The Badgers have won three of four games in Ohio Stadium, with the teams splitting the last eight games overall. The Buckeyes have gone just 7-5-1 in the last 12 meetings with UW, a far cry from when OSU won 21 in a row from 1960-80 and 32 of 33 from 1946-80.
In addition, Wisconsin has been among the Big Ten elite, competing for conference championships since the mid-1990s. Wisconsin has made bowl games for seven straight years and is 52-17 during the past six seasons, both of which are second in the conference to Ohio State. Battles between the Buckeyes and Badgers often have bowl or championship implications to them.
Finally, the Badgers play the game in a way that could get under players' skin. The constant hitting a typical Wisconsin team brings to the table is the type of stuff that could breed bad blood.
But instead, as the ninth-ranked Buckeyes prepare to face Wisconsin at home Saturday, they say the word they have for the Badgers is more opponent than rival.
"I wouldn't call it a rivalry," OSU wideout Dane Sanzenbacher said. "It's two tough teams, and both teams want to win and both teams are familiar with each other so that adds a new level to it, too."
That last part might sound a bit like a rivalry, but Sanzenbacher's teammates gave similar answers to the junior wideout. Simply, the two teams' styles – both teams often feature run offenses and physical defenses – bring out the best in one another.
"You always like to see Wisconsin on your schedule because you know the type of game that you're going to get," OSU defensive tackle Todd Denlinger said. "You know every time you play them it's going to be a big game, so it's a game you look forward to, you maybe circle a little bit."
Not surprisingly, the first word out of most of the Buckeyes' mouths when asked about the Badgers was "physical." Since Wisconsin's renaissance in the early 1990s under Barry Alvarez, the Badgers always have seemed to boast teams that aren't afraid to hit their opponent in the mouth.
On offense, that's been symbolized by the team's two tight-end, downhill running game. Behind a wall of road-graders, bruising running backs like Brent Moss, Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, Anthony Davis and P.J. Hill have become Wisconsin's trademark.
The latest in the line of hard-to-tackle, physical backs is John Clay, a 248-pound specimen who is coming off of a 184-yard performance against Minnesota last week.
"That's their brand of football, and that's really what they've been known for, for years," Denlinger said. "If you look back at the games we've played each other it's been a physical game with the great run offenses they've had. It's just a fun game to play in."
The Badgers haven't always had flashy defenses – the last two have finished in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scoring – but the team is just as physical on the other side of the ball, from the defensive line on back. Ohio State learned that the hard way a year ago when both Sanzenbacher and Dan Herron were knocked out of the game by hard hits from safety Jay Valai.
"The guys play physical up front and in the back end they have a lot of guys that fly around and hit guys," offensive lineman Bryant Browning said. "They love playing physical."
Close, hard-hitting games between the two schools have become commonplace, especially since Jim Tressel, 3-3 against the Badgers, took over in Columbus.
Tressel's first crew lost a 20-17 final in Columbus before a 19-14 slugfest win during the national title season of 2002. A year later, Wisconsin snapped OSU's 19-game winning streak with a 17-10 win in the Madhouse in a game remembered rather negatively in Buckeye lore. That was the precursor to another 24-13 loss in Ohio Stadium in '04.
Since the teams took a two-year break in '05 and '06, Ohio State has won twice. Three fourth-quarter touchdowns broke a 17-all tie and gave the Buckeyes a 38-17 win in '07, and last year's game came down to the final minutes when a Terrelle Pryor 11-yard keeper gave OSU a 20-17 win.
And who could forget the 1999 game – Wisconsin's 42 unanswered points to take a 42-17 win – or the famed 1993 tie in which OSU's Marlon Kerner blocked a possible game-winning field goal at the horn. All told, both teams have been ranked in the last four contests and seven of 12 since that important November 1993 contest.
So while Sanzenbacher says the series isn't quite a rivalry, it's clear something special is in the air when the Buckeyes and Badgers renew acquaintances.
"We've talked about pretty much everything there is in the history of the game between these two teams," Sanzenbacher said of the team. "We know what's happened in the past and we know about them, so we know we're going to have to prepare when they come in here."