It didn’t hit me until about 10:30 p.m. last Saturday as I sipped on my mixed drink pitcher at Scorekeeper’s. Southern Cal was in the process of losing to lowly Stanford, and Louisiana State was scrapping to come back against defending BCS Champion, Florida. At that moment, I had an epiphany: if the Trojans and Tigers lose, Ohio State would move up to No. 2 in the country.
Well, after the slew of upsets in the past two weeks, the third-ranked Buckeyes are sitting pretty, in control of their own destiny in the Big Ten. Now, they’re no longer under the radar. Ohio State is back in its familiar position as conference favorite and must get used to having a target squarely on its shoulder pads. And with the Buckeyes rolling, teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State must get off the losing schneid or else risk being left in the dust at season’s end.
Kent State (1-2 MAC, 3-3 overall) at No. 3 Ohio State (3-0 Big Ten, 6-0) – Noon, Big Ten Network
So much for Purdue being a Big Ten contender. The Buckeyes were impressive last week, easily dispatching the Boilermakers in a 23-7 win.
Defense has carried Ohio State all season, allowing more than seven points just once – in a 33-14 victory at Washington. The Buckeyes have the nation’s top scoring defense.
But only the Harlem Globetrotters have a softer schedule than Ohio State has had so far. The win over Purdue was its first over a ranked opponent in 2007 and the 16-point margin of victory was the closest game yet for the team.
Luckily, Kent State presents another opportunity for the Buckeyes to get any leftover kinks out of their game before the meat of the schedule begins. From here on out, nothing will come easy for Ohio State. It finishes the season with games against Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.
Don’t expect the Golden Flashes to make this one unexpectedly exciting, though. They are an average MAC team at best, and must travel to Ohio Stadium.
No. 3 Ohio State 38, Kent State 6
No. 19 Wisconsin (2-1, 5-1) at Penn State (1-2, 4-2) – 3:30 p.m., ABC
Nobody really knows what to expect from Penn State this season.
Some said the Nittany Lions had a shot at a BCS Championship, or at least, a Big Ten crown. Others predicted the same old enigma of a football team that looks good against teams it should beat, and terrible when faced with a team that’s better on paper.
If Wisconsin is fully healthy, it isn’t a team Penn State should beat on paper. But Saturday’s matchup is in State College, and the Badgers will be missing their No. 1 receiving option. Wide receiver Luke Swan suffered a possible career-ending hamstring injury in Wisconsin’s upset loss to Illinois last week and will miss the rest of the season.
It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Badgers, who saw their ranking drop 14 spots when their 14-game winning streak came to a surprising halt. There’s no time for Wisconsin to sulk, because a second straight loss would potentially end its chances at winning the Big Ten.
Without Swan, the Badgers become one dimensional, allowing Penn State to load the box against running back P.J. Hill. The Nittany Lions will win this game, but without Swan, it shouldn’t be considered an upset or a sign of change in Happy Valley.
Let’s not forget that they have the symbol of mediocrity – Anthony Morelli – under center.
Penn State 17, No. 19 Wisconsin 14
Expect Michigan State to end its two-game slide by surprising Indiana at home. Don’t be shocked if Iowa’s defense keeps it close, but upstart Illinois will grind out the win, following up on the biggest victory in Ron Zook’s career. Minnesota officials fired coach Glen Mason after last season because they were dissatisfied with .500 seasons, but when losing to Northwestern is a given, maybe it’s time to second-guess the move.