Badgers, Buckeyes not very friendly
COLUMBUS (AP) — For teams that don’t classify themselves as rivals, Wisconsin and Ohio State sure don’t seem to like each other much.
Harsh words are traded, grudges are held, classic games are played.
And now they both have the season riding on the outcome of Saturday’s showdown at Ohio Stadium.
“We always say you can’t play football without emotion,” Buckeyes linebacker Etienne Sabino said. “So as far as this game, in particular, I don’t know, maybe the night game might hype it up a little bit more. But it’s always going to be emotional.”
The 12th-ranked Badgers (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten), trying their best to put last week’s stunning, last-second loss to Michigan State in the rearview mirror, are hoping to get back into the national championship picture while also setting themselves up in the conference. The Buckeyes (4-3, 1-2) can still salvage a year in which they’ve fought off NCAA probes, suspensions and setbacks.
The stakes are high. So are the emotions.
“For us, it comes down to going to Ohio State this week and taking care of business,” Wisconsin offensive lineman Travis Frederick said.
There are lots of undercurrents to the game.
To begin with, it’s Ohio State’s homecoming, the Buckeyes are wearing snazzy new uniforms and the game is at night — providing ample time for a crowd of more than 105,000 to, uh, get properly fueled for the drama.
In addition, these are teams that after years of domination by Ohio State have settled into a comfortable competition, trading big wins and bragging rights. Over the last 10 meetings, each has won five times.
Along the way, there has been a lot of pain and controversy.
A year ago, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 and unbeaten when they went to Madison, Wis., to take on the 18th-ranked Badgers. Again, the game was at night and the mob at Camp Randall didn’t have to wait long to have something to cheer about.
Wisconsin ran off the first 21 points and then held on for a 31-18 victory. It would prove to be the only loss for an Ohio State team (12-1) that would end up vacating the entire season and a sixth straight Big Ten title because of NCAA violations.
A week later, then Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor took some shots at Wisconsin, saying, “Everybody knows that if we play, nine out of 10 times, we’d beat Wisconsin.”
That rankled the Badgers, in particular coach Bret Bielema.
During the Big Ten’s preseason meetings this summer, he expressed disappointment that Pryor — a key figure in the NCAA problems that brought down coach Jim Tressel — had given up his senior season to jump to the NFL.
“The only bad part about Terrelle leaving is he kind of claimed the week after that it was a fluke, that they’d beat us nine out of 10 times,” Bielema said. “We really wanted to play that game against him. Unfortunately, we won’t. But I think our kids know what they did last year.”
Asked this week about what Pryor said, Buckeyes tight end Jake Stoneburner laughed and then distanced himself from his former teammate.
“(Terrelle) added fuel to the fire,” Stoneburner said. “He’s not here anymore so we can’t really deal with what he said. He’s off doing his own thing (with the Oakland Raiders). But I’m sure if he was here, that would be a different animal.”
Then, after Wisconsin also ruined another unbeaten Ohio State team’s No. 1 ranking, beating the men’s basketball team last February when the Buckeyes were 24-0, football wide receiver DeVier Posey and a couple of teammates expressed themselves on Twitter.
“I hate Wisconsin. With a passion,” tweeted Posey, who is still serving a second five-game NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits. “I can’t wait to play them next season.”
Next season is here. Yet in their public comments this week, both sides expressed only admiration for the opposition.
Told that the Badgers were favored by a touchdown, Wisconsin center Peter Konz was incredulous.
“That’s weird because you know what Ohio State has. And it seems like people overlook it just because they’re young or they’ve had whatever problems,” he said. “We’re talking about, what, (six) straight Big Ten champions? How could you ever think that you could just walk in there as a favorite? I just have too much respect for them to even think that we have the upper hand.”
Ohio State defensive tackle John Simon said the Buckeyes were not out for revenge after last year’s painful defeat.
“We’re not focusing on that game at all; it’s all about this year,” he said. “They’re a completely different team. Last year’s in the past. We learned from it, we made those corrections. It’s a new game this Saturday.”
Sabino conceded the game, once a mismatch that saw the Badgers win just four times in 65 years, has taken on added weight as the playing field has leveled.
“Every time we play Wisconsin it’s a physical game. It’s what the Big Ten is every week,” he said. “But this game is just a BIG game, I don’t really know how else to say it.”
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