Buckeyes threat to Badgers' Big Ten hopes
NOV 14, 2012 4:35p ET
MADISON, Wis. — In 2 1/2 weeks, Wisconsin's football team will emerge from the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium, run through the tunnel leading to the field and bask in another Big Ten championship game appearance before more than 60,000 fans in Indianapolis.
If you're a Wisconsin fan, it's best to enjoy those three hours as much as possible, regardless of the outcome. Because if you are truly honest with yourself, you have to wonder: When will the Badgers be back again?
Ohio State's stock is rising faster than the dot-com boom, but unlike the Internet bubble, there is no collapse in sight for the Buckeyes. That means the balance of power in the Big Ten's Leaders Division could shift to Columbus as soon as next season. The only reason it hasn't already started is because undefeated Ohio State is ineligible for postseason play this season due to NCAA sanctions.
This Saturday, Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2 in the Big Ten) will play Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) at Camp Randall Stadium. An Ohio State win guarantees them the Leaders Division title; the Buckeyes are allowed to accept a first-place trophy there. But it would also bring to light a disturbing trend that reveals just how far Wisconsin is behind Ohio State.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is 37-17 in Big Ten play since taking over the Badgers in 2006. He is just 1-4 against Ohio State. That lone victory, of course, was a thrilling 31-18 home triumph against then-No. 1 Ohio State in 2010. In order to be considered equals, however, Wisconsin must win more than once every five games.
"When I took over this job," Bielema said, "we knew that for us to win a Big Ten title, you had to beat Ohio State."
That task won't change moving forward. But it may become even more difficult in the immediate future based on the Buckeyes' personnel.
Quarterback Braxton Miller, one of the most dynamic players in college football, is just a sophomore. His 2,919 yards of total offense is the best in the Big Ten and at the very least, he'll be in Columbus for another season.
Running back Carlos Hyde, a junior, has 737 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. Sophomore Rod Smith and freshman Bri'onte Dunn are both highly touted running backs who have scored touchdowns this season.
Ohio State's top two receivers, Corey Brown and Devin Smith, are underclassmen who have combined for 1,040 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
Defensively, Ohio State's top five tacklers — linebacker Ryan Shazier, safety Christian Bryant, defensive tackle Johnathan Hanks, cornerback Bradley Roby and safety C.J. Barnett — all have at least another year of eligibility remaining.
Plus, Ohio State already has the No. 8 recruiting class for 2013, according to Scout.com, which features 12 four- and five-star recruits. Wisconsin has the No. 35 class with two four-star recruits.
"Ohio State has always got really good players," Bielema said. "They probably traditionally since I've been here have always had the best players in the league of the top zero to 85 roster spots. They're always going to have highly recruited kids that come in with a lot of accolades and a lot of natural talent. You know there's good players over there."
And let's not forget the impact first-year coach Urban Meyer has had in transforming the program. Last season before his arrival, Ohio State completed its first non-winning season since 1999 and finished 6-7. Now, the Buckeyes are perfect and beating teams by more than two touchdowns per game.
Meyer, a two-time national champion at Florida, has a 114-23 career record and one of the highest winning percentages among active coaches (.828).
None of this is meant to suggest Wisconsin will somehow crumble into a Big Ten bottom-feeder. Of the Badgers' 22 offensive and defensive starters for this Saturday's game against Ohio State, 16 have at least one more year of eligibility. But if a great season results in second place in the Leaders Division behind Ohio State, how great is it?
So enjoy the trip to the Big Ten championship game, Wisconsin fans. The future is unknown, but all indications suggest the Badgers may have a difficult time returning any time soon.
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