2014 Big Ten Championship Preview: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

    Wisconsin (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1) Dec. 6, 8:15, FOX Here’s The Deal: It seems sort of odd that winning the Big Ten championship isn’t really enough,

    December 5, 2014

    Wisconsin (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1) Dec. 6, 8:15, FOX 

    Here’s The Deal: It seems sort of odd that winning the Big Ten championship isn’t really enough, but it’s just not. 

    Yes, Ohio State would love to win the Big Ten title game after gagging it away last year against Michigan State, but the overall focus is on being No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings more than it is on being No. 1 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes aren’t just playing the Badgers; they’re playing everyone in the top four – and everyone who wins one of the big games this weekend – needing to come up with a showstopper performance to show the 12 people in the room at the Gaylord Hotel just outside of Dallas that they have to be let into the party. They have to come up with something that makes the 2015 College Football Playoff incomplete if they’re not a part of it. 

    Meanwhile, Wisconsin doesn’t have a Rose Bowl to shoot for. Not in the playoff contention no matter what happens, the Badgers have to settle – with the term being used loosely – for one of the New Year’s Six bowl appearances, which would be nice, and it would mean a phenomenal fourth Big Ten championship and a third 11th win season in five years. 

    While there might not be a trip to Pasadena coming with a win, there could be a Heisman if Melvin Gordon goes off and Marcus Mariota struggles a bit against Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game, and more than anything else, the program would be firmly established as the signature star and superpower of the Big Ten. For all of Ohio State’s advantages, and for all of its success, a third Wisconsin coach winning a conference title, and considering the success of the last five years, would still mean there’s catching up to do for Urban’s bunch. 

    Ohio State really did win the 2012 Big Ten, even if Wisconsin won the championship – the Buckeyes went 12-0 but weren’t eligible to play for the title – but a loss would make this a second straight loss in Indy, and including the loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, would make it the third really, really big game – the Michigan State win was just really big – Urban wasn’t able to bring home. It, of course, would also mean the end of any playoff dream. 

    The Buckeyes won the meeting in Columbus last year and have won three straight going back to the 2010 loss in Madison – their only loss of the year. This time around, a win would put them back on top of the Big Ten mountain. A blowout win might give them a chance to play for a shot to be at the top of the college football world. 

    Why Wisconsin Might Win: J.T. Barrett isn’t playing. Cardale Jones might be a decent talent, and he might have a good supporting class around him, but he’s not Barrett, the best quarterback in the Big Ten this season and a fringe Heisman candidate. Ohio State has to rely more on the power running game and has to get the offensive line into a lather, but even when Minnesota and Iowa were able to get their respective ground attacks working, the Badgers still held when they had to and still came away with the win. 

    The biggest overall question mark is simple: can Ohio State stop the Badger running game once it gets moving? It struggled with David Cobb and Minnesota, and got lit up by Tevin Coleman and Indiana. The overall yardage stats aren’t bad since there haven’t been too many games against decent running teams, but the Buckeyes have allowed 21 rushing touchdowns on the year and 11 in the last four games. If Drake Johnson and Michigan could power the ball, Wisconsin shouldn’t have a problem getting No. 25 rolling. 

    Why Ohio State Might Win: The short-to-midrange passing game. The Buckeyes aren’t going to ask Jones to be Aaron Rodgers, but he can hit the short-to-midrange passes and he should be able to get his receivers in spots where they can do something with the ball. Iowa’s Jake Rudock found a groove in the near miss against the Badgers, throwing for 311 yards and two touchdowns, and Purdue was able to have some success by getting its speedy playmakers on the move. Wisconsin is great against the plodders, and the defense doesn’t have any problems with the one-dimensional, but it’ll have issues if Jones and the offense can dictate the tempo. 

    At some point, Wisconsin will have to throw the ball. The Minnesota game was used as sort of a set up for the Big Ten championship game by making the Ohio State coaches worry about a downfield passing game. Minnesota loaded up to stop Gordon and was ripped apart by Joel Stave, who had more than enough time to work. Ohio State has to get into the backfield and make Stave rush a bit, and unlike Minnesota, the Buckeye defensive backs should be able to erase the Wisconsin receivers. 

    Who To Watch Out For: Can Alex Erickson do that again? The Wisconsin offense is a totally different animal when it’s able to connect on a big pass play once in a while, but the receivers are a wee bit lacking. Erickson isn’t Jared Abbrederis – who destroyed the OSU secondary last year – but he came up with five catches for 160 yards last week. If he can somehow make one or two big plays down the field on key third down chances, that’s all that will matter. Of course, in a game like this, Wisconsin is going to go with its fastball, which means Gordon, Gordon and more Gordon. Held to just 74 yards on 15 carries last year, he averaged under five yards per pop for one of the few times in his career. 

    The spotlight, of course, is all on Jones, who came in and struggled a bit when thrown into the fire against Michigan, but he’s had a full week of practice, is a big and strong thrower, and he has the tools and talents around him to be just good enough for what the Buckeyes need. This has to be Ezekiel Elliott’s game to take the pressure off Jones, though. Averaging six yards per carry with 100 yards rushing in three of the last four games, he’s going to be more of a workhorse this week. Urban screwed up last year by not feeding Carlos Hyde enough – he won’t make that same mistake twice. 

    What’s Going To Happen: It was a different Ohio State team in the win over Michigan State this year. It was an angry, chip-on-shoulder team that looked to make a statement after last year’s Big Ten championship loss. With the Kosta Karageorge tragedy, the loss of the starting quarterback, being an underdog, and, oh yeah, blowing it last year with everything there for the taking, how many more motivating factors can one team have? It won’t be the blowout needed to force out anyone in the top four – if those teams win – but it’ll be a good, strong Ohio State victory that will make it tough on the committee if there’s an opening late Saturday night. 

    Prediction: Ohio State 34 … Wisconsin 27 
    Line: Wisconsin -4 o/u: 53 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: The Interview – 1: CMA Country Christmas … 5 

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