To outsiders, the remaining half of the Ohio State football schedule doesn’t inspire much excitement.
Saturday's opponent, Iowa, has a top-tier defense but lacks a signature win and is considered a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team at best.
No other opponent the rest of the way currently is ranked in the Associated Press poll. That includes Michigan, whose season-long struggles finally bit them in the loss column last week in a four-overtime defeat at Penn State.
With the Buckeyes coming off close victories against Wisconsin and Northwestern in what is considered their toughest two-game stretch of the season, it’s natural to wonder whether the players will have to fight a letdown.
Not an issue, they say. Part of the reason is that Ohio State understands that it will take an unblemished record to have a chance to play in the BCS title game.
Players are not immune from hearing that the Big Ten suffers in comparison with the SEC or, this year, the Pac-12, center Corey Linsley said. But he knows the history of Big Ten teams and the challenges each week poses, particularly in the trenches.
“You look at the history of Iowa and Penn State and Purdue, and those teams have had some extraordinarily good defensive linemen and extremely good defensive players,” he said. “The weeks that we’ve treated those teams as the AP (poll) treats them as or the rest of the country treats them — as non-ranked, blow-off opponents — those are the weeks we’ve gotten beat.
“We’ve learned from history. We’re not taking this week lightly, and we’re not going to take the next however-many-number-of-weeks lightly.”
To ensure that happens, a team needs strong leadership. That was a hallmark of last year’s team, and coach Urban Meyer worried how he would replace departed seniors such as John Simon, Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino.
“I was panicky going into the season because I thought (leadership) was poor,” Meyer said. “It was certainly poor in the spring, and obviously when you have (off-field) issues like we had in the summer. That questions the leadership of the team.
“I'm not saying it’s great yet because they are still only halfway home, but through the first half the season, they have done a very nice job. There is good chemistry, good alignment and good leadership right now.”
In some ways, Ohio State and Iowa are similar. Both have strong defenses whose first priority is to stop the run. The Buckeyes (6-0) rank sixth nationally and the Hawkeyes eighth in rushing defense. Iowa is the only Football Bowl Subdivision team in the country not to have allowed a rushing touchdown.
“They haven’t even been in goal line (formation),” Meyer said. “Think about that.”
Not much was expected of the Hawkeyes this season. Kirk Ferentz is in his 15th season at Iowa, and he is the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten. But after a 4-8 record last year followed a couple of mediocre years, Ferentz was thought to be on the hot seat.
The Hawkeyes are 4-2, but they lost their most-recent Big Ten game, 26-14 to visiting Michigan State. Last year’s season started similarly to this year’s before Iowa lost its final six games.
The Hawkeyes hope to run the ball with Mark Weisman, but quarterback Jake Rudock is capable of success through the air.
Ohio State wants to rely on running back Carlos Hyde and its superb offensive line. If Iowa is determined to stack the line of scrimmage, then the Buckeyes won’t hesitate to throw.
“Everybody understands we’re hard to run against and they’re hard to run against,” Meyer said. “But we’re not going to be stubborn about it.”