Big Ten Championship: 7 things to know about Badgers vs. Buckeyes

Updated Dec 01, 2017
Ohio State’s Robert Landers hits Michigan’s John O’Korn on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. David Jablonski/Staff

Ohio State running back Mike Weber wore a brace on his right hand when talking to reporters after practice Tuesday. He hurt his hand during the Nebraska game, but said it doesn’t affect his play or how he protects the ball.

“I just hold it in my left hand,” Weber said.

Weber also was dealing with the aftermath of a collision on the sideline Saturday at Michigan. J.T. Barrett wasn’t the only Buckeye to have a run-in with a photographer. Weber landed on a camera dropped by a photographer and had a sizable scrape and bruise on his arm.

“I guess he couldn’t get out of the way in time,” Weber said.

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Twelve football games in 13 weeks will leave a mark on a player. Weber and Barrett aren’t the only players fighting pain as the season moves to the 13th game, the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. The No. 8 Buckeyes (10-2) and No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (12-0) will try to put their bumps and bruises behind them to be at their best at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Here are seven things to know about Saturday’s game:

1. Past history: The last time Ohio State played in the Big Ten championship, it impressed the College Football Playoff selection committee enough with a 59-0 victory over Wisconsin to earn an unexpected berth in the first playoff.

The Buckeyes hope history repeats itself, though with two losses on their resume, including a 55-24 blowout at Iowa, they need everything to go right in the other conference championships taking place Saturday.

Wisconsin will also try avoid a third loss in the championship in the last four years. The Badgers lost 38-31 to Penn State last season. That game and the 2014 loss won’t be on the team’s mind, coach Paul Chryst said.

“Each year it’s a different team,” Chryst said. “You always draw on your experiences, and those who played last year will take away things from that game just like they do every game, but this game is about these two teams this year.”

2. Local connections: Among the native Ohioans on Wisconsin’s roster is Springfield High School graduate Danny Davis, a freshman wide receiver. He has 18 catches for 312 yards and had five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown in Wisconsin’s last game, a 31-0 victory at Minnesota.

“I think Dan and that whole group is working,” Chryst said. “They’ve got a good energy about them.”

Alter grad Kraig Howe, a sophomore defensive end, has played in one game for the Badgers.

» CONNECTIONS: Local players in Big Ten title game

3. Dynamic duo: Weber and J.K. Dobbins continue to split carries and produce big moments. A touchdown run by Dobbins in the third quarter gave Ohio State a 21-20 lead last week at Michigan, and a touchdown run by Weber late in the fourth quarter sealed a 31-20 victory.

“I like how it is now,” Weber said. “You want to be a workhorse, but I feel that’s not a good thing in college football, especially in the Big Ten. You want to have somebody else to get the ball and take the load off your body.”

4. Freshman star: Dobbins isn’t the only true freshman running back putting up big numbers in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has one of the best. Jonathan Taylor has 1,806 yards, leaving him 120 yards from breaking Adrian Peterson’s FBS freshman record. He leads the Big Ten with 13 rushing touchdowns.

“I think he’s a lot like J.K.,” Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “He’s got great vision. He’s very strong. He has great speed. He finds gaps where there are none.”

5. Young quarterback: Wisconsin sophomore Alex Hornibrook makes his second career start against Ohio State. He completed 16 of 28 passes for 214 yards with one touchdown and one interception last season in a 30-23 overtime loss in Madison. He has 21 touchdown passes this season. That’s tied for the third most in one season in Wisconsin history.

6. Encore performance: While Wisconsin breezed to a victory last week at Minnesota, the Buckeyes had to fight for four quarters to beat Michigan. Coach Urban Meyer said it’s concern playing one week after a game like that.

“You can’t just say this is the way we’ve done it in the past because every team is different,” Meyer said. “This happens to be somewhat a mature team. The term around here is laser focus. And they’ve been good. I put a lot of reliance on my older guys because they’ve earned that right.

7. Playoff hopes: Wisconsin can stamp its ticket for the playoffs with a victory. It’s hard to imagine any scenario leaving a 13-0 undefeated Big Ten champion out of the postseason. It’s more complicated for the Buckeyes, though Kirby Hocutt, the chairman of the playoff selection committee, emphasized how important conference championships are in choosing the field.

» SPORTS TODAY: What will Ohio State’s playoff fate be?

If it comes down to a choice between Ohio State, should it win the Big Ten, and No. 5 Alabama (11-1), which will not play in the Southeastern Conference championship, it will be a tough call to make. The playoff field will be announced at noon Sunday on ESPN.

“I will be prepared and able to answer that question next Sunday,” Hocutt said. “You know, we’ll need to have the conference champion designation and metric in front of us to answer that question. This week obviously the selection committee thought Alabama was the better football team. If that should change, if Ohio State wins a conference championship, I don’t know how the selection committee would make that decision until it happens, and I’ll be prepared to answer it next Sunday for sure.”