The four-team Big Ten race became a three-team race when Iowa was upset by Northwestern last week. The No. 21 Hawkeyes will still play a major role, however, hosting No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday in a sequel to last season's overtime classic, which the Buckeyes won. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State are all still aiming for Pasadena with two weeks remaining. A trip to Iowa, where Ohio State has not visited since 2006, stands as the Buckeyes' biggest hurdle to earning their sixth straight Big Ten championship.
1. Playing it close to the Vest. Ohio State's Jim Tressel, who has inspired at least one Buckeyes fan to don the trademark sweater vest during games, tends to play things conservatively on the road. Tressel will want to minimize mistakes on offense, and that will mean trying to establish the run against a banged-up Iowa defense that is thin at linebacker. Bruce Davis and Jeff Tarpinian are gone, forcing freshman James Morris into fulltime duty in the middle. Iowa's led defensive line, led by Adrian Clayborn, is stout, but Ohio State will still try to pound away with tailbacks Dan Herron and Brandon Saine until the Hawkeyes prove they can stop the run. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor becomes a more dangerous runner and passer when the running game is clicking. If Iowa wants Ohio State to start feeling the pressure in what will be a loud Kinnick Stadium, it'll need to shut down the run early and force the Buckeyes to open up the offense a bit.
2. The old 'Something's Gotta Give' department. Iowa has turned the ball over just seven times this season, tied for best in the nation. Ohio State has forced 26 turnovers, tied for fifth-best in the nation. In their second-half blitzkrieg of Penn State last week, the Buckeyes returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and they've scored four touchdowns on defense or special teams in their last two games. "Nothing flips the emotion of the moment like a special teams play, maybe only second is a turnover," Tressel said this week. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi has thrown just one pick in 140 passes at home this season. The Hawkeyes would love to avoid the turnover and make Ohio State drive long fields all afternoon. If Pryor gets too many short fields, it could be a long day for Hawkeyes.
3. Iowa's emotional state. Iowa did not have a clear path to the Rose Bowl, but it certainly was in the mix prior to last Saturday's date with Northwestern. But in what is becoming almost an annual event, Northwestern drove a dagger into Iowa's season with a narrow victory. Last season the Hawkeyes bounced back, taking Ohio State to overtime in Columbus the week after Northwestern ended Iowa's unbeaten season. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz hopes this team can rebound as well. "We don't have much time to dwell on anything," Ferentz said. "What happened is behind us. We need to get working on what is in front of us. If we don't move on, it will be ugly Saturday." If Iowa is dragging its tail, Ohio State is capable of ending things quickly. Since losing to Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have outscored their three opponents by an average of 46-8, and they've won five games this season by at least 30 points. Senior Day festivities will provided added emotion. The Hawkeyes better hope it helps.
Ohio State enters as a three-point favorite. Ohio State has covered in three of the last four matchups at Iowa. Ohio State is 8-2 against the number this season, but just 1-2 on the road. Iowa is 8-2 against the spread as an underdog the last three seasons. Trends might lean slightly toward Iowa.
Ohio State and Iowa rank first and second in the Big Ten in total defense, scoring defense, turnover margin, kickoff returns and passing efficiency. Iowa ranks first in rushing defense, with Ohio State checking in at No. 2.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup. Pauline evaluated Ohio State's top prospects before the Miami and Wisconsin games and looked at Iowa's top players prior to the Arizona game.
OT Mike Adams, Ohio State: Adams has taken over as the Buckeyes' fulltime starter at left tackle and looks like the program's next big prospect at the position. The junior is a large blocker who does a terrific job in pass protection. Adams' faceoff against the highly rated Adrian Clayborn will be a measuring stick for scouts. Grade: Second-round prospect.
DL Broderick Binns, Iowa: Binns is like many of his defensive line predecessors from Iowa: slightly undersized, but explosive and intense. The junior gets overlooked due to all the talent on the Iowa defensive line, but is a lineman who keeps coming and makes positive plays. He projects as a three technique lineman in the NFL. Grade: Third-round prospect.
QB Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State: The highly touted Pryor has shown improvement in his game and is slowly making the transition from athlete to complete quarterback. He has immense talent, but will need a lot of work before he's NFL ready. Pryor's recent announcement that he plans to return to Ohio State for his senior season was applauded by scouts. Grade: Third- to fourth-round prospect.
WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa: One of the most reliable receivers in the nation, Johnson-Koulianos gets the most from his talents and consistently comes away with the important reception. He projects as a fourth receiver at the next level and his battle against the skilled secondary of Ohio State will be closely watched. Grade: Fourth-round prospect.
Iowa's defense has plenty of talent and puts up strong numbers, but it has failed in crucial fourth-quarter situations in losses to Arizona, Wisconsin and Northwestern. All three games ended with the opponent scoring the game-winning touchdown in the final four minutes. With a quarterback who can improvise like Pryor, protecting a late lead will be a concern in this game as well. Ohio State shook off a poor first half against Penn State for a blowout win last week and has looked as good as any team in the nation for stretches this season. Iowa's best chance is to get Ohio State in an early hole like Wisconsin did, but the Buckeyes have too much to play for to let that happen. OHIO STATE 27, IOWA 17