Knocking off No. 6 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) would go a long way toward erasing that asterisk hanging over the Badgers these days.
Wisconsin, you see, actually trails the Buckeyes by two games in the Leaders Division, but it’s the Badgers (7-3, 4-2) who are on their way to Indianapolis for a second straight year because Ohio State is ineligible for the postseason. (So is Penn State, which until last weekend led the Badgers, too.)
“We don’t want to leave any doubt,” Wisconsin left tackle Rick Wagner said. “We want to beat them.”
Ohio State was banned from the postseason and forced to vacate the 2010 season as part of its punishment for NCAA violations under former coach Jim Tressel.
Few would have expected the ban to mean a whole lot after the Buckeyes went 6-7 last year, their first losing record in more than 20 years.
Yet here they are, one of the last unbeaten teams in the country.
The Buckeyes have known all along they weren’t going anywhere once the season ends. They may not like it, but they made peace with their predicament months ago. That doesn’t mean, however, that this has to be another lost season.
A win today would give the Buckeyes the outright title in the Leaders Division — the Big Ten has said Ohio State is still eligible for that. Just as important, it would give them a share of conference bragging rights, regardless of what happens in next month’s conference championship game.
So as badly as the Badgers want to prove they’re deserving of a spot in the title game, the Buckeyes want just as much to show they’re not.
“It’s real big. We, at the end of the season, want everybody to look at us as the best team in the Big Ten even though we can’t go to the Big Ten championship game,” Buckeyes receiver Corey Brown said. “As of right now, we are the best team in the Big Ten. There’s no doubt about it. Obviously, a win this week going there will give us another big road win. We went to Penn State, we went to Michigan State. Another big road win, it’ll be no question who’s the best team.”
Funny he should say that, because recent Ohio State-Wisconsin games have only made the question of who’s the best in the Big Ten more confusing.
Two years ago, Ohio State was unbeaten and No. 1 in the country, rolling to what seemed like a certain spot in the national title game. Then the Buckeyes went to Madison.
David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and the Buckeyes never recovered. They were down 21-3 by halftime and wound up losing 31-18, a loss that stings almost as much as the sanctions that wiped it out.
“The thing I continually think about is when we were ranked No. 1 a couple of years ago going into their house. They took that away,” Ohio State cornerback Travis Howard said. “A lot of guys on the team, especially the seniors, are continually thinking about that moment and don’t want it to happen again.”