Wisconsin a Timely Test for Ohio State

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
 
WISCONSIN NEEDS TO PICK UP ITS GAME TO THREATEN OSU

Last week #1 Alabama fell on the road to South Carolina. This week, new #1 Ohio State is facing a very similar challenge. The Buckeyes are on the road against a very talented that's been tired for many years of sitting in the shadow of a national power.

Virtually anything you could say about the upset potential of Alabama/South Carolina is just as true in Ohio State/Wisconsin. The Badgers actually had more respect coming into the season than the Gamecocks did. Some pundits picked them as a darkhorse to win the Big Ten, while NOBODY would have done that with South Carolina.

That being said, Ohio State isn't exactly in a big letdown spot off a blowout of Indiana, the way Alabama was last week after a huge prime time victory vs. Florida. South Carolina caught Alabama at a perfect spot in the schedule. Wisconsin won't have that same ace in the hole.

What Wisconsin will have is the knowledge that Ohio State was almost had on the road by Illinois two Saturdays ago. And, Wisconsin has to believe they're better than Illinois (though the Illini have really improved on both sides of the ball this season).

We think the best way to preview tonight's Ohio State/Wisconsin game is to look back at the key stats of Ohio State/Illinois. That's about as good a match as you're going to get in terms of recent action. Wisconsin hasn't hosted any national powers to provide additional indicator potential. Let's see what happened in Champagne-Urbana two weeks ago.

OHIO STATE 24, ILLINOIS 13
Total Yardage: Ohio State 290, Illinois 251
Rushing Yardage: Ohio State 213, Illinois 119
Passing Stats: Ohio State 10-18-2-77, Illinois 13-23-1-132
Turnovers: Ohio State 2, Illinois 1
Third Downs: Ohio State 4 of 12, Illinois 2 of 13
Vegas Line: Ohio State by 15, total of 47

Points of interest:

  • Ohio State only led 17-13 until very late in the game. This was a nip-and-tuck affair that was tied 7-all after the first quarter, and only saw a 14-10 lead for the Buckeyes at the half. Yup, 3-3 was the score in the second half! That tells you something about Ohio State's defense with the game on the line, but exposes some problems on clutch time offense.
  • Terrell Pryor was more dangerous with his legs than is arm, as he threw two interceptions and only massed 77 passing yards on 18 throws. This is par for the course with him in big games. He can pass for huge numbers vs. BAD teams. He generally has to scramble for success vs. quality. The Rose Bowl win over Oregon was an exception. Leading a national power to a nailbiter win against somebody like Illinois tells you he still has some growing to do.
  • The most important boxscore stats in college football in our view are rushing yardage and turnovers. Note that Ohio State had a nice edge on the ground of 213-119, but erased some of that with a 2-1 turnover deficit. Put Wisconsin on the field in Madison against these same Buckeyes, and you get less of a rushing edge, and the potential for more turnover problems.

To us, that's the key to tonight's game. Can Wisconsin win the point of attack battle? Can they just play that battle to a draw but win the game on turnovers? Before the season started, most analysts would have put those in the "sure, why not" category. Wisconsin may not be the team everyone was expecting to see in 2010 though. We mentioned that they don't have a home game vs. a national power to use as a comparison. What they do have doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

  • Wisconsin only led Minnesota 14-9 at the half last week as three-touchdown favorites. Minnesota is horrible. It's nice for Badgers fans that the team pulled away to a 41-23 win late. You can't expect a pull away vs. the top team in the conference though.
  • Wisconsin was squashed in the stats by Michigan State back on the same day Ohio State played Illinois. The Badgers were outgained 444-292, and outrushed 175-165. Wisconsin was a 2-point favorite in wht turned out to be a 34-24 loss. Poor showing given expectations.
  • Wisconsin barely snuck by Arizona State 20-19 as a 12-point favorite. Nobody's going to confuse Arizona State with Ohio State. Total yardage was just 440-380. Rushing yardage was just 194-169. If you watched on TV, you know this easily could have been a Wisconsin loss. We should also note that Wisconsin's defense didn't force any turnovers in their home games with Minnesota and ASU. Is there defense too passive to force mistakes from Ohio State?
  • If all this isn't depressing enough, there's that 27-14 win over San Jose State that came as a 39-point favorite! Anybody who knows what they're doing should squash San Jose State like a bug.

So, as you handicap tonight's Ohio State/Wisconsin game, be careful linking it too carefully with Alabama-South Carolina. To this point in the season, Wisconsin's playing more like somebody like Kentucky of the SEC rather than South Carolina. They do what it takes to beat bad teams. They're not showing much vs. quality. Ohio State brings a whole lot of quality to Madison.

We do think that Illinois is a fair comp though. If Wisconsin is as good as Illinois (reasonably likely), then this could turn out to be a great game. If Wisconsin turns out not to be as good as Illinois, nobody's going to care ultimately about this game anyway! The Badgers will be looking at a low-priority bowl game under an embattled coach that really disappointed his fan base.

All things considered, it's a true gut-check game for Wisconsin. They have something to prove. We've seen time and time again that college teams with something to prove will have their best game of the year under the spotlight. Purdue wasn't very good last year. They stunned Ohio State. Anything can happen in college football.

Of course, we don't need to tell you fans and legal sports bettors that. You've been marveling at the upsets we've seen already this season. And, this has been a decade of upsets with "BCS Chaos" being the norm rather than the exception. Will Ohio State be the second #1 team to fall in as many weeks? Or, is Ohio State on a collision course with Boise State for a national title showdown that will signify the end to chaos?

JIM HURLEY has some big things planned for the Saturday card that could very include a blowout call, or an upset call in Ohio State/Wisconsin. Be sure you sign up for the day before the early games kick off so you get full value. Maybe Texas/Nebraska is a TV showcase among the midday action. Please check our archives if you missed the preview of that game.

Among other games of interest for us today:
Ole Miss at Alabama (will Tide bounce back?)
Illinois at Michigan State (two upset winners from last week)
Iowa at Michigan (Hawkeyes in a danger spot)
South Carolina at Kentucky (upset spot for SC?)
California at USC (Trojans in a tailspin)
Arkansas at Auburn (SEC West is now a race)
Nevada at Hawaii (don't forget this late night thriller)

Today will build our bankrolls for a huge Sunday slate in the NFL. And, don't forget about the ALCS and NLCS going on right now in Major League Baseball. We had another delightful year on the diamonds. We're ready to cap that sport off with an explosive final few weeks.

Game day releases are always available a few hours before kickoff here at the website. Don't forget to try out our WEEKEND PASS for $79 that gets you BLUE RIBBON, CLOSED CIRCUIT, or TOUCHDOWN club releases inclusive. The weekend pass was 10-4-1 last week and 12-4 two weeks ago! If you have any questions about full season rates, or how to include baseball in your package, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with your Sunday to preview Indianapolis/Washington in the prime time game on NBC. Pro analysis will have to wait. You've got to take care of business in the colleges right now with RED HOT JIM HURLEY!

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