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Game 7 preview: Rutgers heads to the Horseshoe to face Ohio State

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The Scarlet Knights get a chance to measure up against the best of the Big Ten.

RB Rod Smith (7) and WR Evan Spencer (6) celebrate a touchdown.
RB Rod Smith (7) and WR Evan Spencer (6) celebrate a touchdown.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

With all due respect to the Spartans, one program has undoubtedly carried the banner for the Big Ten conference for the last decade, and that program is Ohio State. It's amazing to share the same paycheck with programs like Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin, but I don't feel I'm alone when I say that I felt an extra sense of entitlement knowing that the Scarlet Knights and Buckeyes were schools that shared a common conference footprint. Going back to 2002, Ohio State has won 7 of 12 Big Ten titles on the field (I include 2012), including three national championship title games. They have NFL talent up and down the roster, a championship-level coach, and led the B1G in recruiting rankings the past four years straight. If you want to measure Rutgers' strength as a program, there isn't a better barometer than the Buckeyes.

J.T. Barrett isn't just a backup

Back in the second week of the season, Ohio State's opponents were probably licking their chops just thinking about defending J.T. Barrett. The redshirt freshman had a rude welcome to college football courtesy of unranked Virginia Tech, and many thought the Braxton Miller-injury-doomsday scenario was about to unfold. Unfortunately for the rest of the conference, Urban Meyer's offense hasn't skipped a beat, as his young quarterback is third in the nation in passer rating (Fifth? That would be Gary Nova, who also leads the nation in yards/attempt).

A caveat of Barrett's success is the teams he's played against. He's lit up Kent State, Cincinnati, and Maryland, but none of those teams rank higher than 102 nationally in total defense, and Cincinnati is dead last in that same category. In the one game where he struggled, it was against a top-20 defense in the Virginia Tech Hokies. Rutgers is closer to Navy statistically in terms of defense, and Barrett was unspectacular against the Mids, although it's hard to glean much from his first ever career start. He's a different player now, and he'll most likely make good use of the top talent around him. Barrett isn't as much of a running threat as Miller, but he's still capable of breaking a long run if the coverage gives it to him.

Of course, a quarterback isn't much of a player without a competent offensive line, and the Buckeyes have grown up quickly for a unit replacing four starters, unlike another B1G team from the east division. Kyle Flood stated in his teleconference that Ohio State has "the best offensive line" this program has seen in two years. That's definitely hyperbole, but the line will still be a challenge. Their performance against Virginia Tech was horrific, as they gave up seven sacks on that night alone. Giving up another four to a Maryland team that isn't particularly dominant on defense shows that Barrett is far from untouchable, but the Buckeyes did beat the Terps 52-24, meaning sacks don't necessarily equal success in stopping Ohio State. Darius and the Dragon should be able to get in the backfield, but the secondary still has to do its job.

Ohio State has a dominant D-line

Rutgers stood tall against a pretty good defensive team in Michigan, and there was no doubt that the Wolverines have a well-stocked roster of top talent. Nova's stiff-arm to Frank Clark will go down as one of the senior's all-time great plays, and he'll need more of that magic to find success against Ohio State. The Buckeyes boast two future first-rounders in tackle Michael Bennett and defensive end Joey Bosa, and it'll take another strong effort from the Rutgers offensive line to keep the pocket clean for Nova. Getting the running game going is imperative, as it'll open up a passing game that can take advantage of a mediocre secondary.

Don't let the lofty ranking fool you; Ohio State may be 13th in the nation against the pass, but it helps to have Navy attempt four total passes in an entire game. They can still give up big plays, and Friedgen will most certainly attack Ohio State's defensive backfield early and often.

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This is shaping up to be Rutgers' toughest game all season, and it's what the program signed on for when the B1G came calling: national broadcasts on ABC for all to witness what the Scarlet Knights could do in a premier conference. With a nearly 20-point spread, the door is open for RU to make a splash yet again.