So, yeah, last week sucked. The pain of last week's crushing last-second loss to Michigan State has resonated among Badger fans for so long that it's hard to believe it's almost Saturday again.
Fans should hope the players were able to turn the page a lot quicker, because playing Ohio State on the road at night is no easy task. The last time Wisconsin won in Columbus was 2004 and while the Badgers are heavy favorites this week, it won't be easy.
To get you ready for a much different looking Buckeye football team, we asked Buckeye Battle Cry to fill us in:
B5Q: Considering everything that happened in the off-season, were expectations too high for the Buckeyes this season? Do fans still feel like they have failed this season or is this pretty much what you expected?
BBC: I said earlier this season that, for other teams in the B1G, previous Ohio State seasons now carry an asterisk. For me, though, it's this one -- the instability and uncertainty, the almost weekly release of "news" that started in December, waiting and waiting for the NCAA to make their findings that has been difficult for fans. I can't even imagine how challenging it's been for players and coaches. That being said, the ones we've talked too seem to have developed a sense of resolve and focus that might not have existed without adversity.
I'm not sure if expectations coming into this season were ever going to be all that realistic. The last several years have made many Ohio State fans very used to "automatic" victories and 11 win seasons. So, for some, anything short of winning the Super Bowl over the Patriots while on the way to the NBA finals would be a disappointment. Others, though, realized that the transitions on defense, the suspensions for the first five games, and the lack of new life on the offensive coaching staff might be the bump in the road that ended up changing the direction of the program. And when Tressel left, the Buckeyes effectively lost their head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach all at the same time... it was going to be a rough year.
To answer your question, though, time and change will show if expectations are ultimately met. Those of us who remember Woody and Earle and Cooper and Tressel's early years in Columbus know that there's truly only one way to have a successful season, and that lies ahead in the match up in Ann Arbor.
B5Q: Will Saturday's game be the first and last matchup between Luke Fickell and Bret Bielema? What are the chances the rookie head coach gets a second chance next year in Columbus?
BBC: As the season continues, it has become even more clear that Luke Fickell has yet to grasp what it takes to be a head football coach at an ultra competitive level like the Big Ten. It also has become clear that in the last few weeks, he is actually taking steps to improving those flaws. OSU's win over Illinois was anything but pretty. Hell, I've seen high school games that had more excitement. The Buckeyes did defeat an undefeated team though and followed a game plan best suited for them to win.
There will be many head coaches seeking this job in the off-season, but it still seems that if Fickell wins out after Wisconsin he has a chance to be back in Columbus next season. OSU fans will have a lot of influence on the decision made, but it will all come down to Gene Smith's ultimate evaluation of the situation and how he handled the pressure of this season. If I were a betting man, I'd say this is the last time these two coaches meet on the gridiron. I'd love to see them pitted up against each other in the cage. Luke Fickell without a doubt could win that battle.
B5Q: I feel like the "revenge" factor of this game has diminished considering how different Ohio State is from last season. Does it feel the same in Columbus or are the Buckeyes still using last year's loss to Wisconsin as motivation?
BBC: You better believe the revenge factor is still in effect. Just because the Buckeyes are 4-3 and the majority of the key players from last year's team are gone doesn't diminish the desire to whip Bucky like a 2-year-old at church. In fact, having a down season and ruining Bucky's undefeated year in return would have gone a long way towards properly paying the Badgers back for last October. But Sparty had to go and ruin the "undefeated" aspect of it. Alas. My condolences on the brutal loss, incidentally.
Either way, the Buckeyes are going to be amped up for this one. They'd love to take the Badgers to task for last season, improbable as it might seem, and a win would go a long way towards exorcising the demons from this horrible calendar year. A win over Wisconsin would make our season -- something that usually requires a win over Michigan -- but I'll make an exception this time around for the special circumstances. Add to that the fact that the Buckeyes and Badgers are each fighting for the driver's seat to the inaugural B1G championship game and you get yourself one heck of a big game. Oh, did I mention it's a night game in the 'Shoe? Buckle your chinstraps, it's gonna be an exciting one!
B5Q: Ohio State completed just one pass in its win at Illinois. That surely won't be good enough at Wisconsin. How does Ohio State plan to keep up with the Badger offense? Is the Buckeye defense good enough to slow Wisconsin down?
BBC: You bring up two interesting points. To address them in reverse order: Yes, the Buckeye defense is good enough to slow down Wisconsin't offense. However, they aren't good enough to slow them down for an entire game, especially if they are hung out to dry by the offense and are on the field constantly. It is no secret that the Buckeye offense has been a liability this season, and one of the biggest issues with the lack of first downs is a defense that gets worn out over the course of a game.
As Wisconsin fans, you obviously recognize the advantages of wearing down an opposing defense, and this is by far the biggest concern for Ohio State heading into this game. The question then becomes: how does Ohio State's offense get first downs and at least stay on the field for a bit?
First, the Buckeyes need to establish the run game. With the return of Boom Herron and a solid offensive line, this is actually an area of relative optimism for me. On the other hand, a one dimensional offense is pretty easy for even mediocre defenses to figure out. Wisconsin will be able to stack the box and shut down the run game eventually (if not immediately) if the Buckeyes can't find some way to pass the ball. Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman has been utterly incapable of developing a coherent passing attack so far this season to the immense frustration of myself and many fans. Last week was a wind tunnel in Champaign, so the 1-for-4 game is an aberration, but other efforts haven't been that much better. The biggest frustration has been constantly running slow developing pass plays with deep patterns and play-action fakes for no apparent reason. With a young QB playing against defenses that blitz constantly, this has consistently been a recipe for failure.
I am hoping and praying that the Buckeyes pull out some quick passes and some play action fakes that roll Braxton Miller out of the pocket- if that happens it would be the first time all season. Whatever we pull out, and please, PLEASE let it be something different, Jim Bollman, the good news is that it will likely shock the hell out of the Wisconsin defense just like it will shock the hell out of me. If the Buckeyes can manage to be mildly effective passing the ball with quick hitting short patterns or roll outs in the flats- just enough to keep the run game from getting shut down, I am cautiously optimistic about the defense staying fresh enough to be effective all game. A lot of things have to go right for the Buckeyes in this game, but as an Ohio State fan, I am obviously hopeful that it will happen.
B5Q: Finally, your prediction with an explanation...
BBC: It's hard to make predictions with this Ohio State team, so I'll leave it at this: On offense, if we can complete passes similar to the game plan against Nebraska and run as effectively as we did against Illinois, it will be a pretty good homecoming. That's assuming, of course, that the defense can figure out a way to stop the juggernaut that has become the Wisconsin offense... Either way, it's going to be a great weekend and an amazing game.