The Ohio State Buckeyes are two games away from achieving the team’s first unbeaten regular season since the school went to the national championship game in 2006. They lost, of course, and blemished that record.
If the Buckeyes had self-imposed a bowl ban on themselves last season, instead of earning a Gator Bowl bid in 2011, we’d be talking about their BCS title chances rather than the moral victory of running the table without a bowl appearance this season.
Hindsight is 20-20, though. No one could have known the Bucks would have fallen off that drastically last season without a couple of players and their head coach. Their final 6-7 record wasn’t just bad, it was historically bad. Ohio State hadn’t ever lost seven games in a season and hadn’t posted a winning percentage under .500 since 1966.
So yeah, it wasn’t something anyone saw coming or even though possible, despite the circumstances.
Luckily for the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer has turned things around nearly instantly and put the bowless Buckeyes into position to achieve the school’s first perfect season since the magical 2002 national championship season.
Nov. 17 @ Wisconsin Badgers
Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.
The Badgers will be the defacto team representing the Big Ten Leaders Division in the conference championship game thanks to the ineligibility of the Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions. It’s a favor Wisconsin would like to return by spoiling the Buckeyes’ perfect season in the process.
Ohio State has been dominant running the football this season under Meyer’s offensive scheme. Braxton Miller has shined as the nation’s second-ranked QB rusher. His 1,166 yards are better than Denard Robinson, Collin Klein, Johnny Manziel and every other mobile quarterback not named Jordan Lynch. Lynch currently leads ALL rushers with 1,504 yards on the ground this season.
Wisconsin has a potent rushing attack of its own, though. Montee Ball currently has a 60-yard advantage over Miller and is coming off of one of his best games of his career—a three-touchdown and nearly-200-yard performance in the team’s rout of Indiana last week.
Ball has struggled at times against good defenses this season. He’ll face another one this week as the Buckeyes come to town. Ohio State is ranked 16th in the FBS in rush defense, giving up just 108 yards per game on the ground.
The Buckeyes will have their own challenge in the Badgers’ rush defense. They’re ranked two spots ahead of the Bucks and are allowing just 103 yards per game. However, back in September, Nebraska and mobile quarterback Taylor Martinez gouged Wisconsin for over 250 yards on the ground.
Prediction: Ohio State 28, Wisconsin 17
Nov. 24 vs. Michigan Wolverines
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
The game everyone is looking forward to will have no BCS implications but has the possibility of a Michigan upset to spoil the party of a perfect season in Columbus. Ohio Stadium is going to be rocking and Urban Meyer will have his first crack at Horseshoe immortality.
Going undefeated is one thing, but winning in your first try against Michigan in the process is legendary.
This game will also act as a bowl appearance for the players of the Buckeyes, so you know they’re going to be extra motivated for this one—as if that’s even needed due to the magnitude of this rivalry.
On paper, both of these teams have played pretty similar football. Still, realistically, these teams are pretty far apart when it comes to offensive execution. Michigan’s defense has proven that it isn’t ready to take the leap to a top-tier group on several occasions and they’ve suffered some losses as a result.
Part of that stems from inconsistency and turnovers at the quarterback position. Denard Robinson didn’t start off the season lighting the world on fire by any means, but is still a very dynamic talent who must be accounted for. Plus, the Bucks defense and coordinator Luke Fickell are all too familiar with the mobile quarterback’s talents.
Smart money is on the rolling Buckeyes, who will use their excellent defense to keep the Wolverines in check for much of the game while Miller and the offense rack up the yards and control the tempo of the game. It’s not going to be a blowout, but Ohio State will finish its season against its rival by a considerable margin to head into the offseason with a lot of confidence for a BCS run in 2013.
Prediction: Ohio State 35, Michigan 23