The first big football game I saw at Camp Randall was the unranked Badgers upset of No. 12 Ohio State in 1992. Underdog member of the "Little Nine" (eight, in 1992) takes down high and mighty member of the Big Two.
It's a story that never gets old.
Especially when a 4-1 team with a shaky offense (Ohio State) opens as 16-point favorites over a 5-0 team (Wisconsin). There's always plenty to say about a game like this, but I figure I'll limit myself to a review of the numbers, starting in 1992 (It's more than a little convenient for this piece that I moved to Wisconsin to start college that year).
This will be the 14th meeting between the Buckeyes and the Badgers since I started college. The Buckeyes have a two-game lead over that time (7-5-1). In each of those 13 games (and probably as many as dozens before then) the odds favored the Buckeyes. In my experience as a Badger the Buckeyes entered every game as the favorite. Every one.
About this 16-point favorite deal? In those 13 games, the Buckeyes have only beaten Wisconsin twice by sixteen points or more. The Badgers returned the favor once...in Columbus.
Those great Buckeye teams? The one that ended 1996 No. 2 in the country beat an unranked Badger squad...by three.
The 2002 national champs? Beat the unranked Badgers by five.
And the season-ending No. 4 Buckeyes of 2003? Lost to the unranked Badgers (7-6). Suffice it to say, a 16-point spread is out of whack.
The Tressel-led Buckeyes have a winning record against every Big Ten team...except Wisconsin (3-3). On the other hand, Bielema has yet to beat Ohio State.
That's not to say the Buckeyes shouldn't be favored. They should. They have an excellent defense, a dangerous quarterback (sometimes dangerous to the Buckeyes), and a great home crowd to play in front of (though three of the Badgers' five wins in the last 13 games came in Columbus).
But back to the numbers. The Buckeyes haven't played an offense anything like the one the Badgers will field. Scott Tolzien is the Big Ten's most efficient quarterback. The Badgers have the most rushing yards in the conference. Not surprisingly efficient quarterback play plus efficient running equals the highest points per game average in the Big Ten.
On the other hand, the Buckeyes are first in the conference in passing defense, rushing defense, and (not surprisingly) total defense.
Something's got to give.
One last stat before my totally meaningless prediction: the Badgers have converted 18-of-22 trips to the red zone...into touchdowns.
That, friends, is how you win football games (ask Notre Dame about how hard it is to win when you kick field goals instead, see, e.g., three 1st-and-goals that resulted in field goals rather than touchdowns, and an overtime thriller against Washington; don't ask Washington, they're still recovering from the shock of three 1st-and-goals inside the two that netted a total of six points in the same game).
Those oddsmakers are making money off of foolish betters. This game, like most of the games in this series since Alvarez built the Wisconsin football program, will be a slug fest and will stay close throughout.
In the end, the confidence Tolzien is playing with will trump the confidence Pryor is playing without.
20-16, Badgers. Or so I hope.