September 11, 2014

Key nuggets to note in the Big Ten Conference this week:

GAME OF THE WEEK: Penn State at Rutgers: This is the first Big Ten game for Rutgers, getting a two-week head start on fellow conference rookie Maryland, and Penn State is a fitting opponent. The schools are less than a four-hour drive apart, forming a triangle with Maryland in the Big Ten's eastern footprint that will bring increased recruiting competition along the seaboard. New Penn State coach James Franklin has been trying to turn New Jersey into territory for the Nittany Lions, boasting earlier this year that Maryland and Rutgers have ''no chance'' to recruit against them. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood has been referring to Penn State simply as ''that team from Pennsylvania.''

BEST MATCHUP: Minnesota RB David Cobb vs. TCU defense: Cobb returns to his native state to face the Horned Frogs, about 150 miles north of his hometown of Killeen, Texas. The senior had a career-best 220 rushing yards in a victory over Middle Tennessee, the most for the Gophers since Laurence Maroney on Oct. 15, 2005, against Wisconsin. TCU yielded the fewest total yards in each of its first two seasons in the Big 12, ranking 16th and 13th in the FBS.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: The Big Ten has the worst nonconference (20-7) mark of the five major leagues. ... Penn State-Rutgers is the earliest Big Ten game since Illinois-Michigan on Aug. 31, 1996. ... Iowa hosts rival Iowa State for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. With a win, coach Kirk Ferentz would have 111 for his career with the Hawkeyes and tie John Cooper (Ohio State) for 10th place on the conference's all-time list. ... Sam Foltz, a bright spot on special teams during Nebraska's shaky victory over McNeese State, averaged 51.2 yards on six punts. Three were downed inside the 10-yard line. ... Northwestern, joining Michigan State and Wisconsin on the idle list this week, has lost nine of its last 10 games. ... Penn State's Sam Ficken (4 for 4) is the only perfect field-goal kicker left with more than two attempts. Big Ten teams have made just 27 of 44 field goals.

LONG SHOT: Purdue vs. Notre Dame: The Boilermakers were beaten badly at home last week by Central Michigan, and the Fighting Irish handed Michigan its first shutout in 30 years, ending an NCAA-record streak by the Wolverines of 365 straight games without one. The best asset for Purdue might be the neutral site, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where there ought to be enough Boilermakers fans to balance all the cheering, cheering for old Notre Dame. The Irish opened the week as whopping 28-point favorites and have a 57-26-2 lead in the state's oldest rivalry that was first played in 1896 and been staged annually since 1946. Purdue has been competitive lately despite six straight losses: 31-24 last season and 20-17 in 2012 when Notre Dame went on to the national championship game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Illinois QB Wes Lunt: The sophomore completed 35 of 50 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Fighting Illini's comeback victory over Western Kentucky, going 10 for 11 for 154 yards and a score in the fourth quarter. Lunt's yardage total was the fourth-highest in program history, and Juice Williams (462 yards against Minnesota on Oct. 11, 2008) was the only Illini player with more at Memorial Stadium. This week, the competition will crank up with a trip to Washington. The Huskies beat Illinois 34-24 in Chicago last year and finished 9-4. They've had a couple of narrow wins to start under new coach Chris Petersen, though, and gave up 475 passing yards to FCS foe Eastern Washington last week.

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