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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2009 College Football Picks & Predictions: Week 5

No. 4 LSU at No. 18 Georgia, 3:30PM ET
Last year, Georgia rolled into Tiger Stadium and laid a 52-38 beat down on LSU as they forced three turnovers and running back Knowshon Moreno (now a Denver Bronco) racked up 163 yards on 21 carries. After an ugly 24-10 loss to Oklahoma State in the opening week of the season, the Bulldogs have rattled off three straight wins and will now face a Tiger team that struggled a bit offensively last week in a narrow 30-26 win over Mississippi State. LSU was outgained 374-263 and only rushed for 30 yards in the victory. The Tigers usually feast on pro-style offenses, so UGA quarterback Joe Cox can’t force throws in attempt to make something happen down field. That said, the Tigers haven’t been tested yet and needed a goal line stand to pull off the win last week. Georgia, on the other hand, has already faced a ranked OK State team and beaten competitive SEC foes South Carolina and Arkansas. The Bulldogs are more battle tested and will overcome a stiff Tiger defense.
Odds: Georgia –3.
Prediction: Georgia 24, LSU 20.

No. 7 USC at No. 24 California, 8:00PM ET
Don’t everyone break your legs jumping off the Cal bandwagon after Oregon smacked the Golden Bears 42-3 last week. Heisman candidate Jahvid Best rushed for only 55 yards in the loss and will face another tough challenge this week against a USC defense that held him to only 30 yards last season. The Trojans have the sixth best defense in the nation and the fifth best scoring defense. They have limited opponents to only 59.5 rushing yards per game and only 95 YPC threw the air. That said, Cal has played USC close over the years and the Trojans have kept things rather conservative offensively with freshman Matt Barkley under center. I see this game being close, although I don’t know if Kevin Riley can beat USC through the air if the Trojans’ front seven takes away Best.
Odds: USC –4.5.
Prediction: USC 20, Cal 17.

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Five Big Ten teams yet to punch a ticket

After Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois, there are five Big Ten teams with a legitimate shot with a postseason berth. Right now, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the conference getting six NCAA berths. (The aforementioned three, plus Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State.) Both Michigan and Minnesota are listed amongst the first four teams out. This means that a lot can change over the next couple of weeks.

My former coach, Bo Ryan, has his Badgers in the best position of all the Big Ten bubble teams. Lunardi has Wisconsin as a #9 seed, so they are relatively safe, though if they lose at Minnesota and at home against Indiana, they’ll be in a more precarious position. They are just 2-7 against Top 25 opponents, but they are a combined 5-1 against the other four Big Ten bubble teams. Plus, they have won six of their last seven, so they are playing pretty well right now. A pair of wins to close the season will guarantee a spot. A loss against Minnesota and a win against Indiana might mean that the Badgers still have some work to do in the Big Ten tourney.

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Northwestern hands No. 17 Minnesota second loss

Northwestern-MinnesotaThe first upset of Week 10 in college football occurred at The Metrodome Saturday as unranked Northwestern picked off (literally) No. 17 Minnesota 24-17. Brendan Smith returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining to break a 17-17 tie.

Despite the loss, this has been an incredible season for the Gophers. The transformation of the program from winning one game last year to climbing to the 17th spot in the polls this year is an incredible testament to Tim Brewster and his staff.

Northwestern has to be kicking itself even more now after losing to Indiana last week. A win against the Hoosiers and another one this week against the Gophers would have catapulted the Wildcats into the top 25. Either way, they’re one of the more underrated teams in the Big Ten and it’ll be interesting to see how they far against Ohio State next Saturday. It’ll be a good measuring stick to see where they are as a program.

Week 10 College Football Primer

No. 25 vs. No. 25:
Graham HarrellNo. 1 Texas vs. No. 7 Texas Tech, 8:00 PM ET ABC
Both of these teams are coming off convincing wins but in completely different fashions. The Red Raiders absolutely routed a Kansas team that many thought could possibly hand Tech its first loss of the season. The Longhorns, meanwhile, got a major challenge from Oklahoma State but managed to hold on to victory despite some second half mistakes by Heisman candidate Colt McCoy. This will be the fourth consecutive ranked team (Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State) that UT faces in as many weeks. Can they keep playing at a high level or are they due for a letdown? The big question surrounding this game is how UT’s defense will stack up against TT’s explosive offense and vice versa. Not that the Longhorns are playing stout defense by any means, but they’ll be Tech’s toughest challenge to date. It’s going to be interesting to watch the dynamics of this game play out between Horns’ McCoy and Red Raider Heisman hopefuls Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. McCoy certainly has an easier challenge this week, but Harrell and Crabtree have helped Tech average over 400 yards of offense in every game this year. Texas is arguably the most complete team in college football, while Tech can light up the scoreboard. The team that plays defense last might be the one that comes out victorious.

No. 8 Florida at No. 6 Georgia, 3:30 PM ET CBS
The game formally known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Party” should be quite interesting this year after Mark Richt instructed all of his players to have a team celebration on the field after UGA scored the first touchdown in last season’s contest. The shrewd move didn’t go unnoticed by Urban Meyer and the Gators, who will no doubt seek a measure of revenge this weekend in Jacksonville. Florida has come alive since Ole’ Miss upset them a few weeks ago, pounding Arkansas, LSU and Kentucky with the greatest of ease. The Gators seem to have re-focused and a win over the Bulldogs could make a huge statement. Both of these teams still have national title aspirations and there is absolutely no love lost here. This is one of the fiercest rivalries in college football.

Georgia TechUpset Watch:No. 15 Florida State at Georgia Tech, 3:30 PM ET
The Seminoles have ridden strong defensive play all the way to the No. 15 spot in the polls, but does anyone else get the feeling they’re due for a letdown? GA Tech was a major disappointment last week in losing to Virginia, but that might have been more a testament to how great of a coaching job Al Groh has done turning around the Cavs than an indication that the Jackets are overrated. Even though GT isn’t ranked anymore, this is still an even matchup and I think the Jackets are going to try and make a statement to get back into the top 25.

Other notable games:
Nebraska at No. 4 Oklahoma, 8:00 PM ET ESPN
The Huskers’ defense has improved over the past couple weeks, but will they be any match for Sam Bradford and the explosive Sooners’ offense?

Northwestern at No. 17 Minnesota, 12:00 PM ET
It doesn’t have the same luster as Ohio State-Penn State did last week, but this is the best of what the Big Ten has to over this weekend. The transformation of the Golden Gophers has been remarkable after they one just one game last year.

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