Wisconsin Improved, but is that Enough vs. Ohio State?
Nothing stays the same forever, or even for six weeks, so it's inarguable both No. 1 Ohio State and No. 8 Wisconsin are different teams now than they were Oct. 26 when they played in Columbus.
What matters is whether the Buckeyes (12-0) are worse and the Badgers (10-2) are better to a significant enough degree that the outcome of their Big Ten championship game Saturday night will be different than OSU's 38-7 win six weeks ago.
That's probably a, no.
Oddsmakers certainly think there's enough staying power to Ohio State's superiority that they've installed the Buckeyes as 18-point favorites to win a third straight undisputed conference title.
That's never been done at OSU, which is mind-blowing, considering all that has been done under the umbrella of the football program's greatness down through the decades.
At a place where they've won seven (sorry, the 1970 title OSU claims is bogus, given its loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl) national championships and 37 Big Ben championships, it's significant to accomplish something no era of excellence has ever quite matched.
"I think it would be huge," OSU coach Ryan Day said. "To go win this thing undefeated would say a lot about our team. The last couple years there’s been that trip up along the way, then we had to rally to go win that. I thought that said a lot about the character of the program both last two years.
"This one is a little bit different. Now it’s more about can we sustain this level of play throughout this regular season, now into this championship season. That’s the challenge."
The rematch with Wisconsin makes the bid to get to 13-0 unique. It's the first time Ohio State has played the same opponent twice in a season since meeting UCLA early in the 1975 season and again in the Rose Bowl.
That's not a pleasant memory for OSU old-timers, given the 41-20 pounding the Buckeyes administered in Los Angeles in September, only to get clubbed, 23-10m on New Year's Day in Archie Griffin's final college game.
That loss cost Ohio State the national championship.
A defeat Saturday in Indianapolis would not, although it would knock OSU off the No. 1 ranking and perhaps make their route to a title in the College Football Playoff more difficult.
Not as difficult, mind you, as Wisconsin's task turning around a 31-point beating from these teams' first meeting.
There’s no question we are a better team (than last time)." said Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, whose team has won five straight. "I think you can make an argument they’re a better team as well.
"One thing I do feel good about is that we’ve had guys continuing to step up. New names are contributing and helping. Some are new names that are playing and playing at a higher level... it’s going to come down to playing good football Saturday night.”.
Unless Chryst has discovered some new, All-American offensive linemen, Wisconsin's biggest challenge will start with improving its success -- make that, having success -- blocking OSU defensive end Chase Young.
He had four sacks and two forced fumbles in the first game, while J.K. Dobbins and Justin Fields did the damage for the Buckeyes' offense.
OSU leads the nation in scoring (49.9) and is No. 4 in fewest points allowed (11.8), which explains why it's an overwhelming favorite to remain unbeaten.
"That's something that we’ve been focused on week in, week out," Day said. "Now here we go. Head towards that finish line the last, you know, homestretch. Then after we get done with that we come up for air and figure out what’s next. All our eyes are on that finish line."
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