For Ohio State, there are five keys to victory, and achieving success in each individual battle will not only produce a win, but it shouldn't be close. Here's why:
KEY NUMBER FIVE: The Ohio State pass rush needs to be dominant against Badger quarterback Scott Tolzien. The Buckeyes have not consistently applied pressure in 2010, and the sack numbers are low. Cam Heyward has been good. Now is the time for him to play like an All-American, something he has not done so far. Johnny Simon rushing from the outside has not been as effective as when he comes out of his tackle spot. Nathan Williams needs more help getting to the quarterback and cannot be counted on to do it alone. Obviously, Wisconsin will try to run the ball, and they should have some success, but pressure on Tolzien is a must. If Wisconsin can run and pass, their chance of winning increases dramatically. Brian Rolle and Ross Homan are both great linebackers, but rushing the passer isn't either player's strength, and the loss of Tyler Moeller hurts as well. The bottom line is the fact that it's time for Cameron Heyward to make his presence felt like an All-American should.
KEY NUMBER FOUR: Keep the pressure on the Badger defense by playing faster and being a passing team this Saturday. The onus will be on Jim Tressel to not look to establish the run for three quarters, bouncing against a brick wall on first and second down. Play Wisconsin like they're Oregon or Indiana, and look to take control of the scoreboard early, not the line of scrimmage. Playing Wisconsin the way they played USC in 2009 is the only way the Badgers hang around in this football game, and you could see the same result. Boom Herron versus John Clay could be a loss for Ohio State, while Terrelle Pryor, head up, against Scott Tolzein is a clear winner. Wisconsin wants a street fight. Ohio State should want a track meet, and a 2-1 pass-run ratio will do the trick.
KEY NUMBER THREE: Ohio State must play error-free football, as cliche as that sounds. Turnovers. Penalties. Big plays. If Ohio State wins the turnover battle, has less penalties than Wisconsin, and produces more plays over 20 yards than they allow, this game is over. And it's a comfortable W for Buckeye-Nation. Wisconsin needs an ugly game, and will look to muddy it up early, to set the tone. Look for Ohio State to be disciplined enough to not respond to the first shot after the whistle, because the second hit always gets flagged. Play with poise and purpose, and take a hard-fought victory.
KEY NUMBER TWO: Terrelle Pryor is the best player in this football game, and he needs to play like it. If he's on the money throwing the ball, and the wide receivers will be open, Ohio State should be able to put a lot of points on the board. Certainly more than Wisconsin could match. Ohio State scoring the 30's, and this is the responsibility of Pryor, puts this game out of reach. If Pryor is turning the ball over and not hitting open receivers, it could be a long day in Madison. One of the nice things of having the better team is that nobody needs to play better than they can, Pryor included. If Pryor is Pryor, Wisconsin is in trouble. Bank That.
KEY NUMBER ONE: How does Ohio State handle being the top-ranked team in America? Do they play scared to lose, or will they attack the Badgers, looking to show the country they deserve their lofty ranking? Wisconsin is going to hit you in the mouth, Bank that, and you'd better be ready to go to war for 60 minutes. The Badgers will not care that Ohio State is at the top of the heap, in fact, they will be fueled to wreck this dream season the Buckeyes have going. I'm probably the only person in Ohio troubled by the Buckeye team talking every day about doing the "Jump Around" at the start of the fourth quarter. If you're losing 17-6, and your lip is bloodied, I'm guessing there won't be much dancing going on. Ohio State has more talent than Wisconsin, but they had better be prepared to match the intensity and emotion the Badgers will bring Saturday night, or it truly will be a trip to the "House of Pain."
PREDICTION: I've said since last summer that Ohio State would go undefeated in the 2010 regular season, and I see no reason to change that thought. Simply put, Ohio State has the better team, and it will take something out of the ordinary for them to lose. This group is a mature, battle-tested team, and this coaching staff has been through a lot of big games together. These players were recruited to play in, and win, these types of football games. In the end, talent wins out. It could be closer than expected, but I don't think so. I'm calling it Ohio State 31 Wisconsin 16.