Badgers are Buckeyes' next hurdle in title hunt
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--The noise rising from every corner of Ohio Stadium was deafening.
The feeling among the Ohio State players and coaches was pure euphoria.
“That day was one of the best days,” Ohio State senior safety Christian Bryant said, “just because we sent the seniors out right and that was one of our goals throughout the whole season.
“We knew we couldn’t compete for a Big Ten or a national championship so we dedicated the season to the seniors. That game, capping off that 12-0 season and beating our biggest rivals, that evening was a great feeling.”
That game is referred to as “The Game” by Ohio State and Michigan fans.
The Buckeyes prevailed last season, 26-21, to give Urban Meyer a perfect 12-0 record. Because the Buckeyes were ineligible to compete in postseason play, beating Michigan and finishing unbeaten, one year after a 6-7 finish, was akin to winning a national title.
This season, the Buckeyes want the real thing. The Big Ten championship. A national title.
Free from NCAA sanctions, the Buckeyes (4-0, 0-0 Big Ten) are ranked in the top four of both major polls as they welcome Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0) for a critical Leaders Division game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
For the Buckeyes, UW is another obstacle along a path that was blocked last season by the one-year postseason ban.
“That will add fuel to our fire,” Bryant said. “We have more of a chip on our shoulder than we did coming off that 6-7 season.
“We know where we should have been last season and we weren’t able to accomplish the goals we wanted. It was like living in a fantasyland, wanting to do something and knowing we couldn’t do it.”
The feeling immediately after the victory over Michigan last November slowly morphed into frustration.
“I think when bowl season rolled around everybody had that (sick) feeling in their stomach,” senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “We’re all competitors. We wanted to be playing. But we had to move forward. We couldn’t be holding grudges. Who were we going to get mad at?
“Decisions were made by other guys. I think we did a good job focusing on the future….I think good leadership by our core guys is what got us through it.”
The Buckeyes first had to get through sitting home for the Big Ten title game, featuring UW and Nebraska.
Ohio State rushed for 371 yards and six touchdowns in a 63-38 victory over Nebraska on Oct. 6 in Columbus. Six weeks later, the Buckeyes made enough plays to edge UW in overtime, 21-14, despite generating only 236 yards on offense.
Bryant, who had a victory-clinching pass breakup in overtime against UW, had no interest in seeing the Badgers and Nebraska meet in the Big Ten title game.
“I didn’t watch it,” he said. “I watched every other conference championship game but not the Big Ten’s.
“Just because I knew we should have been there. Because of all that happened I knew we couldn’t be. But I didn’t really want to watch two teams that I had already seen.
“I didn’t watch the game. I don’t remember what I did that night but I know I didn’t watch that game.”
Nor did Mewhort.
“I didn’t need to see that,” he said.
Both players did watch once-beaten Alabama crush unbeaten Notre Dame in the BCS title game.
Without the sanctions, the Buckeyes likely would have faced the Irish.
“Hopefully we would have been the ones beating Notre Dame like that,” Bryant said.
To get to the BCS title game this season the Buckeyes first have to win the Big Ten title.
The ideal scenario for the Buckeyes? Beating Michigan in the regular-season finale as they did last season and then facing their rival from the Legends Division in the league title game one week later.
“I think it would be a lot of fun,” said Mewhort, who grew up in Toledo just a few miles from the Michigan state line. “Obviously growing up, every time that game came around there was a huge buzz. So I think playing them two weeks in a row would be unbelievable.
“It would present physical and emotional challenges for us. But there is no doubt in my mind that this team could stand up to the challenge.
“I think looking back to say that we played in ‘The Game’ two weeks in a row is something I would never forget.”