The seventh-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes can win the Big Ten's East Division crown and clinch a spot in the conference championship game for the second straight year if they are able to get by the visiting Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday.
Both teams compete in the East Division, and come in at opposite ends of the standings -- Indiana in last place with an 0-6 league ledger, and Ohio State in first place at 6-0.
The Hoosiers, who will not be going to a bowl game as they are just 3-7 overall, have lost their last five bouts, including a 45-23 decision at Rutgers last Saturday. Following this contest, IU will host intrastate rival Purdue on Nov. 29 to bring the curtain down on the 2014 campaign.
Ohio State beat East Division nemesis Michigan State on the road two weeks ago (49-37), and then followed that up with a 31-24 win at Minnesota. The Buckeyes, who have won a record 22 consecutive Big Ten bouts during the regular season, and 12 in a row on the road (longest active streak in the country), have only one scheduled game left on the docket, a Nov. 29 matchup with bitter rival Michigan at home.
Ohio State has dominated the series with Indiana since its inception, going 69-12-5, which includes victories in each of the last 18 meetings. The Hoosiers' last triumph was in Bloomington back in 1988, and their last win in Columbus took place the year prior.
With a record four games below .500, it's certainly not surprising to see Indiana ranked among the worst teams in the Big Ten in nearly every statistical category. That is, other than rushing as RB Tevin Coleman ranks second in the league and the country with an average of 167.8 ypg. He is well off the pace set by Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (190.9 ypg), who set a new FBS single-game record by churning out an eye-popping 408 yards in the Badgers' recent win over Nebraska.
Coleman has rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and scored 12 TDs this season, helping mask the deficiencies of the Indiana passing attack, which accounts for only 191.8 ypg and has resulted in a grand total of seven TDs. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld has been somewhat efficient (.605), and Shane Wynn (43 rec., 568 yards, three TDs) has been the team's top target down the field.
In last week's double-digit loss at Rutgers, Coleman was a man possessed in producing the second-best single-game rushing effort in school history, as he rumbled his way to 307 yards and a score on 32 carries. Freshman Zander Diamont played the entire game under center, but completed fewer than half of his pass attempts (15-of-31) in registering 179 yards, a TD and an INT. Wynn was pretty much a one-man operation as he caught 11 balls for 120 yards and a score.
Indiana actually outgained the Scarlet Knights, 473-429, but committed nine penalties for a loss of 82 yards, turned the ball over three times, gave up five sacks, and was just 1-of-15 on third-down conversion attempts. Antonio Allen and T.J. Simmons paced the defense with seven stops each, and they rank as the team's top tacklers on the season with 58 stops apiece.
Despite his team's lack of success, Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is proud of the effort put forth by his guys from one week to the next.
"No matter what the odds and where we are at, they are going to come out, play hard and they are going to fight."
He continued, "The last couple of weeks, the way they started and the way they played really shows there is a lot of fight in this football team. I respect that and appreciate those kids a bunch."
At the other end of the spectrum reside the Ohio State Buckeyes, a club with an overabundance of talent and one of the game's top coaches leading them along. OSU ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten and fifth nationally in scoring (44.5 ppg), while generating nearly 510 total yards per contest to rank second and 10th, respectively.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett has been the catalyst, as he is hitting 64 percent of his passes for an average of 235.6 ypg, and he has thrown 29 TDs against eight INTs. No one receiver has taken flight for Urban Meyer's team, instead Barrett looks to a slew of guys to make plays down the field. Michael Thomas and Devin Smith are both over 560 receiving yards, and they each have eight TD catches. As for the rushing attack, Ezekiel Elliott leads the way with 954 yards and he has scored seven times, while Barrett has found the end zone nine times in tallying 771 yards on the ground.
The Ohio State defense has stood tall in the face of most adversaries this season, the unit yielding 22 points and 323.9 yards per game. The Buckeyes have been especially busy in the secondary, as they lead the league in interceptions with 16, and they are tied for third in turnover margin at +5. Joshua Perry has a team-high 85 tackles, while Joey Bosa continues to be a monster at the point of attack with his 11.5 sacks and 17.5 TFL, the team ranking fourth in the conference with 29 sacks. Both Von Bell and Doran Grant have three picks, while three others have a pair.
It was only 15 degrees at TCF Bank Stadium last weekend, marking the coldest start to a game in Ohio State history, but it didn't matter much, at least not to the offense which rolled up 489 yards, 289 of which came on the ground. Barrett did it all for the Buckeyes, rushing for an OSU quarterback-record 189 yards and a TD, while going 15-of-25 for 200 yards, three TDs and one INT in the passing game. Elliott added 91 yards on 18 totes, while Jalin Marshall led the receiving corps with five grabs for 95 yards and a score.
The defense allowed Minnesota RB David Cobb to tally 145 yards and score three TDs, but that was it as the Golden Gophers only got 85 yards out of their aerial attack. OSU turned the ball over three times, while UM coughed it up twice. Bosa was credited with 2.5 sacks, while Adolphus Washington led the team with eight tackles. Grant and Bell both had picks.
While it wasn't pretty, Meyer was pleased to come out of the Minnesota game with a win.
"Great team win. Not great execution, but great team win. It was a tough environment against a very good team that we have a lot of respect for."