Wisconsin Loss Has Buckeyes Back in the Hunt
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was only one game and it didn’t even involve Ohio State, but Wisconsin’s loss to Michigan State Saturday felt like a new beginning for the Buckeyes.
Or new life, as center Michael Brewster put it on his Twitter account.
Suddenly their hopes of reaching the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game don’t seem so completely far-fetched. The Buckeyes will likely face an angry Badgers team coming into Columbus next week after the way this game ended, but it doesn’t matter.
After dropping their first two games out of the gates to start conference play, the Buckeyes were a long shot to make it to Indianapolis. In many ways they still are, but their path just got a whole lot clearer.
“Well, our season is back,” tight end Reid Fragel posted on his Twitter account.
The Buckeyes needed Wisconsin to drop two games in conference play to even have a shot at winning the Leaders division. With the way the Badgers were playing, it looked like they might be hard-pressed to lose one.
Now they have. In stunning fashion, the Spartans handed Bret Bielema and his team their first loss of the season for the second year in a row. After the Badgers battled back from a 31-17 deficit in the fourth quarter, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins pulled off a miracle.
His 44-yard heave in the final seconds hit players from both teams in the end zone before bouncing into the waiting arms of receiver Keith Nichol. The 6-2, 220-pound former Oklahoma quarterback forced the ball across the goal line for one of the most miraculous finishes in Big Ten history.
The stunned Badgers walked off the field as the rest of Spartan Stadium celebrated a 3-0 start to conference play. Coincidently there was plenty of celebration in Columbus too. Linked by their mutual rivalry with the Michigan Wolverines, these two schools have a strange relationship of love and hate.
Michigan State handed the Buckeyes one of their worst upset losses in school history back in 1998. They also hired Ohio State’s former defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio to lead them out of the dark ages of the John L. Smith era.
Dantonio did his former team a big favor Saturday. It doesn’t mean a whole lot however if the Buckeyes don’t capitalize. They get the Badgers next Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) in a primetime showdown with the same team that kept them out of the national title game a year ago.
“I think it's just a big game. Any time you play Wisconsin, with two similar programs going at it,” OSU linebacker Storm Klein said.
“They're gonna try to establish the run, we're going to try to establish the run, and both defenses are going to try and shut it down. It comes down to the guys up front. It's a physical game.”
It’s also a critical game for both teams.
The Buckeyes know they need to win out their final five games to have any real chance of reaching the title game, and that starts with Wisconsin.
“It’s bigger now because to be great we’ve got to win out this season, so that’s a goal,” sophomore defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said.
“We’ve got Wisconsin in front of us. That will be a good challenge so we’re just getting prepared for it.”
Even with a victory over the Badgers, the Buckeyes still wouldn’t quite control their own destiny. They would need a pair of losses from Penn State down the stretch in order to make it to Indianapolis.
The Nittany Lions have tough games at home against Illinois and Nebraska over the next two weeks before their trip to Columbus on Nov. 19—the week before the Ohio State-Michigan game. They also travel to Madison for a showdown with Wisconsin the following week.
Ohio State also currently trails Purdue by one game in the loss column, but the Boilermakers have a long way to go. They travel to Michigan and Wisconsin the next two weeks before returning home for games against Ohio State and Iowa.
The Buckeyes would only need to win out plus a Penn State loss to one of their other three opponents (Illinois, Nebraska or Wisconsin) in order to play for the Big Ten Championship.
It wouldn’t technically be their seventh title in a row because last year’s co-championship was forfeited along with the Sugar Bowl.
That wouldn’t matter much to these Buckeyes. They just want to win.
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