Ohio State and Michigan have dominated the Big Ten for the better part of a century. Everyone knows that. Wisconsin? Not so much. The Badgers’ football program really only took off once Barry Alvarez came aboard as head coach in 1990. Now, Sconnie Nation is ranked every year and has appeared in the last three Rose Bowls – while the Buckeyes have watched the celebrated New Year’s Day bowl game from home.
Way back in 1913, Wisconsin won the first meeting between these two teams. Since then, Ohio State has built a 55-18 advantage in the series. One hundred years later, the Badgers head into Columbus looking for the upset victory. Bookending a century of rivalry games with wins would be fantastic, but it won’t come easily.
Not with the return of a healthy Braxton Miller under center. Miller suffered a sprained MCL against San Diego State in Week 2, and senior Kenny Guiton filled in spectacularly in his absence. With the Heisman hopeful back to full strength, Guiton returns to “Best Backup in the Nation” status after throwing 12 touchdown passes and only two picks in Millers’ absence.
Coach Urban Meyer also has Carlos Hyde back at full speed following a three-game suspension to open the year. Hyde tallied a mere five carries but rushed for 41 yards against A&M, and should have the reins loosened against Wisconsin.
The job of stopping these two elite weapons falls squarely upon the shoulders of senior Chris Borland. One of the best linebackers in the nation, his 30 total tackles is already 10 more than any player on coach Gary Andersen’s roster. Borland will have help, however, in the form of fellow backers Conor O’Neill and Ethan Armstrong, who are both seniors themselves.
Together, they give Andersen, in his first year in Madison, an experienced, talented group to lean on against Ohio State’s vaunted attack.
Andersen has also leaned heavily upon his star running backs corps. Melvin Gordon is a superstar in the making. He has already rushed for 624 yards on a whopping 11.77 yards-per-carry average with seven touchdowns. The team’s senior leader, James White, seems a bit forgotten, but he has already tallied 442 yards with a 7.25 average as well. Finally, Corey Clement is just a true freshman, but he has looked great at times in collecting 334 yards and four touchdowns.
Meyer and Co. lost star defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins to the NFL Draft, and they could really use his presence on Saturday. However, sophomore Chris Carter, out of Cleveland, is 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds. Buckeyes fans are hoping he can clog the middle enough to slow Wisconsin’s elite rushing attack.
If he does, the pressure will be on quarterback Joel Stave and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. Abbrederis has three receiving touchdowns, but the only other two players with one are running backs. Meyer will put star cornerback Bradley Roby on him and dare Stave to beat the Buckeyes’ secondary elsewhere.
If the Badgers’ fall behind early to Miller’s offense, or Ohio State shuts down Wisconsin’s run game, can Stave make it happen through the air?
Meyer is considered the top coach in the conference. Can Andersen show his mettle in his first huge Big Ten game after coming over from Utah State?
What about Miller? Will we be seeing him at full strength? If not, how long until Meyer contemplates subbing in Guiton?
Luckily for all of us frothing at the mouth to see what goes down in The Shoe, the wait is almost over. The game-planning, the film study, the endless debates around the water cooler – all of it is nearly at an end.
Finally, with the biggest in-conference game of the year just around the corner, there’s only one thing left to do: Settle It.