- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
With the convincing victory over Illinois, all eyes have turned to Penn State to see what it might do this conference season.
NittanyNation takes a closer look at the rest of its Big Ten slate to see what challenges lie ahead. Right now, it looks as if the Lions are on pace for a 7-5 season.
Oct. 6 - vs. No. 24 Northwestern (5-0, 1-0)
The Wildcats have played three games decided by 10 points or less, and the contest against Penn State should be yet another close one. Northwestern is No. 9 in the nation in rushing -- and No. 88 in passing -- and that plays right into the defense's strength. Still, the Wildcats are one of the stronger teams in the conference this season.
Key player: ATH Kain Colter. He can run, pass, catch and will have to be game-planned around. He rushed for 161 yards last week and was 16-of-20 passing against Boston College.
Prediction: Northwestern 24-21
Oct. 20 - at Iowa (3-2, 1-0)
The Hawkeyes have struggled against inferior competition this season, losing to Iowa State and Central Michigan, and they nearly lost to Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa. Their rush game is the only consistent part of their offense, and the defense hasn't really been tested yet.
Key player: RB Mark Weisman. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens is a tempting pick here, but the 225-pound Wesiman has averaged seven yards a carry. He's also rushed for seven touchdowns and could wear down any defense by the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Penn State 28-13
Oct. 27 - vs. No. 12 Ohio State (5-0, 1-0)
Like PSU, Ohio State has been shut out from the bowl season because of sanctions -- but it's still the best team in the Leaders Division. The Buckeyes have struggled against the pass (ranked No. 94), and their offensive output basically rests on one player.
Key player: QB Braxton Miller. Ohio State's offense goes how Miller goes. He's a dual threat who's passed for 933 yards, eight touchdowns and just three interceptions. On the ground, he's also the top threat. He has more than twice as many rushing yards (577) as the starting tailback (218).
Prediction: Ohio State 27-17
Nov. 3 - at Purdue (3-1, 0-0)
This team is still a bit of a mystery. It hasn't faced a lot of serious competition and edged out Marshall 51-41 -- three weeks after hanging tough with Notre Dame. The Boilermakers feature a balanced offense but have watched a few teams air it out against them.
Key player: DT Kawaan Short. You can double-team the defensive tackle, but that still won't stop him. He already has seven tackles-for-loss and four sacks -- but that might not even be the biggest problem he poses for PSU. He has blocked three kicks in four games.
Prediction: Penn State 28-17
Nov. 10 - at No. 21 Nebraska (4-1, 1-0)
The Cornhuskers have rushed, on average, for more than 300 yards a game -- but fumbles have been a constant source of worry. Nebraska fumbled 15 times and turned it over nine times. They don't turn the ball over often through the air, however, and boast a strong pass defense.
Key player: QB Taylor Martinez. Another Big Ten quarterback, another dual-threat. Martinez has thrown 11 touchdowns to just one interception and has flashed some serious speed on the ground. He's already rushed for a 92-yard touchdown and will likely be the difference-maker against PSU.
Prediction: Nebraska 28-13
Nov. 17 - vs. Indiana (2-2, 0-1)
The Hoosiers might be a mid-level team in the MAC. Three different quarterbacks have seen between 40 and 80 pass attempts, and the defense is the worst in the conference. There's very little good to say here.
Key player: TE Ted Bolser. It's slim-pickings here, but Bolser was named to the Mackey Award Watch List for the second straight season -- and Penn State's secondary has had some difficulty with tight ends in the middle of the field. Bolser has 12 catches for 122 yards so far.
Prediction: Penn State 41-10
Nov. 24 - vs. Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1)
This offense is an absolute mess. There's a quarterback controversy, the offensive line has struggled, and the running game can't get started even with a former Heisman contender. The rush defense is solid, but the secondary is just OK.
Key player: RB Montee Ball. He can't stay this bottled up all season; can he? Ball is averaging just 3.6 yards a carry and, against his team's toughest test (vs. Nebraska), he was held to less than three yards a carry. Still, he's the most talented player Wisconsin has -- and he ran all over Penn State last season.
Prediction: Penn State 20-14
With the convincing victory over Illinois, all eyes have turned to Penn State to see what it might do this conference season.NittanyNation takes a closer look at the rest of its Big Ten slate to see what challenges lie ahead.