The Proving Ground

After years of being in the second tier of the Big Ten, Wisconsin football has a chance to take a step from good to great by beating No.1 Ohio State tonight.

MADISON - With what seems like the entire college football world weighing in, the verdict appears to be that No.18 Wisconsin has more to prove than No.1 Ohio State when the two teams meet tonight. A victory, according to the experts, would show a national audience that the Badgers are taking steps back to becoming an elite team in the conference and can compete with the top tier of the Big Ten.

If those in Badger Nation feel Wisconsin has something to prove against the Ohio State, don't fret, because the upperclassmen on the home sideline feel exactly the same way.

"We obviously have been known as a solid football team the last few years," junior defensive end J.J. watt said, "but to making that jump from good to great, beating the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have such a great pedigree, would be great for our program."

A win would do wonders without question. It would seemingly right the ship after Wisconsin's high expectations, and national rankings, took a slug to the gut in East Lansing two weeks. Not only would the Badgers (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten( be aligned for a solid bounce back in the polls (including the first BCS poll released Sunday), it would allow the confidence tank to be refueled for the stretch run, which includes a rivalry game next week at Iowa.

More importantly, it would finally put the rest the questions about whether Wisconsin has the fortitude to beat the Buckeyes. The last two years have been signs that Wisconsin can compete, just that they can't get over the hump.

Ironically, both have to do with the inability to completely control Ohio State junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

There was the 2008 game in a raucous Camp Randall where the inexperienced Pryor led OSU on an 80-yard drive in the final minutes, with the freshman finishing it himself with an 11-yard scramble on a UW defensive breakdown.

"I think it started my confidence of being a quarterback," Pryor said of that game. "Anytime you get that win it's huge, whether it was me or somebody else."

Pryor was shut down last season, but made two big plays in the Buckeyes' 31-13 victory over UW last season, both coming on the 88-yard touchdown drive when the Buckeyes took the lead for good in the final minute of the first half.

He made the first with his feet from his own 12 - a 27-yard scramble after breaking loose past Watt off the end. Six plays later, Pryor hit wide receiver DeVier Posey for a 32-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left. That, combined with two interceptions and a kickoff returned for a touchdown, led to the undoing.

"Those games definitely add motivation," Watt said. "The last two years, we basically beat ourselves. What we need to do this year is come out and play our game, play a clean game and let everything else take care of itself. We don't need to do anything extraordinary."

Wisconsin brings plenty of things to the table that it feels will make them competitive for 60 minutes against No.1 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten).

For starters, Wisconsin has committed just 20 penalties, tied for the fewest in the country, and its 30.8 penalty yards per game are fourth-fewest in the country.

The Badgers' touchdown percentage inside the red zone is .787 (26-of-33), sixth-best in the country. Last year, UW set a school record by scoring touchdowns on 75.0 percent of its red zone trips.

Wisconsin's opponents have scored just one rushing touchdown this season. Iowa (0), West Virginia (1) and Colorado are the only other teams in the country to have allowed less than two rushing TDs this season. Dating back to last year, UW has allowed just five rushing TDs in the last 16 games.

The Wisconsin running game has things to prove against both the Bucks, who after the last 11 games has averaged 235.6 yards per game to the opponent's 77.7 and has totaled 25 rushing touchdowns to the opposition's four.

A solid running game could help Wisconsin get to that full 60 complete minutes needed to play Ohio State. It's been an area of concern, as well, seeing as Wisconsin is 0 of 5 in playing a complete game this season.

"We need to bring the best Badgers football team on the field Saturday," Watt said.

Critics point out that by the middle of October, the Buckeyes have played exactly one game away from their home stadium and haven't played anyone currently ranked in the AP Top 25 (Miami was 12th at the time they lost in Columbus, but have dropped off the radar).

Critics point to Bielema that despite is 43-15 overall record, he is 1-8 against ranked conference teams (only beating No.14 Michigan in '07) and is 0-3 against Ohio State. Maybe that's why he brought in Athletic Director Barry Alvarez to address the team this week.

Alvarez, one of only two current or former coaches (Joe Paterno) to beat Jim Tressel more than once (3-1), addressed the team for only second time (the first being Minnesota in 08) and gave them the message to not make the game bigger than it is.

Easier said than done. Like the pink elephant in the room, it's hard to not talk about the big measuring stick that will be held next to Wisconsin all night long.

"To go against an opponent at a level that Ohio State has been able to uphold for so long is going to be a nice measuring stick," Bielema said. "I think our guys will have that in the back of their minds and move forward. Hopefully, everybody will be at a position to be at their best on Saturday."

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