Showdown Saturday in the Big Ten with big games all over

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The Big Ten heavyweights spent the first three weeks of the season
beating up on lesser opponents while climbing the rankings. With
five teams in the top 15 of The Associated Press Top 25 , more than
any other conference, it’s time for the Big Ten to get to work.

The schedule on Saturday is full of big-time matchups. Third-ranked
Ohio State visits No. 14 Oklahoma, No. 4 Michigan hosts improving
Colorado, No. 12 Michigan State travels to No. 18 Notre Dame and
Nebraska hosts No. 22 Oregon.

In the new playoff era, meaty matchups like these in the
nonconference may become more common. One of the main components in
the selection process for the four-team playoff is strength of
schedule, so power programs can no longer afford to pad the first
month of their schedules with no-name schools that get paid to take
a beating.

”I think you’ll see more and more of it,” Nebraska coach Mike
Riley said. ”It looks like a unique way, different way, that
people are starting their season with their non-league games, like
we’re playing and like we saw right from the first weekend. I think
it adds a lot of intrigue and excitement to it.”

And there are more than just playoff implications.

When the Buckeyes go to Norman on Saturday, the Sooners will be
hosting several sought-after recruits that Ohio State coach Urban
Meyer would love to land as well. Come out of the game with a win
in front of some of the most talented high school players in the
country, and they could win more than just a game.

”Our performance in this game, there’s going to be a lot of people
watching, and that certainly is important,” said Meyer, whose
Buckeyes outscored Tulsa and Bowling Green by a combined 102 points.

And finally, games like these help teams gear up for the grind of
the conference season that looms just around the corner.

”This will be a great game for our team to see where we are
against a team that’s nationally ranked and has been a national
team for a lot of years now,” Riley said. ”It will be really good
for the Huskers in preparation for what we’re going to see as the
season goes on.”

Other notes from around the Big Ten:

IOWA’S CHALLENGE

The Hawkeyes are facing an FCS team this weekend. So they can relax
with another tuneup, right? Not so fast.

North Dakota State is coming to town on Saturday. The Bison have
won five straight national championships and are 8-3 in their last
11 games when they step up in weight class to face an FBS opponent.
And they are not afraid.

”My experience is the biggest difference is just depth and overall
numbers,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. ”But the guys they put out
there are just tremendous players. They’ve got a lot of guys that
look like guys we play with that may have gotten overlooked a
little bit in recruiting.”

CLAEYS’ APPROACH

When Minnesota scored late to go up 30-23 against Oregon State on
opening weekend, coach Tracy Claeys got some attention for his
decision to go for 2 points to make it a two-possession game.
Claeys has long believed that if the conversion fails and his team
still only leads by seven, most teams would kick the extra point if
they scored a late touchdown to try to force overtime rather than
go for the win with a 2-point conversion.

The Gophers handled Indiana State with ease on Saturday. But Claeys
said if they had been in a similar situation against the Sycamores,
he would have kicked the extra point for an eight-point lead.

”A smaller school, an underdog on the road, if they would have
went down and scored, they probably would have went for 2,” Claeys
said. ”The majority of teams, we will go for 2 down there.”

STRUGGLING WILDCATS

Northwestern is 0-2 on the season, with eyebrow-raising losses to
Western Michigan and Illinois State. They are 211th in the nation
in offense, and coach Pat Fitzgerald said Northwestern needs better
play from its offensive line if things are going to start turning
around.

”I’d love to tell you it’s an easy fix,” Fitzgerald said. ”It’s
guys doing what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do
it and coaches coaching them better. It’s not rocket science here.
It’s roll your sleeves up and get better. That’s what we did today
and hopefully we can do it again tomorrow.”

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