Wisconsin-Ohio St. Preview
(AP) - For most of the season, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has barely feigned knowledge of or interest in the College Football Playoff.
That all changed on a Big Ten championship game teleconference.
The third-year Buckeyes coach was asked if he thought the CFP panel would downgrade his team after quarterback J.T. Barrett broke his ankle in Saturday's win over Michigan.
"I think that's wrong, if that happens," he said, clearly upset. "Whether it's Ohio State or some other team, I don't know how you do that."
The CFP panel may have taken his words to heart, moving the Buckeyes up one spot to No. 5 in the latest rankings released Tuesday night.That slight move forward went against thinking that Ohio State is less worthy of a playoff spot because it's not as good a team without Barrett, who took over for the injured Braxton Miller and had a sensational season with a school-record 35 touchdown passes and 3,772 total yards.
The Buckeyes (11-1, 8-0), are preparing redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones to start in the conference title game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday.
Awaiting them is No. 13 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-1), which says that Heisman Trophy hopeful Melvin Gordon will play despite spraining his ankle last week against Minnesota.
The Badgers certainly would be worse off without their star running back, who has run for a Big Ten-record 2,260 yards and set a single-game mark with 408 against Nebraska on Nov. 15 that was quickly broken by Oklahoma's Samaje Perine (427) the next week.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen is keeping a close eye on Gordon considering his heavy workload the last two weeks: 60 carries for 351 yards against Iowa and the Gophers.
"It's got me on high alert and the only thing I can do is listen to Melvin Gordon, because I know Melvin is going to tell me what his mindset is - and he will be 100 percent ready to roll on Saturday," Andersen said.
It should help that backup Corey Clement, who has been bothered by a right shoulder injury, is getting better. He ran for 89 yards on seven carries in the second half against Minnesota, and Andersen expects Clement to get more touches.
Gordon, though, remains the top option for the Badgers.
"You stop Melvin Gordon, I think we've got a great chance," Buckeyes linebacker Curtis Grant said.
The teams haven't met this season, though Ohio State can draw confidence from a 31-24 win in Columbus last Sept. 28. Gordon was held to 74 yards on 15 carries but he was splitting time with James White, now with the New England Patriots.
"In order to stop a running game, you've got to have great team defense, you've got to surround the ball, you've got to build a wall at the line of scrimmage, you've got to swarm tackles," Buckeyes defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said.
Gordon has been getting better as the season wears on, averaging 241 yards rushing over his last four games. More than 40 percent of his yards have come in that span.
Ohio State quarterbacks coach Tom Herman, who helped turn Barrett into another Miller, is now assigned with turning Jones into another Barrett. He can't imagine if the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin that it could be held against them that they overcame two crippling injuries at the most valuable and vulnerable of positions.
"I think that would be crazy," he said. "To say do I expect it or not expect it or whatever, I don't know what to expect. But I can't imagine that would be the case."
It was considered a body blow to Ohio State's season hopes when Miller - a three-year starter, two-time conference MVP and considered a top candidate for the Heisman as a senior - re-injured his throwing shoulder in August and was lost for the year.
But the Buckeyes weathered that storm, overcoming an early loss to Virginia Tech to win their final 10 games and capture the Big Ten's East Division.
And then down went Barrett, who had surgery Sunday and is out until spring practice, when he'll have a limited role while he and Miller will likely battle for the No. 1 job.
Meyer believes that Ohio State should get credit for overcoming the injuries, not punished for suffering them.
"You lose one Heisman Trophy candidate before the season starts, and then another guy in game (12) who's also a Heisman candidate," Meyer said. "That's a positive that your team can still function. It tells you about the talent and depth on your team."
Almost everyone, with Ohio State's team and around the nation, was amazed how quickly Barrett stepped into Miller's role as a game-changing signal-caller.
Meyer was asked Monday whether Jones could make a similar transformation in one week.
"Well, we're going to find out," he said.