COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – It used to be that Ohio State players despised their longtime enemies to the north, Michigan, and abided everyone else on their schedule.
Now the Buckeyes also have a special level of dislike for the Wisconsin Badgers.
“I don’t want to go on record saying that I hate Wisconsin more than Michigan,” Buckeyes wide receiver Corey Brown said, “but I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan.”
A lot of that enmity will likely bubble to the surface when the sixth-ranked and unbeaten Buckeyes travel to play the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
Blame the antagonism on chippy, close, contentious games the past few years. Each side says the other’s fans are obnoxious. Both have accused each other of grandstanding after victories, such as dancing on the opposing team’s logo at midfield after a rare road win.
Along the way, they’ve worked up a heated little rivalry where once there was none.
This year’s edition began during the middle of the winter. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema alleged that Ohio State’s Urban Meyer was swooping in and stealing verbal commitments. Both coaches downplay it now. At the time it seemed like a natural extension of the battles that have been taking place on the field.
“We do a lot of recruiting in Ohio. So the kids know each other,” Bielema said of the rivalry this week. “That builds up a little bit of animosity and some feelings out there more than anything. I’ve learned early on in my coaching career you lose more friends in recruiting in the coaching world than you do on game days.”
The Badgers have three starters from the Buckeye State, including star linebacker Chris Borland (second in tackles and first in sacks and fumbles recovered), along with tight end Brian Wozniak and defensive lineman Pat Muldoon. Chase Hammond is a backup wide receiver and Darius Hillary is a second-teamer at cornerback as a freshman.
Once just a blip on the schedule, now the game’s recent history raises the rancor on both sides.
The Buckeyes won every meeting between 1960 and 1980, and have a 54-17-5 lead in the series. That mark does not count one of the most painful losses ever to the Badgers. Two years ago, the last time the Buckeyes visited America’s Dairyland, Ohio State was 6-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation but David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and the Buckeyes fell behind 21-3 at the half on the way to a 31-18 loss to the No. 18 Badgers. (Ohio State had to vacate the 2010 season as part of NCAA sanctions for violations committed under deposed coach Jim Tressel.)
“I continually think about when we were ranked No. 1 a couple of years ago going into their house,” Ohio State cornerback Travis Howard said. “They took that away. A lot of guys on the team, especially the seniors, are continually thinking about that moment and don’t want it to happen again – especially with the perfect season we’re having.”
Just last year, the Buckeyes broke the Badgers’ hearts. Quarterback Braxton Miller danced around to avoid a rush and heaved a 40-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds remaining to upset No. 15 Wisconsin, 33-29, in Ohio Stadium.
“It comes up a lot in the players’ minds,” said Wisconsin’s record-setting running back, Montee Ball. “That was a game we felt we could have won and we didn’t. We just tell everybody that same thing can happen if we don’t go out and execute the way we want to. And way we plan to.”
The circumstances of this meeting are somewhat strange. Because Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for the postseason, Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) has already clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game. The Badgers punched their ticket last week with a 62-14 rout at Indiana, rushing for a school-record 564 yards – 8.8 per carry – and seven touchdowns.
Ball had 198 yards and three scores, giving him 77 total TDs in his career. With one more, he would match Miami (Ohio)’s Travis Prentice for the NCAA record.
“I’m very aware of it,” Ball said. “But mainly what I’m focusing on is and I talk to (running backs) coach (Thomas) Hammock about it every day, and he makes sure to tell me that try not to think about it, keep doing what you’re doing and it will unfold.”
The Badgers may lean on the ground game again – they attempted only seven passes against the Hoosiers in their first contest since quarterback Joel Stave’s season-ending injury – but Bielema said they won’t rest players to gear up for the Big Ten title game.
They would love nothing more than to hand Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) its first loss, but with nothing to play for beyond next weekend’s showdown with Michigan, the Buckeyes are firmly focused on finishing with a perfect record.
“We need to be 12-0,” fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren said. “It’s one game at a time. We’re not thinking about injuries, polls (or the fact that) we have nothing after the Team Up North game. We’ve got the two biggest games of the season coming up.”