This isn't the first time tradi tional powerhouse Ohio State has appeared vulnerable to those in alliance with the University of Wisconsin football team.

When the Big Ten Conference teams meet Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, the Buckeyes will be the unranked team in the matchup for the first time since 1963 and just the fourth time in this 76-game series since the Associated Press poll began full-time in 1936.

The 12th-ranked Badgers have won three of the past five meetings at Ohio Stadium and face a team ranked 110th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in total offense.

With five Big Ten games remaining, Ohio State already has lost more league outings (two) than it did in any season from 2005 to '10 and is one of three FBS teams utilizing a true freshman at quarterback in Braxton Miller.

The Buckeyes continue to deal with the effects of a NCAA investigation into impermissible benefits involving football players, a probe that prompted coach Jim Tressel to resign, standout quarterback Terrelle Pryor to leave the program and turn pro and will keep veteran wide receiver DeVier Posey suspended until Nov. 19.

If one didn't know better, Ohio State is the underdog in this duel, a perception endorsed by Las Vegas odds makers who have the Badgers as 7½-point favorites.

That doesn't matter to Luke Fickell, the former defensive coordinator who was elevated to interim coach when Tressel resigned.

"We try not to look at those kinds of things," Fickell said Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "Our guys understand. I'm sure they see that and know what it's all about. But it still comes down to Saturday night.

"We've had enough stuff (going on) outside of (the team) for the last year that we don't try to look at those things that we have no control of."

Fickell said he won't play the underdog card with his players any more than he will emphasize what happened last season when Ohio State came to Camp Randall Stadium ranked No. 1 and left owning a 31-18 loss.

"It's not something that we use," he said.

"It's not a redemption or revenge. It's making sure we understand what the feeling was like because that's ultimately what can drive you is the feelings (of) good and the bad."

But it's one thing to perceive vulnerability. It's something else to actually smell it and capitalize on it.

This will be the 15th time since 1948 Ohio State has been unranked when it faces the Badgers. It is 13-1 in those meetings, including a 4-0 mark when UW is ranked. The only victory for the Badgers came in 1982.

The Buckeyes have their issues fresh off a bye week, but their running game is better since Dan "Boom" Herron finished his NCAA-mandated suspension. Their defense is characteristically stout (ranked 16th in total defense). And their special teams are typically dangerous (sixth in kickoff returns, 15th in punt returns).

Offense is the biggest problem for Ohio State. Miller supplanted Joe Bauserman as the starter and the passing game — ranked 115th nationally — has become so dormant that four throws were attempted and one completed en route to a 17-7 upset of 16th-ranked Illinois Oct. 15.

The Buckeyes are famous for once having a "3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust" approach to offense, but the most recent time they completed only one pass in a game was 1976.

Fickell said Miller, a multi-dimensional sort who was recruited by UW, has made strides in his demeanor and "his ability to handle the workload of game plans week in and week out."

"He's doing a better job (of) putting the ball away, taking what is given to him and his management of the game."

Fickell has seen this series evolve into a pretty even rivalry. He was 3-0-1 against UW as nose guard with the Buckeyes from 1993 to '96, but since becoming an assistant under Tressel, Fickell has seen the Badgers win three times in seven meetings.

"It's been going ever since I've been in school," he said. "Sometimes the tough thing is you don't play them for a few years."

UW won back-to-back meetings in 2003 and '04 — the most recent time Ohio State has lost to the same Big Ten opponent in consecutive seasons — then the series went off line in 2005 and '06 when the Badgers were making the coaching transition from Barry Alvarez to Bret Bielema.

"It has been battles back and forth ever since I was in school," Fickell said. "It's just similar types of mentalities and (the Badgers) probably have a lot of similar type of young men (from) recruiting similar guys.

"All in all, it's developed into one heck of a rivalry."

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