Phil Mitten (4-0, +34): Ohio State 28, Wisconsin 23
Jake Kocorowski (4-0, +51): Wisconsin 31, Ohio State 28
Jake Harris (4-0, +53): Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 28
Louis Bien (4-0, +69): Wisconsin 28, Ohio State 27
Andrew Rosin (3-1, +33): Ohio State 35, Wisconsin 31
Mike Fiammetta (3-1, +56): Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 28
Andy Johnson (3-1, +57): Ohio State 36, Wisconsin 34
Many are calling Saturday night's showdown in Columbus between the Badgers and Buckeyes a de facto Leaders Division championship game in the Big Ten. With Penn State ineligible and Purdue, Indiana and Illinois going nowhere fast, that appears to be an accurate assessment. Considering Nebraska's defensive issues and Michigan's shaky performances against inferior competition, this may well be the best game in the conference in 2013.
Wisconsin should be 4-0 after officials robbed the Badgers of a chance to beat Arizona State with a chip-shot field goal two weeks ago, while Ohio State is undefeated and hasn't missed a beat despite missing junior quarterback Braxton Miller for much of the year.
Head coach Urban Meyer says Miller will start Saturday night's game. Miller completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,039 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2012. He also ran the ball for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Considered one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, Miller was touted as a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate.
But the Badgers held Miller to his lowest passing total (97 yards) and his second-lowest rushing total (48 yards) of the season when these teams met in Madison last November. Wisconsin effectively pressured him without losing containment, and they did so while star linebacker Chris Borland watched from the bench. Borland will play in this one and you can expect the Ohio native to be licking his chops any time a lane to Miller opens up for him.
Miller also has not seen live action since completing his only two throws of the Buckeyes' game against San Diego State on September 7. Rust could be a factor, and if it is, expect backup Kenny Guiton to see some playing time. A senior from Houston, Guiton gave OSU everything it asked for and then some in Miller's absence. He has completed 68.4 percent of his passes with a 13-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season.
But neither Miller nor Guiton have had to contend with anything resembling Wisconsin's defense in blowing out teams like California and Florida A&M. Both linebacker Brendan Kelly and cornerback Peniel Jean are expected to play for UW despite suffering injuries against the Boilermakers last week. Linebacker Derek Landisch also returns from injury and he will split time with Conor O'Neill, who ranks third on the team in tackles.
The Badgers have held three of their first four opponents to 10 points or fewer and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's 3-4 scheme is designed to handle offenses like Ohio State's. The Buckeyes rank fifth in the nation in averaging 311 rushing yards per game and boast a stable of talented tailbacks. This matchup can only be characterized as strength versus strength.
Defensively, Ohio State is talented but inexperienced. Just two of 11 starters on the unit are seniors and both play in the secondary. The front seven miss tackles at times, so expect Wisconsin to run right at the Buckeyes with James White and Melvin Gordon, who is averaging 11.8 yards per carry (that is not a misprint).
Sophomore quarterback Joel Stave faces his toughest test of the young season, throwing against a secondary dominated by upperclassmen, including junior cornerback Bradley Roby. Expect Roby to shadow Wisconsin wideout Jared Abbrederis all game long and make it difficult for the senior from Wautoma to get open. Stave has experience playing in big night games in hostile environments. He played well on the road at Nebraska last season and did not throw an interception at Arizona State two weeks ago. He will need to make the defense pay for stacking the box if the Badgers are to come away with the upset.
Wisconsin will be without wide receiver and return man Kenzel Doe. Jacob Pedersen may be limited after sustaining a knee injury against Purdue. Freshman center Dan Voltz will make his first start at the position after Dallas Lewallen went down last week. Voltz actually won the job in camp before suffering an injury of his own.
Kicker Kyle French has bounced back from a rough start for Wisconsin and has made four of his five field-goal attempts on the year. Freshman Andrew Endicott will continue to handle kickoffs for the Badgers, as head coach Gary Andersen values the hang-time on his kicks for coverage purposes. That will be particularly important against Ohio State, which returned a punt for a touchdown against the Badgers last season.
Homefield advantage has not meant all that much in this series. The Buckeyes have won two of the last three played in Madison, while the Badgers won three straight in Columbus from 1999 to 2004. A loss would be forgivable for Wisconsin, but a win could propel it to a truly special first season under Andersen.
Who has the edge?
Offense: Ohio State
Special Teams: Ohio State
Coaching: Ohio State
Intangibles: Ohio State