Friday, November 16, 2012

BUCKEYES, BADGERS TO PLAY FOR DE FACTO LEADERS DIVISION TITLE

Carlos Hyde
TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
COLUMBUS — Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) has already clinched a berth in the conference championship game as the Leaders Division representative.

Sixth-ranked and unbeaten Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) is the top team in the division standings, but is ineligible to participate in the Big Ten title game due to NCAA sanctions.

Add in the fact that neither team — or coach for that matter — is particularly fond of one another, and you have the makings for a stellar de facto Leaders Division title game this Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison (Wisc.). 

OSU head coach Urban Meyer said the game — on their end anyway — is being viewed as the real division championship.

"If we win this game, then we win the (leaders division)," Meyer said. "That will be brought up. That's real important to us."

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema shares the same feelings, stating that although they have already clinched a spot in the title game, there will be no limitations or resting of his players, because beating the actual top team in the division means everything to his Badgers.

"We're in a race that we're trying to win the Leaders Division crown," Bielema said. "Ohio State is at the top of the list. 
  
 
"We're in a race to finish at the top of our division, and this opportunity this week is a chance to play the team that's at that Number one spot. So I think I might have a mutiny on my hands if I tried to pull anybody out of this game this Saturday."

Last season's showdown was a classic. Ohio State upset the visiting Badgers (the Leaders division champs) when then-freshman quarterback Braxton Miller connected on a hailmary touchdown toss to Devin Smith in the waning moments of the game.

Compound that last second play with Bielema accusing Meyer of poaching committed players during this past recruiting season and the term "bad blood" is certainly manifested.

However, Meyer says it more respect than ill will. It's a rivalry game!

"I think whenever you have two good teams that have played for a lot in the past three, four years, if that's considered bad blood, then I mean it's an intense respect. (My players) know what's coming. I can tell the way they have practiced.

"And they're smarter than the coaches. They know what's coming. I always worry about the ones they don't have respect for, and that's when we got to rah rah and cheer them on and scream and yell and throw things and all that.

"This is a rivalry game, and it's a rivalry game because you have to understand who you're playing and what they've done the last few years," Meyer continued.

"(Wisconsin's) a good very good team."

Bottom Line

The winner of the game will most likely be the team which can contain the opposition's star player — Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball.

Ball, who has rushed for 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, is just one score away from tying the NCAA all-time record.

"His strengths are great vision, and he's really a fast player," Meyer said of Ball. "He pulls away from angles, and his toughness. You can give him the ball a bunch of times, and he just keeps getting stronger. 

"He'll be a very good NFL back."

Miller has been the catalyst of Ohio State's undefeated campaign, recording 2,919 total yards and 27 touchdowns. Bielema said the athletic Miller is a much better passer this season and it makes the job on his defense much more daunting this time around.

"I go back to high school (with Miller)," Bielema said. "You knew then there was a tremendous athlete and a tremendous kid. We tried to recruit him as well, just a really, really gifted human being. Live arm last year, didn't know how accurate it was, but this year that's probably the thing, his accuracy. Probably a little bit of a combination of, A, one more year experience, but also the scheme they put in around him.
  
 
"And then just good players around him to make him look good as well."

That's what ultimately gives Miller and the Buckeyes the advantage in this one — the "good players around him."

Look for guys like Carlos Hyde, Philly Brown and Jake Stoneburner to make Miller and the offense too much to contain, while the ever-improving Buckeyes' defense corral the talented Ball, en route to their 11th win of the season — and the real Leaders Division title.

Prediction: OSU 38-20