Spotlight shines on league elite

Jim Martinho

Penn St. at Wisconsin

Time: 2:30 p.m.

Place: Madison, Wis.

Line: Wisconsin by 2

TV: ABC

Records: Penn State (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten), Wisconsin (5-0, 0-0)

What’s at stake: The Badgers — the last team to play their conference opener — are trying to win their third straight against Penn State.

Overview: The Nittany Lions are hoping to rebound from last week’s 42-35 overtime loss to Iowa, a game that saw sophomore quarterback Zack Mills set a school record for passing yards with 399. He likely will be forced to carry the offensive load against Wisconsin’s stingy run defense.

The southpaw’s main targets have been seniors Bryant and Larry Johnson. Bryant is second in the Big Ten in receptions per game, averaging six catches for 110 yards. Running back Larry Johnson is third in the conference in rushing to go along with 17 catches for 183 yards. Penn State coach Joe Paterno said Wisconsin will present many of the same challenges defensively as Iowa because Barry Alvarez and Kirk Ferentz once coached together.

“Wisconsin is very similar to Iowa,” Paterno said. “Both of those guys coached together with (former Hawkeyes coach) Hayden Fry and they coach very similar types of games defensively. They are out to stop the run and do a good job of it.”

The Badgers have had two weeks to prepare for their Big Ten opener following a bye week. Alvarez said star receiver Lee Evans is close to returning but will be a gameday decision. The Badgers are tied for first in the nation with a +2.6 turnover margin per game, and sophomore cornerback Jim Leonhard leads the conference with 14 passes broken up.

“The way (Mills) came back, you saw their explosiveness at the end of the game last week,” Alvarez said. “They scored so fast and got the ball down the field, the receivers competed for the ball. To get back into that game and push it down was pretty impressive.”

Purdue at Iowa

Time: 11 a.m.

Place: Iowa City, Iowa

Line: Iowa by 8 1/2

TV: ESPN

Records: Purdue (3-2, 1-0), Iowa (4-1, 1-0)

What’s at stake: The Boilermakers haven’t won at Iowa since 1992.

Overview: Iowa is one of the hottest teams in the country after quarterback Brad Banks engineered a 42-35 victory over Penn State. The No. 24 Hawkeyes are ranked for the first time this season and average a conference-best 41.4 points per game, good for ninth in the nation.

“I’ve been reading the papers and some of our guys are talking about the championship and Pasadena, which is great, because we’re all in a conference and you want your guys thinking that way,” Ferentz said. “But our job as coaches is to make sure that they focus on every week and to let them know how delicate and fragile things are.”

While Banks leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency (157.8), junior tailback Fred Russell has paced the Hawkeyes on the ground, leading the conference with 153.2 yards per game to go with five touchdowns. The Boilermakers handed Minnesota its first loss of the season in the Big Ten opener, converting two Golden Gophers turnovers into touchdowns in a 28-15 win.

Big Ten Overall

>Team Record Record

Ohio St. 1-0 5-0

Iowa 1-0 4-1

Michigan 1-0 4-1

Michigan St. 1-0 3-2

Purdue 1-0 3-2

Minnesota 1-1 5-1

Wisconsin 0-0 5-0

Penn St. 0-1 3-1

Indiana 0-1 2-3

NU 0-1 2-3

Illinois 0-2 1-5

Body 3 ———————————————————————–

Last Week

Michigan St. 39, NU 24

Iowa 42, Penn St. 35 (OT)

Ohio St. 45, Indiana 17

Michigan 45, Illinois 28

Purdue 28, Minnesota 15

Oct. 4

Minnesota 31, Illinois 10