The Hawkeyes should be 4-0 heading into their Big Ten home opener and will be in position to make a run at the conference title if they can pull off the upset. The game falls at the end of a tough month for the Buckeyes, who play at Texas on Sept. 9 and will be coming off an emotional rematch with Penn State.
Michigan at Penn StateOctober 14
The Nittany Lions have had this date circled on the calendar for months. The only blemish on Penn State's record last year came in Ann Arbor, a 27-25 last-play loss due in part to the referee's controversial decision to put two seconds back on the clock during the Wolverines' game-winning drive.
Michigan at Ohio StateNOVEMBER 18
The victor figures to take home the Big Ten title, and a berth in the BCS national championship game could be on the line as well. This much is certain: The Wolverines won't leave Columbus with a win if they can't stop Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith, who has burned Michigan each of the last two years.
Players To Watch
Mark ZalewskiLB - Wisconsin
The 6'2", 232-pound senior moved from outside to middle linebacker last fall and had a breakout season, leading the Badgers with 121Ú2 tackles for loss. This year he heads one of the most athletic linebacking units in the conference.
Tyrell SuttonRB - Northwestern
The Big Ten freshman of the year in '05, he topped the Wildcats in rushing (1,474 yards) and scoring (108 points) and was fourth in catches (44). With the departure of QB Brett Basanez, the 5'9", 190-pound Sutton becomes the leader of the offense.
Dorien BryantWR - Purdue
He has been timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40, and he plays bigger than his 5'10", 175-pound frame. As a sophomore, Bryant led the Boilermakers with 80 catches for 960 yards and four TDs while topping the Big Ten in catches per game (7.3).
Kenny IwebemaDE - Iowa
One of the emerging stars on an inexperienced line last season, the 6'4", 270-pound Iwebema had a team-high seven sacks and was second with 10 tackles for loss. The junior is on the watch lists for the Hendricks and Lott awards.
Matt SpaethTE - Minnesota
One of the Big Ten's best, the 6'7", 265-pound senior ranked third on the Gophers last season with 26 catches for 333 yards and four touchdowns -- impressive statistics on a team that ran the ball nearly 66% of the time.
The basketball-on-grass attack at PURDUE had a Big Ten-low 10 touchdown passes last fall, but that should change under new quarterbacks coach Ed Zaunbrecher, who has tutored a raft of accomplished passers, including Florida's Chris Leak. Zaunbrecher, who coached most recently at Illinois, should help sophomore Curtis Painter master the deep throw.... INDIANA wideout JAMES HARDY (right), who quit basketball last winter to focus on football, should have a big year. The 6'7", 220-pounder caught 61 passes for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2005 as a redshirt freshman but struggled with leg injuries that carried over from basketball season. He'll thrive in coach Terry Hoeppner's wide-open offense, which rolled up 659 passing yards in the spring game.... MICHIGAN STATE has struggled with consistency under fourth-year coach John L. Smith, and part of the reason has been a lack of balance between the offense and the defense. Last year the Spartans ranked fifth in the country in total offense but 87th in defense. The defense should get a boost this year with the addition of strong safety Nehemiah Warrick, a transfer from Hutchinson (Kans.) Junior College and a cousin of Seattle Seahawks wideout Peter Warrick. Nicknamed "Nemo," the 6'1" 204-pounder so delighted Smith in spring ball that he was promptly named a starter.... Look for ILLINOIS freshman quarterback Isiah Williams to push for playing time early on. The 6'2", 207-pound Williams has a superior arm to that of senior starter Tim Brasic and is a much better all-around athlete. -- Mark Beech