By Seth Gruen–
(CBS) If the Big Ten’s slogan read, “Home of the Ohio State Buckeyes,” it would be entirely apropos.
It would be insulting to every other team in the conference but nonetheless appropriate for the program, which seemingly every year carries the Big Ten banner. Perennially, the Buckeyes are considered national championship contenders and favorites to win the conference championship for the simplest of reasons in that they get better recruits and have better coaching.
They have one of the best coaches at any level in Urban Meyer and, arguably, tops among his collegiate counterparts. Alabama’s Nick Saban is the only other coach involved in the latter conversation.
If it weren’t for Ohio State, the Big Ten wouldn’t be considered a college football behemoth deserving of getting a team into the College Football Playoff every season. It all provides a unique opportunity for No. 8 Wisconsin, which hosts No. 2 Ohio State at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday night.
Plays in the West Division, Wisconsin gets lost in the fanfare of the East, which includes powerhouse Michigan State and Jim Harbaugh-led Michigan. The East and Ohio State are a thorn in this program’s side.
It goes overlooked that Wisconsin’s three appearances in the Big Ten championship game is tied with Michigan State for the most since the game’s inception. Of course, it doesn’t help that in the Badgers’ last appearance in the game they got embarrassed by the Buckeyes, 59-0, in 2014.
That was the last time the two teams faced each other. With the institution of divisional play, the two teams don’t play each other as frequently. Whether you consider that good fortune naturally depends on how you perceive the Badgers’ program.
I find it vastly underrated, but I guess we’ll see on Saturday, when Wisconsin will have an opportunity to not only raise the profile of its program but take a giant step closer to its fourth Big Ten championship appearance.
Undefeated and 10th-ranked Nebraska is the only ranked opponent remaining on Wisconsin’s schedule. The Badgers host the Huskers on Oct. 29 in Madison, then close out the season with conference basement dwellers Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota.
A win over Ohio State would be the third over a top-10 opponent for Wisconsin this season. The Badgers beat then No. 8 LSU in a neutral-site season opener and went to East Lansing and smashed also then-No. 8 Michigan State, 30-6, on Sept. 24.
On the other side, a loss wouldn’t end Ohio State’s hopes of winning a Big Ten championship. In all likelihood, the Buckeyes’ national championship hopes would still be alive too, given that they still have a matchup with the Wolverines on the schedule.
So this game is more about raising Wisconsin’s profile. The Buckeyes have had a firm grip on the Big Ten banner, but a win would give the Badgers some hold too.
1. Ohio State (5-0, 2-0) — See above.
2. Michigan (6-0, 3-0) — The Wolverines are on a bye this week.
3. Wisconsin (4-1, 1-1) — Its biggest game since the 2014 Big Ten championship awaits.
4. Nebraska (5-0, 2-0) — It might be time to officially welcome Mike Riley to Lincoln.
5. Penn State (4-2, 2-1) — A bye this week gives the team two weeks to prepare for the Buckeyes.
6. Maryland (4-1, 1-1) — The schedule doesn’t get interesting until November.
7. Indiana (3-2, 1-1) — A home game against Nebraska could be interesting.
8. Iowa (4-2, 2-1) — The Hawkeyes could still get to the conference title game.
9. Michigan State (2-3, 0-2) — This is the most un-Mark Dantonio-looking team ever.
10. Purdue (3-2, 1-1) — Bowl eligibility is within reach.
11. Minnesota (3-2, 0-2) — The schedule softens up after a game against Maryland this week.
12. Northwestern (2-3, 1-1) — The Wildcats are at Michigan State in a big game for both programs.
13. Illinois (1-4, 0-2) — They say Year 1 of a new regime is a throwaway year. The Illini are clearly throwing it away.
14. Rutgers (2-4, 0-3) — Host Illinois.
Seth Gruen is columnist for CBSChicago.com, focusing on college sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.