My first visit to Camp Randall Stadium was in 1990, one of those early years in the John Cooper era. That was back when it always seemed Ohio State got within a whisker of going to the Rose Bowl only to lose to Michigan and wind up playing at 11 o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day in some nondescript bowl game.
Anyway, I don’t remember too much about the trip other a 35-10 win by the Buckeyes and sitting beside a nice lady on the flight back from Madison. She was a relative of Wisconsin defensive tackle Don Davey, and I told her that Ohio State needed only to beat Michigan the following week to achieve its first Rose Bowl trip in six years. I remember her eyes widening as she said, “Wow, the Rose Bowl. We’d settle for any bowl.”
That was then, of course, and this is now. The Buckeyes went on to lose to Michigan, 16-13, and then lose to Air Force in the Liberty Bowl. But at least they made the postseason. In 1990, Davey was one of the few stars Wisconsin had on its way to an 0-8 finish in the Big Ten and a 1-10 overall record. It was the sixth consecutive losing season for the Badgers and they would eventually run that string to eight in a row. Then they hired Barry Alvarez and the rest is history.
Alvarez led Wisconsin to Rose Bowl trips after the 1993, ’97 and ’98 seasons and his team won all three games. Since the beginning of the 2004 season, the two winningest programs in the Big Ten are Ohio State (45) and Wisconsin (43).
And while the Buckeyes have displayed several distinctly different offensive personae during their recent run, the Badgers have achieved their success the old-fashioned way. Alvarez recruited huge road graders for his offensive line, found one dependable running back to carry the load and featured a straight-up defense that relied on playing mistake-free. Fancy it was not but very successful it certainly was.
Alvarez is gone now, accepting a promotion to athletic director and leaving the sidelines to Bret Bielema, who had joined the Badgers in 2004 as defensive coordinator. But the beat goes on.
Alvarez was (and still is) a gruff sort who really doesn’t give a rip for tradition. Perhaps some of that was because Wisconsin didn’t have much of a tradition before he got to Madison. Before winning the Big Ten championship in 1993, the Badgers hadn’t won one since 1962. And before winning three Rose Bowls in a row, the team had never won any of its previous three trips to Pasadena. No wonder Bucky and his fans got so full of themselves in Nineties.
Bielema seems like the perfect successor. Outwardly, his personality seems to fit a guy who spent his playing days as a defensive lineman, and he has adopted most of the tenets of his predecessor. This year’s starting offensive line averages better than 6-6 and 319 pounds, making it one of the beefiest in the Big Ten. Their featured back is senior P.J. Hill, a 5-11, 236-pound bowling ball with 636 career carries to his credit. And the Wisconsin defense, while nothing spectacular, is solid enough to give up only 17.0 points per game so far.
The purpose for this history lesson is two-fold. First, unlike during the entire Woody Hayes era when the Buckeyes enjoyed a 25-1-2 record against the Badgers, Wisconsin is now one of the top programs in the Big Ten. With all of their success has come a bit of a swagger that doesn’t go down well with some of its rivals who believe Bucky ought to be a little more humble. Nevertheless, opponents who play at Camp Randall find one of the most intimidating venues in all of college football. It is even moreso at night.
Secondly, what you see is what you get against Wisconsin. Bielema likes to find weaknesses in his opponent’s game plan and exploit them. But he will not try to guess along with the guy on the other sideline. Bielema has confidence in what he does – what the Badgers have done for most of the past 15 years – and what Ohio State will find on Saturday night is a team that will try to control both lines of scrimmage.
If you are the Buckeyes, that should play into your comfort zone – at least on offense. It is no great secret that OSU offensive linemen excel better at run blocking, and the combination of Beanie Wells’ power and Terrelle Pryor’s shiftiness should allow the Buckeyes to operate fairly well on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, it will be interesting to see if Jim Tressel continues to employ four defensive ends along the front wall or elects to get some more girth in there with Dexter Larimore, Nader Abdallah and Todd Denlinger (if his ankle allows him to go).
Last year’s game ended in a 38-17 rout for Ohio State with Wells running for 169 yards and three touchdowns of 31, 30 and 23 yards. But what some may forget is that Hill was sidelined for that game – and the Badgers gained only 12 yards on the ground. Even with that kind of futility, the Buckeyes trailed 17-10 at home late in the third quarter.
My point is this: Ohio State can and should beat Wisconsin on Saturday night but the Buckeyes cannot afford to be lollygaggers. They must take the fight to the home team and make the most of every scoring opportunity, especially early in the game, if only to break some of the will of what will undoubtedly be a boisterous crowd tuned up after a daylong affair with their favorite cold beverage.
I guess what I’m talking about is some display of killer instinct. If they show it Saturday night, the Buckeyes are going to return home with a victory. If they don’t, they run a huge risk of the 2008 season turning into 2004.
OHIO STATE-WISCONSIN MINUTIAE
** This marks the 74th meeting of Ohio State and Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes hold a decidedly lopsided 51-17-5 record in the overall series, including 24-10-2 in Madison. However, the Badgers have closed the gap in recent years. Since 1980, OSU has only a 6-5-1 advantage.
** Ohio State head Jim Tressel is now 77-17 with the Buckeyes, but only 2-3 against Wisconsin. The Badgers are the only Big Ten team with a winning record against OSU during the Tressel era.
** For all of his success with the Buckeyes, head coach Jim Tressel is only 4-3 in Big Ten road openers. Included in the three losses is a 17-10 defeat at Wisconsin in 2003, the last time OSU visited Madison.
** Since joining the Big Ten in 1913, Ohio State is 59-32-5 in conference road openers.
** On 14 previous occasions, the Buckeyes have traveled to Madison for their Big Ten road opener. OSU has a 7-6-1 edge in those games, but the Badgers have won three of the last four – 24-21 in 1981, 20-16 in 1992 and 17-10 in 2003. Ohio State last won a conference road opener at Camp Randall in 2000 with a 23-7 victory.
** Tressel has compiled a record of 21-7 in games during the month of October, including 11 victories in a row. The last time the Buckeyes lost during October was a 17-10 setback at Penn State on Oct. 8, 2005.
** This is the second of three regular-season night games scheduled for the Buckeyes this year. Earlier, OSU absorbed a 35-3 loss at USC and the Oct. 25 game against Penn State will be a rare night-time affair at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes are 31-13 all-time in night games (defined as games beginning at 5 p.m. or later local time).
** Wisconsin has won 21 of its last 22 night games, including a 13-10 decision earlier this season at Fresno State. The Badgers are also working on a streak of 11 straight victories in night games.
** Over the last six seasons, Wisconsin has the sixth-best home winning percentage in Division I-A football. The Badgers are 31-4 since the beginning of the 2003 season, good for an .886 winning percentage. Boise State and Oklahoma lead that list at 34-1 (.971), followed by USC (30-1, .968), Ohio State (36-3, .923) and LSU (35-3, .921).
** The Badgers are currently working on a 16-game home winning streak, the second-longest in I-A. (Oklahoma has won 20 in a row at home.) The current streak is second in school history only to a stretch between 1900 and ’03 when Wisconsin won 25 consecutive home games.
** During its 16-game home win streak, U-Dub has outscored its opponents by a 559-218 margin. That’s good for an average win by 21.3 points.
** The game should be a good, old-fashioned, smash-mouth game for which the Big Ten is famous. Wisconsin averages 218.5 yards rushing while Ohio State gives up an average of only 95.2 yards on the ground. Eleven of the Badgers’ 15 touchdowns this season so far have come on the ground – OSU has given up only two rushing TDs to five opponents.
** The Badgers will likely try to keep the game a low-scoring affair. In the four years head coach Bret Bielema has been on staff, Wisconsin is 31-1 when allowing 20 or fewer points.
** After last week’s 106 yards against Minnesota, Chris “Beanie” Wells has 2,402 career yards and is now 598 away from becoming only the sixth player in Ohio State history to rush for at least 3,000 yards in a career. Wells needs 175 more to move past Calvin Murray (2,576, 1977-80) in the school’s top 10 all-time.
** Brian Robiskie had a season-high eight receptions against Minnesota and that pushed his career total to 105. He is four away from moving past Billy Anders (108, 1965-67) and Joey Galloway (108, 1991-94) into ninth place in school history in career receptions.
** Congratulations to Robiskie, who has made the semifinal list for the Draddy Trophy, referred to as the “Academic Heisman.” That list will be pared to 15 finalists by Oct. 29, and each finalist will be recognized as part of the 2008 National Scholar-Athlete Class and receive an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship. The Draddy winner, who will receive a $25,000 postgraduate scholarship, will be announced Dec. 9. Past Ohio State winners are Bobby Hoying (1995) and Craig Krenzel (2003).
** James Laurinaitis had a game-high 12 tackles last Saturday against the Gophers, giving him 292 total stops for his career. Eight more makes him only the 14th Buckeye ever with 300 or more tackles. Once he hits that mark, Laurinaitis should begin moving up the all-time tackles chart quickly. Al Washington (345, 1977-80) currently sits in seventh place followed by Ed Thompson (338, 1974-76), Glen Cobb (336, 1979-82), Mike Doss (331, 1999-2002), Randy Gradishar (320, 1971-73), Kelton Dansler (316, 1975-78) and Aaron Brown (314, 1974-77).
** Kickoff for the game in Madison will be shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern. That’s 7 p.m. local time if you are going to Camp Randall. ABC will broadcast the game on a regional basis with Mike Patrick handling play-by-play duties and Todd Blackledge providing color analysis. Holly Rowe will be the sideline reporter.
** Remember that since this is a night game and not subject to ABC’s reverse mirror effect, if you are not in a region carrying the game you will have to pony up for one week’s worth of ESPN GamePlan.
** Next week’s game against Purdue is back home at the friendly confines of the Horseshoe. Kickoff is scheduled for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern and the game will be telecast on a regional basis by ABC. That game will employ the reverse mirror, so if you don’t get the contest on your local ABC-affiliated station, it will be available on either ESPN or ESPN2.
There are a pair of Buckeye birthdays today: former offensive lineman Jeff Davidson and current men’s ice hockey coach John Markell.
Jeffrey John Davidson was born Oct. 3, 1967, in Akron but moved to the Columbus area at a young age and played his high school football at Westerville North. He lettered at Ohio State from 1986-89, and was a starting offensive guard as a junior and senior, earning All-Big Ten honors in 1989. Davidson was a fifth-round draft choice in 1990 had a five-year playing career in the NFL, mostly with Denver, and began his coaching career in 1995 as a volunteer assistant in New Orleans. He has also spent time on the staffs in New England and Cleveland, and is currently in his second season as offensive coordinator on John Fox’s staff at Carolina.
John Richard Markell was born Oct. 3, 1956, in Cornwall, Ontario, and played collegiately at Bowling Green. He was a three-time, first-team All-CCHA member for the Falcons, and he played in the NHL with Winnipeg, St. Louis and Minnesota. Markell began his coaching career in 1991 as a player-coach for ESC Wolfsberg (Germany), and joined the staff at Ohio State in 1994 as an assistant on Jerry Welsh’s staff. When Welsh was dismissed in 1995, Markell was named as successor and was hired as full-time head coach the following season. He has led the Buckeyes to five NCAA tournament berths and was named CCHA Coach of the Year in 1998.
Also celebrating birthdays this third day of October: author Gore Vidal; singer/songwriter Ernest Evans (a little better known as Chubby Checker); TV actor Alan Rachins (Douglas Brackman on “L.A. Law” and Dharma’s father on “Dharma & Greg”); illusionist Roy Horn (of Siegfried & Roy fame); “The Late Show with David Letterman” stage manager Biff Henderson; film critic Michael Medved; singer, songwriter and on-and-off Fleetwood Mac member Lindsay Buckingham; MLB Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Dennis Eckersley; U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.); Alabama Gov. Bob Riley; political activist Rev. Al Sharpton; 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples; longtime soap actor Jack Wagner; Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee; film actor Clive Owen; actress Neve Campbell; and pop singers Gwen Stefani and Ashlee Simpson-Wentz.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** After last week’s spate of upsets, the number of undefeated teams at the Division I-A level went from 27 to 18. Those left standing: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, BYU, Connecticut, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Penn State, South Florida, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulsa, Utah and Vanderbilt.
** Among those 18 undefeated teams, only 14 are ranked. In the latest Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters, Kentucky was 28th, Ball State was 29th, Northwestern was 30th and Tulsa was 31st.
** In their five games this season, Alabama has never trailed this season and been tied only 26½ minutes. So far, the Crimson Tide is outscoring its opposition 74-0 in the first period and 133-20 in the first half.
** Even though it seems as though the 2008 season just got started, both Penn State and Northwestern are only one victory away from becoming bowl-eligible. It would be the Nittany Lions’ fourth straight trip to the postseason and 35th under head coach Joe Paterno. Meanwhile, the Wildcats would qualify for a bowl for only the seventh time in school history and the first time under third-year head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
** When Penn State was “held” to 38 points last week by Illinois, it marked the lowest offensive output this season for JoePa’s team. The Nits are currently fourth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 49.8 points per game. If you guessed that the top three are Tulsa (54.8), Missouri (53.8) and Oklahoma State (51.8), consider yourself a true fan of college football.
** Michigan State is 5-1 and senior tailback Javon Ringer has run himself into Heisman Trophy contention. The Dayton (Ohio) Chaminade-Julienne product is the second-leading rusher in the nation with 179.4 yards per game and the leading scorer with 12 touchdowns. But Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio is also taking the risk of overusing his star. Ringer carried 44 times in a 42-29 win over Indiana last Saturday, increasing his total to 187 carries in five games. Over a 13-game season, that computes to more than 485 carries and would blow away the Big Ten record of 419 set by Lorenzo White of Michigan State in 1985. The NCAA Division I-A record is 450 carries, set in 2007 by Kevin Smith of Central Florida.
** In retrospect, we probably should have foreseen Michigan giving new head coach Rick Rodriguez a victory over Wisconsin. No U-M head coach has lost his first Big Ten game since Chalmers “Bump” Elliott in 1959. (Also, Michael Phelps was in attendance wearing a Michigan jersey, and we ought to know by now that everything he touches turns to gold.)
** By the way, the 19-point deficit the Wolverines erased on their way to the 27-25 win over Wisconsin was their largest comeback in the history of Michigan Stadium, now in its 81st season.
** Penn State kicker Kevin Kelly is making a rapid rise on the Big Ten’s all-time scoring list. He enters this week’s game against Purdue with 350 career points, good enough for eighth on the all-time list. Kelly needs only seven more points to leap past Garrett Rivas of Michigan (354, 2003-06), Travis Dorsch of Purdue (355, 1998-2001) and Mike Nugent of Ohio State (356, 2001-04) into fifth place.
** When Mississippi shocked Florida last weekend, it marked the first win for the Rebels over a top-five team since 1977. That year, Ole Miss took a 20-13 win over No. 3 Notre Dame and quarterback Joe Montana. That was the only loss that season for the Fighting Irish who went on to beat fifth-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl and capture the national championship.
** Do you think the Big 12 has become the nation’s premier passing conference? Graham Harrell of Texas Tech ranks 20th nationally in pass efficiency – and only ninth in his own conference.
** Fifteen years ago yesterday, Alabama matched its own school and Southeastern Conference record for consecutive victories. On Oct. 2, 1993, the Crimson Tide scored a 17-6 victory at South Carolina to mark their 28th win in a row. The mark tied the previous school and conference mark set between 1978 and 1980 when the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant was patrolling the Bama sideline.
** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Sept. 30, 1939, Fordham and Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania played in the first televised college football game, a contest seen by an estimate 500 viewers in the New York City area; on Oct. 4, 1969, Boston University scored a 13-10 upset at Harvard, ending the Crimson’s 10-game win streak and marking BU’s first-ever victory over Harvard since the matchup began in 1921; and on Oct. 5, 1968, Arkansas running back Bill Burnett scored a touchdown to help the Razorbacks to a 17-7 win over TCU. It was the first of 23 consecutive games in which Burnett scored, an NCAA record that stood for 32 years.
** Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the death of John Heisman, the legendary college coach and namesake of the Heisman Trophy. Born Oct. 23, 1869, in Cleveland, John William Heisman is credited with several innovations including invention of the center snap, dividing the game into quarters rather than halves, and leading the movement to legalize the forward pass. Heisman played at Brown (1887-89) and Penn (1890-91), and began his coaching career at Oberlin in 1892. He also coached at Akron, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Penn, Washington & Jefferson and Rice, compiled a career record of 185-70-17. Heisman was prepared to write a history of college football when he died Oct. 3, 1936, in New York City. Three days later he was taken by train to his wife’s hometown of Rhinelander, Wis., where he was buried at the city-owned Forest Home Cemetery. Two months later, the Downtown Athletic Club in New York renamed its college football best player trophy in Heisman’s honor.