COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Most of us want a true Big Ten championship game. Today's contest at Ohio Stadium is as close as it gets.
Greetings from The Shoe, where No. 10 Iowa and No. 11 Ohio State meet with the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth, almost certainly the Rose Bowl, at stake.
The Buckeyes come in as heavy favorites following their big win last week against Penn State, while Iowa tries to bounce back without quarterback Ricky Stanzi and win its first game in Columbus since 1991. Ohio State is 31-4-1 against Iowa since 1962. Put simply, this is the prime opportunity for Iowa to quiet its doubters and shock the Big Ten by going 4-0 in conference road games.
The weather is gorgeous with sunny skies, temperatures in the low- to mid-60s and light winds. It's unseasonably warm, and I'll definitely take it.
Injuries: Everyone knows about Stanzi, who will miss today's game and most likely next week's regular-season finale with a severely sprained right ankle. Redshirt freshman James Vandenberg makes his first career start at quarterback. Iowa hopes to get safety Brett Greenwood (neck) and wide receiver Colin Sandeman (head) back for the game, while there's a chance running back Adam Robinson (ankle) could play. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is battling an ankle injury and sat out portions of practice this week. Defensive tackle Dexter Larimore should be a bigger factor today as he works back from a sprained knee. Ohio State's offensive line is probably the healthiest it has been all season, as tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams should be available today.
THREE KEYS FOR IOWA
1. Force turnovers from Pryor -- Iowa leads the Big Ten in takeaways (26) and ties for the national lead in interceptions (19). The Hawkeyes defense must help out Vandenberg by forcing turnovers against Pryor, who has been more turnover prone this season.
2. Put Vandenberg in situations to succeed -- As good as Stanzi was in the fourth quarter, he put the defense in tough situations with interceptions. Iowa shouldn't throw too much at the young quarterback but take a few calculated risks and stretch the field with wide receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Vandenberg has the arm strength to make the throws, but he'll need time from the offensive line.
3. Win the battle at the line of scrimmage -- Iowa's defensive line essentially won the Penn State game. It needs a repeat performance against Pryor and the Buckeyes' offense. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes' offensive line must play its best game of the season against one of the nation's elite defensive fronts, led by Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson.
THREE KEYS FOR OHIO STATE
1. Turn up the heat on Vandenberg -- The Buckeyes have made life miserable for veteran quarterbacks and should be licking their chops against a guy making his first career start. Iowa's offensive line has underachieved a bit, and the Buckeyes will win this game if they consistently harass Vandenberg.
2. Run Pryor around the edges -- Iowa is the only Big Ten team yet to face Pryor, and the Hawkeyes really haven't seen a comparable quarterback. Pryor has run the ball well since the Purdue game and should test Iowa's speed around the edges. Despite Pryor's bad ankle, Ohio State can't be afraid to turn him loose.
3. Don't get overconfident -- The entire complexion of this game changed last Saturday, and Ohio State comes in as a huge favorite. The Buckeyes usually don't let outside factors affect their play, but they need to respect Iowa and not let the Hawkeyes hang around in this game.