Big Ten Harvest: Illinois-Michigan, Ricky Stanzi, More
Illinois has won three of its past four. Michigan has lost three in a row.
The Illini have not been to a bowl game since the 2007 season. The Wolverines have not been to a bowl game since the 2007 season.
Both programs are 5-3, in search of that sixth win that will allow coaches Ron Zook (Illini) and Rich Rodriguez (Wolverines) to exhale. Six wins, of course, almost always translates to bowl-eligibility, particularly when the Big Ten has eight bowl spots secured. Call it the Bowl-Eligible Bowl.
The Illini, convincing 44-10 winners at home last week versus Purdue, visit Ann Arbor on Saturday. The Wolverines, who last Saturday surrendered 41 points to a former walk-on quarterback making his first start at Penn State, are in danger of losing three straight at the Big House for the first time since ... last season.
OK, sure, but before that, Michigan had not lost three in a row in Ann Arbor since, well, you'd have to go all the way back to ... 2008.
So perhaps there is a little more pressure on Rodriguez, now in his third season, than there is on Zook. After hosting Illinois, Michigan visits feisty yet undermanned Purdue (then again, Denard Robinson seems to save his best performances for the Hoosier state) before wrapping up with arguably the conference's two top teams, Wisconsin and at Ohio State.
Uncomfortably Long Postgame Handshakes, the Sequel
Earlier this season Minnesota coach Tim Brewster failed to unclench his grip from counterpart Bret Bielema of Wisconsin during their postgame handshake. Brewster did not appreciate Bielema's decision to go for two with the Badgers up by 25 points in the fourth quarter and told him so.
One week later, after a loss at Purdue, Brewster was fired.
Last Saturday it was Boilermaker coach Danny Hope's turn to prolong the handshake. After the Illini beat Purdue 44-10 in Champaign, the final Illinois touchdown coming on a 15-yard touchdown pass by starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase with 1:15 remaining, Hope took the outstretched hand of Ron Zook and held it for an extended period of time.
Afterward, both coaches insisted that the palm-to-palm contact was mutually complimentary. Still, it may be time to introduce the fist-bump to the Big Ten.
It's Good to Be Ricky Stanzi
As current Big Ten quarterbacks go, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi is not the Big Ten's most prolific rusher (Denard Robinson, Michigan, 160 yards per game) nor its most prolific passer either this season (Ben Chappell, Indiana, 305.5 yards per game) or for his career (Adam Weber, Minnesota, 10,361 yards). Certainly the Mentor, Ohio, native is not its most hyped dual-threat signal-caller (Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State) nor is he its most accurate passer (Dan Persa, Northwestern, 74.4 percent).
What Stanzi, now in his third season as the Iowa starter, happens to be is comfortable. No player in the country has a better touchdown pass-to-interception ratio than Stanzi's 19:2 mark, and only Kellen Moore of Boise State has a higher passer efficiency rating. Also, if Stanzi can throw eight more TD passes in Iowa's final four contests, two of which are against the conference's two worst pass defenses (Indiana and Minnesota), he'll tie former Hawkeye Chuck Long's single-season conference record of 27.
Not bad for a laid-back guy operating out of an old-school offense whose hand actually touches the center's tail pad when he takes snaps. Part of the reason for the fifth-year senior's success this autumn may be a Matt Leinart-like academic load. Stanzi is taking two classes, or six semester hours, this fall. They are "Elements of Art, Alcohol and Your College Experience," and "Making a Vocational-Educational Choice."
Michigan's 3-3-5 likely provided more of a cranial challenge.
Up: Ohio State's BCS bowl chances, Matt McGloin's playing time at Penn State, elbow room on Minnesota flights (three players suspended, two more out for the season), Ron Zook's job security.
Down: Michigan State's first-half performances, Minnesota's chances of winning a second game, Michigan's cornerback depth (J.T. Floyd to undergo season-ending ankle surgery), Purdue's quarterback situation.
Illinois: Mikel LeShoure gained just 23 yards on 15 carries against Purdue last Saturday. Earlier this season the Illini back was the conference's leading rusher with tied shoes. Next up, at Michigan.
Indiana: In terms of receptions per game, Damarlo Belcher (7.25), Tandon Doss (5.71) and Terrance Turner (5.25) are Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the Big Ten. Next up, No. 15 Iowa.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes are second in nation in turnover margin (plus-12) behind only the nation's No. 1 ranked team, Oregon. The Hawkeyes have only turned the ball over five times (three fumbles, two interceptions) all season. Next up, at Indiana.
Michigan: As Mike Rothstein of AnnArbor.com points out, Wolverines have allowed more fourth-down conversions (13, on 19 attempts) than any defense in the nation. Next up, Illinois.
Michigan State: Freshman tailback Le'Veon Bell, who had 141 yards in his debut versus Western Michigan, has just 37 yards on 24 carries in the Spartans' last three games. Next up, Minnesota.
Minnesota: Starting defensive tackle and team co-captain Brandon Kirksey has been suspended for this Saturday's game in East Lansing. Unconfirmed reports had Kirksey tossing his helmet and shouting at teammates after last week's loss to Ohio State that put the GoGos at 1-8. Not a good week for locker room decorum in the Twin Cities. Next up, at No. 16 Michigan State.
Northwestern: The Wildcats are 4-0 on the road this season. Next up, at Penn State.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes are 14-1 in November in the past four seasons. Next up, bye week.
Penn State: So many different ways to search for perspective as JoePa seeks his 400th win this Saturday, but consider this: conference's other 10 coaches have 363 career wins combined. Next up, Northwestern.
Purdue: Sophomore running back Al-Terek McBurse is averaging just below 10 yards per carry on the season. Alas, Al-Terek only has 16 carries thus far. Next up, No. 7 Wisconsin.
Wisconsin: The Badgers do not lead the Big Ten in any team statistical category and in only one individual category (scoring, John Clay, 9.75 points per game), but they do lead the conference in AP ranking and BCS standings. Next up, at Purdue.