Key stretch: Ohio State

Fútbol might have the world's focus right now , but we're writing about football. As we continue to count down toward the season, we're taking a look at the key three- or four-game stretch in the schedule for each Big Ten team.

Our series moves on to the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday.

Key stretch: at Penn State (Oct. 25), Illinois (Nov. 1), at Michigan State (Nov. 8)

Breakdown: After some potentially tricky nonconference games against Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati, Ohio State opens its Big Ten season against league newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. Then things really get interesting. The Buckeyes go to State College for a night game at Beaver Stadium, which is never an easy place to score a victory. Think Penn State might be foaming at the mouth a bit to avenge last year's 63-14 debacle at the 'Shoe? The Illinois game isn't that intriguing unless you're a big fan of wooden turtles, though the Fighting Illini did pile up points and yards on Luke Fickell's defense last fall. Then comes the biggie, a Nov. 8 trip to East Lansing in a rematch of last year's Big Ten championship game. The East Division title could well be decided that afternoon.

Prediction: Even squinting as much as we can, we don't see Illinois going into Columbus and pulling out a victory. Penn State holds a lot of influence in the East Division race, as both Ohio State and Michigan State have to play the Nittany Lions on the road. The Buckeyes, however, took care of business in State College two years ago and laid that epic smackdown last season at home. While we expect a game effort from PSU, Urban Meyer has yet to lose in that series. Then it comes down to Michigan State, and Spartan Stadium should be whipped into a sufficient frenzy that day (or hopefully night). The edge goes to Sparty here, so make it a 2-1 record in this stretch for Ohio State. If the Buckeyes manage to get through it unscathed, though, they could be looking at a possible third straight undefeated regular season.