B1G Championship preview: (4) Wisconsin vs (8) Ohio State

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (12-0, 9-0) vs the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2, 8-1)

The time: 7 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Lucas Oil Field, Indianapolis, Ind.

The TV coverage: FOX with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt in the booth, and Jenny Taft on the sideline.

The last time: No. 2 Ohio State came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to beat No. 8 Wisconsin in overtime 38-31 last October in Madison.

The series: Ohio State leads 58-18-5

The line: Ohio State -6

The Badgers injury report:

OUT

Game:

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)
OLB Noah Burks (leg)

Season:

WR Quintez Cephus (leg)
S Patrick Johnson (arm)
RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)
TE Zander Neuville (leg)
RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FOUR THINGS TO WATCH

1) Biggest game in school history

It may seem like hyperbole, but Saturday night’s game is the biggest in Wisconsin football history. A win against one of the blue bloods of the sport would give the Badgers their first Big Ten title since 2012, almost surely punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff and leave them just two victories short of the school’s first national championship. A loss wouldn’t make the season a failure, but it would be looked at as a missed opportunity to make a splash the rest of the country couldn’t ignore, one that would force the doubters to at least respect what the program has become. This is not the first time Wisconsin has been in position to make that statement but it’s certainly its best and something the Badgers can’t let fall by the wayside.

2) Containing J.T. Barrett

The big story this week has been the knee injury to Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, the one that knocked him out in the third quarter of last week’s game at Michigan. The senior reportedly had arthroscopic surgery on the knee on Sunday, but coach Urban Meyer is expecting him to play. If he does, then it becomes vital for the Wisconsin defense to keep him in the pocket. In last season’s game, Barrett was Ohio State’s leading rusher with 92 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. It’s not that he can’t beat you with his arm — he can — but if you’re Wisconsin, you want to force him to show it again.

3) No turnovers

Wisconsin is a bit of anomaly this season. You don’t normally see an unbeaten team like the Badgers turn the ball over as much as they do. They rank No. 97 in the country with 21 turnovers and there are only three FBS teams with a winning record that have more than that. It’s not an every player problem. In fact, it’s mainly a two player issue — quarterback Alex Hornibrook and running back Jonathan Taylor. The duo has accounted for 18 of the 21 turnovers this year. Wisconsin’s defense has been able to erase many of those mistakes, but you sure don’t want to put them in that position against the most explosive offense the Badgers have faced this year.

4) Redemption

When people hear the term redemption in regards to this game, most probably think of the 59-0 shellacking that Ohio State delivered to Wisconsin in the 2014 title game. But they would be wrong. Sure, that one hurt, but that game was over almost as soon as it started. No, the game the Badgers want (need?) redemption for is the 2016 title game when they blew a 28-7 lead to Penn State and lost 38-31. A defense that was so good all year, got exposed with big plays down the field and some brilliance from All-American running back Saquon Barkley. Nearly all of Wisconsin’s defenders from that game are still around and have told the media this week they believe they learned some valuable lessons as a result of that collapse. We could see if that’s true on Saturday night.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin is an underdog for the first time in 20 games. The last time the Badgers weren’t favored was the Buckeyes visit to Camp Randall Stadium last October.

Current or former walk-ons have combined for 862 yards of total offense, seven touchdowns, 117 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, four sacks and four interceptions this season for Wisconsin.

The Badgers are allowing just 236.9 yards per game, the lowest mark by a Wisconsin team since 1954.

Hype videos

A couple of the better hype videos to get you ready for the game:

ZONE PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 21
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Ohio State 24
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 21
Danny Cunningham’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 21

NATIONAL PREDICTIONS

Wisconsin (14)

Eric Single, SI.com: Wisconsin
Molly Geary, SI.com: Wisconsin
Andy Staples, SI.com: Wisconsin
Joan Niesen, SI.com: Wisconsin
Paul Myerberg, USA Today: Wisconsin
George Schroeder, USA Today: Wisconsin
Erick Smith, USA Today: Wisconsin
Eddie Timanus, USA Today: Wisconsin
Dan Wolken, USA Today: Wisconsin
Corby Davidson, Sportsday: Wisconsin
Rich Cirminiello, College Football News: Wisconsin
Jeff Feyerer, College Football News: Wisconsin
Pete Fiutak, College Football News: Wisconsin
Mitch Light, Athlon Sports: Wisconsin

Ohio State (18)

Edward Aschoff, ESPN: Ohio State
Zac Al-Khateeb, Sporting News: Ohio State
Tom Fornelli, CBS Sports: Ohio State
Bruce Feldman, SI.com: Ohio State
Chris Johnson, SI.com: Ohio State
Scooby Axson, SI.com: Ohio State
Jace Evans, USA Today: Ohio State
Ben Baby, Sportsday: Ohio State
Scott Bells, Sportsday: Ohio State
Chuck Carlton, Sportsday: Ohio State
Adam Grosbard, Sportsday: Ohio State
Ric Renner, Sportsday: Ohio State
Newy Scruggs, Sportsday: Ohio State
Kevin Sherrington, Sportsday: Ohio State
Brett Vito, Sportsday: Ohio State
Ralph Russo, Associated Press: Ohio State
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports: Ohio State
Bryan Bischer, Athlon Sports: Ohio State

Big Ten Championship; Three keys to Wisconsin winning

INDIANAPOLIS – Wisconsin heads into Saturday’s matchup with Ohio State searching for their first Big Ten Championship since 2012. The Badgers enter the game perfect on the season at 12-0, but haven’t faced a team quite as talented as the Buckeyes to date.

The Buckeyes come into the contest at 10-2 on the season. At times, they’ve looked like one of the best teams in the country, but on other occasions they’ve looked rather pedestrian.

Here are three keys to a Badger win on Saturday night:

1. Ohio State defensive lineman Nick Bosa was awarded as the Big Ten Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the year earlier this week. The matchup between Bosa and the Wisconsin offensive line will be a very interesting one to watch on Saturday. So far, this season Bosa has 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks and both of those marks pace the Buckeyes.

“I think [Ohio State] and Michigan had some of the best edge rushers I’ve seen this year,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said earlier this week. “One-hundred percent it will be my biggest challenge, especially on this stage, out there at tackle.”

Not only was Deiter speaking about Bosa, but also defensive end Sam Hubbard. Hubbard was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten this year and has 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks on the year. Things don’t end there for the Buckeye defensive line, Tyquan Lewis was also a consensus first-team selection, and Dre’mont Jones was named to the third-team by the media.

Wisconsin likely has the best offensive line that Ohio State has faced this season, but this will be a true battle of strengths. The Badgers must be able to open holes for freshman running back Jonathan Taylor to help keep quarterback Alex Hornibrook out of obvious passing situations. When the Badgers do fall into obvious throwing situations, the offensive line must keep Hornibrook upright.

2. Hornibrook’s favorite target this year has been senior tight end Troy Fumagalli. He leads the Badgers with 38 grabs on the season for 471 yards and four touchdowns despite missing some time due to injury. On the contrary, Ohio State has struggled defending tight ends in the play-action passing game at times this season.

Against Iowa, the Buckeyes allowed a combined nine catches for 125 yards and four touchdowns to tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant of the Hawkeyes. Those two aren’t necessarily mirror images of Fumagalli, but the area of weakness remains on the Buckeye defense. As recent as last week there were multiple instances of intermediate routes being open for Michigan’s offense. Wolverines’ quarterback John O’Korn was unable to find his teammates, however.

Hornibrook should be able to find Fumagalli in key situations, just as he has often attempted to do this year. That’s an area of weakness that the Badgers should look to exploit.

3. When Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was removed from the game against Michigan last week immediate uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position for the Buckeyes emerged. Backup Dwayne Haskins entered the game for Ohio State and helped them to win the game.

News broke during the week that Barrett had surgery on his knee on Sunday following the Michigan game but is expected to play against Wisconsin. His effectiveness is yet to be seen. Ohio State head coach told the media that Barrett had practiced throughout the week and is cleared to play, but never declared Barrett the starter.

Barrett is a quarterback that’s able to extend plays and escape the pocket when things break down around him. If his knee isn’t right and his running ability suffers because of that, Wisconsin’s already stout defense could be in even better position. The Badgers would be able to key on running backs Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins in running situations and presumably be able to get to Barrett easier when the pocket collapses.

Barrett has been inconsistent throwing the ball, even when he’s been healthy. Wisconsin’s defense could take control of the game and force Barrett into mistakes and make things much more difficult than they normally do. Wisconsin’s chance at winning improves exponentially if those things happen.

Prediction: Early in the week I was leaning towards taking the Buckeyes, and I did go on record picking them before news of Barrett’s knee procedure broke. His health is my deciding factor, it takes an incredibly special athlete to be able to play in a football game six days after having surgery. While I commend Barrett for having the guts to try and suit up with his teammates, I don’t think he’ll play well enough for the Buckeyes to win.

Wisconsin 24-21