Big Ten Battle; Minnesota at #1Ohio State

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Ohio State is headed for a Big Ten showdown that could put it in the national championship game. The top-ranked Buckeyes, though, know they have plenty of work to do before that happens.

The Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) look to extend the longest winning streak in the country when they host struggling Minnesota (3-5, 0-4) on Saturday.

Ohio State has won its last 15 games, including Saturday's 44-3 rout of Indiana.

The Buckeyes are ranked first in the BCS standings and have been atop the AP poll for nine straight weeks, one shy of the school record to start a season set in 1969.

Unbeaten Michigan is ranked No. 2 in both the AP poll and the BCS standings. The Buckeyes and Wolverines wrap up their season with a highly anticipated matchup in Columbus that will likely earn the winner a trip to the BCS championship game - provided both teams remain undefeated until then.

The Buckeyes face the Golden Gophers, Illinois and Northwestern, who have a combined seven wins, in the weeks leading up to the Michigan matchup, and the Wolverines have a similarly easy schedule. Ohio State, however, knows that a lot could happen in those three weeks.

``We learned early that every team will give you its best,'' quarterback Troy Smith said. ``You can never take a game or a week off en route to get to the national championship game.''

Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez agreed.

``As great as it feels now, it would feel twice as bad if we lost, you know?'' he said. ``Yeah, it feels great right now, but in all honesty, we haven't done anything yet. Nobody's getting a ring for what we've done thus far.''

Smith threw touchdowns to four receivers against the Hoosiers, and has thrown for 21 TDs and just two interceptions this season. The Heisman candidate trails only Bobby Hoying (29) and Joe Germaine (25) on the school's all-time list for touchdown passes in a season.

``We're an equal-opportunity employer,'' said coach Jim Tressel, whose team recorded 270 yards passing and 270 rushing. ``We'll throw it to whoever's open.''

The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten with 34.9 points per game and rank second in the league with 410.1 yards per contest. The defense has been equally impressive, and is tied with LSU for first in the nation with 8.3 points allowed per game.

Cornerback Antonio Smith recorded a career-high 12 tackles, four for a loss, one sack and one forced fumble against the Hoosiers. Ohio State, which has posted wins over then-No. 2 Texas, then-No. 24 Penn State and then-No. 13 Iowa, has outscored opponents by 26.6 points per game and has not let a team come within 17 points.

``We need to continue to get better,'' linebacker James Laurinaitis said. ``We have a good running team coming in in Minnesota, so we all need to keep improving.''

The Gophers snapped a four-game losing streak with Saturday's 10-9 win over North Dakota State. Minnesota, however, needed a blocked field goal to earn the narrow victory over a Division I-AA team.

``Well, I don't really know where to start,'' coach Glen Mason said. ``It's one of those games where you've been outcoached and been outplayed but you win the football game. I've been on the other side.''

Minnesota was outgained 380-249 by NDSU and has managed just 22 points in its last two games. The Gophers' losing streak included defeats to Michigan, Penn State and No. 17 Wisconsin.

The Gophers, who still have games against Michigan State and Iowa, must go 3-1 to finish the season to be eligible for a bowl game.

``We are going to have to play like NDSU did today when we play Ohio State,'' center Tony Brinkhaus said. ``We have to go in thinking that we have a chance. Nobody is going to give us a chance, just like nobody gave (NDSU) a chance.''

Ohio State leads the series with Minnesota 38-7 and has won the last three meetings.

Mason, a former Ohio State player, was one of two finalists for the Ohio State job when Jim Tressel was hired in 2001.

``The Minnesota coach would love to beat Ohio State,'' Buckeyes offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. ``They run the ball well and they have a good (offensive) scheme. Our common denominator is that we will be ready for anybody.''

by: Anthony White - - Email Us

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