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Ohio State-Iowa Preview

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We're in the dog days of conference play in college football. Many of the top teams are playing foes that shouldn't be too much of a concern. Schedule makers seem to put all the games that are likely to be good ones on the same weekends, leaving weekends like this one with very few compelling match-ups between top teams looking to stake a claim on the national title, or even a conference crown.

There is one game that sticks out from all the rest, however. The Big Ten has largely been a two-team race between Michigan and Ohio State for many years, but Iowa has been trying to break through into that elite group the past few seasons. They have as good a chance as they are going to get right now with a perfect 4-0 record and a game at home against Ohio State. They are seven-point underdogs, but if they were to win this they would jump up the standings and be a legitimate contender. But can they possibly win? Here's a look:

History - If the history of this series actually mattered then there would be almost no point in playing the game. Ohio State is ahead 43-14-3 in head-to-head games, including wins in nine of the last 10 meetings. That one loss is important, however. It happened in 2004, the last time Ohio State was in Iowa. The 33-7 beating Iowa put on Ohio State was the worst loss Jim Tressel has endured during his tenure. Ohio State got revenge last year, winning 31-6 at the Horseshoe.

Iowa angles - Iowa has an advantage being at home. They have won 32 of their last 35 games at Kinnick Stadium. That positive is outweighed by the negative of Iowa's history against No. 1 teams. The Hawkeyes have never beaten a top-ranked team, going 0-7-1. The two teams played in 1975 when Ohio State was No. 1. The Buckeyes won 49-0.

Schedules - Both teams are 4-0, but they have achieved that feat in very different ways. Ohio State has beaten two ranked teams - Texas and Penn State. The total domination against then-No. 2 Texas was very impressive. Iowa, on the other hand, has basically beaten up on weaklings. They played I-AA Montana, and then Syracuse, Iowa State and Illinois. The last three teams have combined for a 5-7 record. Ohio State is the first ranked team they meet, so they face a huge jump up in class.

Offense - There is no question that Ohio State has better talent from top to bottom on offense. Much better. Each team has something they really need to work on to win this game. For Iowa, it is finding some discipline and some finish. The team was penalized on offense eight times and they punted eight times. Both of those have to get much better if they want to win. Ohio State needs to work on getting a much better start. They didn't score until the third quarter against Penn State. That was fine last week because the Nittany Lions have such an inept offense, but they will likely find themselves in a much deeper hole if they try the same thing against Iowa.

Defense - The Ohio State defense was supposed to be a problem this year. Nobody told that unit, however. They've allowed just eight points per game, they have 16 sacks in four games and opponents are only getting 167 yards per game passing. The surprise star of the unit is linebacker James Laurinaitis, with team leading totals of 36 tackles and three sacks. Iowa will have to be at their best against this defense.

Iowa has also thrown up some impressive defensive numbers. They've allowed just 11 points per game and just 93 yards on the ground. They have 12 sacks. There are a couple of reasons for concern, however. Illinois was able to run for 121 yards and put up 315 yards in total last week. If Illinois was able to do better than average then Ohio State could have a cakewalk. Illinois was the best team that the Hawkeyes have faced, but they are light years behind the Buckeyes.

Quarterbacks - The last time these two teams played at Iowa was the last time that Troy Smith was not the starter. He came in late, completed 8-of-12 passes, and never sat on the bench again. Smith is probably the current front-runner for the Heisman, but his effort against Penn State last week did little to help his cause. He was just 12-of-22 passing and he threw his first two interceptions of the year, neither of which were particularly good interceptions (if such a thing exists). He'll have to bounce back from that effort, and Iowa may be the perfect place to do that. Last year against Iowa Smith passed for 191 yards and two touchdowns and he rushed for 127 yards and two more scores. Smith definitely has all the tools he needs to win this game. It's just a matter of getting the job done.

Drew Tate doesn't get a lot of attention, but he is quietly assembling a very good season. He's hit on more than 62 percent of his passes, he has seven touchdowns versus just two picks and his offense is averaging 28 points per game. He's had to get comfortable with new receivers this year, and he has done a good job of establishing chemistry. Tate will need to have a huge game for Iowa to win. Unfortunately, he was far from good when the teams met last year. He ended up with just 146 yards through the air.

Overall - Ohio State is by far the better team on paper, but Iowa has just as much to play for. This would be the biggest win in the history of Iowa football, and the crowd will be absolutely insane. It will take the best possible Iowa effort -- and some luck -- for the Hawkeyes to win, but it is certainly possible. Ohio State is the safe pick, but it far from a sure thing.

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