Big Ten Football Insider: Ohio State among the nation's unbeaten

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 10, 2013 - 10:43 PM

Ohio State is one of a handful of unbeaten teams at the midway mark. They are not all judged equally.

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Quarterback Braxton Miller and the rest of the Buckeyes are idle this week before games against Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana. They finish with Michigan.

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Any chance we can get that four-team College Football Playoff format ready one year ahead of time?

At this rate, the final year of the BCS national championship format could leave some pretty good teams on the outside looking in.

Ohio State could go undefeated, for example, and still not make the BCS title game on Jan. 6 in Pasadena. And the Big Ten isn’t the only conference sweating this. The ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 could have undefeated teams get snubbed, too.

I know — it’s still early. The first BCS poll doesn’t come out until Oct. 20, but Jerry Palm, from CBSSports.com, currently has Ohio State at No. 5 in his latest simulation, behind Alabama, Clemson, Stanford and Oregon.

That’s what Ohio State gets for playing a weak nonconference schedule, featuring Buffalo, San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M.

After surviving tests against Wisconsin and Northwestern, Ohio State should coast through its next five games — against Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana — before its annual showdown with Michigan.

The Wolverines are undefeated, too, but they look pretty vulnerable. In fact, Buckeyes fans might find themselves cheering for Michigan in coming weeks just so the Wolverines can climb the rankings (from No. 16 in Palm’s simulation) to enhance OSU’s strength of schedule.

– that game will resonate.

But by then, the teams ranked ahead of Ohio State will all have chances to sway voters. Here are four games fans can’t wait to see over the next month:

Oct. 19, Florida State (5-0) at Clemson (5-0): With two Heisman candidates at quarterback — Jameis Winston and Tajh Boyd — this one will pretty much decide which team represents the ACC Atlantic Division in the conference title game.

Clemson already has an impressive win over Georgia and still plays South Carolina. Florida State, which is currently ranked No. 6 on Palm’s computer, has November games coming against Miami and Florida.

Oct. 26, Oklahoma (5-0) at Baylor (4-0): Like the Big Ten, the Big 12 is lagging behind the SEC, ACC and Pac-12 in various conference power ratings. But Oklahoma and Baylor are still intriguing.

This game will be a Thursday night special, featuring Oklahoma’s stingy defense against a Baylor team that is averaging 779.5 yards and 70.5 points per game. Those stats aren’t misprints.

Nov. 7, Oregon (5-0) at Stanford (5-0): Another Thursday night gem, this one likely will decide the Pac-12 North Division.

Stanford already is battle tested, coming off a thrilling win over Washington last Saturday. Oregon hasn’t played an FBS team with a winning record, but it faces Washington and UCLA before visiting Palo Alto.

Nov. 9, LSU (5-1) at Alabama (5-0): An LSU win would throw the SEC West into chaos and would benefit Texas A&M, which lost to Alabama on Sept. 14. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies travel to Baton Rouge on Nov. 23.

Seeking its third consecutive national title, Alabama hopes to run the table. And by the end, the SEC could have a one-loss team competing for a BCS title game berth. Georgia, for example, would have a strong case considering its one loss was by three points at Clemson on Aug. 31.

Teams from other conferences, such as Louisville, Fresno State and Northern Illinois have legitimate chances at finishing undefeated, too. So that four-team College Football Playoff can’t come soon enough. Actually, an eight-team bracket might help.

Big Ten Short Takes

• The schedule could help the Gophers at Northwestern next week. Minnesota will be a big underdog, but it’ll be coming off a bye. And Northwestern could be bruised, battered and emotionally spent, coming off games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.

The Wildcats played well in a 40-30 loss to Ohio State, but the rushing yards went: Buckeyes 248, Wildcats 94. The key for the Gophers will be disrupting Northwestern’s precision-filled passing game.

• Nebraska and Indiana both head on the road this week after playing nothing but home games so far this year. The Cornhuskers are at Purdue, and the Hoosiers are at Michigan State.

Indiana opened eyes with last week’s victory over Penn State. That trip to Bloomington, Ind., on Nov. 2, looks even tougher for the Gophers, who are 2-16 in their past 18 games there.

• Iowa has been burned by six consecutive fake punts, dating to 2010, including two this season. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz is “dead serious” when he says his team may never try to return a punt again — focusing instead on preventing fakes

“I may be leaning toward the point where you never try to see us return one again,” he said. “Just fair catch it and try to keep it off the ground.”

Big Ten Power Poll

1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0): Wisconsin and Northwestern played the Buckeyes tougher than Michigan figures to Nov. 30.

2. Michigan (5-0, 1-0): Went 25 games in a row with at least one turnover before last week’s victory over the Gophers.

3. Northwestern (4-1, 0-1): Trevor Siemian leads Big Ten in pass efficiency (171.3); teammate Kain Colter is third (160.2).

4. Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1): Will there be a letdown now that Ohio State has all but wrapped up the Leaders Division?

5. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0): Leads the nation in total defense, allowing just 203.8 yards per game.

6. Nebraska (4-1, 1-0): Taylor Martinez (turf toe) likely sits through the bye week, returning Oct. 26 at Minnesota.

7. Iowa (4-2, 1-1): Bye week, then hold on tight, as Hawkeyes play Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

8. Indiana (3-2, 1-0): Nate Sudfeld leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game with 293.4.

9. Penn State (3-2, 0-1): The Nittany Lions rushed for just 70 yards in their 44-24 loss to Indiana.

10. Illinois (3-2, 0-1): Second bye in four weeks gives the Illini more time to work on their defensive woes.

11. Gophers (4-2, 0-2): Ra’Shede Hageman ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 6½ tackles for a loss.

12. Purdue (1-4, 0-1): True freshman quarterback Danny Etling will make first career start vs. Nebraska.

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