By TOM LEA
MADISON – Montee Ball has been around the college football world long enough to know he can’t bury his head in the sand.
He knows the pieces are starting to fall into place over at Ohio State, even though it’s a program ineligible for postseason play in 2012 and one that’s in the midst of a two-year probationary period for various violations stemming from Jim Tressel’s tenure in Columbus.
Even with all that Ball knows Urban Meyer’s track record as a college coach. And most importantly, he knows the Buckeyes are going to be one heck of a tough challenge when they roll into Madison in mid-November.
He’s not going to dance around that notion.
“The team to beat is for sure Ohio State,” Ball told reporters during Wednesday’s Big Ten Leaders division teleconference. “With Urban Meyer there obviously he got a bunch of good recruits.
“It’s going to be a really, really good game when we play Ohio State.”
That’ll happen November 17, inside the same Camp Randall Stadium that witnessed one of the biggest wins in UW football history two seasons ago. That was the game when David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown that catapulted the Badgers to a 31-18 win over then No. 1 Ohio State.
That might have been the genesis of a suddenly blossoming rivalry and one that will only continue to grow in the near future. Wisconsin and Ohio State play each other every single season, and if either one of the teams is to advance to the still-infant Big Ten championship game in a given year it will likely have to beat the other.
“For us to get that win against them when they were No. 1 was huge,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “Obviously last year we lost a heartbreaker in Columbus, but saw the fan’s reaction when they poured out onto the field and the emotional input that made in my mind.
“I think it’s a good thing.”
That 33-29 loss inside ‘The Horseshoe’ that Bielema eluded to marked Ohio State’s fifth win of the season. Its win over Indiana the following week was its last of the season, one where the Buckeyes finished 6-7 overall with a 24-17 loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl.
The Badgers held a late lead in that game before freshman quarterback Braxton Miller found a wide-open Devin Smith for the go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute to play. That’s what sparked the circus-like atmosphere inside Ohio Stadium, a scene similar to what took place inside Camp Randall the year prior.
It also left a sour taste in the mouth of several Badger players. The loss, especially the way it happened, marked the second last-minute defeat the Badgers suffered in as many weeks.
“Obviously from last year we most definitely want to come back and play them again,” Ball said. “Like I said, we’re focused right now for this spring and we’ve got to head into the fall ready to go.”
But even now, as the Badgers enter the meat of their spring practice schedule, the rivalry remains a hot topic. That’s mostly because Bielema accused Meyer and his Ohio State program of elicit recruiting during his national signing day press conference in early February.
The story had mostly died before a Sporting News feature published earlier this week reignited the flame by specifically saying Bielema and the UW program alleged Ohio State of ‘bumping,’ the practice of accidentally bumping into a recruit during a dead period, and using former Buckeye players to call potential OSU recruits, both of which would be a NCAA violation if found to be true.
Meyer, according to the story, vehemently claimed there were no ‘issues’ with his program and the NCAA. Bielema, following his team’s fifth practice of spring drills, said UW never alleged any ‘bumping’ or recruiting issues of that regard.
If there’s one thing Bielema can’t deny, though, it’s the fact his team has a competitive rivalry on its hands with Ohio State. And it seems as though the Badgers seventh-year head coach likes it that way.
“Ohio State has done a lot of great things and will continue to do so,” Bielema said. “I have a lot of respect for their program and I always will because of their place not only in our conference, but in the world of college football.
“If you can be a rival with them I think that’s a positive thing.”
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