For the first time since 1997, the top-ranked team in the country will invade Madison, as newly crowned number-one ranked Ohio State battles 18th-ranked Wisconsin in a Big Ten battle at Camp Randall Stadium.
It is just the ninth time ever that the Badgers have played host to the top team in the land and they have only three wins in the previous eight encounters to show for it. However, this is a team in 2010 that has looked sharp in racing out to a 5-1 overall record. The lone loss came in the Big Ten opener two weeks ago at Michigan State (34-24), but Bret Bielema's squad evened its league record up with last weekend's 41-23 victory over Minnesota.
Jim Tressel's Buckeyes have supplanted defending national champion Alabama atop the polls, thanks to the Crimson Tide's loss at South Carolina. It marks the first time the team has been ranked number one since the final regular season poll of the 2007 campaign. Currently, OSU is riding a 12-game win streak and enters this matchup at 6-0 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes made light work of Indiana last weekend, 38-10, earning Tressel his 100th victory at OSU.
The Buckeyes hold a 53-17-5 advantage in the all-time series with the Badgers, including a 25-10-2 mark in Madison.
Heisman hopeful Terrelle Pryor passed for a career-high 334 yards and three TDs in leading the Buckeyes past Indiana this past week. Most of that came in the first half of the game. The Ohio State offense is predicated on the rushing and passing exploits of Pryor, who has been stellar in both areas this season. He is second on the team in rushing (354 yards, three TDs) and has really elevated his play as a passer, completing 68 percent of his throws, for 1,359 yards, with 15 TDs and just three INTs.
Tailback Dan Herron has rushed for one more yard than Pryor, but is responsible for seven of the team's 15 rushing TDs to date.
The Hoosiers had put up some stellar stats coming into the contest with Ohio State, but as has been the case with most offensive teams, the OSU defense stepped up and completely shut them down. Indiana managed a mere 210 yards of total offense in the lopsided loss to the Buckeyes.
The numbers on the season have been similar, with OSU holding foes to just 237.0 yards of total offense. The OSU defense is once again stacked with All- American talent, highlighted by senior LB Ross Homan (team-high 37 tackles, one sacks, one INT, one fumble recovery). Fellow senior LB Brian Rolle is next in line (30 tackles). Defensive linemen Nathan Williams (24 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 1.5 sacks), Cameron Heyward (16 tackles, 4.5 TFLs) and Dexter Larimore (16 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 1.5 sacks) are getting the job done up front.
The key to Wisconsin's success this season is mistake-free football on the offensive side. The Badgers come into this game without turning the ball over in four-plus outings.
Another key strength on offense is Wisconsin's ability to enforce its will with a stellar ground game. The team is averaging 240.8 yards on the ground, getting it done on 5.6 yards per carry. A potent one-two punch in the form of John Clay (692 yards, 6.0 ypc, nine TDs) and James White (485 yards, 7.7 ypc, eight TDs) is a reason for concern by for defensive coordinator trying to slow Wisconsin down.
Wisconsin's ground attack is something that coach Tressel is concerned about.
"Their running backs, I think Number 20 has added another dimension to -- obviously John Clay is extraordinary, but you bring in that tempo change guy and all of a sudden, he hits you with a different type look and I think he's added a great look. I think in the last three games he's rushed for 300 and some odd yards and is a good player. He's their kickoff return guy as well. So they're all that everyone expects them to be."
Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien has done everything asked of him under center. He has completed nearly 70 percent of his throws, for 1,207 yards, with seven TDs and just two INTs. Lanc Kendricks has clearly been the go-to- guy down the field, leading the team in receptions (25), receiving yards (391) and TD catches (three).
Wisconsin's defensive play has been good, with opponents averaging only 19.0 ppg, on just over 300 yards of total offense. One area of concern has to be the lack of big plays by this unit so far though. The Badgers have just six takeaways and only 12 sacks in the first six games.
Senior LB Culme St. Jean leads the unit with 33 tackles. DE J.J. Watt (30 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks), LB Mike Taylor (26 tackles, 6.0 TFLs) and DE Louis Nzegwu (23 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks) have down the most damage upfield.
Bielema knows that preparation is the key when taking on a team like Ohio State.
"Now to go against the competition or to go against an opponent at the level Ohio States been able to uphold for so long is going to be a nice measuring stick. And I think our guys will have that in the back of their minds and move forward, and hopefully, everybody will be in a position to be at their best on Saturday. We just have to go out and do what we do on a daily basis to get to Saturday. We can't jump to Saturday today or we can't jump to Thursday today. We have to jump to where we are on Monday, progress to Tuesday, and move ourselves through the week."
This will be the Buckeyes' toughest challenge to date. The Badgers will do their best to slow things down and keep OSU's offense off the field. That of course is easier said than done. Look for OSU to pass its first big test, as it successfully defends its top-ranking, although it isn't going to come easy.