Big Ten preview: Badgers, Buckeyes meet for first place

Also, three teams will finish non-conference schedule.

Marco LaNave

Ohio State is preparing for Badgers sophomore running back John Clay this week as he heads to Columbus, but Clay has been on the radar of Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel for longer than that âÄî four years, to be exact. The Buckeyes have had their eyes on Clay, a Racine, Wis. native who was rated by as the No. 2 running back in Wisconsin in the recruiting class of 2007 , since his junior year of high school, Tressel said. âÄúHeâÄôs got excellent patience. He keeps his shoulders square to the goal line; one guyâÄôs not going to bring him down,âÄù Tressel said. âÄúHeâÄôs every bit the big back that we thought he was going to become.âÄù Clay is the conferenceâÄôs leading rusher and was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a career-high 184 yards against the Gophers last Saturday . Something will have to give when the Badgers (2-0 Big Ten, 5-0 overall), who have the Big TenâÄôs best rushing offense and lead the conference in passing efficiency, face the Buckeyes (2-0, 4-1), who have the best defense in the Big Ten . WisconsinâÄôs defense is beginning to come together as well. It has forced at least three turnovers in each of the past four games and has scored 35 points off of turnovers the past two weeks . The Buckeyes and Badgers have the two longest active bowl-appearance streaks among Big Ten teams , reaching bowl games in the past nine and seven seasons, respectively. Coming into the season, Wisconsin and Ohio State had the two best home records in the conference over the past six seasons , but the home team has only won two of the past eight meetings in the series. The Badgers had won three straight in Columbus before a 2007 loss . Ohio State has had second-half comeback wins in each of the last two meetings . Michigan at No. 12 Iowa Michigan (1-1, 4-1) fell out of the top 25 after losing at Michigan State on Saturday . In the game, Wolverines true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier nearly led his third fourth-quarter comeback victory this season. Forcier threw a game-winning 5-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds remaining to beat Notre Dame on Sept. 12 , and then threw for a 26-yard game-winning score with 2:29 remaining against Indiana on Sept. 26 . Last Saturday, he threw two touchdown passes in the final four minutes of regulation, but threw an interception in overtime that led to Michigan StateâÄôs win . Iowa (1-0 Big Ten) is 5-0 for the first time under head coach Kirk Ferentz , the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes, whose homecoming is Saturday, have won their past nine games âÄî the second-longest active winning streak in the country behind No. 1 Florida . Michigan State at Illinois Michigan State (1-1, 2-3) halted a three-game losing streak with a 26-20 overtime win against Michigan last Saturday . The Spartans lead the Big Ten in total offense while IllinoisâÄô defense has allowed the most yards per game . Saturday will be homecoming for the Illini (0-2, 1-3). Head coach Ron Zook said junior Eddie McGee will start as quarterback Saturday despite senior Juice Williams breaking the all-time Illini total offense record last Saturday . Williams, who will be benched, ranks ninth all-time in the Big Ten . Eastern Illinois at No. 14 Penn State Penn State (1-1, 4-1) will play Football Championship Subdivision opponent Eastern Illinois (4-1) on Saturday to tune up for the rest of its Big Ten schedule. The Nittany Lions have scored first in every game and have led entering the fourth quarter of each game this season . Eastern Illinois is 0-3 all-time against the Big Ten. The Panthers are led by graduate student quarterback Jake Christensen , who played three seasons at Iowa and started every game for the Hawkeyes in 2007 . Senior kicker Austin Signor was also a member of that team . Miami (Ohio) at Northwestern Northwestern (1-1, 3-2) forced six turnovers in rallying from a 21-3 deficit for a 27-21 win last Saturday at Purdue . Wildcats senior quarterback Mike Kafka has spearheaded the Wildcats offense, but the ground battle has made the difference in each of the five games. Northwestern is 3-0 when rushing for more yards than its opponent and is 0-2 when rushing for fewer . Miami (0-5) has out-rushed its opponent just once but committed five turnovers in that game to lose 29-19 at Kent State . Two of the RedhawksâÄô losses have been to Boise State and Cincinnati, which are both ranked in the top 10 . Indiana at Virginia Indiana (0-2, 3-2) will attempt to complete a perfect non-conference schedule . Hoosiers sophomore wide receiver Tandon Doss caught 11 passes for 200 total receiving yards against Michigan and Ohio State the past two weeks . He is second in the Big Ten in receiving yards . Virginia (1-3) won its first game in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener at North Carolina last Saturday . The Cavaliers have outscored opponents 20-7 in the first quarter this season, but have been outscored 89-58 in the final three quarters .