No. 21 Iowa hosts No. 8 Ohio St in Big 10 showdown
Nearly everyone familiar with the Big Ten figured the winner of the Ohio State-Iowa game would probably win at least a share of the league title.
That's still true - for the Buckeyes anyway.
No. 8 Ohio State (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) can reach the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row if it beats the Hawkeyes and rival Michigan and gets some help. No. 21 Iowa (7-3, 4-2) needs a virtual miracle to make it to Pasadena after blowing a 10-point lead and losing to Northwestern last week.
No one expects that to change the intensity of Saturday's showdown in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes might be considered a disappointment this season, but they're also a veteran bunch used to winning.
''All summer long and all fall long, people have circled this game. It's not like, oh, who do we have this week?'' Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. ''They know what this game, we know what this game is all about.''
The Buckeyes have won 11 of the last 12 in the series dating to 1992. Last year's win over the Hawkeyes in Columbus might have stung the most of all.
Iowa, playing without injured quarterback Ricky Stanzi, rallied with two fourth-quarter touchdowns but fell in overtime, 27-24. Both teams went on to win BCS bowl games, and the talent each brought back for 2010 had some predicting this weekend's game would have national championship ramifications along with the Big Ten title.
Ohio State held up its end of the bargain.
A spot in the national title game is likely out of reach for the Buckeyes after its 31-18 loss to Wisconsin. But they have steamrolled their last three opponents by a combined score of 139-24.
Ohio State is ranked first among Big Ten teams with 41.6 points per game and has allowed just 78 points in six league contests, by far the best in the conference.
''They've been playing well all season, but particularly the last three weeks,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. ''They are really on a roll right now, playing with great momentum.''
Iowa had momentum, too, after blasting then-No. 5 Michigan State 37-6 to throw the league title chase into a four-team scramble. But the Hawkeyes haven't looked like the same team in the past two weeks.
Iowa edged Indiana after Damarlo Belcher dropped what would have been the game-winning TD pass in the end zone with 28 seconds left. The Hawkeyes then let Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa lead 85- and 91-yard touchdown drives to help pull off the upset.
Iowa's defense has had late-game issues in all three of its losses. Even Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor noticed how gassed the Hawkeyes defensive line looked trying to chase down Persa in the second half, saying he'd like the Buckeyes to wear them out in similar fashion.
And Iowa's offense has scored just 35 points the last two games.
''We've let stupid things get in our way. We've got to quit hurting ourselves,'' Stanzi said. ''We just need to do a better job of taking care of the football, first of all, and do a better job of responding to adversity.''
The game could come down to a quarterback duel between Stanzi and Pryor, which would only be fitting since they've been at the forefront of the Big Ten's recent renaissance behind center.
Both teams rank in the top five nationally in rushing defense, so it could be hard for Iowa's Adam Robinson and Ohio State's Dan Herron to find as much space. Both defenses also force interceptions, so Stanzi and Pryor will need to limit their mistakes.
A win over the Buckeyes would make a trip to a non-BCS bowl much easier to swallow for Iowa. Ohio State's got a sixth straight conference title to play for, but the Buckeyes have always known they'd have to go through Iowa City to get there.
''We can look ahead as far as we want. We can look to Michigan and all that,'' Pryor said. ''But right now it's in our hands, so if we lose we know we're done.''