Northwestern, Michigan defenses on big stage at Big House
Some things to watch in the Big Ten Conference during Week 6 of the season:
GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 13 Northwestern (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at No. 18 Michigan (4-1, 1-0) matches the nation's top two scoring defenses, so keep an eye on game managers Clayton Thorson and Jake Rudock. Neither quarterback has been spectacular, but they've been good enough to keep their teams on track. Playing in the Big House will be the biggest challenge to date for Northwestern's Thorson. Rudock has thrown six interceptions, tied for most in the Big Ten, and will go against the best secondary he's faced.
BEST MATCHUP: Penn State defense vs. Indiana offense. The Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-0) come into this key East Division game against the Hoosiers (4-1, 0-1) struggling on offense. The pressure is on their defense to hold down a high-scoring offense that had QB Nate Sudfeld and RB Jordan Howard leave the Ohio State game with ankle injuries. Their statuses were uncertain. The Lions are giving up 284 yards and 15.8 points a game, and Carl Nassib has eight of their Big Ten-leading 21 sacks.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: DE Joey Bosa of Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) had 2.5 sacks against Indiana last week and has 21.5 in his career, second among active FBS players. He figures to be a disruptive force against Maryland (2-3, 0-1), whose QBs are completing 45 percent of their passes with 15 interceptions. ... C.J. Beathard is the first QB for Iowa (5-0, 1-0) to win his first six career starts since Matt Sherman won his first seven over the 1994-95 seasons. ... The last three times Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) lost its Big Ten opener, the Badgers went on to win at least a division title (2014) or the conference championship (2010, 2012).
LONG SHOT: Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) will be a two-touchdown underdog when hosts No. 4 Michigan State (5-0, 1-0), which is leaving the Great Lakes State for the first time. Rutgers had an open date after beating Kansas and got a rare piece of good news Tuesday when an assault charge against star WR Leonte Carroo was dropped. Carroo, suspended for three weeks, was reinstated to the program Wednesday.
PLAYER TO WATCH: WR and punt returner De'Mornay Pierson-El, who missed the first four games for Nebraska (2-3, 0-1) with a foot injury. He was eased back into action against Illinois last week and has been declared fit for a heavier workload against Wisconsin. Pierson-El, one of the top return men in the country as a freshman last year, could be the X-factor in a close game.