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Key stretch: Ohio State

Time for the sixth part of our series examining a stretch of the schedule that could make or break the season for a Big Ten team.

Let's take a look at Ohio State.

Key stretch: Michigan State (Oct. 1), at Nebraska (Oct. 8), at Illinois (Oct. 15), Wisconsin (Oct. 29)

Breakdown: If the Buckeyes are going to win at least a share of their seventh straight Big Ten title, they'll have to survive this four-game October gauntlet. Suspended players Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas will miss the Michigan State game but will return for the road showdown at Nebraska. Revenge will be on Ohio State's minds when Wisconsin comes to Columbus, but if the Bucks aren't careful, the road game at Illinois could be a trap. Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan State are the three highest-ranked teams in the Big Ten other than Ohio State and the most obvious contenders for the league crown. By the time Halloween rolls around, Ohio State will know exactly where it stands in the conference race.

Prediction: These are four tough games -- well, at least three difficult ones, depending on how Illinois shapes up -- and it's very difficult to predict how Ohio State will fare. The Buckeyes could be a vastly different team between the Michigan State and Nebraska game because it gets those suspended players back. The Cornhuskers and their fans will be unbelievably stoked for the first-ever Big Ten game in Lincoln as the league's biggest heavyweight comes to town. If Ohio State can hold serve at home and not fall victim to the upset in Champaign, it will come out of this in great shape. Even a 2-2 record wouldn't be fatal if the Buckeyes can beat their division rivals Wisconsin and Illinois. With all the uncertainty surrounding this team, I'll take the conservative 2-2 pick, though 3-1 or better certainly would not shock anybody.

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