Who could have possibly guessed before the season that Ohio State would end up playing Wisconsin for the Big Ten Championship? (Tough season for the “It’s Nebraska/Michigan’s year!!!!” crowd)
The Buckeyes and Badgers do battle tomorrow in Indianapolis for the third time in six years, and at this point, it kinda just feels right. Wisconsin’s been the best team in the west for about a decade now, and Ohio State is Ohio State. Their fans are some of the nicest you’ll find, they usually play this game tough, they don’t whine about players taking online classes if they lose, and they like to drink ungodly amounts of light beer. Badgers fans, I raise my Coors light/Busch light in your direction - you’re forever good in my book.
Anyway, they play again tomorrow for the Big Ten Title, and here are 5 things on my mind:
Adjustments are key
If you look at the box score from the game they played in October, you’ll see a blowout. If you go back and actually watch it, you’ll probably see something a little different.
Ohio State eventually pulled away, but that was a 10-7 game with 12 minutes left in the third. Wisconsin was going punch for punch until J.K. Dobbins and the offensive line took control of the Badgers’ front, and also Chase Young doing whatever the hell he wanted on the other side. Credit also has to go to Ryan Day and his staff for the adjustments they made, and that’s what I’m most intrigued to see tomorrow.
On the Michigan game recap of the Hangout in the Holy Land, I noted how well Ohio State adjusted in-game to what Michigan was doing —something they’ve been awesome at all season— and I think having that tape to go back and watch from October will be a tremendous asset for this coaching staff in playing the Badgers for a second time.
Since this is Ohio State’s first rematch in the same season since they played UCLA twice in 1975, here are my top 10 rematches of all time:
54873478234. Alabama-LSU, 2011 National Championship
10. Bulls vs. Jazz, 1998 NBA Finals
9. Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers, 1993 NFC Championship
8. Harry Potter vs. Voldemort in the graveyard, The Goblet of Fire
7. Ohio State at Texas, 2006
6. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock, Wrestlemania X7
4. That second time you face Gary in Pokemon Red/Blue and yours are way more leveled up than his
3. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader, Return of the Jedi
1. Cavs vs. Warriors, 2016 NBA Finals
Three for three
Has anyone else noticed the one constant storyline leading into every Ohio State/Wisconsin Big Ten championship?
2014: Ohio State starting quarterback breaks ankle against Michigan
2017: Ohio State starting quarterback hurts knee against Michigan (Sidenote: I want a long-form story some day about that whole situation and how in the hell J.T. Barrett played in the Big Ten Championship the next week)
2019: Ohio State starting quarterback hurts knee against Michigan (and then does this)
At this point, it just might be against the laws of the universe for Ohio State to play Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship without some sort of injury situation at quarterback. The good news is that Justin Fields is made of titanium, but you can bet that the Badgers are going to pressure the hell out of him and test just how healthy he is.
Blocking Chase Young
I’m guessing Wisconsin won’t block Chase Young with just a tight end this time. Here’s how their new strategy might look:
At some point this week I realized that in the five years of the playoff, we’ve never had one selection Sunday where we knew for sure whether Ohio State was in or out:
2014: Felt pretty good after beating Wisconsin by 59, but were fighting legitimate cases from Baylor and TCU for the last spot.
2015: Didn’t win the division or conference, but a sliver of hope that the committee would put them in because they were definitely one of the four best teams (Hi, 2017 Alabama.) Ultimately, the Michigan State loss was too much to overcome.
2016: Figured they’d probably be in because of the 11-1 record, but Penn State winning head-to-head plus the conference title made it far from a lock.
2017: One of the four best teams. Got their asses kicked by a bad team, left it up to the committee who rightfully left them out.
2018: One of the four best teams. Got their asses kicked by bad team again, left it up to the committee again who left them out. (Not going to say “rightfully” here, but when you lose to Purdue by 39, you don’t get benefit of the doubt)
That brings us to tomorrow. Basically everyone agrees that they’re in no matter what —so do I— but that shouldn’t matter. The Big Ten Championship is still at stake, and if any program should know not to leave doubt in the committee’s mind, it’s this one. It’d be fitting for 2019 Ohio State to be the one with a stress-free selection Sunday. They’ve looked like the best team in school history through 12 games, and they’ve corrected so many of the flaws we saw in the 2015-2018 versions of Ohio State along the way. Now it’s time to leave no doubt, and get back on college football’s biggest stage.