Ohio State and Wisconsin have big-game experience that’s prepared both programs for the Saturday night’s top-10 matchup under the lights in Madison.
Paul Chryst admits it: Wisconsin’s schedule seemed daunting upon first glance.
First came No. 5 LSU at Lambeau Field. Then a trip to East Lansing to face No. 8 Michigan State. Fourth-ranked Michigan awaited the following week at the Big House. After a week to catch a breather, No. 2 Ohio State comes to Madison for a Saturday matchup in primetime. Iowa and No. 10 Nebraska are on the docket after that.
There’s a reason some doubted the Badgers would be able to pass enough tests to compete for a Big Ten championship. But after Wisconsin got past LSU, 16-14, and dominated the Spartans, 30-6, believers hopped on board. Many still remain even after the Badgers fell, 14-7, to Michigan.
Wisconsin, back up to No. 8 in this week’s AP Top 25, has been involved in all three Big Ten games featuring top-11 teams. And if it can knock off the Buckeyes, there’s little reason to believe the Badgers can’t run the table, get back to the conference title game and put themselves in the College Football Playoff discussion.
You won’t catch Chryst looking ahead, though.
“You hope to earn that right to be in those conversations,” Chryst said during this week’s Big Ten media teleconference. “We knew when the schedule came out that it was going to be a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity. All the talk (about the schedule) before, during – none of that matters. At the end of the year, we’ll write the story.”
He hopes there won’t be a chapter about the Badgers suffering another disheartening loss to Ohio State. The last time these teams met, the Buckeyes trounced Wisconsin, 59-0, in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game on their way to winning the first College Football Playoff. It’s the only time since 1997 that the Badgers have been blanked, and was the program’s worst loss since 1979, when Ohio State beat them by the same score.
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer isn’t expecting Saturday night to be anything like that. Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten in total defense, with Wisconsin third. Scoring defense is the same, with the Buckeyes allowing an average of 10.8 points and the Badgers 12.2. The teams have allowed only 13 touchdowns combined.
“Typical Wisconsin,” Meyer said. “I think Coach Chryst – I don’t know him very well, but I can push play and see it’s one of the best coached teams in the United States of America. On defense, they’re outstanding. You’ve got to give the leadership a lot of credit. One of the best teams in America.”
Something has to give, though, and it just might be that Badger defense. J.T. Barrett leads an Ohio State offense that is averaging 53.2 points and ranks fifth in the nation in total yards per game with 537.6. Freshman Mike Weber and junior Curtis Samuel are the biggest weapons in the Buckeyes’ running game, which averages the third-most yards per game in the country.
Ohio State won’t be intimidated by a Wisconsin offense that has sputtered, first with Bart Houston at quarterback and again with redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook, nor by the atmosphere and magnitude of the matchup. The Buckeyes already went into Norman and crushed Oklahoma, 45-24.
Camp Randall Stadium will be rocking Saturday night, and Ohio State will be ready well before Wisconsin’s Jump Around tradition between the third and fourth quarters.
“Sometimes you get asked the question, ‘Is it the most talented team you’ve ever had?’ I think so,” Meyer said of his Buckeyes. “It’s a very talented team that gets better each week. The real hard part of the schedule is surfacing, so keep improving.”