Worgull: Heavyweight Contenders

Over the last decade, the success of the Ohio State Buckeyes is hard to argue with. Although the Buckeyes and the Badgers are playing for first place in the Big Ten conference on Saturday, members of Wisconsin don't consider itself contenders for the title ... yet.

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Remember Ric Flair, the flamboyant professional wrestler that entered the ring with outlandish robes and feather boas to music from 2001: A Space Odyssey?

In his 36-year career in the ring, Flair's famous catchphrase in that made-for-television, testosterone-induced monologue was:

"To be the man, WOOOO!, you've got to beat the man!"

There is little debate that the Ohio State Buckeyes, winning at least a share of the Big Ten Conference title the last four seasons, are the men.

"They are the team that set the bar," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "They've been in BCS games, national championship games and they've set the standard. It's easy to see why. They are very talented, very physical, they understand the concepts of winning football games and how it needs to be done. It's a very good football team."

So if the Buckeyes are the men of the Big Ten, what are the Badgers?

For starters, the Badgers are a very talented offensive football team. Ranking second in the conference in total offense, the Badgers have gone over 400 yards of offense in each of their first five games, the longest streak since 2000 and the first time to open a season since 1993. UW is more balanced this season than in past years (rushing for 1,086 yards and passing for 1,080), have given up (knock on wood) only two sacks this season and, like Badgers teams of the past, led the conference in rushing, averaging 217.2 yards on the ground.

"I think this team is a lot different than teams in the past," junior left guard John Moffitt said. "Just our bond that we have. I really like all these guys. We all like each other. We're very close. We fight for each other."

Well, the Badgers surely are contenders, right?

"I wouldn't say that," Moffitt said. "Not yet. We still have some work to do."

The work is finishing, as the big thing that has kept the Badgers off the national radar is the mini meltdowns at all four of their FBS wins.

UW held a 22-point, fourth-quarter lead in the opener against Northern Illinois, but saw that lead shrink to eight, forcing the defense to come up with a big stop with two minutes, 46 seconds left with the ball near midfield.

A week later, UW held a three-point lead and the ball with 2:37 left against Fresno State, but couldn't get a first down and ended up allowing a late field goal before winning in overtime.

In the conference opener, Wisconsin led Michigan State by 21 points with a little more than five minutes left, but allowed the Spartans to score 13 points in the final 2:07, including a 91-yard catch-and-run in the final minute, forcing the Badgers to recover an onside kick with 14 seconds left to preserve an eight-point lead.

Last week, UW led 24-13 with less than seven minutes left and were driving for a field goal that Moffitt said would have, ‘broke the camel's back' when a Zach Brown fumble, the third UW turnover of the day, turned into an 88-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, forcing the Badgers to go back to work.

"We would like to not make it interesting, but I think it helps us grow as a team when it's close at the end and we face some adversity and battle back," quarterback Scott Tolzien said. "It's going to get tougher this week and we know State is going to bring it."

After UW has taken care of five unranked opponents, Wisconsin gets its crack against the silver bullets of Columbus, a team that's ranked ninth in the country and first in the conference in all major defensive categories. Not only will Saturday be a good measuring stick for both teams, it will give the winner the inside track to the conference championship.

If the Badgers want to be contenders and the men in the Big Ten, they need to beat the Buckeyes. WOOOOO!


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