Wisconsin Provides Major Obstacle
We have finally reached the end of the regular season. It feels just like yesterday that the Buckeyes took the field for that Thursday night showdown with Indiana. The local team has fought off an unbelievable amount of adversity to remain in the playoff discussion, and things could get interesting with a win over Wisconsin.
Before we enter a preview, here are some factors I feel would help the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes this weekend:
1. Blowout win over Wisconsin
2. Clemson beats Miami
3. Oklahoma beats TCU
4. Hope committee realizes Alabama did not beat a top opponent
I disagree with the idea of wanting Oklahoma to lose this game simply because the committee should pick the Sooners over the Buckeyes based on head-to-head reasonings. This all plays secondary priority right now because the focus is on Wisconsin.
Now onto the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis on Saturday night (8:17 p.m. Eastern, FOX).
When Ohio State Has The Ball
The Badgers arrive to town with a defense that gives Urban Meyer problems. The 3-4 scheme has always given his offenses some trouble (outside of 2014) because they have skilled edge rushers who can neutralize the zone read concept.
The problem is that the Buckeyes may not even lean on that concept in this game. That all hinges on the availability of quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Barrett underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Sunday and is expected to play this weekend, as first reported by Columbus Dispatch’s Tim May.
Personally, I have a hard time believing this guy can play just six days after going under the knife. It is certainly possible, but that timetable seems very rushed and risky. I believe we will see Dwayne Haskins at some point.
The smart move is starting Haskins, but something tells me Barrett will start and play until the pain becomes unbearable.
Haskins also allows for the Buckeyes to stretch the field, hence avoiding eight-man tackle box formations from the Badgers. A successful Haskins passing day would open up running lanes for J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber to control the game similar to last week’s fourth quarter.
We will understand what direction Meyer goes for his strategy based on which QB comes out on the first possession.
When Wisconsin Has The Ball
This side of the ball is all about the Badgers in this matchup. They can be one-dimensional like their history shows, but sophomore QB Alex Hornibrook can make teams pay in the passing game.
While he lost his top receiver, sophomore Quintez Cephus, to a season-ending injury, Hornibrook has been solid when targeting senior tight end Troy Fumagalli. This is one of the few teams in this era that will have a TE leading the team in receiving.
Hornibrook is the game manager, but freshman running back Jonathan Taylor is the all-star. Taylor has rushed for over 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns, and should be nominated for all national awards that he can qualify for as an offensive player.
The Buckeye front seven need to come ready to play, because Badgers head coach Paul Chryst will look to feed Taylor like we have seen with many Wisconsin backs over the years.
If you can neutralize Fumagalli and Taylor, then Wisconsin’s offense becomes very pedestrian.
Ever since I blew that Iowa prediction, my last two point spreads have been spot on. I called a 38-point victory over Illinois and an 11-point win over Michigan. That may never happen again, but I am going to try my luck and make it three straight. Obviously, I am picking the Buckeyes, but the spread is so unpredictable.
This is because we simply have no clue what Barrett’s availability will be in this game, and that can really change the game flow. If Haskins has to go, I feel a 10-point win is attainable. Barrett could elevate that to 17 points because it implies he will be healthy enough to run the ball. The defense will show up, and Hornibrook will struggle to find any rhythm.
The scoreboard will not show it, but I feel the Buckeyes can dominate this game. Meyer knows how to get his teams ready for conference championship games, and they come out firing on all cylinders.
No. 8 Ohio State 27, No. 4 Wisconsin 17