2010 Big Ten College Football Preview: Ohio State back on top

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes hands off to running back Brandon Saine #3 of the Buckeyes during a game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Ohio Stadium on September 26, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Here’s a quick and dirty look at how I see things playing out in the Big Eleven this season:

#1 Ohio State
Some believe the Buckeyes’ offense might be close to catching up to their defense in terms of dominance, which is saying something with the way OSU’s D played a year ago. The Buckeyes return all three leading rushers from 2009 in Brandon Saine, Dan Herron and quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who some believe has become a more committed teammate over the offseason. The key to OSU becoming a national title threat is Pryor, or more specifically, whether or not he’ll make opponents respect his passing game. The good thing for him and the Buckeyes on a whole is that they return four starters to a veteran offensive line that will open up plenty of holes for a deep and talented group of running backs. Defensively, OSU was a top five unit last season and could be once again this year assuming they can generate a pass-rush and the safeties can hold up in coverage. Cameron Heyward is one of the nation’s best defensive ends and Ross Homan is a playmaker at the outside linebacker spot. The secondary isn’t flashy, but cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence are solid. From a schedule standpoint, if they can beat Miami in Columbus in the second week of the season, they should be 6-0 heading into Madison on October 16. From there, they’ll be tested by Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa, but this is your clear favorite to win the Big Ten.

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Michigan State needs to show more toughness

Michigan State fans will party in the streets tonight in East Lansing after Sparty knocked off rival Michigan in a thrilling 26-20 overtime victory. But sticking with one of their themes this season, MSU almost blew it after collapsing in the fourth quarter.

Thanks to a running game that racked up 197 yards on the ground, the Spartans controlled this game for three and a half quarters. But after building a 20-6 lead, Mark Dantonio’s team became complacent and showed their lack of killer mentality.

With four minutes remaining in the game, Wolverine freshman quarterback Tate Forcier flashed some of the magic that endeared him to fans a couple weeks ago in a win over Notre Dame. Forcier hit Darryl Stonum on a 60-yard touchdown pass to cut MSU’s lead to 20-13, then found Roy Roundtree in the end zone on a 9-yard TD pass with two seconds left to tie the game 20-20. Both touchdowns were aided by Sparty’s lackluster defensive effort.

On Stonum’s touchdown, the defender didn’t break down to tackle, he just ran by the receiver and put a hand out hoping that Stonum a stiff wind would knock him over. Then on the game-tying score, Forcier easily scrambled out of the pocket and found Roundtree, who was a step and a half away from all defenders, which is amazing considering it was a jam-packed end zone.

Not to take anything away from Forcier, because he toughed it out while playing banged up. And MSU’s defense did come up with a huge interception in overtime, which preceded Larry Caper’s 23-yard, game-winning touchdown run. But the Spartans should have never been in that position. A win is a win – I get it. And considering MSU lost three consecutive games coming into this matchup, this was a much-needed win.

But this isn’t the first time that Dantonio’s team took their foot off the gas when they had a victory wrapped up. In Week 2, they lost to Central Michigan in the final seconds when they should have won, then blew a great opportunity to beat Notre Dame in Week 3.

Michigan State has enough talent to be competitive in the Big Ten. But the Spartans need to show more mental toughness throughout games and learn to step on opponents’ throats in the fourth quarter or else they’ll continue to give away victories. (Or almost give away victories.)

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