Toughest stretch: Ohio State Buckeyes

The realistic goals might not all be the same, but across the league every team at some point has to face a crucial stretch to reach its potential.

Whether it's simply making it to a bowl game or trying to win the Big Ten and head to the College Football Playoff, there's a three- or four-game, make-or-break portion of the schedule that is going to determine that fate for everybody.

All week long, the Big Ten reporting crew is identifying those pivotal weeks around the conference and what they might mean this fall. Up next: Ohio State.

Toughest stretch: Weeks 7 through 10 (at Wisconsin, at Penn State, Northwestern, Nebraska).

Why: Narrowed down to a two-week segment, there's no question that Ohio State's consecutive showdowns with Michigan State and rival Michigan at the end of November stand out as the toughest part of its schedule. But expanding the sample size over a month, and considering at least the possibility of some growing pains with so many first-time starters, changes things. It makes the run beginning in the middle of October a bit more demanding and relevant in determining whether the Buckeyes are again poised to reach the College Football Playoff -- reminiscent of another fresh-faced team in 2014.

Ohio State has a huge nonconference clash at Oklahoma on Sept. 17, but the Buckeyes have already demonstrated that a high-profile game outside of the Big Ten isn't going to make or break title chances in the playoff era no matter the outcome. What truly counts is the league race, and the Buckeyes will find out relatively quickly if all those touted recruits are ready to contend for a title when they hit the road in consecutive weeks to take on Wisconsin and Penn State in two of the most hostile venues in the country.

Urban Meyer's club will then follow that up with a two-game homestand against contenders from the West, with Nebraska looking to rebound from a disappointing campaign and Northwestern then bringing in one of the toughest defensive units in the country. On paper, Ohio State should line up with a talent advantage in all four matchups and will almost certainly be favored, but particularly on the road, it will need to prove it can handle a bit of adversity.

If the Buckeyes can take care of that business then, they should enter those pivotal closing games at the end of November bursting with confidence and in control of their fate in the title chase. And then the fun will really begin in the East.