Week 6 - Ohio State vs. Northwestern

Posted Oct 2, 2013

Week 6 Fearless Predictions - Ohio State vs. Northwestern

- Penn State at Indiana & Nebraska at Illinois
- Michigan State at Iowa & Minnesota at Michigan

Ohio State (5-0) at Northwestern (4-0) Oct. 5 8:00, ABC

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Maybe it's because fans across the country are hoping for one Ohio State loss to all but eliminate the Big Ten from the national title chase – with no due respect to Michigan – or maybe it's because an unbeaten Northwestern could be that good coming off one of its greatest seasons ever, but it's almost like there's a hope and prayer for this to be the moment when the 17-game winning streak under Urban Meyer stops. If it doesn't happen here, all that's standing between the Buckeyes and an 11-0 record going into Ann Arbor is a massive brain cramp.

OSU got by its one rival that truly matters at the moment – considering Michigan is in the other division – with a decent but uneven win over a mistake-prone Wisconsin. The problem is that the Buckeyes are still sort of an unknown, beating up a slew of miserable teams to start the season and hanging on for dear life last week against Bucky. But this could be a bit of a work in progress, and the best might be yet to come.

The young and relatively inexperienced defensive front seven did a nice job against the Badger running game. Braxton Miller proved once and for all that Kenny Guiton is a terrific No. 2 option, but there's only one real starting option, and the skill players are starting to grow into their own as the offense is showing a nice balance of explosion and toughness. This is a very, very good team, but is it truly elite? Is it good enough to hang with a big boy from the SEC, Oregon, or even Oklahoma? It might be come bowl time, but for right now, just getting by Northwestern would be good enough.

The Wildcats might be a wee bit better than you might think. Banged up and bruised early, it's been missing star running back Venric Mark, while playmaking quarterback Kain Colter has been hit-or-miss with injuries. However, now it's time to make a huge statement in the Big Ten race, especially with a road trip to Wisconsin coming up. This might be an interdivisional matchup for NU, but a win should mean a top ten ranking and the entire Saturday news cycle all to itself.

Why Ohio State Might Win: Northwestern, welcome to the short-to-midrange pass. The Wildcats have done a relatively decent job of keeping everything in front of the secondary and not getting torched too badly deep, but there have been some mistakes. Maine was able to stay alive by dinking and dunking, and Syracuse and Cal were able to get the spread the ball around a bit and push the play downfield here and there. Braxton Miller was fantastic in the first half against Wisconsin, looking decisive with his throws and avoiding the big, costly mistake. Considering the pass rush has been hit-or-miss for the Wildcats, keeping Miller from making plays on the move could be a huge concern.

Why Northwestern Might Win: The Wisconsin connection of Joel Stave to Jared Abbrederis. Considering the Badgers have absolutely nothing going in the passing game without him, an argument could be made that Abbrederis is among college football's most valuable players. All Ohio State had to do was double team him and take chances elsewhere, but that didn't work out so hot with NFL prospect Bradley Roby getting ripped to shreds. Northwestern doesn't wing the ball all over the yard, but it showed against Syracuse that it can be deadly accurate and effective when needed. The Wildcats have a very nice, very underappreciated receiving corps that should be able to allow quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian to

Who To Watch Out For: With all the talent on the field in a huge game like this, it could all come down to a … punter? Did it seem like Wisconsin was always starting its drives in really, really bad places last week? No, not Columbus, but deep inside its own territory time and again. One of the biggest keys so far for Ohio State has been Cameron Johnston, who's averaging 40.5 yards per kick and doing a terrific job of working with the coverage teams for one of the Big Ten's best all-around punting games. Meanwhile, Northwestern has been struggled a bit kicking the ball, averaging just 33.5 yards net per pop. Field position could mean everything to the Wildcats.

- How effective will Venric Mark be? The do-it-all Northwestern star running back is expected to get back on the field again after missing time since the opener against Cal with a leg injury. The Wildcats are terrific running the ball, helped by Colter taking off at quarterback, averaging 250 yards per game, but Mark is a weapon.

- So when is Bradley Roby going to start playing like an All-America defensive back? While he's struggling in one-on-one coverage, getting roasted against Wisconsin and Cal, he has two picks and 21 stops in his four games of work. The Ohio State coaches are blaming the problems on a lack of a steady pass rush, and he's still the team's No. 1 corner, but he has to be far, far better and more consistent.

- This might be a new and improved Northwestern program under Pat Fitzgerald, but to win would mean coming up with something truly special. Since losing 33-27 in 2004, Ohio State hasn't just beaten the Cats four straight times; it destroyed them by a total of 208 to 34. The Buckeyes are 28-1 in the series since a 1971 upset loss.

What Will Happen: Ohio State won't go into "win-the-game" mode this week like it did against Wisconsin. Miller has been too sharp and too good, and there won't be any changing of the gameplan as the Buckeyes come up with a strong road win and start to really and truly look like a top five team.

Prediction: Ohio State 34 … Northwestern 24
Line: Ohio State -7 o/u: 60.5
Must See Rating: (5 5 shut down this week due to lack of government funding – 1 Rachel vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off ) … 4
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