Sep 24

Take The Buckeyes' Place

Posted By:Wes Mewbourne  Tags:

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Photo: Cary Edmondson -

            The Big Ten has been the butt of many a joke lately, mainly because their "champion" has been waxed in the last two National Championship games.  Fact is, just because this conference's best wasn't better than the SEC's best (and who is, really…) doesn't mean there isn't quality depth here.  The re-emergence of powers like Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State, and the rebuilding in Michigan will certainly make the race a bit more exciting.  With Ohio State in an obvious rebuilding effort, now is the time for a new team to step up…
1. Wisconsin:  The Badgers have gotten off to a great start, with two blowouts in warm-up games and a win versus a very good Fresno State.  Wisconsin has probably the toughest road to claim the title, facing three ranked conference foes in their next five games.  At least they are all three at home.  What they need to do:  Avoid the letdown.  In between Penn State and Illinois is Iowa, and after the Illini are two road conference games.  Staying focused is a must since it will likely take a close to perfect mark.

2.Penn State:  By far the most explosive offense in the Big Ten, the Lions of Nittany have been incredible.  Now let's look at their opposition – hardly a gauntlet.  With their last eight games against conference teams, they have by far the most momentum.  What they need to do:  Hold onto the ball.  After three games against I-A teams with a combined 3-8 record, their turnover margin average is a mere 0.67.  That will have to improve when conference play begins.

3. Illinois:  I know there's a bit of a drop-off here, and not because this is the first team on the list with a loss – that was to a great team in a great game.  There is a drop-off here because this is a team that despite that great effort laid an egg against an inferior opponent in it's most recent game.  What they need to do:  Get the rhythm back on offense.  The offense held the ball for less than half the game, and there was a 35-minute scoring drought for the Illini between their second touchdown in the first half, and the eventual game winner with 1:36 left in the game.  This can't continue if they expect to return to the Rose Bowl.

4. Ohio State:  Like it or not, they are still not out of the mix.  The Buckeyes are set to get their heart back this weekend as Beanie Wells is expected to start, barring any further complications.  What they need to do:  Get back to dominance.  There was a time when the Buckeyes rolled off an unbeaten streak in the Big Ten that lasted the better part of three seasons.  They need to get back to the fundamentals of yore, and use their ability to control game tempo.

5. Northwestern:  Laugh if you want, but these Wildcats are riding high with a 4-0 start, and looking to carry that momentum into Big Ten play.  If they continue to play at this level, they could certainly be a one loss squad in November, when the Buckeyes roll to town.  Not playing Penn State or Wisconsin and getting Ohio State and Illinois at home certainly help.  What they need to do:  Keep playing Wildcat football.  This is a team that is averaging 19 first downs a game spread evenly between running and throwing.  Their red zone scoring is at a perfect 100%.  If ever there was a true darkhorse, this be them.  Even if they don't make it to the BCS, don't be surprised to see them face an SEC foe in a New Year's Day Bowl…

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