As Purdue coach Joe Tiller went from reporter to reporter at the Big Ten football media day this summer, everyone wanted to know the same thing.
``It seemed like every time we moved, the first question was, 'How are you going to handle that four-game stretch?''' Tiller said this week.
Purdue is one of the 23 remaining unbeaten teams in major college football. Yet few take the Boilermakers seriously because the wins have come over Toledo, Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan and Minnesota.
That perception will change soon, for good or bad.
After Purdue plays Notre Dame, which is 0-4 for the first time ever, the Boliermakers host No. 8 Ohio State before hitting the road to play Michigan at the Big House. After that comes a home date with Iowa.
By then there will be a better answer than Tiller was able to give in Chicago.
``My response was, it's certainly a challenge but if you're going to do it you want to do it with an experienced team - and we've got a fairly experienced team,'' Tiller said.
Those veterans include Curtis Painter, who has been intercepted once in his first 166 passes while throwing for 16 TDs, and Dorien Bryant, who leads the Big Ten and is 10th nationally with 8.0 catches a game.
The jury's still out on the defense, which is giving up 374 yards and 21 points a game and is last in the Big Ten in stopping the run (147 yards a game).
Tiller, the head man in West Lafayette for the last 17 years, knows all those numbers mean nothing because the Boilermakers haven't faced good teams.
Despite Notre Dame's much-discussed problems, Tiller is taking nothing for granted.
``You walk out there making the assumption based on records or what have you that, hey, there's no way we're not going to be successful today and you end up getting embarrassed very quickly,'' he said.
Purdue is favored by three touchdowns against the Fighting Irish.
LOSING CLOSE: Dating back to last season, Iowa has lost its last five games decided by four or fewer points. The Hawkeyes have dropped their last two, to Iowa State and Wisconsin, by a total of six points.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said his team's record in close games is one statistic he monitors closely, and he believes detailed execution throughout the game is the key to turning things around.
``I don't think it wears on you, but it's certainly something we are aware of,'' Ferentz said. ``There's usually 10 or 15 things that you can go back to in close games. And that's the challenge for the football team is to get over the hump on those.''
ON GUARD: Michigan was forced to use a third-string guard, Tim McAvoy, for the second half in last week's win against Penn State.
Starter Alex Mitchell went down with an injury, then his backup, Jeremy Ciulla, was also banged up and sidelined.
Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr stresses every player needs to practice like they're going to play.
``I can take McAvoy as an example of a guy who probably deep down, he certainly did not expect to play as much as he did,'' Carr said. ``But because he has developed, he's been in practice situations where he's in there with the first team - that's exactly what you're trying to prepare for.''
Carr said Mitchell will not play this week against Northwestern, adding he didn't know if Ciulla would be healthy enough to play. Michigan listed McAvoy as its starting RG for its first road game of the season.
HANG ONTO THE BALL! Minnesota is off to a rough start, but the Gophers haven't helped themselves with a rash of turnovers. One of them was just plain bad luck, an enduring image so far of the difficult start to coach Tim Brewster's tenure.
Cornerback Jamal Harris scooped up a blocked field goal last week against Purdue near the end of the first half and was on his way for an easy touchdown when he inexplicably dropped the ball inside the Boilermakers 20.
It was a stunning sequence. He said he noticed a Purdue player gaining on him and while he put the ball in his other hand he forgot to hang onto it and accidentally let it fall out.
``I don't know. I just dropped it. I don't know how else to put it,'' Harris said.
Not only does Minnesota still rank last out of the NCAA's 119 first-division teams in pass defense with an average of more than 407 yards allowed, but the Gophers are also tied for last with 16 turnovers.
l teams Wisconsin P Ken DeBauche. ... Iowa's loss at Wisconsin put a severe crimp in the Hawkeyes' title plans. Still, they do not play Michigan or Ohio State. ... Penn State plays every team in the conference except perhaps the two weakest in Minnesota and Northwestern. ... Iowa WR Andy Brodell will miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury and TE Tony Moeaki will miss a month with a dislocated elbow and broken hand.
AP Sports Writers Larry Lage in Detroit, Luke Meredith in Des Moines, Iowa, and Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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