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Key stretch: Ohio State

8/10/2010

After several "friendly" reminders from Buckeyes fans, the Key Stretch series, which examines a series of games that could make or break the season for each Big Ten team, concludes with Ohio State.

Key stretch: at Wisconsin (Oct. 16), Purdue (Oct. 23), at Minnesota (Oct. 30), Penn State (Nov. 13)

Breakdown: Ohio State's three blockbuster matchups -- Miami (Sept. 11), Wisconsin (Oct. 16) and Iowa (Nov. 20) -- are nicely spaced out, but the trip to Madison will shape the Buckeyes' fate in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes won the last time they visited Camp Randall Stadium, handing Wisconsin just one of three home losses during Bret Bielema's tenure as head coach. But this is a better Wisconsin team that wants to avenge last year's 31-13 loss in Columbus, a game that could have been much closer than the final score. Ohio State will be the team gunning for redemption the next week against Purdue, which flustered Terrelle Pryor and handed the Buckeyes their most recent loss. After a trip to Minnesota and the bye week, Ohio State hosts Penn State, which won in Columbus in 2008. This stretch leads up to the Iowa game, which many think could decide the Big Ten championship for the second consecutive season.

Prediction: Ohio State has been tremendous in Big Ten road games under Jim Tressel, winning 16 straight before the Purdue loss. But the trip to Madison won't be easy, and Wisconsin's balanced offense will provide a major test for Ohio State's always-solid defense. Ohio State will need more than a few friendly bounces and a timely Wisconsin defensive meltdown to win at Camp Randall. That game is a toss-up right now. Ohio State should win the final three contests, although Purdue's offense will be a challenge and the Boilers always play the Buckeyes tough for some reason. Penn State will be a better team in mid-November than early September, but Ohio State's defense likely will be too much for a young Lions quarterback. Ohio State goes at least 3-1 and possibly 4-0 during the stretch.

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