After four mostly easy games to start off their powderpuff schedule, Ohio State opens Big Ten play with Wisconsin in its fifth game of 2013. Of course this isn't supposed to be a tough matchup either because the Buckeyes don't play anyone good at all, according to many leading media voices, but, just for argument's sake, let's pretend Wisconsin is a formidable opponent that has provided Ohio State with quite an adverse history in recent years. Yes, that's an accurate depiction if you've been keeping up with this rivalry.
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin kickoff time, TV schedule
8 p.m. TV station is TBA.
Q: What is the history like between these two teams?
With Ohio State's 21-14 win over Wisconsin last year, the Buckeyes improved to 5-1 against the Badgers since picking up the matchup again in 2007. Don't let the record fool you, though. These games always provide great storylines for us to write and reminisce about.
The Buckeyes edged out a 33-29 victory in 2011, as Devin Smith hauled in a 40-yard touchdown from Braxton Miller with just 20 seconds to play. We can skip the talk about Wisconsin winning 31-18 in 2010 when Ohio State was ranked No. 1 and dreaming of a national championship showing. In 2008, Terrelle Pryor orchestrated a late drive to take a 20-17 lead with 1:08 to play. And of course, Carlos Hyde plunged in from two yards out to for the winning score in overtime. Are you starting to see a trend here?
Sure, when you look at the all-time series, the Buckeyes are waaay out in from with a 55-18 record. But the Badgers won three of the first four games during the Jim Tressel era, and they aren't fading away anytime soon.
No one will ever dispute That Team Up North as Ohio State's ultimate rival. Nothing can ever change that fact. Annual meetings with Wisconsin, though, have turned into a rivalry, especially with many Buckeye fans not having happy memories of the "Bert" era of Wisconsin football. It will be interesting to see how the rivalry develops now that OSU and Wisconsin won't play every year, and now that Gary Andersen has replaced Bert as the Badger headman.
Q: What are some facts about Wisconsin I might not know?
The Badgers started playing football in 1889, one year before the Buckeyes took the field for the first time. Since then, they've captured 14 conference titles and produced two Heisman winners. Alan Ameche became the first to bring home the hardware in 1954, and of course we all remember Ron Dayne's magical 1999 campaign, when he won just about every award you could possibly imagine.
Wisconsin has defeated a No. 1 team four times in program history. Two of those wins came against Ohio State. The aforementioned 2010 meeting stung, but the Badgers also emerged with a victory in 1942, the first year the Buckeyes captured a national title.
Thankfully we won't have to endure a trip to Madison this year, but Camp Randall holds plenty of history in its midst. It is the fifth-oldest stadium in college football. At max capacity (just over 80,000), it would also be the fifth-largest city in the state of Wisconsin.
Q: Who is this Gary Andersen guy?
Bret Bielema is gone, yelling WOO PIG SOOIE all the way as he traveled to the South. The announcement of him becoming the head coach at Arkansas came as a bit of a surprise, but after continuously putting a high-quality product out on the field at Camp Randall, Buckeye fans might not be too disappointed in bidding him farewell. How do the Badgers move on from such a glorious era in their program's history? By hiring the head coach from Utah State, of course.
Gary Andersen wasn't exactly a household name prior to joining the Badgers, unless said household was Matt Brown's, or if it was located in the northern region of the "Beehive State." (Yes, that's really Utah's nickname.) Andersen spent five seasons at Utah State before taking over as head coach in 2009. The beginning of his reign wasn't particularly impressive, but he transformed the team into a winner. Remember the scare they gave Auburn in the 2011 season opener? Andersen almost pulled that one off.
Last season he led the Aggies to an 11-2 record and the No. 16 ranking in the AP polls to end the year. They made two consecutive Potato Bowl appearances, most recently crushing Toledo 41-15 in 2012. Utah State went 9-38 in the four season prior to Andersen transitioning to head coach. It's safe to say he completely turned that program around.
The most interesting development to his new tenure will be the offense's operation. Wisconsin has been set in its ways on this side of the ball for years, and athletic director Barry Alvarez did not want to stray away from this mentality when he hired a replacement for Bielema. Don't worry; we'll still see the Badgers constantly run the ball.
Utah State finished sixth in the nation in rushing two years ago. Andersen ran a spread-option attack with mobile quarterbacks with the Aggies, but he has assured everyone he plans to keep in line with tradition in Madison. His adjustments to the Badger way, though, will be interesting to watch.
Another fun note: Andersen was the defensive line coach for Utah in 2004, Urban Meyer's last season with the team. And they're still friends! Andersen has mentioned in the past that he and Meyer will go grab a bite to eat and chat at Big Ten meetings. It appears to be a respectful relationship, so let's see if conference play can alter feelings a bit.
Q: I think I read somewhere that Montee Ball does not play for the Badgers anymore. Can you confirm this?
Yes, Montee Ball is finally in the NFL. It looked like he might stay for his doctorate, but he's in Denver now and will no longer be troubling the Buckeye defense. His 191-yard performance against Ohio State in 2012 felt like it would never come to an end.
Now, as the Badgers prepare for life without Ball, who will step up in his stead? Surely there is someone trustworthy waiting in the wings to take a handoff 20+ times per game.
Senior James White is a talented athlete, and honestly, we should probably all feel bad for him. He played alongside Bengals running back Giovani Bernard in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas. When he moved up to the college level, he found another difficult situation with the excess of talent surrounding him. As a freshman, he shared the load with Ball and John Clay. Each back carried the ball over just over 150 times. With Clay leaving, surely it was White's time to see an increase in production, right?
Well, as we all know, Ball became the featured back, and while White stayed in the mix, his amount of carries actually decreased in each of the past two seasons. "OK, now Ball is in the NFL. This is the year for White to shine. There's no way he's going to overshadowed again." I don't know how to tell you this, James, but you just have terrible luck.
Sophomore running back Melvin Gordon is the more talented ball carrier in the backfield here. He didn't see a ton of action in 2012, but when he did step on the field, he lit up opposing defenses. Go back and watch the tape from Wisconsin's 70-31 stomping of Nebraska. Gordon rushed for 216 yards on, wait for it, nine carries. A measly average of 24 yards per touch. The Badgers completely dominated with their ground game that day, but Gordon's performance helped provide a stepping stone into the discussion of his potential for 2013. Even worse for White, Andersen has discussed his desire to use three backs in the offense.
With 2,571 yards, White enters the season second among returning backs in the FBS in rushing. It's unfortunate for him that he won't ever see a featured year as a college RB, but Wisconsin should feel lucky to see little-to-no drop off even with Ball gone. White and Gordon don't provide a change-of-pace back, so Andersen will have to figure out how he wants to go about using each.
Q: Aside from the backfield, how are the Badgers looking these days?
The biggest concern for Wisconsin at this point in time remains with their starting quarterback, or lack thereof. We don't know who will be under center when Week 1 rolls around. But just like running back, Andersen has solid options to choose from in this race.
Danny O'Brien left the program last month. Maybe he just wanted to help the new coach with his decision by eliminating himself from the equation (but we all know O'Brien didn't matter). Right now, sophomore Joel Stave and redshirt senior Curt Phillips are the top contenders. Stave played in five full games last season, and All-Big Ten wideout Jared Abbrederis finished with three 100-yard games during that span. Abbrederis didn't have another 100-yard game the rest of the season. That might be an initial indication as to who is ahead in this competition.
Stave's accuracy fluctuates, but he has the arm to get the ball downfield and connect on big plays to his star receiver. Phillips simply doesn't have the same arm strength. He can manage games and move the ball when needed, but if Andersen wants a more explosive passing game, Stave will get the nod. Transfer quarterback Tanner McEvoy will also have a shot at the starting gig. The dual-threat passer seems to be a better mold to fit Andersen's previous offenses. Of course, running the ball comes first, and don't you forget it.
Whoever starts at quarterback, he'll have to watch out for his health. The Badgers allowed 27 sacks last season, and only two full-time starters return to the offensive line. Run blocking continues to be a solid facet of the front five, though. We can only hope Wisconsin tries to go with a zone blocking scheme again like it did at the beginning of 2012, resulting in utter chaos once more.
The defense is switching to a 3-4 base, which will take time to master. But the front seven is only replacing defensive end David Gilbert. It's a group with good depth. New defensive coordinator David Aranda comes from coaching a Utah State defense that allowed just 15.4 points per game. His secondary will only have one returning starter in Dezmen Southward. How will that group respond with several new faces?
Special teams could be a nightmare again. Kyle French and Jack Russell don't appear to be all that great at kicking field goals, which is a shame because, well, they're kind of supposed to be used for kicking field goals. Wisconsin might be better off running a four-down offense closer to the goal line, a topic Nick Korger of Bucky's Fifth Quarter discussed a few months ago.
Overall, Wisconsin has the potential to reach double-digit wins. The league schedule is relatively easy, and tussles with Arizona State and BYU are manageable. With an experienced group of seniors leading the way, the transition to playing under a new coaching staff might not have too many hiccups. Andersen should be excited about embarking with this program, but he needs to make sure this doesn't turn into a rebuilding year while learning different schemes.
Q: What are the keys to victory?
If any of you have gone back to re-watch last year's matchup, I'll take a moment to pray for your soul. Ohio State's offense was painfully stagnant, finishing the night with 236 total yards. Miller, one of the most dangerous players in the country, couldn't manage to keep drives alive or sustain any kind of momentum on the road. Wisconsin was ready.
Fortunately, this year's game is on home turf. The Buckeyes have won three straight against the Badgers in the Shoe. Although this meeting opens up Big Ten action for both teams, it might be the most important game on the schedule for each.
With a year under his belt and tape from last year's game, Meyer has to construct a gameplan that will free up his quarterback. Miller rushed for 48 yards on 23 carries last time. There was no room for him to run on the Badgers. And with almost an identical front for Wisconsin, expect a stout front ready to contain him once again.
Assuming that's the case, Miller needs to take advantage of the inexperienced secondary. Corey Brown and Devin Smith each came up with four receptions the 2012 edition and they can take on the likes of Darius Hillary and Sojoun Shelton. Let Miller take his shots downfield. I'm not sure I can stomach 23 carries of close-to-nothing again.
On defense, the revamped line has to do a better job of slowing down the ground game. Ball didn't break free often. His longest carry went for 25 yards, and there were only a handful of touches in double-digits. How do Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, Tommy Schutt and Noah Spence fare as a unit in their first Big Ten game of the year? Slowing down White and Gordon will be crucial.