Since the first preseason polls came out in August, Ohio State had played second fiddle to Alabama.
Following the Crimson Tide’s 35-21 loss at South Carolina, the Buckeyes have been pegged as the nation’s team to beat.
But for how long will they hold that distinction?
The Buckeyes won’t have time to ease into their new role of having a giant target on their back.
The new No. 1 gets its toughest challenge of the season to date, a trip to Madison, Wis., where a raucous crowd awaits at Camp Randall Stadium.
Throw in the College GameDay crew, a little “Jump Around” and an opponent eager to establish its footing in the Big Ten, and OSU will have its hands full at Wisconsin on Saturday night.
But the Buckeyes have been here before — and with this group.
On Oct. 4, 2008, freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor — in just his third career start — grew up on the fly, orchestrating a game-winning, 12-play, 80-yard drive to dispel the Badgers.
Pryor capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run with 1:08 remaining, giving OSU a 20-17 edge.
So it’s not like OSU and its Heisman trophy candidate signal-caller aren’t walking into Camp Randall unprepared.
But the Buckeyes were ranked No. 14 for the ’08 matchup, a speck of light compared to the spotlight on the Scarlet and Gray this week.
Wisconsin wants to pound the ball on the ground with John Clay and freshman James White.
The Buckeye defense will invite such an attack. OSU hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since the Lincoln administration.
In last season’s matchup, an early OSU lead forced Wisconsin into a passing frenzy. Quarterback Scott Tolzien chucked it 45 times, throwing a pair of interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns.
That’s not Badger football.
But it could work this time around.
OSU lost starting safety C.J. Barnett for the season following his September knee surgery. Tyler Moeller, who starred at the “star” position, a hybrid linebacker/safety position, tore a pectoral muscle two weeks ago against Illinois and will miss the remainder of 2010.
That leaves the middle of OSU’s secondary pretty thin.
But, ask Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell if the Buckeye defensive backfield is vulnerable. The fifth-year senior, who torched Michigan for school records of 45 completions and 480 yards a week earlier, struggled to find his receivers against OSU, finishing with 106 yards and two interceptions.
But should Wisconsin excel early with its running game, it shouldn’t be too difficult to open up its passing attack.
The Buckeyes have waited for an opportunity to prove to the nation their top-ranked worth. The Badgers have waited for an opportunity to prove they belong in discussions for a potential BCS bowl appearance.
Neither team could ask for a more appropriate stage to make their cases heard.
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