offense and defense. Senior quarterback Daryll Clark and junior running back Evan Royster will look to exploit a Wolverines defense that allows more than 360 yards per game. Last week, Michigan thrashed Football Championship Subdivision opponent Delaware State, 63-6 . Tate Forcier has played well thus far in his true freshman campaign and sits at fourth in passer efficiency in the Big Ten. If the Wolverines hope to protect the Big House, they will need to return to the way they played against Notre Dame, which helped lead to them climbing as high as 22nd in the AP poll. No. 7 Iowa at Michigan State The Hawkeyes travel to East Lansing to face arguably one of the hottest teams in the conference. Michigan State (4-3, 3-1) has been streaky thus far in 2009. After losing three straight, the Spartans now ride a three-game winning streak as they host the Big TenâÄôs top team. No. 7 Iowa (7-0, 3-0) enters the game as the only team in the nation to defeat three top-25 teams this season . Junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi has played with poise this season for the Hawkeyes and has experience in close games. Three of IowaâÄôs wins have been decided by three points or less . The Spartans are no strangers to close games but donâÄôt carry the track record of the Hawkeyes. Michigan State has lost two games by three points or less, but did pull off an overtime victory over Michigan earlier this year. Michigan State has the conferenceâÄôs most potent passing offense, led by sophomores Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol who rank first and third in pass efficiency in the Big Ten, respectively. Iowa brings in the conferenceâÄôs second-best pass defense in what will be a battle for first place midway through the conference season. Illinois at Purdue A game featuring the two teams at the bottom of the Big Ten has plenty of storylines when the records are thrown out. Purdue (2-5, 1-2) enters the battle for the Cannon coming off a huge upset victory over then-No. 7 Ohio State, 26-18, on Saturday. Behind senior Joey Elliott, the Big TenâÄôs leader in passing yards and total offense, the Boilermakers look to stay hot as they host the Illini. As for Illinois, senior quarterback Juice Williams has been at the center of some quarterback controversy. After leading the Illini to a Rose Bowl just two seasons ago, he was benched two weeks ago. In IllinoisâÄô homecoming game, junior Eddie McGee earned the starting job over Williams, who ranks 10th in passing yards per game and isnâÄôt in the top 10 in passer efficiency. The Illini (1-5, 0-4) rank 11th in pass defense and total defense , so Elliott will likely continue to pad his numbers as the Boilermakers try to recover from a slow start to 2009. Indiana at Northwestern The other Illinois-Indiana border battle has early bowl implications as both the Hoosiers and Wildcats look to remain above .500. Indiana (4-3, 1-2) has lost three of its last four games. The Hoosiers boast the conferenceâÄôs 10th-worst passing defense, so look for NorthwesternâÄôs senior quarterback Mike Kafka to be throwing and throwing often. Kafka is second to only PurdueâÄôs Elliot in passing yards per game and total offense in the conference. Indiana has been one of the most surprising teams thus far in 2009, but Northwestern looks to keep its hopes of a second straight bowl berth alive.