Despite the losses in Columbus, can the Buckeyes make it to Indianapolis in December?
Debate: Will the Ohio State Buckeyes play in the Inaugural Big Ten Title Game?
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): No, I do not think Ohio State will play in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. With all of the attrition and suspensions the Buckeyes suffered this offseason, Wisconsin has to be the favorite in the Leaders Division. The departures of coach Jim Tressel and quarterback Terrelle Pryor will have a big effect on the Buckeyes this year, and the five-game suspensions of their top running back (Daniel Herron), best receiver (DeVier Posey) and best blocker (Mike Adams) will be felt during tough games against Michigan State (the fifth game) and at Nebraska (the first game back for the suspended players).
Wisconsin did lose All-Americans Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt on the offensive line, but one area where the Badgers continually excel is line play. The addition of NC State transfer Russell Wilson at quarterback gives UW a quality pass/run threat that the offense has not had in recent years. We know the focus for the Badgers’ attack will be their power running game, but Wilson brings an ability to make big plays on his own after throwing for 76 touchdowns in three seasons in Raleigh. He never had a running back at NC State who topped 773 yards in a season, while the Badgers have the potent duo of James White (1,052 yards and 14 TDs) and Montee Ball (996 yards and 18 TDs) returning. The Wisconsin defense did lose an outstanding pass rusher in J.J. Watt, but there are seven returning starters from a unit that ranked 20th in the nation in total defense.
With a new quarterback and the absence of the suspended players on offense, Ohio State will have to rely on its defense to carry the load early in the schedule. That unit was excellent in 2010, forcing a Big Ten-leading 30 turnovers and ranking fourth in the nation in total defense. However, the defense suffered massive losses in NFL draft picks Cameron Heyward (most tackles for loss), Ross Homan, Brian Rolle (leading tackler), Chimdi Chekwa (most interceptions) and Jermale Hines, as well as key secondary members Devon Torrence and Aaron Gant and tackle Dexter Larimore. Even though the Buckeyes have a ton of talent waiting to step up, that type of attrition will make it difficult to win the league.
Both teams have a brutal October slate that culminates with Wisconsin playing in Columbus, but I believe the Badgers will be better equipped to deal with that month than the Buckeyes. It should be a great race all season, and I’ll take the Badgers to represent the Leaders in Indianapolis.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): There are a lot of reasons to pick against the Ohio State Buckeyes this season, but the last time I checked, they still got some good college football players running around in Columbus. Even without some key names for the first five games of the season, THE OSU still has arguably the best roster in the conference. I will go against the grain and pick Ohio State to represent the Leaders Division in the first-ever Big Ten title game.
The non-conference schedule features one game that will be difficult: The NCAA Sanctions Bowl in Coral Gables. With rumors that Miami could have more than twice as many of its own stars suspended — especially from the defense — this game looks dramatically different than just two weeks ago. Ohio State should enter conference play umblemished when the Spartans come to town for the first key game of the season.
Michigan State didn't have a chance to play Ohio State last year and will certainly be salivating to get a piece of the Bucks in 2011 — especially with the Herrons and Adams of the world sitting on the sideline. But Ohio State has won seven in row, 12 of the last 14 and is 20-4 against Michigan State since 1974. The last time Sparty went into The Horseshoe and won was back in 1998 — a game Buckeyes fans remember very well. Those players who started the season inexperienced and wet-behind-the-ears will no longer be green when Michigan State comes to town in Week Five. Give me the Bucks.
The following week Ohio State will make its first-ever appearance in Lincoln, Nebraska. A win in treacherous Memorial Stadium while trying to mesh their stars back into the lineup will be a tall order. So assuming the Bucks start 1-1 in Big Ten play, tricky trips to Illinois and Michigan, and a visit from Penn State November 19, appear to be the only other losses on the schedule. And those seem to be longshots.
This leaves a home game with the Wisconsin Badgers as the de facto Leaders Division title game on October 29.
Even if UW beats Nebraska at home in the first week of Big Ten play, Bucky will find it hard to leave East Lansing with a win for the first time since 2002. Kirk Cousins played clutch football last fall, giving Wisconsin its only regular season loss in Spartan Stadium and I don't see why that won't happen again.
So the trip to Columbus will likely define both Wisconsin's and Ohio State's season. The Buckeyes have won the last two in Columbus against UW, and have done so in convincing fashion (at least on the scoreboard). Russell Wilson will be playing in the most hostile environment of his career when he walks into the Shoe and will need his running game if he expects to leave with a win. However, the Bucks have totally stymied the Badgers’ potent rushing game in the last two meetings on the Banks of the Olentagy. Sconie has mustered only 130 yards on 81 carries in the two losses.
I could see both Ohio State and Wisconsin finishing with two, maybe even three, losses in league play, but the Scarlet and Gray should have the all-important tie-breaker "W" over Big Red.
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