The two most successful programs in the Big Ten over the past 20 years meet for just the second time in the Big Ten championship this Saturday. Yes, the Wisconsin Badgers and Ohio State Buckeyes tangle with a Big Ten championship and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff on the line.
Wisconsin’s scenario is easy, win and the No. 4 Badgers are in. The only question would be would they move up and go to the Rose Bowl or not?
Ohio State, well a win over the Badgers helps, but they would also need some help from another expected conference champion to lose and have a better resume on paper than some other teams in front of them.
Even though the scenarios are very different, these two coaches are likely to have their charges laser focused on the task at hand. But, how do u separate teams who got to this point in very different ways? There’s no better way than to dive in to the numbers and see what comes out.
Here are the stats, notes and everything else in between that you need to know ahead of the big matchup on Saturday night.
1: Ohio State, not Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in rushing offense
While all the attention seems to be on Wisconsin’s star freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, it is the Buckeyes who have been the more dominant team on the ground this season. Ohio State averages 250.3 yards per game on the ground. It helps when you have two running backs that combined for nearly 1,700 yards and a quarterback who put up another 600-plus yards as well.
Ohio State’s own freshman sensation, J.K. Dobbins was second in the Big Ten to Taylor with 1,190 yards and his 7.2 yards per carry average topped the league. So don’t think the Badgers are the only team that can run the ball heading in to Saturday night.
Now that’s not to say the Badgers are slouches on the ground game front either. UW was second in the league with an average of 243.2 yards per game as well. In fact, the two were the only teams in the Big Ten to average over 200 yards per game on the ground in the Big Ten.
2: That’s the number of times the Badgers have trailed in the second half this season
Wisconsin has trailed in the second half just twice (vs. Northwestern and vs. Michigan) for a total of 8:49. The Badgers have not trailed in the fourth quarter of any game. It’s all part of the narrative of the Badgers as a second half team.
The formula has been simple, try to jump out to a lead early or keep the game close early and then continue to pound away until opponents give up. What will be interesting to see is if the Badgers second half dominance can continue. Ohio State actually has given up more points in the second and third quarters (69 each) than in the first or fourth. Those are the two quarters were the Badgers ramp things up — going from 86 points this season in the 1st quarter to 106 in the 2nd, 108 in the 3rd and 118 in the final stanza.
Combine that with a Badgers defense that clamps down over time and you can see how teams falter against the Badgers. Will that scenario continue to play out in Indy?
3: This will be Ohio State’s 3rd Big Ten championship game appearance
OSU has only been eligible for six of the seven Big Ten title games played, and they’ve been able to make it to three of them so far. It’s been a mixed bag for Urban Meyer’s crew though. Michigan State took them down 34-24 in the first meeting, while the next year was the infamous 59-0 beating of the very same school they’ll see across the field from them on Saturday — Wisconsin.
Both sides have downplayed that 2014 game, and rightfully so given it was four years ago and no one of consequence in this game was of consequence on either side of the field in that 2014 game.
Still, this is Ohio State’s chance to get over the .500 mark in Big Ten title games.
4: OSU is fourth in the Big Ten in turnover margin
Turnovers can easily decide big games, and the Buckeyes found that out the hard way in a visit to Kinnick Stadium about a month ago. However, this has been a season of razor-thin margins in terms of turnovers across the Big Ten. Case in point, Ohio State is just +3 on the turnover margin this season and yet they rank 4th in the conference alongside Purdue in that category.
Ohio State has been alright at taking the ball away, forcing 18 turnovers, but they haven’t given up the ball much either, ranking third in the Big Ten with just 15 turnovers given up. With the Badgers defense so prone to pouncing on mistakes and the unknown situation at quarterback for the Buckeyes, look for turnovers to play a key role in this game.
5: That is Ohio State’s rank in sacks coming in to this game
Greg Schiano was supposed to be off for the Tennessee Volunteers head coaching gig by now, but we’ll save that story for another day. His defense has been turning up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season long, resulting in 34.0 sacks and a fifth place finish in the Big Ten. Nick Bosa earned Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year following the regular season, putting up a team-best 6.0 sacks and amassing 12.5 tackles for loss.
Wisconsin’s offensive line isn’t going to be easy to crack though, despite a relatively immobile quarterback. The Badgers finished first in the Big Ten for sacks allowed, with just 17.0 on the year. Getting to Hornibrook is going to be vital, but it won’t be easy.
6: That is the number of 10-win seasons in a row for the Buckeyes
All six of those 10-win seasons in a row have come under the tutelage of Urban Meyer not coincidentally. Meanwhile, the Badgers come in to this game riding a big 10-win season streak of their own, owning four of those seasons in a row. That mark is a school record for Wisconsin, while the Buckeyes’ six-straight is also a school record.
We’re getting these two programs at the best they have ever been, will it mean a good game on the field though?
7: Wisconsin is just seventh in the Big Ten in penalty yards this season
In a game where strength is going on strength, sometimes the weaknesses matter too (if you can find them). One area of weakness for the Badgers this season has been penalties. Wisconsin’s 5.5 penalties per game aren’t a terrible number, but when the Badgers are committing said turnovers, they are costly. UW is giving up over 50 yards per game in penalties. It simply can’t afford to do that against the Buckeyes.
Meanwhile, Ohio State is perhaps the worst offender of the bunch. Not only do the Buckeyes commit 7.4 penalties per game, they also rank last in the Big Ten with those penalties costing 72.1 yards per game.
This is clearly an area to watch on the part of both teams.
8: That’s the number of opponents the Badgers have held to under 100 yards rushing this season
Earlier we noted the matchup between two of the bet rushing offenses in the country. Well, something may have to give for the Buckeyes and Badgers, because Wisconsin features the Big Ten’s best run defense. Not only are the Badgers holding opponents to just 80.5 yards per game on the ground, they have held eight of the 12 opponents faced under the 100-yard mark, including in each of the last four games. That 80.5 yards per game average also tops the country.
If Ohio State struggles to run the ball against the stingiest run defense in the land, can the Buckeyes win? That may be one of the biggest questions in this contest.
9: Jonathan Taylor has gone for over 100 yards in 9 of 12 games this season
There’s a reason Taylor is the Big Ten’s leading running back — consistency. He’s been over 100 yards in 9 of 12 games played this season and has only missed the 100-yard mark twice as a starter after rushing fo 82 yards in his debut behind Bradrick Shaw and Chris James. The other two came in Big Ten play, with one only because of an ankle injury keeping him out after the half. He still put up 73 yards on 12 carries in the win over Illinois.
Taylor only needs 120 yards to break Adrian Peterson’s freshman rushing record, and that would be well below his season average of 150.5. If he breaks it, will it also lead to a Badgers win?
10: Wisconsin has won 10 of 12 games this season by 14 points or more
Plenty of the national narrative surrounding Wisconsin this season has been about the Badgers strength of schedule, or lack there of. Of course there’s some merit to it, as they faced just three teams ranked when or after then played them all season long — Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern. However, the hallmark of a really good team is taking on a supposedly bad schedule and dominating it.
That’s what the Badgers did this season, winning all but two games by two touchdowns or more. I’d call that pretty dominating football.
Then again…nothing has been good enough for most in the national media when it comes to the Wisconsin Badgers.
But, I digress. My point is, this team isn’t the 2017 version of the 2015 Iowa Hawkeyes. Wisconsin is blowing out teams it should beat and winning large against quality teams like Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan. That 2015 Iowa team snuck a perfect regular season by winning 7 of 10 games by 10 points or less…and 4 of those 7 games were by one score or less as well.
I only bring this point up to note that thinking this will be a razor-thin margin one way or the other seems unlikely considering what these two teams have put on the field most of the year. That’s especially the case should it be Wisconsin taking home the win.
Who wins, and how do we see the game playing out?
Tune in to the talking10 Podcast from this week and find out all that information and our exclusive All-Big Ten 1st and 2nd team reveal too.