OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (10-2)
vs. WISCONSIN BADGERS (12-0)
Big Ten Championship – Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, IN
Kickoff: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Ohio State -5.5, Total: 53.5
#3 Wisconsin looks to solidify a spot in the College Football Playoff with a Big Ten Championship victory over #8 Ohio State on Saturday.
All year long, the “experts” in the media have crushed Wisconsin for playing an incredibly easy regular season schedule. The Badgers are a perfect 12-0 and, as of last week, are on the outside looking in for a spot in the CFP. That could, however, change this week. With some losses ahead of them, the Badgers are now a team that is seemingly one win away. That will, however, be one of the toughest victories in the history of the program for them to earn. Ohio State is one of the best teams in the nation, and the Buckeyes are a lot better than their record suggests. They lost to both Oklahoma and Iowa this season, but Ohio State still has a small chance of making it, which will make them come out ready to go in this one. The Buckeyes will also be the more confident team when they take the field, as they have won five straight games against the Badgers. Ohio State also happens to be 3-1-1 ATS in those contests, and the team won 59-0 the last time these teams met in the Big Ten Championship (2014). One trend that stands out when looking at this game is the fact that good offensive teams (averaging 390 to 440 yards per game - Wisconsin) are 26-7 ATS after gaining 7.25 or more yards per play in their previous game over the past 10 seasons when facing a good defense (allowing 280 to 330 YPG after seven or more games). It’s worth noting that OSU QB J.T. Barrett was injured last game. He was unable to finish the contest, and it would be a huge advantage for the Badgers if he can’t go on Saturday.
If Wisconsin is going to find a way to beat Ohio State on Saturday then QB Alex Hornibrook is going to need to show up for the Badgers. Hornibrook is viewed as a game manager-type for this offense, but he hasn’t exactly been that this season. The lefty sophomore has thrown 13 interceptions on the year, which is an insanely high number for a team that runs as well as Wisconsin. The Badgers will need him to take care of the football, but he also needs to make plays in the passing game. In the biggest game of the year thus far, Hornibrook went just 9-for-19 for 143 yards with a touchdown and a pick in a 24-10 victory over Michigan two weeks ago. He was absolutely miserable in the first half, but he bounced back to make some huge throws late. He then shredded Minnesota last week, going 15-for-19 for 151 yards with three touchdowns and no picks. The hope for Wisconsin is that he is finally feeling confident and that is huge heading into this one. The Buckeyes are going to dare Hornibrook to beat them through the air, and they’ll focus all their attention on slowing down RB Jonathan Taylor here. Taylor is third in the nation in rushing yards this season, as he has exploded for 1,806 as a true freshman. Taylor has also found the end zone 13 times and has rushed or 130 or more yards in four straight games. He’ll definitely find a few holes in this one, but his job would be a lot easier if Hornibrook shows up here. Defensively, the Badgers will likely be able to slow down the Buckeyes to some extent on Saturday. Wisconsin is the top team in the country in total defense, allowing just 2,843 yards on the season. The Badgers also allowed just 12.0 PPG this year, which is the second-best number in the country. The one area where this team is vulnerable is in the secondary, but it’s not very likely that Barrett or backup Dwayne Haskins Jr. will be able to shred them over the top.
If QB J.T. Barrett can’t play against the Badgers on Saturday then it wouldn’t be the first time that head coach Urban Meyer is tasked with beating Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship with a backup quarterback. That’s exactly what the Buckeyes needed to do in 2014, when they beat the Badgers 59-0. There’s still a chance that Barrett can play, and that would obviously give the team its best chance to win here. Barrett is one of the best players in college football, but his backup also showed a lot in some action against Michigan last week. Haskins Jr. completed 6-of-7 passes for 94 yards in the air, and he also added three rushes for 24 yards. His dual-threat ability is something that will allow the Buckeyes to keep using the same playbook. So Ohio State will be in good hands under center no matter what. And the team also happens to be loaded at the skill positions, as RB J.K. Dobbins and WR Parris Campbell are two explosive players. Both will be threats to make some huge plays against Wisconsin on Saturday. Defensively, Ohio State needs to do what it can to slow down the Badgers’ rushing attack here. If the Buckeyes can stop Taylor in this game then it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll win this game. The Badgers have a lousy passing attack and that’s not likely to change here.