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September 9, 2010

Week 2 preview in the Big Ten

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

San Jose State at Wisconsin, noon
Western Illinois at Purdue, noon
Illinois State at Northwestern, noon
South Dakota at Minnesota, noon
Fla. Atlantic vs. Michigan St. in Detroit, noon
Michigan at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m.
Iowa State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m.
Miami at Ohio State, 3:40 p.m.
Penn State at Alabama, 7 p.m.
Southern Illinois at Illinois, 7:30 p.m.

Among the biggest revelations of the opening Saturday was the play of Michigan's Denard Robinson and Penn State's Robert Bolden, who each made the first starts of their careers.

Now, each quarterback finds himself in a huge showdown game on the road that will help determine if each is legit -- and if their respective teams are truly Big Ten title contenders.

The Nittany Lions play at defending national champion Alabama. The teams last met in 1990, when Penn State took a 9-0 decision in Tuscaloosa.

The Wolverines play at Notre Dame against a team that looked promising in a 23-12 win over Purdue in Brian Kelly's debut as coach. Michigan has won three of the past four meetings.

While Penn State is playing coy about who will start at quarterback, Bolden is expected to be the man again. There's no doubt Robinson will get the nod when the Wolverines play at Notre Dame.

Bolden became the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener in Penn State history. And Bolden delivered, going 20-of-29 for 239 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 44-14 victory over FCS member Youngstown State.

Making Bolden's ascent even more amazing is that he didn't take part in spring drills, not arriving on campus until the summer. But he still beat out sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin. While Bolden figures to start at Alabama, Newsome and McGloin also are likely to see time, as they did last week.

"If something happens, I feel confident that the other two kids that can play would be able to step in there and do some things," Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno said. "But Bolden isn't going to beat Alabama by himself. Bolden's got to go down there and just do the job that he can do -- be careful with the football, don't do stupid things.

"Understand we're going to have a lot of adversity and go from one play to the next one. See what we can get done, play after play. I mean, it's a football game. It's not the Crusades."

Robinson, a sophomore, was even more impressive in his starting debut after beating out incumbent Tate Forcier, going 19-of-22 for 186 yards and a touchdown while running for 197 -- the most ever by a Michigan quarterback -- and a score in a 30-10 triumph over Connecticut. Robinson and former Indiana star Antwaan Randle El are the only Big Ten quarterbacks ever to pass and run for 180 yards in a game.

"I'll talk to him about staying humble and staying hungry, but that's in his nature anyway," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "He'll be able to handle the pats on the back. That's the same thing I told the team: You're just one bad day away from everybody else saying what they were saying about you last week. It's that old thing: It's like poison; it's OK as long as you don't swallow it."

Three other Big Ten quarterbacks made their starting debuts last week. Northwestern junior Dan Persa was 19-of-21 passing for 222 yards and three scores in 23-21 victory at Vanderbilt. He also led the Wildcats with 82 rushing yards.

Purdue junior Robert Marve, a transfer from Miami, was 31-of-42 for 220 yards with no touchdowns, two picks and four sacks in a 23-12 loss at Notre Dame.

Illinois redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase was 9-of-23 for 81 yards, a touchdown and three picks in a 23-13 loss to Missouri in St. Louis.

Best matchup: Michigan front seven vs. Notre Dame running game. Robinson and the offense grabbed most of the headlines in Michigan's win over UConn on Saturday. But the Wolverines' defense may have been a better story under coordinator Greg Robinson. The much-maligned unit ranked ninth in the Big Ten (393.3 ypg) last season and time and again was run over (10th in rushing defense, 171.9 ypg). But the unit held the physical Huskies to 343 yards, including 138 on the ground. The Fighting Irish showed good balance against Purdue last week, running for 153 yards and passing for 205. It will be vital for Michigan to make Notre Dame one-dimensional if it hopes to win under the Golden Dome. And that means muting a running game led by Armando Allen (93 yards against Purdue) and Cierre Wood (58). With the Irish ground game slowed, Michigan would be able to come after Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist.

Player on the spot: Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor. What's on the line for Pryor when Miami visits the Horseshoe? Only his Heisman hopes and the Buckeyes' national title dreams. Ohio State faced a similar game last season when USC visited and claimed an 18-15 victory. The Buckeyes rebounded to win the Big Ten and score a huge triumph over Oregon in the Rose Bowl. This is a chance for the Buckeyes to notch another big win and show they are worthy of their high ranking and national title talk. Pryor quieted many critics with his Rose Bowl MVP performance against Oregon. But a visit from Miami is another opportunity to show he's a legit star quarterback. Pryor looked strong in a 45-7 season-opening victory over Marshall (17-of-25 for 247 yards with two TDs), but the Hurricanes' defense is loaded with the type of speed and athletic ability that Pryor likely won't see again this season. He must be a star Saturday.

Numbers game: Just call this "FCS Saturday," with four Big Ten teams playing foes from the lower level: Illinois (Southern Illinois), Northwestern (Illinois State), Purdue (Western Illinois) and Minnesota (South Dakota).

What they're saying

"Is the coach making a big issue out of it? No. Anytime somebody doesn't play, whether it's Tate or somebody else, they're probably going to be disappointed. I don't see a problem with a guy being disappointed if they don't play. Now if it crosses the line with them not being a team player, then we'll have a conversation. If we need to do that, I'll do that. I'm not totally concerned about somebody making an issue out of something. I've been here a couple years and seen that happen -- issues being made of something where I'm saying, 'Is that really an issue?' " -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, on the sideline demeanor of backup QB Tate Forcier

"I think Nick has a way of getting kids to hustle and drive, and he's a tough guy and his kids play tough. He's got better talent at Alabama than he had at Michigan State and more good ones than he had at Michigan State, but the same kind of attitude toward the game, the same kind of hustle. The details, fundamentals, toughness. So it's not much different except I think he's got a little better talent." -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno, on his impressions of Nick Saban when he was coach at Michigan State (1995-99)

"It doesn't matter what level you're at; there are great players and teams. Just ask Ole Miss; ask me against New Hampshire. Trust me, I'm aware." -- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, on preparing for a FCS school. This week, the Wildcats play Illinois State, coached by former longtime Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack. New Hampshire beat Northwestern a few years ago

"It's a good time for us to focus a little bit more on the run game from the defensive standpoint because that's been our Achilles' heel in the past, and it was hard to get great focus and time committed, preparation-wise, to that getting ready for Notre Dame." -- Purdue coach Danny Hope, as his team prepares to play three winnable games in a row: FCS member Western Illinois, Ball State and Toledo

Etc.: Indiana is off this week. The Hoosiers will have had 16 days off between games when they play next. They opened Sept. 2 against Towson and next play at Western Kentucky on Sept. 18. Michigan starting WR Roy Roundtree is doubtful for the Notre Dame game because of internal bruises suffered following a big hit against UConn. Starting S Carvin Johnson is doubtful with a knee injury. Iowa will welcome Iowa State in a battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. The Hawkeyes have won two in a row and five of the past seven encounters with the Cyclones. Iowa State last won in Iowa City in 2002. Big Ten teams will play 13 games against MAC foes this season. The MAC has six victories over Big Ten teams in the past two seasons. Last season, Northern Illinois dumped Purdue and Central Michigan topped Michigan State. The Big Ten is 1-0 this season, with Michigan State beating Western Michigan last week. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell is making an early case for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He became the first freshman in school history to rush for 100 yards in his debut, finishing with 141 on 10 carries in a 38-14 victory over Western Michigan. Michigan set a national attendance record by drawing 113,090 vs. UConn on Saturday in a renovated Michigan Stadium. Minnesota's defense used 11 first-time starters in last Thursday's 24-17 victory at Middle Tennessee.

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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