THE OHIO STATE TEAM: Yes, this is an undefeated team and for that point there is no substitute. In college football, ugly wins trump pretty losses every day of the week. But this has not been an easy season for head coach Urban Meyer, either on or off the field. I wouldn't say discipline has been the calling card of this team, either on or off the field. There have been games where Meyer has not exactly turned the screws tightly, in looking for a dominant win. Some early season games with Hawaii and Western Michigan come to mind. This week will not be that type of game from Meyer's perspective at all. He needs a big win. Period. You learn to dominate by dominating. You learn to play well by playing well. Ohio State needs to do both this week before heading into what they hope is a 5-game march to a repeat national title.
THE NATIONAL NARRATIVE: We are now starting to see the "overrated" tag being thrown out, and Meyer knows this as well as anyone. Should Ohio State win out, the outside noise won't matter. But will a one-loss Ohio State still get in the playoffs? Meyer needs to show EVERYONE that he has a powerhouse team, including the media, his opponents, and possibly his own team. There have been very few dominating performances this season, other than a few nice wins over bad teams like Virginia Tech and Rutgers. The Penn State win was impressive. This week, Meyer needs to blow Illinois away and have people start to change their thinking on Ohio State.
THE ILLINOIS TEAM: There will be a new athletics director hired at Illinois, so interim head coach Bill Cubit is out and he knows that. So do his players. This is not a bad football team, and they do have a one-point win over an average Nebraska team. They have also been beaten by all the other teams with a pulse on their schedule: North Carolina, Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State, and some of the whippings have been bad. The talent gap is huge between these two teams. The Illini defense is OK, and their offense is below OK. They don't do anything really well, although they aren't bad defensively stopping the run.
THE OHIO STATE OFFENSE: Will J.T. Barrett be J.T. Barrett this week? That answer gives you the score of this game. If he isn't good, then Ohio State is an above average team playing another average team on the road in a place they've struggled. In other words, a 23- 20 final and I'm not sure who gets the 23. But what if J.T. is J.T.? Then Ohio State throws 49 points on the scoreboard, and all the playmakers touch the football. When Barrett plays well the offensive line plays well, the runningbacks play well, and the wideouts play well. It's THAT simple.
THE OHIO STATE DEFENSE: This has been a darn good defense for most of the season, and they've been pretty consistent in being able to take away what the opposition wants to do well. Against Minnesota, it was all about taking away the running game. This week, it's the opposite, as the Buckeyes will look to stop the Ilini passing game. That could open up running lanes, because they won't be able to drop Tyvis Powell into the box. The defensive tackles need to play strong again like they did last week, and Joey Bosa and Darron Lee need to be themselves.
THE OUTLOOK: I'm expecting Barrett to play well, REALLY WELL. They will run it early and often, with Barrett and Zeke Elliott, which will open up the passing game. Look for Mike Thomas, Curtis Samuel and Jalin Marshall to get into the end zone. I'm expecting over 250 yards rushing and over 200 yards passing, with the Buckeyes winning the turnover battle. The defense will not pitch a shutout this week, but Illinois should struggle to hit 20 points. If Ohio State has turnovers, penalties and mistakes under control, they will score at will. Ohio State should be screwed down tightly by Meyer, and he will want a big win. I think he gets it.
THE PREDICTION: Calling it: OHIO STATE 49 ILLINOIS 17.