Mondays with Rasty: 2016 matchup between OSU and UW has eerie similarities to 2010 matchup

The Badgers and the Buckeyes met in 2010 in Camp Randall under the lights when Ohio State was led by quarterback Terrelle Pryor. 

Image By: Isa Alvarez

Six years ago, Wisconsin and Ohio State met under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium on a night that Badgers fan will never forget.

At the time of the 2010 meeting, Bret Bielema was in his fifth year as UW’s head coach and still searching for a true signature win. Wisconsin certainly was successful up to that point under Bielema, boasting a 43-15 record during his tenure, but had failed to cement itself as a Big Ten powerhouse. Prior to that year’s matchup with Ohio State, Bielema was 4-9 against ranked opponents, 1-8 against ranked Big Ten opponents, 0-4 against top 10 teams and was winless in three meetings with the Buckeyes.

Wisconsin entered the season ranked No. 12 in the AP poll with dreams of capturing the program’s first Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance in 11 years. The Buckeyes were clearly the prohibitive favorites to win the conference — and possibly play for a national title — but the Badgers had the firepower to compete with them for conference supremacy.

A loss on the road to Michigan State two weeks earlier had dampened these hopes, but No. 18 Wisconsin still had its sights set on an upset when the top-ranked and undefeated Buckeyes came to town.

College Gameday made the trip to Madison for the first time since 2004 in anticipation for the primetime showdown. The city was filled with an aura of hope and excitement so remarkable that ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt would once again dub Madison as America’s greatest college town the following Monday on his radio show. The stage was set for a night to remember in Wisconsin’s capital before a raucous crowd of 81,194.

David Gilreath took the opening kickoff 97 yards to the house to get the game underway with a bang. The Badgers never looked back.

Running back John Clay bulldozed his way for 104 yards and two touchdowns. J.J. Watt and the UW defense kept Terrelle Pryor in check for most of the night. Wisconsin jumped out to an early 21-0 lead and James White would later run for a 12-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown that sealed the deal after the Buckeyes had cut the deficit to 21-18. When the final whistle sounded, fans poured onto the field to celebrate the program’s first win over a No. 1 team since 1981.

That win marked a significant turning point for the Badgers. They would win out in the regular season to grab a share of the Big Ten title and earn a trip to Pasadena. They would of course then go on to win conference titles and earn Rose Bowl appearances the following two years as well (the third of which was made possible by postseason bans to both Ohio State and Penn State). It was one of the most memorable stretches in school history, and it all started with that gorgeous October night in Madison.

Almost exactly six years to the day of that win, Wisconsin will get a chance to do it again.

The Badgers and the Buckeyes will face off in a primetime matchup at Camp Randall once again this Saturday. “College Gameday” is coming to town ahead of the game for the first time in five years and the atmosphere throughout Madison will undoubtedly be electric in anticipation of this weekend.

There are, of course, plenty of differences between the 2010 game and this Saturday’s matchup. Paul Chryst is only in his second year as Wisconsin’s head coach and doesn’t have the same stigma of being unable to win big games that Bielema had. Ohio State now has a coach whose entire offensive philosophy doesn’t revolve around running on first down, running on second down and passing on third down. More broadly, the Big Ten now consists of 14 teams and two divisions, and the national champion is decided by a four-team playoff rather than the BCS.

Still, it’s hard not to notice the parallels.

Urban Meyer and Ohio State are focused in on contending for a national title this season much like Jim Tressel’s Buckeyes were six years ago. Wisconsin already has a loss on its résumé, but it came on the road against a ranked opponent and the Badgers still have a team good enough to compete for a Big Ten title.

Since the turn of the millennium, only Ohio State has had a better record among Big Ten programs than Wisconsin. The Badgers’ 14 consecutive bowl appearances are tied for the sixth-longest streak in the country and that streak is the longest of any Big Ten team. This is a program that is consistently successful year in and year out. And yet, Wisconsin really isn’t currently considered to be in that top tier of the Big Ten.

Sure, the Badgers are a tough team that no one in the conference would really care to face on any given Saturday. But they don’t have that historical prestige like Ohio State and Michigan, programs that are both back in the upper echelon of college football under Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, respectively. Even Michigan State under Mark Dantonio, despite their struggles this season, have earned a prominent place on the national stage with their consistent seasons of 11-plus wins and a College Football Playoff appearance last year.

As of now, Wisconsin is something of a Big Ten bridesmaid.

For a brief time under Bielema — when the Badgers won three consecutive conference titles and made three straight trips to Pasadena — they got a taste of the top of the Big Ten. However, they’ve lost their last four meetings with the Buckeyes and their only Big Ten Championship Game appearance in the last four years ended in a 59-0 waxing at the hands of Ohio State.

This Saturday’s game in and of itself obviously doesn’t determine the course of Wisconsin football. The future looks bright for the Badgers under Chryst with a lot of young talent and a more manageable schedule next season. Even a loss Saturday doesn’t knock them out of contention for a Big Ten West title.

A loss doesn’t mean the end of the world for the Badgers and a win doesn’t suddenly catapult them to the status of college football blueblood. But the last time they knocked off Ohio State at home marked the beginning of something special for Wisconsin football. Just maybe, a win this weekend is a sign that the Badgers are headed down a path where they will reach that level of success once again.

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