Cus Words: Road Outside Columbus

Early road contests have not been the kindest to Jim Tressel's teams during his time as Ohio State head coach, but the Buckeyes' first trip of this season should be no sweat. Check out what we mean and find all the usual departments plus Big Ten picks in the newest edition of Cus Words.

What we learned last week: Maturity is not an issue for this team. Neither is flexibility. And at least for one week, the red zone offense was great.

The level of competition is a factor in the first and third of those items, but for opposite reasons.

Eastern Michigan's 15-game losing streak could have inspired the Buckeyes to play, well, uninspired, but that did not appear to be the case, particularly on offense, where Ohio State was sharp in the passing game and opportunistic in how it ran.

And the lack of talent that led to such a long dry spell in Ypsilanti surely helped the Buckeyes turn up the proficiency inside the 20-yard line, but everybody has to start somewhere.

There's a tendency to say, "Ho hum," when watching Terrelle Pryor get hot and hit most of his throws two weeks in a row, but taking for granted such proficiency is a mistake, at least until he's done it for an entire season.

Other lessons: The youngsters in the lower part of the defensive secondary depth chart are raw, while the running backs room has ability to burn.

The question that got the most play during the week leading up to the game was how to get the more traditional part of the running game in gear, but not much attempt to do that was made. Players asked about that afterward did not sound concerned, although they acknowledged a desire to get better.

What we can expect to learn this week: Ummm… how the 2010 team looks in white?

September saw the Buckeyes go 4-0 and central Ohio bound for all four contests. October dawns with a trip to Champaign to take on Illinois at the quaint and recently renovated Memorial Stadium, where the home team is still trying to find itself.

Before the season, I tabbed the Fighting Illini as one of the two worst teams in the Big Ten. I figured head coach Ron Zook's crew along with Tim Brewster's Minnesota club were the clear bottom-dwellers while the rest of the league at least had a modicum of hope for finishing .500 or above and qualifying for a bowl.

A month into the schedule, the Golden Gophers might actually be worse than I expected, but getting a good read on Illinois has been more difficult.

The Illini played an uneven, uninspiring opener against a Missouri team that didn't look particularly impressive. Then Illinois went on to beat a Football Championship Subdivision foe and Northern Illinois from the MAC. The latter squad is supposed to be one of the better MAC teams this year (and beat Minnesota last weekend, coincidentally), but I don't think a win over them should count for much for any team with aspirations of hanging with the No. 2 team in the nation.

So I guess Ohio State will still be playing against itself as much as anyone else, although that's a theme that could get boring pretty quickly. I'm not sure how much a change in scenery will really matter, but then again I suppose there will be a handful of players on their first trip so that could raise the distraction quotient a bit, particularly on the ever-improving special teams units.

Otherwise, the man-hunt for the traditional running game will continue, but I don't know that we'll learn much about the beleaguered Buckeye secondary as the Fighting Illini passing game is very much a work in progress as a new offensive coordinator and first-year starting quarterback continue to try to get on the same page.

In the case of the secondary, getting healthy will be key. The youngsters should be fine in the long run, but I'm not sure they are ready to be in the thick of a national championship hunt.

As for the running game, I don't see the need to change much. The Buckeyes converted a short-yardage situation at the goal line last week and popped a couple of long runs against stacked fronts on early downs, so the people are there. It's just a matter of reps.

All-Buckeye Beaters Nominations: Even teams that haven't won a game in two seasons can have standout individual performances, and Ohio State's 73-20 defeat of Eastern Michigan was no exception.

Our No. 1 nod goes to Eagle quarterback Alex Gillett, who led three long scoring drives in which he made several nice throws. Gillett finished the day 13 for 22 passing for 200 yards with a pair of touchdown passes.

Defensively, the most impressive Eagles were linebackers Matt Boyd (14 tackles, one forced fumble) and Neal Howey (10 tackles).

DVR Directions: Set to kickoff shortly after the Buckeyes are finished with the Fighting Illini, Michigan-Indiana (ESPNU) is a must-see for Ohio State fans. Not only is it a chance to get a look at next week's OSU opponent, it's also the best test yet for the Wolverines (more on this later). Make sure there is room on that DVR, though, to record the other 3:30 p.m. Big Ten tilt: Wisconsin at Michigan State (ABC regional, ESPN elsewhere). That contest matches the conference's best running game for the visitors against run-stuffers supreme from East Lansing.

Big Ten Picks: The coming of the 115th season of Big Ten football has me thinking a new ‘Cus Words' feature is in order, so here you go. What could be more fun that picking games and getting the chance to be wrong?

Anyway, before the season when I projected out the whole league schedule, I thought the Buckeyes would be one of five Big Ten schools (including Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Indiana) to go unbeaten in nonleague play. Turns out, there were six as Michigan State and Michigan both enter October unblemished, but Iowa slipped in Arizona.

The league looks primed for its best year in, well, years, but for the impression to be positive nationally, the top teams are going to need to take care of business against the bottom-dwellers and a middle group that looks pretty dangerous.

A good example of that comes this week when Penn State travels to Iowa. The Nittany Lions are rebuilding, but with freshman quarterback Rob Bolden looking more solid all the time, they could become formidable as the year goes on. For now, I don't see them handling the Hawkeyes, who are better in the trenches both ways and have a quarterback and receivers who can exploit Penn State's unathletic safeties.

In Bloomington, Michigan will enter ranked, but Indiana has the better team. The Hoosiers possess a powerful passing game that should be too much for the Wolverines to handle as long as Indiana can protect quarterback Ben Chappell. Denard Robinson will do plenty of damage, but I like the Hoosiers' unproved defense better than Michigan's.

Northwestern heads to Minneapolis in the unusual role of clear favorite, but I think the Wildcats should do just fine dealing with prosperity. Problems abound with the Gophers, and Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is putting together a fine season.

Then there is the matchup between the Badgers and the Spartans. That should be a fun one. With Badger receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath expected back, I'm going with the road team to win because I think the weakest unit on either team is a Michigan State secondary that hasn't stopped anyone for a couple of seasons now.

Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Week 4 ranking)

1. (same) Ohio State
2. (same) Wisconsin
3. (same) Michigan State
4. (same) Iowa
5. (same) Northwestern
6. (same) Michigan
7. (same) Penn State
8. (same) Indiana
9 .(10) Illinois
10. (9) Purdue
11. (same) Minnesota

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at mhartman[at]buckeyesports[dot]com

For more from him, read his blog about Ohio State football and whatever else crosses his mind .

Buckeye Sports Top Stories