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Purdue University

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Defensive tackle Kawann Short has three sacks in Purdue’s three games.

League play opens in battered Big Ten

Associated Press photos
Running back Venric Mark, center, leads unbeaten Northwestern’s ground game, averaging nearly 100 yards per game.

– The Big Ten has had a rough September.

Several teams have been either upset or suffered blowout losses. Iowa was the latest to stumble, falling Saturday to Central Michigan on a last-second field goal.

“We obviously had a disappointing outcome Saturday,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said during the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday.

The good news for Ferentz and most of the other Big Ten coaches is that conference play kicks off Saturday. Here’s a preview:

Offensive player to watch

Braxton Miller, quarterback, Ohio State: It seems as if once a week Miller makes a “wow” play. The sophomore ranks second in the conference in total offense and leads in scoring. He is sixth in passing yards per game and is tied for second in rushing.

“He can do so much with (the ball) and be dynamic with it,” said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, whose Spartans face the Buckeyes on Saturday.

Defensive player to watch

Kawann Short, defensive tackle, Purdue: Short bypassed the NFL draft, where he was projected as a third-round pick, to return for his senior season. He has three sacks in Purdue’s first three games and anchors perhaps the top defensive line in the conference.

“When Kawann is playing his best, he is the best, and that’s a key for our team this season, is to get him to play his best on every play,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said. “He’s done that at a much greater rate or much more consistent this season, but he’s significantly better than he was a year ago.”

Team(s) to watch

Northwestern: The Wildcats have wins over Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College. Last week, Northwestern improved to 4-0 by beating South Dakota.

The Wildcats play Indiana on Saturday.

Northwestern’s running game has spurred the start. The Wildcats are third in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging 221.2 yards.

“We’ve run the ball to the level that we felt we needed to run the ball to be successful and be consistent,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

Minnesota and the Buckeyes are the only other undefeated Big Ten teams.

Impact games

Wisconsin at Purdue, Oct. 13: With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the Big Ten championship game, this game could go a long way in determining the representative of the Leaders Division.

Nebraska at Michigan State, Nov. 3: Nebraska faces Michigan (Oct. 27 at home) and the Spartans in consecutive weeks. That will be a key stretch in the race for the Legends Division title.

lpope@jg.net

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