KEY #1: The coaching matchup: Kirk Ferentz vs. Jim Tressel. This is a tough key to handicap, because both are at the top of their profession, and know the other extremely well. Even though Terrelle Pryor has made bad teams pay for doing so, the best way to defense Ohio State is to game-plan to stop the run. If Pryor can beat you consistently through the air, then you're going to lose anyway. I believe Iowa has the front-four to battle Boom Herron, Mike Brewster, Justin Boren, and company to a standstill. They will play the safeties deep and concede the short passes, making Pryor go 80 yards in 10 plays, not two or three. Tressel will certainly look to establish the run from the jump, which is fine, as long as the Ohio State defense comes to play and doesn't get rolled early. Ohio State is a totally different team playing with the lead, so there cannot be a slow start this Saturday. OUTLOOK: Which coach finds a way to break tendencies and gets it done? Ferentz waltzed into Columbus last year with a backup quarterback and pushed Ohio State to overtime, before losing on a field goal. Iowa made big plays in the passing game, and excelled in special team play to force overtime, and Ferentz deserves credit for that effort. EDGE: No edge, as the sideline bosses are both excellent.
KEY #2: The Ohio State offensive line vs. the Iowa front four. This one is worth the price of admission, and there's no way either of these units can play poorly and win the game. Look for one of these groups to take control of the game, and watch their team take control of the scoreboard. Adrian Clayborn is a monster, and trying to control him is difficult, but don't discount Karl Klug, who is also a handful. OUTLOOK: Ohio State has had a decided advantage with their offensive line in nearly every game this season, but there is no talent gap between these two units. Who wants it more? Who out-plays the other? These nine players will go a long way toward determining the winner. EDGE: Even--- talent-wise.
KEY #3: Terrelle Pryor vs. Ricky Stanzi. Can Terrele Pryor take this team on the road and complete passes in a tough situation? Pryor has absolutely owned the patsies this season, but struggled against Wisconsin and Penn State. Stanzi has also proved to be inconsistent at key times, but like Pryor, has had moments of brilliance. OUTLOOK: There is considerably more pressure on Pryor in this spot, and if the Hawkeyes can take away the run, he must be able to hit receivers and move the chains through the air.EDGE: Pryor is clearly the more talented of the two quarterbacks, but he was outplayed by lesser talents against Penn State and Wisconsin. Does he deliver this week?
KEY #4:Ohio State defense. This unit has been good in 2010, but not great, which was expected of them. There have been injuries galore, but those have been mostly in the back line, not to the front four. Will Cameron Heyward be Cameron Heyward? Can Dexter Larimore be the Dexter Larimore of 2009? Will Johnny Simon and Nathan Williams find the consistency both have lacked this season? Ross Homan is healthy, so it's time for he and Brian Rolle to dominate like All Big Ten players should. This defense simply does not play like a confident, aggressive, go-for-broke unit, and I don't know why. It certainly isn't effort, because these guys play their tails off every week, but it always doesn't translate to on-field production.OUTLOOK: The talent is still excellent, but Penn State should not be able to dominate the football for an entire half, nor should Wisconsin. EDGE: The edge has to be all 11 defenders playing just the way they're capable, not way over their heads. The defensive backs need a steady, consistent pass rush on Stanzi to take some pressure off the coverage, something that hasn't happened this year to date.
KEY #5: The Intangibles. One of the greatest quotes in sports was uttered by Bill Parcells, when he said "You are what your record says you are." That's where Ohio State is right now. Win out, and a one-loss Buckeye squad is pretty attractive, to the BCS and to the nation.
What type of team is Ohio State, and how good are they? Are they the neighborhood bully that whacks Eastern Michigan, Purdue, Minnesota into the ground, then struggles with Illinois, Wisconsin and Penn State?
Or is Ohio State a powerful team, one that found themselves last week, after a halftime tongue-lashing from their head coach? And much like 2009, will they finish out the schedule in dominant fashion, and head to the bowl game on a roll?
This week will tell the tale of how good this team really is, and this is a game that Ohio State at their best will win, because they are more talented. But, a first half repeat of Wisconsin and/or Penn State will see the Buckeyes leave for home with loss number two. The Buckeyes must start fast, and play with confidence and aggression, something lacking this year.
OUTLOOK: I'm seeing a close game, one that goes right to the last play, much like last year. This one could go to overtime again also, and that would not surprise me. The game is a tossup to me, so let's take a homer guess and call it Ohio State 23 Iowa 21. But it wouldn't shock me to see that score reversed.