Big Ten previews: Badgers, Buckeyes meet in battle of titans

Big Ten previews: Badgers, Buckeyes meet in battle of titans
September 26, 2013, 4:00 pm
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Vinnie Duber

Rarely is it that a sporting event is not getting enough hype.

That could be the case, however, for this weekend's meeting between No. 4 Ohio State and No. 23 Wisconsin in Columbus, Ohio.

You see, if it weren't for a ridiculous finish in Wisconsin's Week 3 game at Arizona State, both teams would be undefeated, and someone might realize that this game could be a battle for the fate of the Big Ten crown — in September.

Even without all the prognosticating, though, this is a meeting of two conference powerhouses. And, these two teams feature several of the country's most potent offensive weapons.

[MORE: Big Ten notes: Michigan in need of some fixing]

For the Badgers, they boast perhaps the nation's best running back in Melvin Gordon, who leads the country with 624 rushing yards. His 11.8 yards per carry are simply astounding, and he's found the end zone seven times. And, oh yeah, teammate James White ranks 10th in the nation with 442 yards. Corey Clement's 334 yards rank 36th.

"Melvin's right up there with the best I've ever been around and the best I've ever prepared to play against," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said Tuesday. "What makes him so dynamic and special is his ability. He's developed some patience between the tackles. He has tremendous speed. His God-given ability is unbelievable, and I think he's turned into a speed back and a power back and he's a patient back, which is a pretty vicious combination."

And this Wisconsin ground attack — which is tremendously dominant year after year — has certainly drawn the attention of this week's opponent.

"It seems like every year they get if not maybe the same quality (running) back, maybe a little bit better," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "And that's what we're watching this and thinking right now: 'Where do these guys come from?' ... I haven't seen the whole country, but I can't imagine two better backs on the same team."

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But while Gordon and the rest of the Wisconsin stable of running backs are truly an impressive bunch, there will be plenty of offensive stars lining up on the home sideline, too. Buckeyes running back Jordan Hall ranks 13th in the country with 422 rushing yards this season, and he's found paydirt a NCAA-leading eight times.

Then there's the quarterbacking duo of Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton. Miller, who hasn't played since sustaining a first-half injury in Week 2, is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Guiton, meanwhile, has the highest QB rating in the Big Ten with a mark of 168.1. His 13 passing touchdowns and 68.4 percent completion percentage also rank as the conference's best among qualified passers.

Meyer said Tuesday that both quarterbacks were 100-percent healthy but didn't know which would be starting. It would be a shame to have either off the field, so is there some way he could play both at the same time?

"We had hours and hours of discussion the last few days. As of now, we don't have a package where they'll both be on the field, however I'd like to get them both in the game," Meyer said. "It's a blessing to have two quarterbacks that you're very confident in. I don't know how many times I've been like that in my career and how many schools have that luxury. It' a blessing to have it. We have to manage it the right way."

[MORE: Illini and Tar Heels to meet on gridiron in 2015, 2016]

So it's up to the Badgers to prepare for both guys.

"They're both great quarterbacks, without question," Andersen said. "Kenny's done a tremendous job of controlling the offense, throwing the ball, running the ball. He's very poised. And it's amazing that they do have two quarterbacks the quality that they have. It's a credit to the kids in the program, it's a credit to the recruiting they've done. Kenny's been there for a while. From the outside looking in, it's great to see a kid get his opportunity, but he's playing real well and we've got to play against him. And Braxton is who Braxton is, tremendous respect as we've prepared for him. So they have two -- not good -- they have two great quarterbacks."

This battle of the Big Ten titans kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday on ABC.

[RELATED: Northern Illinois looking to go 2-0 vs. Big Ten]

All Big Ten games on Saturday, Sept. 28. (Bye weeks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State)

Miami (Ohio) at Illinois (2-1), 11 a.m., Big Ten Network. The expectations are changing by the week for this Fighting Illini team. Right now, Illinois is expected to come off its bye week and wallop the Redhawks. The Illini still rank second in the Big Ten with 306 passing yards per game, and even a losing effort vs. Washington two weeks ago was looked on by many as a positive with a final-score deficit of just 10 points. This team has weapons, and while they still might be touted as one of the Big Ten's noisemakers, the Illini should have little trouble with Miami (Ohio), a team that is 3-0 and has been outscored 107-21 in those three losses.

Northern Illinois at Purdue (1-3), 11 a.m., ESPN 2. The schedule never seems to ease for Purdue. The Boilermakers have been dealt losses by Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Wisconsin, with the only respite being a Week 2 game against Indiana State that was a difficult victory, at that. Now it's Northern Illinois coming to West Lafayette, a team with a dynamic quarterback in Jordan Lynch and a team that has experience winning. How bad are things going for Darrell Hazell in his first year as head coach? The Boilermakers have yet to amass 1,000 yards of offense — in four games. They rank last in the Big Ten, trailing Illinois by more than 300 total yards. The Illini have played only three games.

“Any time you’re where we are right now, the only way you’re going to get out of these situations is to continue to work together and find solutions to some of the problems that we have," Hazell said on Tuesday. "Now we’ve all been here, and if you hang your head, you’ve got no chance of getting out of it. Our team has worked hard these last couple days, and they understand some of the issues that we’re having. So they’re working hard to get out of that situation.”

Iowa (3-1) at Minnesota (4-0), 2:30 p.m., ABC. These two teams have been playing each other for more than 100 years. They've been playing for a statue of a pig called the Floyd of Rosedale for more than 70. You've got to love the Big Ten. This game should actually be a very entertaining one, as these are two teams on the rise. Iowa has recovered nicely from its season-opening loss to Northern Illinois, winning three straight games and establishing Mark Weisman as one of the conference's best running backs. But running has also been the specialty for this Minnesota team in its undefeated non-conference season. And now with quarterback Mitch Leidner prominently featured, the ground attack becomes all that more dangerous. In the last two games for the Golden Gophers, Leidner's amassed 391 total yards.

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