Ohio State fans debate chances of playing for BCS title

Buckeyes likely will need Oregon, Stanford, Clemson and Florida State to lose at least one game

Ohio State is idle Saturday, so the opponent will be about as challenging as its next five. Or so goes the prevailing wisdom.

The 6-0 Buckeyes will next face Iowa and Penn State at home, then Purdue and Illinois on the road, followed by a home date against Indiana. Not one ranks better than 45th in the Sagarin ratings.

So Buckeyes fans are starting to debate Ohio State's chances of playing for the BCS title.

If the Buckeyes win out, beating Michigan in the season finale and the Legends division winner in Indianapolis, they will still need help. And that's appropriate, given that Ohio State's best non-league win came at 1-4 Cal and that the Big Ten ranks fourth or fifth nationally, about even with the Big 12 and behind the SEC, Pac-12 and ACC.

The first batch of BCS standings won't be released until Oct. 20, but CBSSports.com analyst Jerry Palm currently projects Ohio State as No. 5, dragged down by a computer average of 8.3.

The top four are Alabama, Clemson, Stanford and Oregon. And Florida State is a hair behind Ohio State.

So assuming the SEC champion grabs one spot, Ohio State likely will need Oregon, Stanford, Clemson and Florida State to lose at least one game.

Clemson and Florida State meet Oct. 19. Oregon and Stanford lock horns Nov. 7.

Ohio State is averaging 46.8 points and has been solid against the run, but coach Urban Meyer called the Buckeyes' pass defense "very alarming right now."

Northwestern's Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian combined to complete 25 of 31 passes against the Buckeyes on Saturday.

Read option: Thanks to the play of quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., Nebraska can allow Taylor Martinez to fully heal from a turf toe injury to his left foot. What also helps is that the Cornhuskers play conference weakling Purdue on Saturday before getting a second bye week.

"I'd be lying if I said having the bye doesn't play into it a little," coach Bo Pelini said, adding that priority No. 1 is beating Purdue.

Armstrong, a redshirt freshman from Texas, was considered one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in his recruiting class. He has exceeded the hype with strong performances against South Dakota State and Illinois, combining to complete 20 of 28 passes and run for 56 yards on 14 carries.

Pelini said Martinez will start when his foot fully recovers.

"Tommy looks polished on the surface," Pelini said, "but he still made some young mistakes and is a work in progress."

Support structure: Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys pinch-hit on Tuesday's weekly Big Ten coaches call for coach Jerry Kill, who is recovering from a seizure that caused him to miss Saturday's game at Michigan.

Claeys said he is not certain when Kill, who is resting at home and taking medication, will return to work. The Gophers are idle Saturday.

"We're not practicing until late in the week," he said, "so there is no hurry."

Kill has missed parts of two games this season and four in his three years at Minnesota because of seizures. But Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague told the Washington Post he hopes Kill stays in Minneapolis "for a long time."

Claeys said Minnesota's poor play at Michigan was not affected by Kill's absence and that the players are updated each day.

"Coach (Kill) is their biggest fan, and he said he has gotten lots of texts from them," Claeys said. "They understand the situation because we have been open and honest with them."

No jake-ing it: Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan has been cleared to play Saturday at Penn State after recovering from a torn ACL in the spring. But coach Brady Hoke said the Wolverines will proceed with caution.

"This is a long-term process for him and for us," Hoke said. "We want to be more cautious because I know that's what's best for the kid."

One other factor: Strong-side linebackers Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon have played well in Ryan's absence. Beyer could move to defensive end when Ryan returns.

"He can play with his hand on the ground or in space," Hoke said.

Extra points: Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said top tailback Melvin Gordon "practiced full steam" Monday after a left knee scare sidelined him for the fourth quarter Sept. 28 at Ohio State. … There's stingy, and then there's Michigan State's rush defense. It is easily tops the nation by allowing just 51.2 yards per game and 2.0 per rush. Said coach Mark Dantonio: "We are chasing excellence. Statistically, that is very impressive but the season isn't over." … Up next for the Spartans is a home date against Indiana. Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson said of Michigan State's defense: "Their kids know what to do and they do it very aggressively. They compete on every play. It's a tremendous package." … The Hawkeyes are idle before a nasty stretch of games: at Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin. Coach Kirk Ferentz indicated that banged-up players such as tailback Mark Weisman and receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley should be OK by next Saturday. … With freshman Danny Etling set to make his first start Saturday against Nebraska, former No. 1 Rob Henry volunteered to move to safety. Coach Darrell Hazell called Henry unselfish, adding: "The first thing of his mouth was: Where can I help this team somewhere else?" … Coach Tim Beckman on how quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase & Co. can adjust to teams blitzing Illinois: "Our receivers have to get open. We have to throw hot." … Northwestern moved indoors about 90 minutes into its Tuesday practice and blared fake crowd noise to prepare for the environment Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. … Perhaps it was Penn State's 44-24 loss to Indiana that made coach Bill O'Brien a bit testy Tuesday. Asked if he's comfortable with freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg attempting 55 passes — a school record — he replied: "We're gonna do what we've got to do to win … (55) seems like a lot to who? I guess to you. We're gonna do whatever we have to do to win the game." Hackenberg, by the way, completed 30 of those pass attempts. Penn State averaged just 1.8 yards carry, and the Hoosiers had a 10-minute advantage in time of possession.

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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