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Wildcats need a win to keep B10 West hopes alive

A look at what to watch in the Big Ten this weekend:

GAME OF THE WEEK: If Northwestern has any chance to stay alive in the Big Ten West, it must win Saturday at Iowa.

The Wildcats (3-4, 2-2) already have division losses to Minnesota and Nebraska and would need a lot of help from other teams even if they do beat the Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-1).

Northwestern might be catching the Hawkeyes at the right time. Freshman running back Justin Jackson is coming off three straight 100-yard games, and Iowa has allowed 212 and 316 yards rushing its last two games.

Iowa has had two weeks to ponder its missed opportunity at Maryland, where it blew a two-touchdown lead in a 38-31 loss. A win against Northwestern keeps the Hawks on pace with their fellow West co-leaders and makes them bowl eligible for the 13th time in 14 years.

The Hawkeyes have won two straight at home against Northwestern. Last year Jake Rudock’s short touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Louis Trinca-Pasat’s sack on the final play secured their 17-10 overtime victory in Iowa City.

BEST MATCHUP: One of the draws of joining the Big Ten for Maryland and its alumni was the opportunity to play neighboring Penn State regularly. The teams haven’t met since 1993, and the Nittany Lions are 35-1-1 in the series.

With Michigan State and Ohio State all but locked in to play for the East Division title, Maryland (5-3, 2-2) and Penn State (4-3, 1-3) are left to jockey for third place and improve their bowl prospects.

The Terrapins, who scored at least 34 points in five of their first seven games, will try to get their offense back on track after last week’s 52-7 loss at Wisconsin.

Penn State, after a 4-0 start, is on a three-game losing streak following last week’s 31-24 double-overtime loss to Ohio State.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Indiana goes to Michigan having lost 18 straight and 33 of 34 against the Wolverines. … Penn State has had five of its last seven home Big Ten games go to overtime. … Maryland’s Stefon Diggs has at least one receiving touchdown in four straight games, the longest streak for a Terps receiver since Jermaine Lewis had at least one TD catch in the final five games in 1994. … Ameer Abdullah needs 555 yards to break Mike Rozier’s Nebraska rushing record of 4,780. … Iowa has had 17 players catch a pass this season, and 10 or more players have had at least one catch in four of the Hawkeyes’ five wins.

LONG SHOT: Purdue has improved as the season has progressed, but probably not enough to win at Nebraska.

The Boilermakers’ offense has produced at least 31 points in three straight games since Austin Appleby took over as starting quarterback. Dual-threat QBs like Appleby have been known to cause headaches for the Huskers’ defense, and explosive running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert are great complements.

But Purdue will be hard-pressed to keep up with Nebraska in a scoring contest. The Boilermakers are 11th in the Big Ten in total defense and 12th in scoring defense. Conditions are right for Abdullah, who has run for 200-plus yards in four of eight games, to have another big afternoon.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Wisconsin QB Joel Stave apparently has overcome his case of the yips, which caused him to misfire on even the simplest passes. He regained the starter’s job two games ago and has put up good, not great, numbers. This week’s game against Rutgers will be his first on the road since coming back, and it will be worth watching how he handles being out of his comfort zone.

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