A bye week can make for a lazy Saturday. Maybe you finish up some yard work before the weather really changes for the worst or maybe one last trip to do your favorite outdoor activities. For me, fun during a bye week is seeing the defending national champion aka the unbeatable aka the mighty aka the lock for the national championship game again from the otherworldly Southeastern Conference fall (at home!) to a mediocre Big 12 team with a freshman quarterback. I also enjoy thinking about the inevitable whipping that the Buckeyes are going to put on Wisconsin and the ensuing painful look on Bert Bielema’s face.
Maybe nobody has actually said it but it has been pretty apparent that Wisconsin has become the secondary rival to our Ohio State Buckeyes. The Badgers fill the “next level” rival spot for Ohio State that Penn State wishes it could be. The players this week have been pointing to the 2010 game (when the Buckeyes were ambushed at Camp Randall and a perfect season was ruined) as the spark that ignited the rivalry, but I think it goes back a lot farther than that. Let’s go back in time…
In the 1999 meeting of the Bucks and Badgers, the Buckeyes delighted the home crowd to a mid-second quarter 17-0 lead. Things seemed to be in cruise control and a blowout eminent, especially with freshman quarterback Brooks Bollinger filling in for injured senior Scott Kavanaugh for Wisconsin. The outcome? 42-17… Badgers.
The Buckeyes got revenge a year later in 2000 winning 23-7 in Madison. It should be noted: This game was played with the lingering stigma of Wisconsin finally returning to full strength after having 26 players suspended for obtaining illegal benefits from a local shoe store earlier that summer. In other words, Wisconsin felt due to the suspension their season was a bust.
In 2001 back in The Shoe, the Buckeyes once again went up 17-0. They would again not hold the lead and lost 20-17 to another Brooks Bollinger lead Badger team.
This made tensions high heading into the 2002 meeting at Camp Randall. As we all remember, the Buckeyes were undefeated and in the midst of making a magical championship run. The Badgers were beginning to be a real thorn in the Buckeyes sides. Would they play the role so many Michigan teams played in the 90’s and spoil the championship dream?
A little added fuel to the fire to help a blossoming rivalry also helped inspire and drive the Buckeyes to remain undefeated. The accelerant came in the form of an autographed picture Brooks Bollinger had given to a friend that was likely never meant to see the light of day. He signed the photo “The Horeshoe. They built it. WE OWN IT.” The Buckeyes won 19-14 and went on to win the national championship.
Robert Reynolds and 2003
The Buckeyes brought a 19 game winning streak and the title of defending national champions into Madison for 2003’s meeting with the Badgers. Aside from being the night that the streak ended along with the dreams of a second title run (the Buckeyes lost 17-10) the game was marred by Robert Reynolds repulsive choke of Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi in the bottom of a pile during the third quarter. I remember thinking how we almost didn’t deserve to win after seeing the replay of Reynolds grab Sorgi’s throat repeatedly the way only an ESPN broadcast can accommodate. Admittedly, a few weeks ago I made a joke in this column about Sorgi playing up the injury for all it was worth and over dramatizing it. I stand by my memories and observations from that night. It still doesn’t change the fact that it was a despicable act by Reynolds. To his credit, Reynolds quickly apologized both publicly and privately to Sorgi.
04 to 12
In the games that were played between 2004 and 2009, the Buckeyes took a 3-1 advantage after losing in 04 and then winning three straight over the Badgers from 07-09, including Terelle’s “stepping into manhood” as a freshman in 08. Things had seemed to calm down between the two when the 2010 game happened and reignited the war we find ourselves smack in the middle of heading into this week’s matchup.
Who can forget last year’s dramatic win in Ohio Stadium with Braxton Miller hitting Devin Smith on a prayer bomb pass with 20 seconds left. My favorite part that night was watching Bielma cry as he walked off the field, realizing his already fleeting national championship hopes had been completely crushed by a team ravaged by suspension and scandal, with an interim head coach and a true freshman at quarterback.
Bert Beilema and Urban Meyer
This winter, after Urban Meyer was named head coach at Ohio State, the recruiting drive to national signing day was intense. So intense, that Badger head coach Bert Beilema accused Meyer of using “illegal” recruiting tactics.
As the story goes, Kyle Dodson (from Cleveland, Ohio) was verbally committed to Wisconsin. While a verbal commitment isn’t a binding contract in any way, it has always meant that a recruit was essentially off the market. One except: Urban Meyer (and to be fair, a lot of other coaches) doesn’t recruit that way. He will contact recruits that he wants in his program all the way up until national signing day or until they ask him to stop. Dodson made no such request and Meyer stayed after him. When the time came for Dodson to actually put pen to paper and put his name on the dotted line, he chose Ohio State reneging on his verbal commitment to Wisconsin. This angered Bert and he lashed out at Meyer in the media.
Both parties have said publicly that the situation has been cleared up between them. But do you think Urban Meyer has forgotten? If this game goes how I think it will go, we’ll find out if Urban is holding any type of ill feelings toward Bielema. My hunch is that he doesn’t like Beilema very much.
I’m willing to bet that if you conducted a poll of Ohio State fans, Wisconsin would win handedly as the “secondary rival” choice. And it isn’t just football that has the fans engaged in hating the Badgers. Remember Badger basketball head coach Bo Ryan and his “deal with it” comments? Ask Buckeye fans how they feel about Wisconsin’s end of the third quarter “Jump Around” tradition. Ask anyone who’s been to Camp Randall if it’s true that Badger fans bring marshmallows with penny’s stuck in them and then the entire concoction is frozen. It’s obviously not on a TTUN level, but the venom for the Badgers is there. We’ll all feel it Saturday afternoon when players hit the field!
So, what’s going to happen?
I really think this game has the same formula as the Michigan State game: Shut down or limit the running of Montee Ball and James White and make the quarterback beat you with his arm. Also like in East Lansing, the biggest key to accomplishing that goal will be to get physical up front and move the line scrimmage on every snap. The flow of the linebackers and their point of attack in the holes will be huge. Fundamental tackling will be, as always, of major importance. Bring Ball and White down, no big gainers after first contact.
I’m going to put this out there: I think Wisconsin’s defense is slow and the Buckeye offense can exploit it. I expect big numbers from Braxton Miller and his gang.
To this point, the Buckeyes have been faced with two daunting road tests. The game at Michigan State was said to be at the time the best defense and running game they would see all season and a team favored to go back to the Big Ten championship game. The game at Penn State was said to test their gall and camaraderie, facing a team with nothing to lose in a stadium notorious for being an intolerable pit to opposing teams when the student section puts its mind to it. Both tasks were met head on and both games saw the Buckeyes victorious. I have no reason to believe Saturday in Madison will be any different.
The big question to me: Does Urban Meyer have the disdain I believe he has for Bielema and how will it manifest? Obviously he isn’t go to ignore the post-game handshake or start some physical altercation. But if the Buckeyes are up comfortably in the fourth quarter, does he let it get out of hand?
This past Saturday in Tuscaloosa we saw the most shocking defeat since Ivan Drago knocked out Apollo Creed in front of James Brown in Las Vegas.
(ed note: I was really hoping for something different when I saw the title of today’s post. Alas.)
Texas A&M, long a midlevel Big 12 program trying to find a way to get back to its glory days of the early 20’s and retain mediocrity throughout the new millennium, went to Alabama and beat the undefeated defending national champion and SEC champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
And they didn’t do it with smoke and mirrors; they spread out Bama’s “NFL ready” defense, went up-tempo and exploited mismatches in the flats and occasionally took their shots down the field. They played solid defense against a not quite overwhelming Alabama offense and were able to put the game away with an interception in the shadow of their own goal line late to preserve the win.
That’s right, “Johnny Football” Manziel, a freshman replacing a quarterback taken in the top ten of the NFL draft and a first year head coach in Kevin Sumlin went to Alabama and shocked the world.
Not so shocking was the reaction that the A&M win brought from SEC shills and hack writers all over the country. Like for example: Did you know that Texas A&M is a national power in college football? Did you know that since they joined the SEC they are now among the nation’s elite battling it out every week in a conference that really should be called “NFL Lite”? It’s true! Ask Paul Finebaum or anyone at ESPN. Even Dan Patrick was in on the nonsense talk on Monday morning during an interview with CBS commentator Gary Danielson. When discussing just “how good” is Texas A&M while looking at the abomination that is their nonconference schedule (you think Ohio State plays cupcakes? Take a look at Texas A&M’s “murder’s row” of a nonconference schedule) all they could come up with as a reason that A&M is a threat on the national level is “well, they play that SEC schedule, so…”
To be clear: I’m not saying the SEC isn’t the best conference in the college football. The teams at the top are pretty darn good. But after seeing Texas A&M win IN Tuscaloosa in their first year in the SEC don’t you have to at least question the alleged depth of the conference? Remember, this is a conference that refuses to travel to play anyone of substance simply based on the claim that “This conference is too tough, you come and play SEC teams every week!” Well here’s the rub, Paww: Texas A&M is nobody. They weren’t that great last year and are working with a new head coach and quarterback breaking in and learning a new system this year. Despite that, they’ve managed to navigate your turbulent SEC schedule losing two tight games (that they actually lead late) to LSU and Florida, had close call wins at Old Miss and Bama while blowing out the balance. This is a team that barely held on to beat Northwestern in a bowl game (in Houston no less) last year while playing in a conference that everyone, especially SEC supporters and fans, says stinks.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t tell me that teams like Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State and USC would be “at best” 9-3 yearly in the SEC when a perennial doormat like Texas A&M can come into the conference and shake its foundation by knocking off its resident big dog in its own back yard and nearly beating the other bully’s on the block. I won’t buy this garbage any longer and neither should you.
Last week we discussed the national title picture and I said I’d like to see Notre Dame get a shot at Alabama. Let me change that: I want the Oregon Ducks more than ever to now get to Miami and Alabama to somehow make it there too. Why do I want to see Oregon against Alabama in the national championship? Because the Ducks will put 50 on them and force everyone to realize the reality that at the top of all the leagues the talent/depth gap is closing and in some cases has surpassed the top of the SEC.
Then again, why dump the Irish? With the way they have played defense to this point, why couldn’t Notre Dame have a better than fighting chance against the SEC champion? With them being as well balanced as they are, maybe even Kansas State too. And what about our Buckeyes? Hey, if Johnny Manziel can put numbers up on the vaunted Bama defense, why couldn’t Braxton Miller?
So I know what some of you are thinking: Dude, it’s one game. Bama got caught looking ahead after beating LSU blah blah blah… Stop it. This is the SEC. This is Alabama. A Big 12 team (because that’s what Texas A&M is, don’t deny it) doesn’t come to Alabama and beat the Tide in the middle of an undefeated season unless they themselves are undefeated national title contenders and even then they’re a long shot at best.
There is always a tipping point that everyone can look back to and say “that was the day” that something changed. On January 8th, 2007 we hit one such tipping point. For years we had been hearing this noise coming from the south that their conference was so much better and that that the teams up north or out west couldn’t hang with them. And that night they proved it. The perception of football in the Big Ten had been destroyed and is still trying to be rebuilt. If everything is cyclical as some suggest, that what goes around comes around, could we look back to November 10, 2012 as the day the SEC dominance began to crumble?
Admittedly, the only real indicator (since the SEC refuses to schedule anyone) is the results in bowl games. But things are beginning to align themselves together, whether they know it or not, against the SEC. If Urban Meyer is going to win national championships at Ohio State and USC is going to be USC and Notre Dame is going to rise to national relevance and Oregon is going to continue to blow teams doors off with a revolutionary offense and a team like Kansas State can climb the polls and find itself ranked number one with three weeks left in the season not to mention the Michigan’s and Nebraska’s of the world getting better and the always dangerous teams in Norman, Oklahoma and Austin, Texas… Think about it.
Wrap it up
This week begins the final charge to finish 12-0. One at a time, Badgers first. I like the Bucks chances in Camp Randall, but anything can happen. Urban Meyer is again the difference. Until next week, Go Bucks!
Metallica track of the week
We took a trip down memory lane discussing the rivalry with Wisconsin, so let’s take a trip to back to Orion night one 6/23/12 for a classic and an all-time favorite, Fade To Black!