Thursday, November 15, 2012
Five storylines: Ohio State-Wisconsin
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A look at the hot topics and pressing concerns as Ohio State prepares for a road trip to surging Wisconsin with a chance to lock up the Leaders Division title on Saturday (TV: ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).
On the line: The Badgers have already clinched their trip to the Big Ten title game, though the Buckeyes could officially put a damper on that celebration with a win that would clinch the true division championship. Wisconsin was long expected to be the big beneficiary of postseason bans for Ohio State and Penn State, and that has certainly been the case even with some hiccups along the way. But the Buckeyes can still claim the hardware and the bragging rights in the Leaders Division, not to mention keep its perfect record intact heading into the final weekend of the season.
Trophy talk: The late bye week combined with some dynamic individual performances last weekend around the country seemingly put Braxton Miller on the back burner in the Heisman Trophy conversation. But the Ohio State quarterback should have a pretty large audience watching to see what he can do against an elite defense on the road and could get the buzz right back if he can duplicate the outings he posted in hostile environments at Michigan State and Penn State.
Having a Ball: Even when the Buckeyes had success slowing down Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball in their upset win a year ago, he still scored a pair of touchdowns. Of course, there's a large club of defenses that have failed to keep Ball out of the end zone -- and he moved within one of the NCAA career record for touchdowns last week in a blowout win over Indiana. Ohio State has steadily improved defensively and is currently second in the Big Ten against the rush, and the battle between Ball and the defensive line trying to bottle him up could determine the outcome.
New face: There's not much of a book on the new guy taking the snaps for the Badgers, but the Buckeyes have seen enough to have a bit of concern about his athleticism. Curt Phillips only attempted seven passes in the easy win over Indiana, though obviously he didn't need to air it out much with the offense steamrolling to 564 yards on the ground. Ohio State is clearly much more formidable against the rush, and it will likely force Phillips to make plays with his arm, as it puts cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Travis Howard in one-on-one matchups while focusing on Ball in the backfield.
Bad blood: Both coaches have made clear since the summer that the feud started by comments from Bret Bielema about Urban Meyer's staff recruiting committed players has been settled -- and was perhaps blown out of proportion in the first place. And while neither party has offered up anything in the week of their first meeting as Big Ten rivals that would suggest they are seeking personal revenge, there's little question that drawing first blood would bring a smile to the face of the winner.