COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer wasn’t going to bite.
Truth be told, it was hard to expect him to. So when the Ohio State head coach downplayed the buzz around his building heading into the No. 2 Buckeyes’ top-10 matchup with No. 8 Wisconsin this weekend, it didn’t come as much of a surprise.
“It’s workman-like,” Meyer said of the atmosphere around his team. “Tuesday and Wednesday are all about practice and execution and getting ready to play. It’s good. It’s a workday though.”
But if this is supposed to be the cliched “just another week” around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, somebody should let the building’s interior designer know.
From the door sign Meyer only brings out for big games to the motivational “Beat Wisconsin” message displayed on the mini-Jumbotron that hangs above, one peek at Ohio State’s practice field would be enough to prove the Buckeyes are hardly treating their battle with the Badgers as “just another week.”
Video screen at the Woody this week. pic.twitter.com/2pDePvFU0H
— Tim Moody (@TimLMoody) October 12, 2016
And rightfully so.
This isn’t just the highest-ranked team Ohio State will have faced to this point in the season, but one it has history with—even if conference realignment has prevented the Buckeyes and Badgers from playing each other on an annual basis.
“Normally, we’re both one of the top schools out of the Big Ten,” said Ohio State safety Malik Hooker. “We know we (could) wind up seeing them throughout the season (in the Big Ten title game). So yeah, I guess you could call it a rivalry.”
Ohio State and Wisconsin aren’t rivals in the traditional sense—the on-field history between the two schools doesn’t even warrant a Wikipedia page—but aside from Michigan State, you’d be hard-pressed to find an opponent the Buckeyes have played more meaningful games against in recent memory than the Badgers.
The most recent example came two years ago in the Big Ten Championship Game, when all that stood in front of Ohio State’s path to a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff was a Wisconsin team looking to play the role of spoiler in Indianapolis. Despite one-time third-string quarterback Cardale Jones starting in the first game of his college career, the Buckeyes compiled a start-to-finish 59-0 beatdown of the Badgers, before setting off on what would be a successful championship chase.
With several players on both current rosters having been in the building — or even on the field — for the last memorable meeting between Ohio State and Wisconsin, it may not take long for intensity to turn into animosity in Madison on Saturday.
“Oh man, 59-0, that would stick with me for a while if I got another chance to play them,” said Buckeyes linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who recorded six tackles as a true freshman against the Badgers. “We jumped on them early and had the momentum swing in the game.
“Hopefully, we can do the same in this game.”
Meyer said he had his team rewatch that game earlier this week, insisting only because Wisconsin still plays a similar style of defense to the one it employed two years ago. From a historical perspective, however, the bad blood between the Buckeyes and Badgers extends far beyond the last time the two teams found themselves on the same field.
In 2003, defending national champion Ohio State had its title defense denied because of a 17-10 loss in Madison at the hands of Wisconsin star receiver Lee Evans. In 2008, the Buckeyes ended the Badgers’ Big Ten title hopes in Camp Randall, thanks to a last-minute Terrelle Pryor touchdown.
It was 2010 when Wisconsin knocked off No. 1 Ohio State, ultimately keeping the Buckeyes out of the BCS Championship Game. A year later, Braxton Miller got Russell Wilson and the Badgers back with a pseudo-Hail Mary throw to Devin Smith. And in the only Meyer-Bret Bielema matchup of the OSU-Wisconsin rivalry, Ryan Shazier forced a fumble from a leaping Montee Ball, keeping what would be a perfect 12-0 season alive for the Buckeyes.
A frame-by-frame depiction of the play is plastered on one of the hallway walls inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“That was a great play,” Meyer said on Wednesday, his mind clearly wandering toward this weekend’s matchup, not the one that took place four years ago.
But for all the great memories that have occurred on the field, another ongoing habit has emerged from Ohio State’s trips to Madison. Between the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters, Camp Randall Stadium is notorious for blaring House of Pain’s 1992 hip-hop hit “Jump Around,” riling up an already well-lubricated Wisconsin fan base in the process.
In the event they’ve been winning or even close, Buckeye teams have taken it upon themselves to take part in the tradition.
Asked if he’ll jump around in his second trip to Madison, Meyer unsurprisingly said he’d decline. His players on the other hand?
“If we’re up, I’m definitely gonna get hyped and get into it with the crowd,” Hooker said.
High stakes, bad blood, memories and tradition. What more you could want?
Officially, the Buckeyes and Badgers may not be rivals.
But their shared history includes enough ingredients to tell you this is far from “just another week” for both sides.