Ohio State and Wisconsin for the Big Ten Championship.
I’m still not a big fan of these bigger conferences with divisions, but sometimes things work out.
As much of a disaster as it was for the Big 12 for years, the Big Ten version has often given us a new matchup between the two best teams since its inception in 2011.
That beats years like 2002 and 1998 when Ohio State shared the Big Ten title with a team it didn’t play.
The decision to align the divisions geographically has also paid off because while the perceived powers in the East beat each other up, a team in the West is able to basically be manufactured into a contender just by taking care of business.
The West representative has been ranked no worse than 11th in the four years in this configuration.
It’s been the best of both worlds.
So, how is this one going to go Saturday night?
Ohio State’s uncertainty at quarterback might end up being a blessing in disguise.
Not being able to rely on his legs, whether it is J.T. Barrett or Dwayne Haskins Jr., should force Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day to be creative in how they want to run the ball.
It should also mean more carries for J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, who are both better at making yards after contact and explosive runs than Barrett (or Haskins).
Urban Meyer’s “get out of jail free card” of running the quarterback has not often served Ohio State well in the last three seasons.
Wisconsin’s secondary is a wild card.
The Badgers’ back end of the defense has great numbers but hasn’t been tested much.
Meanwhile, Ohio State’s passing game has been explosive at times. Haskins pierced Michigan’s vaunted secondary just enough to put the Buckeyes over the top, and the Buckeyes can beat Wisconsin without throwing it all over the yard, too.
That Ohio State defense has been tested, and the results are mixed.
Wisconsin is going to test the Buckeyes in a variety of ways both physically and mentally.
Can they hold up?
Discipline will be key both in stopping the run game and protecting against play action passes.
Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor is the total package: Strong, fast, quick, great vision and balance.
Alex Hornibrook is a wild card on this side of the ball.
He is second in the league in pass efficiency, but the lefty doesn’t pass the eye test (For what it’s worth, J.T. Barrett is No. 1 and we know he’s had his ups and downs, too).
He has thrown 13 interceptions and can be inaccurate at times.
Other than Taylor, Wisconsin doesn’t have a lot of individual playmakers. Tight end Troy Fumagali is an exception, and receiver Danny Davis (a freshman fro Springfield) could be if given the opportunity.
This game is Ohio State’s to lose.
The Buckeyes have the better athletes. Nobody disputes that.
There’s also no doubt Wisconsin can win a game like this. That has happened before, too. They had the Buckeyes on the ropes in Madison last season, though with the help of some bad weather.
I think we’ll see Ohio State get the ball to its playmakers in space, letting them do damage and put some points on the ball.
Wisconsin will get some, but not enough.
Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 24.