The burden of being a top-tier college football player is that when your team is in a jam, you’re the one who has to make the game-changing plays. With virtually every Big Ten game this week carrying conference title implications, several of the league’s elite will be facing high-stakes situations as they try to keep their squads in contention.
These three standouts will be up against especially daunting tasks in Saturday’s action:
Joe Gaglione, Iowa
Iowa’s unexpected 2-0 start in conference play owes a lot to a defense that’s allowed a combined 29 points in two Big Ten games. The heart of that defense has been senior defensive end Joe Gaglione, with his eight tackles for loss and four sacks, but he’ll need to play even bigger than usual on Saturday.
The Hawkeyes host a Penn State squad with a suffocating defense of its own, and Iowa’s top offensive weapon (tailback Mark Weisman) is battling a sprained foot and may not play. Gaglione and his mates might almost have to pitch a shutout against Matt McGloin’s passing attack if the Hawkeyes are to stay unbeaten in conference.
Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State
Michigan State has already lost two heartbreakers in Big Ten play because the offense couldn’t quite come through in the clutch. Now, beleaguered first-year quarterback Andrew Maxwell must go into Ann Arbor to face archrival Michigan—and an offense that’s outscored his own by nearly two touchdowns per game.
Maxwell has produced plenty of big plays in his first year as a starter (his top two receivers are each averaging 13 yards a catch), but hasn’t shown the consistency to inspire confidence in crunch time. Look for him to connect on a bomb or two but ultimately crumble under the pressure of trying to match Denard Robinson score for score.
Will Compton, Nebraska
The last time the Cornhuskers took the field, they gave up 63 points to Braxton Miller and Ohio State. The Buckeyes rang up 371 rushing yards in that game, an especially galling total for playmaking linebacker Will Compton (a team-high 53 tackles, 5.5 for losses).
Northwestern’s offense certainly isn’t a match for Ohio State’s, but fleet-footed quarterback Kain Colter can do a pretty good impression of Miller on the ground. Add in lightning-fast Venric Mark (5.9 yards per carry and eight touchdowns) at tailback, and the Nebraska defense is in for another very long afternoon if Compton doesn’t turn things around.