By Casey Keefe
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#9 Ohio State @ #20 Iowa: This is the game of the week. It would have been bigger had Iowa beaten Northwestern last week, but they didn’t. By losing that game, the Hawkeyes took themselves out of the Big 10 race. Ohio State however is still very much alive and is in a three-way tie with Michigan State and Wisconsin for the conference lead.

Even though the Rose Bowl is out of reach, I expect the Hawkeyes to be extremely motivated, not just because a big time bowl game is still possible, but because the Buckeyes were the ones who cost them a chance at the Big 10 title last year. Iowa has the priceless opportunity to return the favor this time around.

Needless to say, this will be a defensive oriented game where field position will be at a premium. Both teams rank towards the top in nearly every defensive categories. Ohio State allows 14 points per game with Iowa nearly as good, letting up just 15 per contest.

The Buckeyes have several offensive weapons whether we’re talking about wide receivers Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey or running back Dan Herron – But the main weapon is obviously quarterback Terrelle Pryor who’s capable of dominating a game both on the ground and through the air. The key for Iowa is to be physical and clamp down on Sanzenbacher and Posey. The Hawkeye secondary has been shaky at times this season and will be tested here.

A big advantage for Iowa lies up front where I think they’ll win the battle of the lines – especially defensively. Adrian Clayborn anchors a Hawkeye D-line that never gives an inch. They’ll have to get pressure on Pryor and rely on the linebackers to take away the outside running lanes. If they do this it will limit the time Sanzenbacher and Posey have to roam free in the secondary. This is a big spot for the Buckeyes offensive line, and I think they’re in for trouble against Clayborn and company.

I expect Iowa to win the battle on the other side of the ball as well. Ohio State has a very strong defense, but this has all the makings of a Ricky Stanzi classic. The Iowa quarterback has had a great season and has really grown as a quarterback and leader. He struggled last week against Northwestern. That loss has been eating at him for a week and I think he’ll take his frustrations out on the Buckeyes come Saturday.

Iowa has one of the best offensive lines in the nation. They’ll give Stanzi time in the pocket to get the ball to his weapons Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. I also expect to see a steady mix on the ground with running back Adam Robinson who can pound it up the middle and also explode quickly to the corner. The key will be to not turn the ball over and ball security is an area where Iowa thrives.

I don’t mean for this to sound like a complete mismatch because it certainly is not. It’ll be a tight game throughout, but Iowa has some clear advantages that will become apparent during the course of the game. The clincher for me is the fact that this game is at Kinnick Stadium. The fans will provide a boost and their team will follow through with a huge win… Prediction: Iowa

#7 Wisconsin @ Michigan: The Badgers are in great shape in the Big 10 race. They travel to the Big House, a place where they haven’t won in 16 years. They’ll be taking on talented, yet flawed Wolverine team looking to make a statement of their own.

Wisconsin is red-hot, having won 5 games in a row and putting up 83 points in their victory over Indiana last week. It’s safe to say this is a team on a mission. They will most likely be without star running back John Clay who is still suffering from a sprained knee. That won’t matter too much though because they still have James White and Montee Ball to carry the load.

Michigan’s defense will cost them any chance at winning this game. They allow 32 points per game and will face the tall task of trying to slow down the Badgers offense who put up an average of 40 points per game. They have a tough, smart quarterback (Scott Tolzien), a deep running game and one of the most dominant offensive lines in the country. They will be able to move the ball at will on the Wolverines putrid defense.

On the other side of the ball is where Michigan will have to thrive if they hope to have a shot to win this game. They’ll have to be able to score with Wisconsin and make this game a shootout – Easier said than done. Denard Robinson is not quite the weapon he was earlier in the season against softer competition. Defenses have figured him out and have been able to slow him down. Robinson is also prone to mistakes, constantly turning the ball over. If you make mistakes against this Badgers defense they will make you pay, and make you pay big, that’s for sure.

Despite this game being at the Big House and WFAN’s own Bob Heussler guaranteeing a victory the fact of the matter is the Wolverines have no chance. Wisconsin will win and win big. Take it to the bank… Prediction: Wisconsin

#8 Nebraska @ #19 Texas A&M: The Aggies are on their first four game winning streak in 4 years. In the four games the offense has thrived and put up an average of 488 yards thanks largely in part to the quarterbacking switch to Ryan Tannehill who took over the starting duties for the inconsistent Jerrod Johnson.

Unfortunately for the suddenly explosive Aggies, they’ll be going up against a very tough Cornhuskers defense which excels against the pass. I’m not sure if A&M will be able to keep up with Nebraska on the scoreboard. ‘Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez has been dealing with injuries this season but is still a dangerous dual-threat. Throw in running backs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead and I think the Aggies will be in for some trouble.

The big question is which Nebraska team will show up? They are as talented as just about any team in the country, but have the tendency to be sloppy and undisciplined at times. The only way A&M has a chance is if the ‘Huskers self-destructing side shows up – But I doubt that’ll happen. This is too big of a game to mess around. With a win Nebraska seals up the Big 12 North… Prediction: Nebraska

#13 Arkansas @ #21 Mississippi State: The Bulldogs had a chance to make a real statement last week against Alabama but failed miserably, losing in Tuscaloosa 30-10. They now welcome in the bruised and battered, but ultra-dangerous Razorbacks of Arkansas.

The biggest difference in this game will be Mississippi State’s inability to slow down Ryan Mallet and Arkansas’ offense. They average 492 yards per game and 38 points per game. Mallet has thrown for just about 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. Despite being without top receiver Greg Childs there are still a plethora of other weapons for Mallett to utilize.

The Bulldogs struggled mightily against Greg McElory last week – it’s scary to think about how they’ll do this week against Mallett, who along with Andrew Luck is the best pure quarterback in college football. The Bulldogs have had a good season but they won’t have nearly enough answers for the Razorback offense… Prediction: Arkansas

#16 Virginia Tech @ #24 Miami: The Hokies have been on fire ever since their disastrous 0-2 start which included a loss to James Madison. They have become a completely different team during their 8 game winning streak. With a win over Miami they would clinch the ACC Coastal Division which would place them in their third ACC title game in the past four years.

The big story out of Miami is that we will probably not see Jacory Harris who is still suffering the aftereffects of a concussion. If he’s out, it’ll mean freshman Stephen Morris will make another start which is not necessarily great news. Morris has flashed talent, but he’s not ready to take on this Hokie defense.

Tech has seen a resurgence on offense thanks to the speedy maturation of dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor who has been great this season. He leads a complete offense which has really found its groove ever since the 0-2 start. This game may be close, but expect the Hokies to come out on top… Prediction: Virginia Tech

Quick Hits…

– Huge showdowns this weekend in the wide-open Big East conference. UConn travels up to the Carrier Dome to take on the Syracuse Orange. Plus Pittsburgh treks down to South Florida to take on the Bulls. With just a few weeks left in the season the Big East’s BCS bid is completely up for grabs

– The top three teams in the BCS (Oregon, Auburn and TCU) are all on bye weeks. It’s a good time to have a week off, but coaches have to make sure their teams stay sharp and focused moving forward.

– The Cam Newton saga continues. The FBI is involved and now there’s supposedly evidence of text messages sent by a Newton representative to a Mississippi State booster outlining a payment plan for Cam’s services.

– College football at Yankee Stadium! Does it get any better? Notre Dame and Army break in the new cathedral (football wise) with what is sure to be an exciting game played in front of a sold out crowd.

Check back on Monday for my recap of all the weekend’s action.

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