Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer walks the sidelines in the second quarter of the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale Arizona, January 1, 2016. File photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo
Ohio State's biggest concern going into Iowa this week might be how the team responds after expending so much emotional energy last Saturday in the stirring victory over Penn State.
The prevailing thought among the Ohio State faithful is that the Hawkeyes are just another speed bump on the Buckeyes' road to the Big Ten Championship Game and the College Football Playoff.
The chatter around Columbus is more about No. 6 Ohio State's initial position in the College Football Playoff rankings and whether or not the Buckeyes will be one of the four teams selected for this year's playoff if they win out after Iowa.
Ohio State (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) was listed as a 17-point favorite on the road Saturday at Iowa (5-3, 2-3) in the program's first visit to Kinnick Stadium since 2010.
After an epic comeback last Saturday in a 39-38 win over Penn State, Ohio State has picked up some serious momentum and is riding the wave of a six-game winning streak since its early loss to Oklahoma.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett has been brilliant. Ohio State's offense and defense are dynamic. Penn State was unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in the nation, and the Nittany Lions couldn't stop the Buckeyes from erasing two 18-point deficits.
But as one college football analyst likes to say, not so fast, my friend. Coach Urban Meyer is not foolish enough to get caught up in the rankings, playoff speculation or Heisman hype for Barrett after the near-perfect performance against Penn State.
"We're in the hunt for a lot of big things right now," Meyer said. "But the target is Iowa on the road at 3:30."
Is there any chance for an upset? It's unlikely, but Iowa does have a track record of coming up with some magic at Kinnick.
Earlier this year, Penn State had to score on the final play of the game to get past Iowa.
Last year, Iowa was struggling late in the season but found a way to knock off second-ranked and previously unbeaten Michigan. In 2008, Iowa handed No. 3 Penn State its first loss late in the season with a last-second field goal at Kinnick.
An upset against Ohio State, though? It's the only program that seems to have had Iowa's number through the years.
The Hawkeyes have played some tight games with the Buckeyes, but their last win in the series came in 2004 during one of Ohio State's few subpar seasons.
"We had some really good football games with them. We had some that weren't so good," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
"I do know this: If we are going to have a chance to win, we are going to have to be there in the fourth quarter and that's going to be easier said than done. We are going to have to really fight our tails off to get there."
Unlike many Ohio State fans, Meyer doesn't think this one will be easy. He remembers the last time the teams met in Columbus in 2013 when the Buckeyes had to rally in the second half to win the game.
"They're just tough," Meyer said.
"They're like their coach. Their coach is a tough guy. They're like the State of Iowa. They're tough people. I love Iowa. I never met too many people or players that just don't have that Iowa characteristic of toughness and I'm going to hit you as hard as I can."
There's no offense in the Big Ten tougher to stop that Ohio State's. During the six-game winning streak, Barrett is completing 75 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and no interceptions.
"This guy is just a really accomplished football player," Ferentz said. "And to lead your team back the way he did the other night against a really good football team, those are two outstanding teams playing against each other. Doesn't happen by accident."
The Buckeyes rank second nationally in total offense with 571.2 yards per game. In addition to Barrett's rushing and passing contributions, freshman running back J.K. Dobbins has rushed for 863 yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry.
The wide receivers and offensive line continue to improve. K.J. Hill caught a career-high 12 passes for 102 yards and fellow receiver Johnny Dixon had two fourth-quarter touchdown receptions last week against Penn State.
Defensively, Ohio State's front seven, led by sack-master Nick Bosa, could wreak havoc against an Iowa offensive line that starts two freshman at the tackle spots. The Buckeyes rank 12th in the country in total defense (302.5 yards per game) and 10th against the rush (107.3 yards per game).
The Hawkeyes believe their best defense against the high-scoring Buckeyes (46.3 points per game) might be their offense. Long drives with Akrum Wadley running the football would take time off the clock and keep the Barrett and his brethren on the bench.
Wadley leads the Iowa offense with 643 yards rushing. First-year starting quarterback Nate Stanley has thrown for 1,703 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions.
"We've just got to play complementary football," Wadley said. "On offense, we've got to help the defense out (and) keep them off the field because we know they're going to go ball out every play. We've got to sustain drives."