Alive in Conference Race, Bucks Reinvigorated

The Ohio State football team seemed as good as dead in the Big Ten race a week ago. But in the amount of time it took to complete a last-second Hail Mary pass, the Buckeyes now find themselves close to controlling their own destiny for the conference championship.

Luke Fickell knew what was at stake when Michigan State hosted Wisconsin Saturday night, but it wasn't enough to keep him awake through the end of the game.

Ohio State's coach had already been sleeping for 45 minutes, enough time to miss Wisconsin score 14-straight points to get even with the Spartans with less than a minute remaining before having its heart broken by an improbable game-winning desperation pass as time expired.

As incredible as the last-second Michigan State tip-drill was — which was enough for Fickell to see the replay countless times on TV since — perhaps the biggest thing he missed was the collect reinvigoration of his squad that instantly went from being written off to conference contenders.

"We have a lot of things to play for. We understand that," Fickell said. "Maybe it's another little something that our guys saw. Maybe they believe in themselves a little bit more. Maybe they see vulnerability. I don't know what it is."

With Wisconsin suffering its first loss of the season, Fickell does know Ohio State's chance at winning the Big Ten for a seventh consecutive season is now a real possibility again, an immense contrast to the greater belief that the Buckeyes were in the midst of a season to forget.

Sitting at 4-3 and 1-2 in conference play, Ohio State needs to knock off No. 12 Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) Saturday in order for the Badgers' loss to mean anything. If the Buckeyes accomplish that and win the remainder of their games, the team needs only a Penn State loss to another opponent to control its destiny in the Leaders Division. That, of course, would help Ohio State gain a berth to the inaugural Big Ten championship game.

"We have been through so much and even more through the season, it is just refreshing and reviving to know that we are close to controlling our own destiny again," senior center Michael Brewster said. "It feels so good to have that shot again, we just need to make sure we take advantage."

As if the game wasn't important enough before the Buckeyes realized this opportunity, Wisconsin travels to Ohio Stadium just one week removed from the heartbreaking loss to the Spartans. Ohio State, meanwhile, is coming off a bye week after enjoying its biggest win of the season at Illinois.

And of course Ohio State has been waiting a year to host Wisconsin. The Badgers dealt the Buckeyes their only loss of the season a year ago, preventing them from playing in their fourth national title game of the decade.

But there's even more that should get the Buckeyes' adrenaline going, as Ohio State hosts Wisconsin in its only prime time game of the year and will unveil its Nike Pro Combat uniforms honoring the 1961 team that finished 8-0-1 before winning the national championship.

"I wouldn't say it's a revenge game, but I definitely cannot wait to play them," junior tight end Jacob Stoneburner said. "They put us down in basketball, they put us down when we were No. 1 last year, so why wouldn't you look forward to playing them? We're not going for revenge. We want to show them what's up, show them they got the best of us last year, but it's a different year."

The Badgers have also had this game circled on the calendar for a year, particularly after former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor made comments asserting the Buckeyes could have beaten Wisconsin 9-of-10 times following the game last year.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Beilema brought light to that comment during Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, saying his team "really wanted to play that game against (Pryor). Unfortunately we won't. But our kids know what they did last year."

But it is more than just a game to prove something for Wisconsin, as the primary goal for the Badgers is avoiding a second-straight loss after getting off to a 6-0 start and putting together season where many felt the Badgers' destination was the national title game.

"We are both kind of in the same situation right now," Brewster said. "Now it is time to look in the mirror and make sure we can take care of our business. We know we have a lot to play for, but whether we are ready for the challenge will be proven in just days."

The Buckeyes are thankful to find themselves back in the conversation for conference contenders. Many had already given up. Fickell and his team didn't.

"Ultimately it comes down to us taking care of our own business," Fickell said. "Whether you need help, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. That's something you look at. Obviously 18- to 22-year-olds evaluate that more than the coaches. Whatever it is, it still comes down to us handling our own business and taking care of what we need to take care of."

The Buckeyes have their chance.

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