Meyer begins new rivalry with old friend

OSU coach knows UW coach Andersen well

9/27/2013
BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Roby
Roby

COLUMBUS — One of the Big Ten’s most bitter and entertaining recent rivalries is not dead yet.

Earlier this week, Ohio State coach and psychology major Urban Meyer anointed three-time defending league champion Wisconsin the "kings" of the conference. To which Buckeyes cornerback Bradley Roby replied: Say what?

"We know we're the kings," he said. "Simple as that."

That’s why Roby said it was so painful watching — or, more accurately, not watching — the Badgers represent the Leaders Division by default in the conference championship game last year. Ohio State had beaten Wisconsin and everyone else in its path, only to be banished from the postseason.

Saturday night, in a showdown Roby and his teammates have impatiently awaited for months, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes will attempt to once and for all depose No. 23 Wisconsin.

"When somebody takes what's yours, you’re obviously not going to be happy about it," Roby said. "Next time you see him, there's going to be a fight."

Enjoy it while it lasts. Saturday’s bout at Ohio Stadium will be the last of its kind.

The Buckeyes (4-0) and Badgers (3-1) are not only headed off to different divisions in a realigned 14-team conference next season — their next regular-season meeting not coming until 2016 — but the Buckeyes’ leading villain will no longer be on the opposite sideline.

Bret Bielema is now at Arkansas, replaced in Madison by one of Meyer’s closest friends, Gary Andersen.

Meyer laughed when he was asked this week if he missed Bielema.

"No, I’m good with Gary," he said.

Bielema’s reply to ESPN: "The feeling’s mutual."

That’s why the rivalry was so much fun. Or one reason. The games weren’t bad, either. A matchup once as lopsided as any in the nation — Ohio State beat Wisconsin 21 straight times from 1960 to 1980 — had become the Buckeyes second-most anticipated annual game.

Though Bielema was 1-5 against OSU, the games provided high drama. The last three meetings ended with Wisconsin dashing then-No. 1 OSU’s national title hopes, quarterback Braxton Miller heaving a game-winning touchdown pass, and Bielema fighting back tears after an overtime Buckeyes victory.

Bielema lived to tweak OSU, pouring kerosene on the rivalry at every turn.

Recall the now-SEC coach challenging Meyer’s recruiting tactics, saying last year, “We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC in any way."

Now, though the stakes remain high, the edge has softened.

Meyer still raves about his good fortune in hiring Andersen to his staff at Utah in 2004. 

In Meyer’s final season in Salt Lake City before leaving for Florida, the Utes went 12-0 and became the first "BCS buster."

"He was arguably one of the most important hires I’ve ever made," Meyer said of Andersen, who spent the past four seasons at Utah State. "He took one of our weakest units, the defensive line, and just his overall presence, positive attitude, and character [made it a strength]."

Andersen declined Meyer’s invite to join him at Florida, choosing to remain at his alma mater to become defensive coordinator under Whittingham. The two remain close, talking often during the offseason.

For one week, though, the friendship is on hold. One last time, OSU and Wisconsin will fight for Big Ten supremacy as if nothing has changed.

"I can feel it around here," Meyer said of Wisconsin week. "These players know. [The Badgers] have been to the Rose Bowl three years in a row. They're the leaders of the Big Ten, they're the top dog. So it's a challenge.

"Our players get it."

MILLER TO START: Meyer said Thursday that Miller remains on course to start Saturday.

"Braxton is ready," he said on his weekly radio call-in show. "We're going to start Braxton if he has a good day of practice today."

Meyer said Miller, who sat the past two games with a sprained knee ligament, took most of the first-team reps in practice this week and called the junior star "close to or at 100 percent."

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.