Since Ohio State is banned from participating in a bowl game this year, the goal for the 2012 season is to finish with an undefeated record for the first time since 2002. With the Buckeyes traveling to Camp Randall Stadium this weekend to play the Wisconsin Badgers, it will be a game that determines if that goal will be accomplished or relinquished.
The game will take place at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN2 and will be one of the better matchups of the college football Week 12 schedule.
Ohio State still has a rival in the Michigan Wolverines on the schedule, but a victory on Saturday and those folks in Columbus can begin to pop the champagne.
The Badgers are the final test and the biggest threat to the unbeaten record.
Wisconsin Can Slow Down Braxton Miller
Besides Braxton Miller being a tremendous talent and having a coach in Urban Meyer that knows how to use him properly, the sophomore quarterback is a Heisman candidate because he is nearly this entire Buckeyes offense. He has had five games with more than 300 total yards and fell just one yard short of hitting that mark last week against Illinois.
Because of his improved passing ability and always being a threat to run the ball, Miller is so aggravating for opposing defenses to defend.
However, Miller should have a tougher time making plays with his legs, as Wisconsin is one of the better run-stopping teams in the country. The 103 yards this team allows on the ground a game is not only the best in the Big Ten, but is also good for 13th-best in the country.
A bulky Wisconsin defensive line could end up giving an Ohio State offensive line fits, especially with that unit having issues throughout the season.
However, it is the linebacker play of Mike Taylor and Chris Borland that will be key. The two upperclassmen are athletic and quick enough to shut down running lanes and force Miller to win the game with his arm.
Miller has only been held to under 100 rushing yards four times this season and two of those games were decided by one possession. This chess match between one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks and a solid run defense could decide who wins this football game and will provide the toughest matchup of the year for the young signal-caller.
Badgers' Running Game Is on Fire
I don't care if it was against Indiana or if it was against a middle school, an offense rushing for over 500 yards on the ground in one game is legendary stuff. An offensive line that looked unfamiliar to Badger fans in the beginning of the season now looks like the typical dominating unit up front.
Last season’s Heisman finalist, Montee Ball, has finally found his groove and has been abusing defenses the last couple of weeks. He has bumped up his season average to five yards a touch, cleared the century mark in four of the last five games and scored eight touchdowns in the last four.
On the other side of things, Ohio State is tough on the defensive side of the ball. The front seven is one of the best in the Big Ten and will only improve with linebacker Etienne Sabino scheduled to return to the lineup from injury.
However, Ball did average five yards a carry against this defense last season and the offensive line also has tackle Rick Wagner returning to the squad.
Big Ten showdowns are often won in the trenches and this game will certainly be no different. The Badgers offense has finally found its identity and it will provide a stiff test for the Ohio State defensive front.
Michigan Shouldn't Be a Problem
The Wolverines were able to snap a seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes last year, but they won't be able to get any type of streak going. This year’s meeting will take place in Ohio State and Michigan is simply not the same team it was a year ago, as it has produced inconsistent play all year.
Brady Hoke’s team is still strong defensively, but offensively it has been hit-or-miss all season long.
Quarterback Denard Robinson has missed time with a nerve injury to his arm and will likely be questionable for next week’s meeting. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has looked like a shell of himself and hasn't provided that spark in the running game that he was known for last season.
Because of these struggles, Michigan has played a lot of close games this season, including needing overtime to beat Northwestern last week.
With the way both teams have been playing all year and the home-field advantage, there is little reason to believe that the Buckeyes will lose next week’s rivalry matchup. If Ohio State can beat Wisconsin for the fifth time in six meetings, the Buckeyes will reach their goal of an undefeated season.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.