Ohio State and Wisconsin are set to play for the Big Ten championship on Saturday night in Indianapolis.
No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings for another week, the Buckeyes have good reason to feel comfortable they could make the final four without winning this weekend.
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They aren’t looking at it like that, though.
“The ultimate goal still hasn’t been accomplished yet, so that’s what keeps us motivated week by week, knowing there is still a lot left to play for,” senior cornerback Damon Arnette said. “Us knowing that, we’re able to attack each day the same way.”
1. Ohio State is aiming for its 39th Big Ten championship while Wisconsin is going for No. 15.
“To go win this thing undefeated would say a lot about our team,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “The last couple years there's been that trip up along the way, then we had to rally to go win that. I thought that said a lot about the character of the program both last two years.
“This one is a little bit different. Now it's more about can we sustain this level of play throughout this regular season, now into this championship season. That's the challenge.
“That's something that we've been focused on week in, week out. Now here we go. Head towards that finish line the last, you know, homestretch. Then after we get done with that we come up for air and figure out what's next. All our eyes are on that finish line.”
Including a 2010 shared title vacated as part of NCAA sanctions, Ohio State has 38 Big Ten titles, a total that trails only Michigan’s 42. Minnesota is next with 18.
2. Weather won’t be a factor.
Day and counterpart Paul Chryst at Wisconsin both sidestepped the question of how playing indoors at Lucas Oil Stadium could impact the game, but there is little doubt the conditions will be different from the first matchup between the teams this season.
The temperature at Ohio Stadium on Oct. 26 was 52 degrees, but rain hampered both offenses.
While it is natural to focus on how that slowed down a speedy Ohio State team, the Badgers also need to be able to throw the ball to prevent the Buckeyes from teeing off on their vaunted running game.
3. It’s a rematch for two elite running backs, too.
Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins have a lot in common.
Both are juniors. Both are All-Big Ten running backs.
Both rely more on speed and quickness than powers, but they can run between the tackles, too.
Taylor, who will enter the game second in the nation with 1,761 yards rushing, was named the Big Ten Running Back of the Year over Dobbins, who is fourth in the nation with 1,657 yards rushing, but Dobbins has come out on top from both a team and personal perspective in the previous two meetings.
Dobbins outrushed Taylor 174-41 in the Big Ten Championship game two years ago and 163-52 in the first game this season.
“J.K. is a great runner,” Taylor said on a conference call this week. “I don’t think a lot of people talk about the way he finishes his runs. He finishes his runs very physical.”
4. The Xs and Os could be interesting.
Ohio State had a few new things for the Badgers in the first matchup, including more extensive use of a 4-4 defensive look and a new quarterback read running play Wisconsin had not seen from the Buckeyes previously.
The Badgers came out looking to attack the perimeter of the Ohio State defense but did not have much success, and Taylor never got going.
Since the teams played, Wisconsin has been credited with diversifying its offense, and Ohio State offensive lineman Wyatt Davis noted the Badgers have traded their usual three-man defensive line for more four-man looks.
“I got a tremendous amount of respect for coach Chyrst, how he does things,” Day said. “He has a system. He allows his kids to play in that system. He's got enough wrinkles to keep you off balance, but what he does, they're very fundamentally sound. It's just hard to find an inch on them because everything they do is so sound. They're not going to run bad plays, bad looks. They're not going to just give you the ball and turn it over. He's been like that ever since he started coaching. That's why they've been so successful.
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“It's he and that whole coaching staff. He put together a great staff there in. All three phases they do an excellent job.”
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields’ sprained left knee could also affect the Buckeyes’ game plan by forcing Day and his staff to call fewer designed quarterback runs and read-option plays to loosen up the defense.
5. Chase Young will be looking for another big game.
The Ohio State defensive end was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and its best defensive lineman this week and added the Chicago Tribune Silver Football on Friday. The latter goes to the league’s most valuable player.
His school single-game record four sacks against the Badgers in October helped cement his presence in the national college football landscape, and he will head to Indianapolis looking to start a new sack streak after being shut out at Michigan last week.
“His presence matters,” Day said. “Although sometimes maybe it doesn't mean he's getting sacks or tackles for loss, when two or three guys get the attention of him, that opens up things for other guys.”
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