In one of the most important college football games of the weekend, Ohio State looks to keep its BCS title game hopes alive as Wisconsin clings to its faint hope of earning a trip to Indianapolis...
...is what this lede would be if the Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0) were postseason eligible, and if the Badgers (7-3, 4-2) hadn't already clinched a birth to the B1G Championship Game. This game actually means very little in the whole realm of things, but if you're interested in a good college football game, you've come to the right place.
Despite the lack of postseason implications, let's preview the upcoming matchup.
Wisconsin punched its ticket to Indianapolis last week, delivering a straight-up beatdown to the Indiana Hoosiers. When the dust settled, the Badgers were B1G Championship Game-bound with a 62-14 victory.
Running back Montee Ball had another breakout game, rushing for 198 yards and three touchdowns, putting him in second place all-time in NCAA career TDs. Ball is now one behind the record of 78 touchdowns held by Travis Prentice, and all-in-all, the Badgers finished with a school-record 564 yards rushing.
It was also the first career start for senior quarterback Curt Phillips, who replaced Joel Stave due to injury. Phillips only threw for 41 yards, but he showed off his dual-threat ability by running for 68 yards despite questions surrounding his surgically repaired right knee.
The Buckeyes were on their bye week, so there isn't much to report on from Columbus, but Ohio State did drop from a fifth place tie down to sixth in the AP Top 25.
That is despite a 30-point stomping of Illinois two weeks ago, a game in which Carlos Hyde rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns. In total, the Buckeyes accumulated 567 yards of offense.
As long as Ohio State remains undefeated, quarterback Braxton Miller's name will continue to come up in Heisman talks.
Giving head coach Urban Meyer two weeks to formulate a game plan will also benefit the Buckeyes—teams coached by Meyer are 32-2 in their last 34 games when given more than a week to prepare for their next opponent.
There was some question surrounding the status of Ohio State linebacker Etienne Sabino, who broke his fibula during the Buckeyes 63-38 win over Nebraska on Oct. 6.
Urban Meyer cleared the air Monday, stating that Sabino would start on Saturday against the Badgers despite his absence from the depth chart (via John Kampf of The Morning Journal).
Sabino will provide a nice boost to the Ohio State run defense as it goes up against Montee Ball, James White and dual-threat quarterback Curt Phillips. The Buckeyes have the No. 16 ranked run defense in the FBS, while Wisconsin sports the 17th-best rushing attack.
Wisconsin enters the game relatively healthy, especially after the return of left tackle Rick Wagner last week against Indiana. His presence in the lineup was evident as the Badgers were running amok, although Phillips was sacked on two separate occasions.
One concern for Wisconsin is the health of linebacker Chris Borland, who exited last week's game with what appeared to be a cramp. However, rumor has it that it's actually a hamstring injury, and that Borland could be limited (via Jeff Potrykus of jsonline.com)
Check out the full injury report at USA Today.
What it means to Ohio State
In case you weren't aware, the hatred Ohio State holds for Wisconsin runs deep, and a lot of that has to do with the blow the Badgers dealt the Buckeyes two years ago.
In 2010, Ohio State entered Camp Randall Stadium undefeated, just as it does this year, and it also held the No. 1 ranking. Those sore feelings haven't faded over the past two seasons according to wide receiver Corey Brown (H/T Jeff Rapp).
#OhioState WR Corey Brown: "I won't go on the record and say I hate Wisconsin more than Michigan, but I hate Wisconsin as much as Michigan."
— Jeff Rapp (@RappUp) November 12, 2012
Yes, this game doesn't have BCS implications, but Ohio State would like nothing more to avenge its heartbreaking loss from two years ago on Wisconsin's home turf.
An undefeated season is on the line, and that's kind of a big deal. The last time Ohio State ran the table was in 2002, when the Buckeyes went 14-0 and defeated Miami (FL) in the National Championship Game.
What it means to Wisconsin
Just as Ohio State would like nothing more than to stay undefeated by beating Wisconsin, the Badgers have a bitter taste in their mouths from a year ago.
A blown coverage led to a wide-open Devin Smith touchdown reception that doomed the Badgers last season, risking their bid for an appearance in the B1G Championship Game. Ohio State may have revenge on their mind, but Wisconsin's bitter memory is fresher.
It's also an opportunity to see what Curt Phillips can really do, as he will be forced into more passing situations this week compared to last week's game against Indiana. This will be a true test for Phillips and Co., and a win would help build what has the potential to be an incredible story.
There's no doubt about it—Ohio State is a completely different beast in comparison to Indiana, and Curt Phillips is going to have to be on guard against one of the better teams in the country.
Phillips only has 19 passing attempts in his four-year career, and should the Badgers want a legitimate chance at pulling off the "upset"—Wisconsin is actually favored by three—they will need Phillips to show some competence with his throwing arm.
What Phillips has going for him is his ability to take off running, which we saw in a few different instances against Indiana.
The Buckeyes will load up the box expecting a run almost every time, so it will be on Phillips to make them pay with some quick-hitters to keep Ohio State honest and open up the run game.
Ohio State may not have the luxury of solely playing the run—its' pass defense gives up the 100th-most passing yards per game in the FBS, the second-worst average in the Big Ten.
Miller's numbers are staggering, and along with Collin Klein and Johnny Manziel, dual-threat quarterbacks are highjacking the Heisman race. Miller has compiled 27 total touchdowns and 2,919 total yards, including 1,166 yards rushing, good for 13th in the nation.
One flaw for Miller has been his completion percentage (56.9), and Wisconsin's experienced secondary could give Miller fits in that regard, but there are several weapons the Badgers must account for aside from the sophomore quarterback.
One factor that will be different this time around is Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert, the team's best pass rusher. Gilbert was out with an injury for last season's matchup when Miller ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
We'll see if Gilbert's presence makes a difference, and if Miller can be effective with his arm in addition to his legs.
Wisconsin will win if it can run the ball effectively.
Against quality opponents this season, the Badgers' rushing attack has been shut down, and as a result, Wisconsin fails to show any resemblance to an offense.
That is due in part to the incompetence at quarterback and offensive line whenever anyone not named Joel Stave or Curt Phillips is in the game. (Poor Danny O'Brien.)
This week should prove to be different, as Wisconsin will be forced into many more passing situations than a week ago. That's what makes a viable run game so important, as it will open up opportunities for Phillips.
The Badgers aren't counting on Phillips to put the team on his back on Saturday, so keeping the Buckeyes honest with a balanced attack on offense is crucial.
Ohio State will win if it puts the game in Curt Phillips' hands.
We know what Braxton Miller can do, but Wisconsin's defense is well-coached and will make Miller its No. 1 priority. It may in fact come down to a battle of the defenses, and if Ohio State can shut down the Badgers' run game, that puts the pressure on Curt Phillips.
While it's no guarantee Phillips will throw the ball every time he drops back, putting Wisconsin in 3rd-and-long situations forces Phillips to go to the air, and there is still a world of uncertainty surrounding his throwing ability.
The Buckeyes are stout against the run and poor against the pass, but their pass defense automatically receives a boost with Phillips under center. Shutting down Wisconsin's ground game will get Ohio State out of Madison with a win.
Prediction: Ohio State 28, Wisconsin 24
As has been the case all season long for the Badgers, they will fail to win a close game against a high-caliber opponent, which means Ohio State will continue its trend of doing just enough to win.
This has turned into a legitimate rivalry over recent years, and both teams are preparing for this one like there's no tomorrow. Wisconsin may have a trip locked up to Indy, but Bret Bielema knows it's in his best interest to treat this game like the season is on the line (H/T CBSSports.com):
“We're in a race to finish at the top of our division and this week is a chance to play the team that's in the No. 1 spot. I think I might have a mutiny on my hands if I tried to pull anyone out of this game on Saturday.”
Curt Phillips will surprise some people on the big stage, but Braxton Miller will be too much for Wisconsin. The Badgers will struggle to run the football, which will keep Ohio State's hopes of an undefeated season alive.