Ohio State-Wisconsin: Badgers coming for Buckeyes' crown?

Ohio State-Wisconsin is the type of game that can set or reset narratives.

The third-ranked Buckeyes are riding high, exceeding expectations so far and looking like a College Football Playoff-caliber team.

>>RELATED: 7 things to know about the series and matchup5 takeaways from Ryan Day

The Badgers, who fell to 13th after an upset loss at Illinois last week, are wounded but far from finished.

They can still win the Big Ten West without any help, which means a conference championship and big-time bowl game remain on the table for coach Paul Chryst’s team.

A loss to the Buckeyes would mean rival Minnesota has the inside track to the West crown and could even afford to stub its toe once along the way to Indianapolis, but that’s not all.

It would also be further proof that in the Big Ten there is Ohio State and everyone else.

(Penn State, also undefeated entering this weekend, will get its shot at Ohio State in late November.)

Wisconsin has been the most successful team in the conference over the past two-plus decades — except for Ohio State.

Chryst’s former boss, Bret Bielema, liked to poke the bear when he was head coach of the Badgers, reminding reporters that his team not only knocked off Ohio State en route to a Big Ten co-championship and Rose Bowl berth in 2010 but had hung tough with the Buckeyes the three previous seasons before losing.

Although Ohio State won seven Big Ten championships from 2001-10, the Buckeyes were only 4-4 against Wisconsin.

Since then, Ohio State has won seven in a row in the series, including a pair of Big Ten championship games, but Saturday offers a fresh chance for Wisconsin to lay claim to being a Big Ten force to be reckoned with now and in the future.


Well, Chryst is apparently not the person to ask.

“You know, I think that if you’re really to assess how I felt, every week was a chance to grow, to play, and I think you gauged where you’re at,” he told reporters in Madison after being asked if Ohio State provides a measuring stick for his program. “There’s no question when you play against good teams — and when we played against them they had some really good teams — after that game it’s another level of evaluation, but truly (we) did (that) every week.

“It’s not just something that you come up with and try to use to avoid question — I really do believe that and I always have. Every team you play is a challenge and an opportunity and each one is different.”

Ryan Day, Ohio State’s young gun coach in his first year as the full-time leader of the program surely would like to let people know the league belongs to his team until further notice, though, right?

He wasn’t saying either.

“I don't know about all that,” he said Tuesday when asked about feeling any pressure to maintain Ohio State’s place on top of the league. “I just know if you just lock in on right now, that's what matters, playing this game. I think at the end of the year you kind of come up for air, start to look at different things.

“We've said all along is all we're going to do is focus on this week, being 1-0. I know it sounds cliche, but it's real. We have to stay locked in on this, can't worry about what this game means or doesn't mean. Just worry about what we are doing in terms of on our assignments, motivation, guys practicing hard, getting ourselves ready physically, mentally, emotionally, and play a really hard game at noon.”

Even if the coaches are no fun, at least one Ohio Stat player confirmed, yes, maintaining conference supremacy is something on the minds of the Buckeyes.

“Absolutely,” right tackle Branden Bowen said. "I think it comes along with culture. I think we’ve built a great culture here starting with coach (Urban) Meyer and with coach Day carrying it on. It’s a mindset.”

Weather worries? 

Although rain is in the forecast Saturday, Day said the game plan is unlikely to change.

“We have to make adjustments as individuals, guys who carry the ball, but other than that we’re still going to have the same game plan unless it’s really brutal,” Day said Thursday. “If it’s just raining out then we have our full arsenal.”

Injury report has good and bad news 

While left tackle Thayer Munford and linebacker Baron Browning are expected to be back on the field for the Wisconsin game, Ohio State listed starters Jonathon Cooper and Austin Mack as game-time decisions in its weekly injury report Friday morning.

Cooper, a senior defensive end and captain, missed the first four games of the season recovering from a severely sprained ankle.

He has 10.5 career tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, though none have come this season.

Mack, a senior receiver and three-year starter, has played in all seven games so far after missing the end of last season with a foot injury and dealing with a hamstring issue during preseason camp.

He is coming off his best game of the season, a four-catch, 50-yard performance at Northwestern that included his second touchdown catch of the season.

In both cases, Ohio State has plenty of options to replace them.

Sophomore Tyreke Smith would likely start in Cooper’s place opposite star Chase Young with redshirt freshmen Javontae Jean-Baptiste and true freshman Zach Harrison their backups.

Mack’s absence would mean more time for sophomore Chris Olave at the team’s X receiver (split end) position along with starters K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor. Jaylen Harris, Jaelen Gill, Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams could also get more snaps.

Teradja Mitchell, a reserve linebacker who has impressed off the bench and on special teams, is also a game-time decision after missing the past three games while reserve offensive tackle Josh Alabi and defensive end Tyler Friday are among players listed as unavailable.

Injuries were not identified for any of the players.

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