Daniel Chi /Asst. photo editor
The result of Ohio State’s Saturday battle with division rival Wisconsin may not matter in the big picture of the Big Ten Leaders Division race.
The Buckeyes (10-0) need only to win one of their last two games, versus either Wisconsin or Michigan, to win the Leaders Division title, while the Badgers (7-3) has already clinched the Leaders Division berth in the Big Ten Championship Game as a result of postseason bans for the other two of the division’s top three teams, OSU and Penn State.
For Buckeyes and Badgers players, however, winning the game itself is important on its own.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said this game is very important to his players, and “they know what’s coming” in the challenge from Wisconsin.
“I can tell the way they practiced today,” Meyer said. “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. We didn’t have to teach them to go hard today. That’s an indication of the respect they have for the team they’re playing.”
Redshirt junior center Corey Linsley said the Buckeyes cannot take their opponent lightly this weekend.
“It’s always a physical war,” Linsley said of playing Wisconsin.
Wisconsin may have already have a spot locked up to play for the conference championship in Indianapolis, Ind., on Dec. 1, but coach Bret Bielema said that won’t hinder his team’s motivation either.
“We’re going to play this game Saturday and I want to win it the worst way because Ohio State has set the standard for winning in this league for years,” Bielema said. “The Ohio State game is what it is, it’s always a big game on our schedule and nothing’s going to change that.”
Senior running back Montee Ball playing at home gives the Badgers extra motivation to win Saturday.
“It’s important for us to win every game,” Ball said. “We’re going to play our best, use all of our weapons … we want to make sure we win our last game in Camp Randall for this year.”
Bielema said he thinks his players enjoy the challenge of playing the Buckeyes.
“It’s out of respect,” Bielema said. “Ohio State always has tremendous football players, they’re coached very well under Coach Meyer.”
Ball echoed his coach’s statement.
“It’s a rivalry of respect, because we just know that Ohio State has great athletes, they’re well-coached and we just know that it’s going to be a four-quarter, physical football game,” Ball said. “They’re going to come in here, most definitely looking to win, and if we don’t execute the game plan, they will come out with a win.”
Matchups between the Buckeyes and Badgers have certainly been competitive in recent years. In their last 11 matchups since 1999, the Buckeyes have won six games while the Badgers have taken the other five.
In the past two years, the home team has prevailed each time. Last season, the Buckeyes upset a Wisconsin team that was ranked No. 15 at the time by a 33-29 score in Ohio Stadium.
Ball said his team has to execute better Saturday to avoid a second consecutive loss.
“That was a game that we felt we could have won and we didn’t,” Ball said. “The same thing can happen (Saturday) if we don’t go out and execute the way that we want to.”
In 2010, the Buckeyes went into Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium in a similar situation as this year. OSU went into that game ranked No. 1 nationally with a 6-0 record, but dropped their only game of a season later vacated due to NCAA violations following the “Tattoo Gate” scandal, by a 31-18 score.
Ball said he thinks the Badgers can draw from that victory on Saturday.
“That game, we were all on the same page, and we were all executing and playing with some energy,” Ball said. “That’s what we’re going to bring to this game, coming this week, and I just feel like everyone should look back on that game and really see that everyone was focused and willing to play for your teammates.”
Also on the line Saturday for the Buckeyes, of course, is the potential to finish the season undefeated. Even still, Linsley said the Buckeyes are focused only on their next opponent.
“Even though these last two weeks, it’s a two-game season, everyone’s talking about that, it’s been a one-game season all season,” Linsley said. “Week in and week out, we’ve never focused on anything but the opponent.”