Urban Meyer led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 season in 2012.
Conventional wisdom, and even unconventional wisdom, have the Buckeyes as the favorite to dominate in the Big Ten and find their way back to a BCS game by virtue of a conference championship.
Gary Andersen has other plans. Andersen, the new head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers, has plenty to be excited about heading into 2013, including a shot at his former mentor, Urban Meyer.
Pay attention, things are about to get real in here—Brutus Buckeye real.
Ohio State is not going to repeat its undefeated season in 2013. It won't even win the Big Ten.
Wisconsin will beat out the Buckeyes in the Leaders Division, and once again, OSU will be on the outside looking in at the Big Ten title game.
What would lead one to pick the Badgers over the Buckeyes for the division title, as well as their tilt in late September?
Before turning away in disgust, realize that this is really not all that far-fetched.
Wisconsin enjoyed as much success against Ohio State as any other team in 2012. The Badgers lost as everyone else did, but in that loss, they displayed the ability to hang with OSU. They took the Buckeyes to overtime before falling, 21-14.
This year, while the game is at the Horseshoe in Columbus, there is reason to believe that the Badgers can pull of the upset.
Braxton Miller had a rough outing against Wisconsin in last season's game, passing the ball 18 times and completing only 10 of those for 97 yards. He also struggled to rush the ball, averaging 2.1 yards per carry on 23 attempts. He didn't score a touchdown.
This Badgers defense is experienced and has already had success containing Miller. There is no reason to expect them to struggle to do the same in 2013.
Rather than pin all the blame on Miller, take a look at the Buckeyes as a team. Wisconsin outgained OSU 360 to 236 yards. The Buckeyes only converted on three of 12 third downs, and the Badgers had the ball in their possession nearly 15 more minutes than Urban Meyer's squad.
With 2:46 left in the game, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball dove for the goal line for a touchdown that would have put the Badgers down by only one, but OSU linebacker Ryan Shazier met him at the goal line and punched the ball away.
Nine times out of 10, with those stats, the Badgers would win that game.
But they didn't.
While 2012 cannot be counted on to repeat itself, it gives us a reference point, a place to begin projecting the 2013 results. Wisconsin returns 15 starters, including seven on defense.
Last season, the Badgers were starting their third quarterback of the season against OSU. This season, Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy will be entrenched as the starter.
Ohio State returns only four defensive starters, and while this team will eventually jel into a formidable defensive unit, the Buckeyes face what should be a potent Badgers offense early in the season. This is a concern.
While Wisconsin is fielding Gary Andersen's new systems, it's interesting to note that Andersen and Meyer have a history. In Meyer's final season at Utah, Andersen was a defensive coach, and after Meyer left, he was promoted to defensive coordinator.
Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt, but in the case of these two, the opposite appears to be true. Andersen spoke about Meyer in an interview with the Deseret News:
We talk. Actually whenever we get a chance to go to any Big Ten meetings we try to maybe go to lunch or dinner and sit down and talk about things a little bit. We still talk quite a bit. I think it's a very good friendship. We both have great respect for each other and it's great to be able to kind of sit back and not talk to him about football stuff, which is nice. I do the same thing with Kyle (Whittingham). We don't always have to sit there and talk about football. We can just talk how friends talk.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez contacted Meyer prior to interviewing Andersen, got a favorable response and pulled the trigger. The relationship between these two is quite the departure from that enjoyed by former UW coach Bret Bielema, who tangled with Meyer on more than one occasion.
Thus far, that decision has been nothing but good for the Badgers. Andersen has done an excellent job of recruiting, receiving commitments from quarterback D.J. Gillins, defensive lineman Craig Evans and offensive lineman Jaden Gault, among others.
He's taken over right where Bielema left off, at least in the offseason, and all that remains to be seen is whether he can sustain and improve the on-field success.
Wisconsin fans should be excited about the prospect of Andersen as the long-term solution for the Badgers. If he can get athletes to go to Logan, Utah, he can get them to Madison, Wisconsin. And the man sure knows how to coach.
A big win over Ohio State—the Badgers' huge obstacle to another conference title—would kick off Andersen's tenure with a bang.
The possibility of this taking place is much more realistic than anyone wants to admit.
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