Wisconsin week is upon us. Corey Brown's already gone on record as saying "I don't want to go on record as saying I hate Wisconsin more than Michigan, but I hate Wisconsin as much as I hate Michigan." And there's definitely some lingering ill will between these two fan bases after what went down two years ago in Camp Randall from a Buckeyes vantage and the way Ohio State played spoiler to Wisconsin in the 'Shoe a year later.
In order to give us the low down on all things Wisconsin Badgers, we welcome in Mike Fiammetta from Bucky's 5th Quarter, SB Nation's recently revitalized Wisconsin community, for this edition of 5 minutes in the Holy Land. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @mikefiammetta and the entire Bucky's crew at @B5Q.
Can you feel the love already? Urban Meyer and Bret Bielema traded barbs not long after Meyer was hired with Bielema accusing (then later backtracking) Urban Meyer of 'illegal recruiting tactics'. Bielema even went as far as to imply Meyer was trying to SEC-ify the Big Ten. Meyer's spent the better part of the last two weeks delivering (somewhat back handed) compliments and insisting everything's good between the two coaches. We know how Ohio State fans feel about Bret Bielema. What is the Wisconsin perception of Meyer?
Having never faced an Urban Meyer-coached team, the only exposure Wisconsin fans really have to him consists of an outside perception of his tenure at Florida and the events you described above. I imagine you might find some level of disparity among the fan base, but I believe it's safe to say Wisconsin fans don't really like Meyer. They don't like him because he's won a lot -- not that that makes us bitter fans; I think most collegiate fanbases operate that way -- and because he's now the Ohio State football coach.
As for the offseason spat with Bielema, I will say that quite a few rational-minded fans (I like to include myself in that group) felt Bielema was somewhat out of line. A "gentleman's agreement" is just that, and without knowing the true value of such an agreement, we were kind of left to make our own judgments. To some extent, Bielema came off sounding soft and unwilling to fight for recruits.
That said, we still don't really like Meyer and we certainly don't like tOSU. Wisconsin fans still have plenty of ammunition regarding Meyer's recent coaching decisions, as well as whatever they think of the aforementioned issue with Bielema. Either way, he's the Buckeye football coach and we're hoping Saturday ends just as well as it did the last time Ohio State came to Madison.
A lot of Ohio State fans are still bitter over the fast start Wisconsin got out to against arguably Ohio State's best team since the 2006 national runner up team and ultimate victory over Ohio State in 2010. That also happens to be the last time the Buckeyes were in Camp Randall. What does Wisconsin need to do to have a similar fast start and win Saturday? How do they prevent what happened in Columbus last year from repeating itself against a year better, year more evolved Braxton Miller?
Turns out my last sentence was a neat segue. Returning the opening kickoff for another touchdown sure would be great, but more realistically I think Wisconsin will more or less target a similar gameplan it employed last weekend vs. Indiana. Against the Hoosiers, the Badgers gained 605 yards of offense -- including a school-record 564 rushing yards. Montee Ball had 198 of those yards and three touchdowns, while James White was a tremendous complement with 161 yards (11.5 per carry) and two touchdowns.
Of course, that all came against the Hoosiers, and nobody in Madison is placing them close to the same level as the Buckeyes. Granted, I believe Wisconsin will lean on Ball and White, while loosening the reigns just a bit on Curt Phillips, who will be making his second career start at quarterback. Defensively, of course, the course of action will revolve entirely around Braxton Miller.
Montee Ball was an unstoppable killing machine a year ago but at this point looks somewhat like a shell of his former self. What specifically's attributed to the atrophy of his once gaudy stats and do you agree with Urban Meyer that Ball will make a heck of a pro running back?
The timing of Meyer's comments were interesting, because in his weekly press conference on Monday, Bielema said he's been hearing from scouts that Ball could be the first running back taken off the board. Ball would've left for the NFL last year if he received a pre-draft prediction from the league within the first two rounds. True to his word, Ball received a third-round grade and remained at Wisconsin.
Between his offseason attack and suffering a concussion in the Week 4 UTEP game, Ball has had a bevy of issues to fight past. Yes, Indiana is Indiana, but Ball certainly appeared to regain his 2011 form last weekend. I would only agree that he's a shell of his former self in the sense that he's no longer a Heisman Trophy candidate -- I would peg the atrophy of his stats, as you put it, largely on the early offensive line issues that led to the firing of first-year coach Mike Markuson after two games and the continual carousel at quarterback. Sure, Ball very well could've suffered some ill and lingering effects from his two concussions, and was no doubt a scary assault in the offseason. But without knowing the true extent of those, I'm more tempted to go with the former explanation.
Wisconsin's had their fair share of quarterback issues this year. Danny O'Brien was one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC the past two seasons but has looked positively lost in Wisconsin's offense to the point where he's been surpassed by a former third string quarterback. Was it information overload that did in O'Brien or why hasn't he taken to the system the way Russell Wilson did after arriving from NC State?
Simply put -- and many of us said this from the moment the 2011 season ended at the Rose Bowl -- Russell Wilson ridiculously spoiled the entire Wisconsin fan base. The former N.C. State quarterback came into Madison late in the summer, mastered Paul Chryst's entire complex system and was voted a captain by Week 1. Now, of course, he's a thrilling young quarterback in the NFL.
As for O'Brien, I again say the confluence of the offensive line issues -- not a legitimate problem anymore, by the way -- and general offensive ineptitude for much of the season have led to many of his struggles. Also, when O'Brien has entered games not as the starter, he's done so in tremendously difficult situations -- late in the loss at Nebraska and then against Michigan St. after Joel Stave went down. Furthermore, Wisconsin receivers not named Jared Abbrederis have been entirely unproductive.
Nevertheless, people have been disappointed by an apparent lack of leadership skills from O'Brien. The coaching staff seemed to bail on him pretty quickly -- especially for a redshirt freshman in Stave. Personally, I can buy that, though I think O'Brien just never got a full grasp on an offense that was undergoing tremendous upheaval.
Putting you on the spot - Wisconsin's as high as 3-point favorites now at some sports books. Objectively (well, as objectively as possible) do you see Saturday's game between Ohio State and Wisconsin playing out?
I see this one being close -- certainly closer than that last match-up in Camp Randall. I think we'd both agree these two teams are nowhere near as talented as those 2010 versions. For that reason, as well as the fact that I believe Wisconsin is rounding into shape, I see the Badgers winning a close one. I also genuinely believe the homefield advantage will be a significant factor, as I'd venture Wisconsin fans enjoy beating Ohio State more than any other team. I'll say 28-24, Wisconsin.