The Badgers are after their fourth victory over a No. 1 at Camp Randall.
It’s not like the University of Wisconsin football team’s game Saturday night against Ohio State needs any extra buildup.
But it got some anyway on Sunday when the Buckeyes (6-0 overall, 2-0 in the Big Ten Conference) moved to No. 1 in both polls, as expected, in the wake of Alabama’s loss to South Carolina on Saturday.
It’s just the ninth time in history — and the first since No. 1 Michigan came to town in 1997 — the Badgers will host the No. 1 team in the country at Camp Randall Stadium. UW (5-1, 1-1) is No. 18 in the Associated Press poll, up two spots from last week, and No. 16 in the coaches’ poll, up three spots.
If that’s not enough, the 6 p.m. kickoff will be broadcast nationally by ESPN’s top crew of Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Erin Andrews. Also, ESPN’s “College GameDay” preview show will make its fourth trip to Madison, but first since the Penn State game on Sept. 25, 2004.
“It’s going to be an awesome game to play in, underneath the lights, prime time,” UW sophomore linebacker Mike Taylor said. “It’s just going to be exciting to get out there and play. Hopefully, we can play smart and prepare and everything goes well.”
One of the primary themes this week will be UW coach Bret Bielema’s 0-3 record against Ohio State. It’s the only Big Ten team he hasn’t beaten in five years, and he didn’t hesitate to bring up the topic after his team’s 41-23 win over Minnesota on Saturday.
“We’ve got a tremendous challenge,” Bielema said. “Any time you talk about Ohio State, they’ve been the premier (team) of our conference the last several years and have been able to win close games, especially against us. We have a tremendous amount of respect for what they do.
“(Ohio State coach) Jim Tressel, in this business, is as good as it gets. It’s a game for us and me personally of tremendous challenge, but it’s all out of respect — it’s not a hatred thing. I just really admire what they do. Until we’re able to surpass that and get a W, it’s what we have to live with.”
Bielema has a 21-13 Big Ten record, including a combined 13-1 against Minnesota (5-0), Indiana (4-0), Purdue (2-0) and Illinois (2-1). Those are the only teams he has winning records against. He is 43-15 overall.
Tressel, meanwhile, became the third-fastest Big Ten coach to win 100 games with a 38-10 win over Indiana, trailing only Michigan’s Fielding Yost and Bo Schembechler. He is 100-21 overall in his 10th year and 61-13 in conference play.
“The Buckeyes know what it’s like to have a target on our back, especially since we are now well into Big Ten play,” Tressel said after moving to No. 1. “We expect that every team will give us its best shot. How we respond will determine our ultimate ranking.”
The Buckeyes are trying to win a sixth straight Big Ten title and have one of the leading Heisman Trophy contenders in junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Pryor suffered a strained quadriceps in a 24-13 win over Illinois on Oct. 2 and did not attempt a single run on Saturday. Instead, he sat in the pocket and completed 24 of 30 passes for a career-high 334 yards and three touchdowns against Indiana, with no interceptions. He said he made a conscious decision not to scramble and was sacked three times.
“Our training staff did a great job,” Pryor said after the game. “I was still in a lot of pain on Thursday and we just kept on getting after it (with treatment), and finally — actually when I woke up (Saturday) morning — it stopped. Thank God for that.”
Pryor will be making his second appearance at Camp Randall. As a freshman, he led the Buckeyes on an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes of a 20-17 Ohio State win. It was Bielema’s first loss at home.
Bielema split the regular season into three four-game sections: non-conference games, the first half of the Big Ten season and then, following the bye, the last half of conference play.
But for fans and most people outside the program, the season comes down to this two-game stretch against Ohio State and at Iowa the following week. Bielema has constantly praised his players for not looking ahead.
“More so than any other time, these guys understand, every day is the most important,” Bielema said. “The only way we can win (this) Saturday is to win on Sunday and move forward.”
Still, it was hard for players not to have these two games in the back of their heads after big mistakes against both teams last year led to a 31-13 loss to the Buckeyes and then a 20-10 loss to the Hawkeyes.
UW quarterback Scott Tolzien threw two passes that were intercepted and returned for touchdowns and the Buckeyes got a 95-yard kickoff return for a score to overcome UW’s 368-184 advantage in total yardage.
“Ohio State’s a great team,” said UW strong safety Jay Valai, who sat out the Minnesota game with rib and knee injuries but expects to be close to 100 percent this week. “If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man.
“Ohio State’s been the man for a while now. It was hard not to look ahead to them, but they’re here now.”