Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
MADISON, Wis. – When the final whistle blew in Ohio State football’s visit to Wisconsin, a moment that some said wouldn’t or shouldn’t happen became reality – the Buckeyes were champions.
Saturday’s tilt with the unranked Badgers became cause for doubt when the game went to overtime but wound up being just another tight game for a Buckeyes team that’s become accustomed to close calls. In the end, the then-No. 6-ranked Buckeyes escaped Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium, home of the reigning two-time defending conference-title holders, with a 21-14 overtime win.
OSU took a 21-14 lead after pounding the ball with junior running back Carlos Hyde on a 2-yard touchdown run and the defense turned Wisconsin away on just four plays after the hosts took the ball. The Buckeyes’ bench erupted after the final play and players and coaches streamed onto the field as improbable champions of the Big Ten Conference’s Leader Division despite the specter of a postseason ban and the accompanying doubt.
OSU (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten), now ranked No. 4 by the Associated Press, will host rival Michigan (8-3, 6-1 Big Ten) at Ohio Stadium next Saturday with a chance to become the sixth undefeated team in program history and the first since the 2002 season. The Wolverines defeated Iowa, 42-17, in their final home game of the 2012 season and jumped to No. 20 in the AP poll.
During the course of the more than 60 minutes of football that unfolded on the chilled Wisconsin turf, Hyde scored two touchdowns in the win, including the eventual game-winner in overtime. Junior OSU receiver Corey Brown added a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter. The Badgers rallied behind senior running back Montee Ball’s 191 rushing yards and his 78th career touchdown, which tied the NCAA career touchdown record. The OSU defense, led by senior defensive end John Simon who tied an OSU single-game record with four sacks, withstood Wisconsin’s comeback attempt.
For the players, the divisional championship is greater than the sum of any single game, and the hope is that the impact of the championship extends far beyond this season.
For some, the postseason ban seemed likely to overshadow any on-field accomplishment this season for OSU, but not for senior linebacker Zach Boren.
“(The championship) means a lot,” Boren said. “You know, it made something of this season and that’s something we wanted to do, especially the senior class. You know, we wanted to set an example and get this thing going for the years to come. I think by winning the Leaders Division it definitely helps out.”
Boren switched positions in the middle of the season, from fullback where he figured to earn an All-Big Ten selection to linebacker. Boren continued to excel at the position Saturday when he added a game-high 12 tackles to bring his season total to 41 – that’s eighth-best on the team.
OSU first-year coach Urban Meyer said he was honored to be leading the most recent crop of Buckeyes to call themselves “champions.”
“I’m honored to be the coach of an 11-0 Ohio State Buckeye team, especially one that’s very deserving,” Meyer said after the game.
Buckeyes players emerged from their locker room bedecked in freshly printed championship T-shirts. OSU sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby held his up to cameras during his postgame press conference.
Roby’s jubilation, as well as that of his coaches and teammates, was tempered, he said. Tempered by the fact that the last remaining accomplishment for this OSU team to achieve might be a 12-0 season and nothing more.
Such a feat would normally be a cherished triumph, but the postseason ban has put a cap on the team’s shot to play for the national championship. It’s also put a cap on how happy OSU is about winning the Leaders Division, Roby said.
“It hurts sometimes when we think about that we’re the best team in the country and yet we can’t prove it on the big stage,” Roby said. “At the same time, we just want to win as many games as possible. That’s all we’re really working … I mean, we won all the games they put in front of us so that’s all we can control.”
That doesn’t erase what the team has already accomplished, though. Roby made that clear as he puffed out his chest to display his championship T-shirt.
“Big Ten (division) champs, man. 11-0. Nobody thought we could do what we’re doing right now,” he said. “So we’re just trying to grind and win this next game and send our seniors out with a bang.”
“The Game” between OSU and Michigan next Saturday is scheduled for a noon kickoff at Ohio Stadium.