Despite all the glitz and glamour of its pregame ceremonies, Ohio State, until its 34-21 win over Minnesota, has had a mediocre 2008 season. The Buckeyes’ chances of appearing in the BCS National Championship Game are slim, but a Rose Bowl bid isn’t out of the question.
Ohio State may have found some offensive life against Minnesota, but can it score an unprecedented third consecutive outright Big Ten championship? That all depends on the successes or failures of the five teams who have emerged as the major contenders to unseat Ohio State from its throne atop the Big Ten.
Without further delay, here are the five teams and their potential (in Buckeye leaves) to give the boot to the Buckeyes.
The Wildcats are off to their best start (5-0) in 46 years. C.J. Bacher threw three touchdowns in Northwestern’s comeback win over Iowa.
Northwestern, though, isn’t getting much national respect because of its weak schedule. The Wildcats miss Wisconsin, get Ohio State and rival Illinois at home, and travel to Michigan on Nov. 15.
Northwestern is capable of beating Ohio State, as evidenced in 2004, and like Minnesota, has made major improvements over last season. Still, Northwestern’s true identity won’t be revealed until it gets into the meat of its Big Ten slate, starting with Michigan State Saturday.
Chances of unseating Ohio State: Three out of five Buckeye leaves.
The Wolverines looked like a middle school team as they fumbled their way to a 19-0 halftime deficit against Wisconsin on Sept. 27 before rallying to win 27-25 in the 500th game at Michigan Stadium.
That rally should scare the rest of the Big Ten, because if the team begins to feel confident and believe in Rich Rodriguez, it could be dangerous as the season progresses. Michigan, however, can’t afford to play like it did in the first half against Wisconsin in a road environment.
Chances of dethroning the Buckeyes: Three out of five Buckeye leaves.
Despite the Badgers’ collapse against Michigan, they’re still a solid football team and can rebound to make a run at the Big Ten title. Wisconsin gets Ohio State at Camp Randall Stadium, where it ended the Buckeyes’ 19-game winning streak in 2003—the last time the two teams met in Madison.
Wisconsin may have some issues on offense to work out, but this is still a team capable of making noise.
If the Badgers can’t rebound from the Michigan debacle, they might end up taking themselves completely out of the race for the Rose Bowl.
Chances of bucking Brutus: Three-and-a-half out of five Buckeye leaves.
Remember when this team won the 2001 Big Ten championship? That same year, the Illini came to Columbus and beat the Buckeyes. They also upset then-No.1 Ohio State last year at Ohio Stadium. After taking Missouri and Penn State a full four quarters, this team has shown itself to be among the top three in the Big Ten.
The last two times Ohio State has traveled to Illinois, in 2002 and 2006, it barely escaped with wins. If Ohio State or Penn State stumble, Juice Williams and the Illini could walk away with their second Big Ten title in eight years.
Chances of toppling Tressel’s troops: Four out five Buckeye leaves.
1. Penn State
Alas, we’ve come to the major contender for Ohio State’s throne. The Nittany Lions looked strong in their 38-24 win over Illinois on Sept. 27 and beat Oregon State handily—a team that went on to beat then-No.1 USC on Sept. 26.
Penn State could be a legitimate national championship contender as well. This dangerous group will face a tough test in Columbus later this season that could be a game for the Big Ten trophy.
Chances of making Buckeye Nation blue: Four-and-a-half out of five Buckeye leaves.
There they are—the five teams who have the best chances at unseating Ohio State as the Big Ten’s standard bearer for 2008.
Ohio State is showing new offensive life with Terrelle Pryor at the helm and Beanie Wells returning, but the defense can’t get lazy and give up easy scores like it did against Minnesota if this team expects to make history.
The Buckeyes control their own destiny, and if they can successfully navigate a strong Big Ten slate, they could send Jim Tressel to his first Rose Bowl appearance.
Still, Ohio State has to be careful, because the seas are choppy and five sharks are waiting for their opportunities to feast on a championship meal fit for a Big Ten king.