Ohio State and Wisconsin, which have won or shared the past eight Big Ten championships, have stirred up an interesting football fight recently.
Three years ago, UW upset the No. 1 Buckeyes 31-18 and ruined their national title hopes. Two years ago, quarterback Braxton Miller’s touchdown bomb to Devin Smith in the final minute gave OSU a 33-29 win.
Last year, Ohio State had to go to overtime to knock off Wisconsin 21-14 and preserve its undefeated season.
On Saturday night, the stakes will be high again when No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) hosts No. 23 Wisconsin (3-1). Though it’s only the final week of September, this looms as the pivotal game in the Leaders Division.
“I found out last year that this is a heck of a rivalry,” second-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “Wisconsin has been at the top of the heap the past few years. Our players respect them as much as any team in the conference because of the success they’ve had.”
The fans, well, not so much. This has become a chippy and chirpy situation outside the stadium.
Just don’t look for the coaches to take part because Meyer and Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen are close friends.
“Gary and I talk quite often,” Meyer said. “Gary arguably was one of the most important hires we ever made.”
Meyer was the coach at Utah when he hired Andersen in 2004 to shore up his defensive line. The Utes went 12-0 that season and won the Fiesta Bowl.
“He took one of our weakest units — the defensive line — and with his presence and character and X’s and O’s made it a lot better,” Meyer said. “He made a direct impact on our program.
“I would put Gary as one of the top two or three hires I’ve ever made."
Meyer left for Florida the next season and asked Andersen to come along. But he stayed at Utah.
It wasn’t the first time Andersen picked his home state over a move. In 1984, he was recruited by Ohio State as a defensive lineman out of Ricks (Idaho) Junior College. But the first-team All-American picked Utah.
Meyer and Andersen share more than time working together. Both have ended up in the hospital for ailments exacerbated by overwork.
Meyer was hospitalized after the 2009 Southeastern Conference championship game with chest pains and exhaustion. Andersen, in 2010, collapsed at home from exhaustion and suffered two broken neck vertebra in the fall.
“We both have an extreme passion — which is probably one of our nemeses — we’re maybe a little too passionate at times for what we do,” Andersen said. “I think we’ve both learned through the years.”
Meyer didn’t learn of Andersen’s injury until he turned on a TV and saw him coaching in a neck brace.
“I was very worried about him,” Meyer said. “He had an issue. He puts everything into his job. It took a toll on him.”
With the friendship that has developed, don’t be surprised if the two men exchange a hug before Saturday’s game. Don’t be surprised if the fan bases don’t.
As for the game, it appears Miller (knee) will be healthy enough to start. The Buckeye offense gets more weapons back each week from either injury or suspension.
That will make OSU too much for Wisconsin to overcome, unless Badger quarterback Joel Stave’s passing improves greatly. He must hit some deep balls to give the UW running game a little room to operate.
My pick: Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 24
Other Big Ten Games
Iowa (3-1) at Minnesota (4-0), 2:30 p.m., ABC: Who would have thought a month ago that this would be a meaningful Legends Division game? This is large for both teams. If Iowa could steal a road win, it might remove the cloud that has hung over the program the past two years. Minnesota, if it gets to 5-0, could finally convince a lukewarm fan base to get on board. Minnesota 21, Iowa 20
Miami of Ohio (0-3) at Illinois (2-1), 11 a.m., BTN: The Illini, a week before playing at Nebraska, should have no trouble. Miami of Ohio has been outscored on average 36-7 in its first three games. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois, who regressed in a loss to Washington, will look to get back in rhythm. Illinois 42, Miami of Ohio 14
Northern Illinois (3-0) at Purdue (1-3), 11 a.m., ESPN2: Purdue sure gets a lot of nice national TV time — ABC, ABC, ESPN2 the past three games — for being so mediocre. First-year coach Darrell Hazell probably wishes the Boilermakers were less exposed. Northern Illinois already has won at Iowa and should do the same here. Northern Illinois 34, Purdue 21