Cus Words: Big Ten is Buckeyes and....?

The Buckeyes could use a little help from their conference friends if they want to make a return to the national championship game. Sure it's tough to look good against the Buckeyes, but is playing well in some of the other weeks of the season too much to ask? That, a look ahead at Purdue, the All-Buckeye Beaters nominees, TV viewing suggestions and more await in this edition of Cus Words.

What we learned this week:

Ohio State can walk backwards and blindfolded to a third Big Ten title in a row.

Given the parity throughout the league from 2-9, one loss probably would not prevent the Buckeyes from winning another outright title, but through five weeks of action there is no team that looks nearly as complete as Jim Tressel's crew.

What of the rest?

In Evanston last weekend, a running back who averaged less than two yards per carry against Ohio State accelerated past the Michigan secondary on a 49-yard touchdown that started directly up the gut. That back, Northwestern's Omar Conteh, ran for 119 yards against the Wolverines, who also surrendered 289 yards through the air.

Michigan's vaunted offense, albeit with some instability at quarterback, needed major assists from its defense, which wore down the Wildcats, collapsing the pocket and forcing three consecutive turnovers in the fourth quarter, to rally the Wolverines from a fourth-quarter deficit.

Of course, OSU sacked C.J. Bacher five times one week earlier, so it's questionable just what kind of a feat that is, and the Wildcats had no trouble moving the ball throughout much of the game.

The bottom line is, anyone thinking Michigan is back should find another top-tier team that needs to win the turnover battle 5-0 to beat Northwestern.

The offense at Penn State is so bad a pretty strong defense can't make up for it against anyone better than Notre Dame. One has to wonder if a quarterback change is in the offing in Happy Valley. Whomever is calling the signals still will need to get more help from the offensive line or anyone lining up behind him to hope for much success.

Wisconsin's defense has been subject to some alarming breakdowns in the first half of the season. Sure, Michigan State has always had playmakers, but a team that wants to win the Big Ten cannot give up so many big plays, especially two weeks after allowing 31 to The Citadel.

Spartans quarterback Brian Hoyer has some tools, but the Badgers made him look awfully good after he struggled with accuracy earlier in the season. If he has turned a corner in that department, the Spartans could be serious contenders to rise from the basement to the top half of the league. Wisconsin's own offensive explosion against

Michigan State is a good indicator that the athletes are still not there on the defensive side of the ball for the Spartans, particularly in the back end.

The Badgers have a quality offense, but it is asking a lot for that unit to outscore teams every week. Of course, stranger things have happened.

Illinois and Indiana are intriguing prospects.

Both have accumulated enough talent to scare anyone in the conference, but the next step is consistency. The Hoosiers and Fighting Illini need to prove they can perform at a high level for all eight weeks of the conference season – and gut out wins when not playing their best – in order to help salvage the conference's national image this year.

They will need to, considering how far Iowa has slipped.

The overriding problem with the Big Ten is the same as it was last year: No team outside of Ohio State has shown itself to be above average on both sides of the ball.

The moral of the story? There is a reason they play the games, but as of now the Buckeyes are prohibitive favorites.

Of course, one never knows what another seven days could bring...

What we look to learn this week:

Playing at West Lafayette under the lights in a stadium the Buckeyes have struggled in three straight times could turn out to be the toughest test Ohio State faces all year.

Let's see just how good those Buckeye corners are and what kind of defensive game plan Ohio State will draw up.

Purdue will bring an excellent corps of receivers into this game, meaning Malcolm Jenkins, Donald Washington and Chimdi Chekwa will each need to be on his game. That means sticking with Dorien Bryant, Greg Orton and Selwyn Lymon in man coverage and making solid tackles in the open field whether the Buckeyes are manned up or in zone.

Bryant has been a contributor since stepping on campus four years ago, and he can make a case for himself as the best Boilermaker receiver of the Tiller era. He will remind Buckeye fans of Santonio Holmes with his toughness, good hands and precision routes.

In addition, tight end Dustin Keller poses a threat as an athletic target all over the field. When Ohio State is in its Cover-2 scheme, the middle of the field is often the most vulnerable, so Keller could be a key this weekend.

With all three starting linebackers playing at a high level lately, the Buckeyes have preferred to stay in their base defense more often than last year, when the nickel was often the weapon of choice.

It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and co-coordinator Luke Fickell try to continue that tactic or opt for more nickel and dime packages.

The percentage of blitzes will bear watching as well.

Heacock has said earlier in the season the quality of his corners frees him up to dial up more pressure with more than just the front line.

We'll see how that plays out this weekend.

This will be by far the most talented collection of pass catchers Ohio State has faced this season, but let's not forget Curits Painter.

He is working toward being the next in line of the standout Purdue quarterbacks, and he has something few signal callers to oppose OSU in the last season and a half have possessed: experience.

There is no denying that the Buckeyes have feasted mostly on callow quarterbacks since the start of the 2006 season, and on top of that they have rarely faced an experienced QB with multiple weapons, as they will this week.

The exceptions? Michigan and Florida last season. Check the stats yourself to see how those exercises went.

Purdue's offense is legit - including a good back in Kory Sheets - and the Boilermakers' presence in the Top 20 means folks around the country are taking notice, too.

This is the time to start building national respect on both sides.

All-Buckeye-Beater Nominees:

Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber, despite his two interceptions, did some nice things, and for accumulating more passing yards against Ohio State than any of the Buckeyes' previous foes, we'll give him a nod for year-end consideration.

He is joined by wide receiver Ralph Spry, because at the rate this Ohio State defense is going, every player to score a TD on the Buckeyes this year might have to be included.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker John Shevlin is an easy pick after he led the Gophers with nine tackles while also forcing and recovering Beanie Wells' fumble.

Speaking of Wells, the bruises he left on safety Dominique Barber (along with the Golden Gopher's seven tackles, including two for loss) help James Laurinaitis' old friend garner mention as well.

Call it a merit badge for bravery after Barter watched from his back as Wells scored his second touchdown of the night.

Fit For DVR This Weekend:

With the Buckeyes now in the Top 5 and the total of unbeaten teams across the country having taken a serious hit last week, scoreboard watching figures to be more in vogue than earlier in the season. The no-brainer pick for recording this weekend is Florida's trip to LSU, a game that will coincide with Ohio State's showdown with Purdue.

Florida could save Buckeye fans some heartbreak at the end of the season by knocking off the AP's top team in the land, because an undefeated Ohio State team is likely to be left out in the cold should the Buckeyes, Tigers and Southern California all finish the season undefeated.

Elsewhere, it bears watching how Michigan State bounces back from the first defeat of the Dantonio era. The old regime did not exactly handle adversity well. It gets its first chance to prove that has changed at noon Saturday at home against Northwestern.

And if you like car wrecks, Iowa travels to Penn State at 3:30 for an ABC game. Don't expect that game to earn the Big Ten any style points.


1. Ohio State (Still no sure if "2" is far enough apart from "1" to justify the next slot.)
2. Purdue (Here is your chance, Joe.)
3. Wisconsin (Can Badgers outscore the rest of the schedule, too?)
4. Illinois (It's the Jimmys and the Joes, people. It's the Jimmys and the Joes.)
5. Michigan (Only chance is to rev up that offense because the defense can't play with big boys.)
tie-6. Indiana (Owning Iowa not a bad way to start the climb to respectability.)
tie-6. Michigan State (Offense was much better against Wisconsin than Notre Dame. How about that?)
8. Penn State (Hey, the Nits just aren't as talented as the Fighting Illini.)
9. Iowa (Almost beat Wisconsin; almost blown out by Indiana.)
10. Northwestern (Undone by poor pass protection)
11. Minnesota (Came out of OSU game expressing confidence. Not sure why.)

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