It’s not like Ohio State needed to show off. Their swanky number four ranking, glossy undefeated record, and star tailback Maurice Clarett impressed any onlookers. Still, the courageous and gargantuan Buckeyes strutted into Camp Randall Stadium prepared to play. Not even two minutes had been erased from the game clock – hardly enough time for Badger butts to warm the cold, metal bleachers – and Ohio State receiver Michael Jenkins hauled in a pass from Craig Krenzel, spun off a Badger defender, and sprinted solo forty-seven yards into the end zone. He made it appear as though one Buckeye player could single handedly defeat Wisconsin. After that play, I recall turning to my group and remarking on how that play defined how a top five squad should look like. The Badgers were far from such a lofty distinction since after winning five in a row, they coughed up two hairballs against Penn State and stumbling Indiana. With this inauspicious start, it was hard to imagine anything greater than an 0-3 Big Ten debut.
Last season, Wisconsin got hammered by Indiana and followed it up with a victory at Ohio State. Perhaps the Badgers thumbed through their memory book and recalled the potion that upended the Buckeyes. Even without quarterback Brooks Bollinger, the leader of the Badgers, something clicked in the offense because Wisconsin managed to score two impressive touchdowns to take a lead into the locker rooms at the break. What could have been disaster morphed into a battle versus adversity. Granted, the 14-13 advantage was slight, but it provided confidence in all who Wisconsin fans who dismissed their team’s mistakes the past few weeks and huddled into the stadium today to cheer and inspire.
During halftime, I’m sure no fan would have predicted that all Wisconsin would need in the second half to win was one touchdown. And I bet no one would have guessed that the required points would go unachieved. With roughly ten minutes remaining in the contest, Ohio State went up 19-14 on a touchdown and failed conversion. Wisconsin fell flat. The Badgers moved the ball as though it were an anvil. Their opportunity to upset the Buckeyes and reverse their fortunes disappeared. The only way to explain why Wisconsin lost so closely to a withering Indiana team and followed it up with a close loss to a national power is that they play to the level of their competition.
The Buckeyes share that similar problem, but they continue to pull off victories, while the Badgers let possibilities slip away. Despite their close calls, Ohio State managed to plop themselves into the national championship game with a perfect record. They faced a favored Miami team and again, they played to their level of competition, winning the national championship in double overtime.