As always, I'll come back on Sunday with my thoughts on how each of these questions were answered during my Sunday Morning Quarterback column.
Without any further adieu, here we go:
1. How tough will the environment be for the Buckeyes at Kinnick Stadium? -- Ohio State's problems in road environments at night in recent years have been well documented. But this OSU team has already proven it can win in an extremely tough environment as it faced at Texas.
Kinnick Stadium "only" holds a little over 70,000. OSU faced over 80,000 at Texas and endured over 105,000 at Penn State last year. Those lessons should serve the Buckeyes well as they enter this game.
OSU moved the ball on its first possession of the Texas game and, although the Buckeyes did not score, that quick start helped diffuse some of the crowd noise.
2. Will the Buckeyes play better in the first half than they have the last two weeks? -- As noted above, this is a big key to take the Iowa crowd out of the game. OSU did not get much accomplished the last two weeks in the first half, trailing Cincinnati most of the way and falling behind Penn State 3-0 at the half last week.
OSU can ill afford falling behind Iowa by margins of 7-0, 10-0 or 14-0 early because, as was shown two years ago in the 33-7 loss to the Hawkeyes, coming back on the road is hard to do.
3. Will Troy Smith bounce back after a tough game last week? -- Smith was 12 of 22 passing for 115 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions last week against PSU. Those interceptions broke a string of five-plus games without a pick for Smith.
A year ago, he riddled Iowa for 191 yards and two touchdowns in the air and 127 yards and two scores on the ground. It stands as one of his best games as a Buckeye. That is the Troy Smith whom Jim Tressel is banking on seeing in this game tonight.
4. How will Iowa's first-year cornerbacks do against Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Brian Robiskie? -- Iowa starts a pair of first-year starters at corner in juniors Adam Shada and Charles Godfrey. This is a key match-up. Ginn has the speed to expose a green corner in man coverage, while Gonzalez's precise route running helped the Buckeyes cruise to the win at Texas. Watch these match-ups, particularly if Smith has time to throw.
5. Can the Buckeyes establish Antonio Pittman on the ground? -- Pittman has three 100-yard games in four outings this year, including 110 yards in last week's win over Penn State. A year ago, he joined Smith in trampling the Hawkeyes with 178 yards in 21 carries.
Two weeks ago, Iowa State rolled up 171 yards rushing in a 27-17 loss at Iowa. The Iowa front four is undersized, giving up an average of over 25 pounds per man to the OSU offensive line. And the linebacker corps returns just one starter (WLB Edmond Miles), although new MLB Mike Klinkenborg looks like a star.
I look for the Buckeyes to attempt the run early and often in this game.
6. Can the Ohio State front seven contain Iowa quarterback Drew Tate? -- Two years ago, OSU never got to Tate and he filleted them for 331 yards passing and three touchdowns. Last year's game was a different story as the Buckeyes sacked Tate five times and he was so distraught he even spiked the ball at one point.
When he's on and distributing the ball in rhythm, Tate is quite a weapon. He's even more of a factor when he breaks contain and keeps plays alive and/or runs for the first down. It will be incumbent on OSU's surging defense – with 12 sacks on the season already – to get to Tate.
7. How will OSU do against Iowa tailback Albert Young? -- There are some questions about the OSU run defense. The Buckeyes usually slam the door on opposing runners, but they are a distant seventh in the Big Ten in rush defense at 115.2 yards allowed per game. Northern Illinois, Texas and Penn State all had success running the ball against the Buckeyes at times.
This will be an 11-man emphasis for Ohio State. As much as I hate to say it, I don't see a deep threat for Iowa – famous last words – and I would not be surprised to see OSU cheat an extra man into the box. That can be dangerous, though, because Tate loves to run play-action passes and gets the ball on the perimeter quickly with screens and out passes.
8. Can the OSU defense be as opportunistic this week? -- Ohio State is second in the Big Ten and 16th nationally in turnover margin at plus-1.25 per game. OSU already has eight interceptions in four games, already eclipsing last year's total of six picks.
Tate threw a bad interception last week against Illinois. Can OSU pressure him into another one this week? LB James Laurinaitis (three picks) and CB Malcolm Jenkins (two with one for a score) always seem to be around the ball.
9. What role will special teams play in this game? -- Punter A.J. Trapasso seems to be solid, but you have to wonder what may happen if the game comes down to a field goal kick. For the year, Aaron Pettrey and Ryan Pretorius are a combined 4 of 8 on field goals.
And the return game has been nothing to write home about. In four games, Jamario O'Neal has the longest kick return (31 yards) and Ginn, who struggled last week returning punts, has a long punt return of 22 yards. A big play in the kicking game could give Ohio State some much needed breathing room.
10. Is Ohio State a Big Ten and/or national championship contender? -- This is one of OSU's biggest remaining hurdles. Sure, games at Michigan State and home with Michigan will be tough as well. But this is probably the toughest remaining test for the Buckeyes on the road.
A loss would certainly not take OSU out of the conference championship picture. But OSU's national championship aspirations would be badly damaged by any type of loss. Texas dropped to eighth after its loss to OSU and is trying to work its way back up the ladder.
Another Banner Week
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What a week it was!!
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Hey, as always, enjoy the game and we'll see you on the other side!