|Will Michigan's Brady Hoke be pleased with his team's defense following Saturday's game vs. Air Force? (Getty Images)|
The top Big Ten storylines heading into Saturday's games:
- 1. Burkhead's health: Will Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead play Saturday vs. UCLA may be the most intriguing Big Ten question heading into the second week of the college football season. After his knee injury last week, Cornhuskers QB Taylor Martinez re-configured the offense and threw for a career-high 354 yards and five touchdowns. No one knows if Martinez can repeat his performance or if it was just an aberration. Nebraska does know, however, that its rushing attack has been the staple of its offense the past three years under Burkhead. The Bruins defense has allowed an average of 183 rushing yards per game over the last 15 games and was the 96th worst run defense in the country last season. If Burkhead does play, it will go a long way towards thwarting UCLA’s upset bid. If the Heisman darkhorse can’t play, backups Ameer Abdullah (81 yards last week) and Imani Cross (62 yards) are more than capable of handling the majority of the rushing attack.
- 2. Will Iowa-Iowa State live up to the hype? Can Iowa vs. Iowa State’s matchup this Saturday come anywhere close to matching the thrill of last season’s triple-OT, 44-41 Cyclone win? If Iowa plays as poorly as it did against Northern Illinois last weekend, the answer is no. QB James Vandenberg threw for 129 yards, the lowest total of any game he’s started and the Hawkeyes were fortunate that running back Damon Bullock played the best game of his career (150 yards, one TD) to avoid the upset. Iowa State’s offense, led by QB Steele Jantz, is much more capable than that of Northern Illinois. In last year’s meeting, the Cyclones totaled 473 yards, including 279 and four touchdowns from Jantz. Expect an improved effort from Vandenberg -- who threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s rivalry game -- which could return the Cy-Hawk trophy to Iowa City.
- 3. Michigan's defense: Can the Wolverines bounce back against the unique triple-option offense that Air Force presents? Last week, Michigan was physically overpowered by ‘Bama running back T.J. Yeldon, who rarely went down after first contact. This week Air Force will try to advance the ball with misdirection plays and various pitches, instead of the brute strength that the Tide utilized. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has accelerated the chaos of his triple-option by installing a no-huddle aspect to his formations, which will make the task of adjusting even more difficult for the Wolverines. As evidence to their hurry-up style, the Falcons rushed for 484 yards last week against Idaho State but maintained the ball 24:44 seconds of the game. Finally, Calhoun has even installed a few traditional pro-style sets to vary the tempo of the offense. Fortunately for the Wolverines, replicating Denard Robinson's speed won't be easy for the Falcons' practice squad either. Michigan got burned by a stronger team last week. How will they respond to a more deceptive one?
- 4. Central Florida no pushover for Buckeyes: Ohio State’s offense pummeled Miami (Ohio) for 56 points last week. How will it perform against Central Florida, which boasted the ninth-best scoring defense (18.3 ppg) in the country last year? Despite their 5-7 record from a year ago, the Knights are no pushover as evidenced by their 56 points scored against Akron last week. Much like the RedHawks tried to do, Central Florida may try to beat Ohio State over the top of the defense with 6-2 wideout Rannell Hall, who had four catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns last week against Akron. The Knights’ ground game will struggle without running back Latavius Murray, who rushed for 108 yards last week but injured his shoulder and is out for Saturday’s game. If UCF can limit Ohio State’s big-play ability, its defense, which held teams to just an average of 108 rushing yards last year, could keep the game closer than people imagine.