no stinkin’ badgers.

When I went through Ohio State’s schedule back in August, one thing jumped out at me — I thought tomorrow’s game against Wisconsin was probably the toughest on the schedule.

Almost nothing about this season has gone the way I expected it to, but we’ve come full circle in respect to my initial assessment of this game.

Wisconsin hasn’t had a Wisconsin-esque season so far. They were firing assistant coaches just a game or two in. They couldn’t figure out who’s playing quarterback. And until sometime in mid-October, they couldn’t run the football, something that qualifies as a full-blown crisis in Madison.

But in the past few week, Monte Ball has looked like Monte Ball — and Wisconsin has looked like Wisconsin. And we’re back to the trip to Madison looking like a tough one.

Ohio State hasn’t played like I expected, either; they’re, uh, better. We’re in a position to clinch sole possession of the 2012 Pork Division championship with a win tomorrow, and take one more step towards an undefeated season.

This is the time of the year when things are supposed to be hard. The games are more important. The opponents are tougher and more focused. The weather can be pretty grim. And if you’re playing on the road? Ouch. Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium is one of the truly nasty places for opponents in the Big Ten and playing there in November multiplies the potential problems.

But. We’ve already played in the roughest road environment we can face in the conference. We’ve improved almost every week. Our defense is playing like an Ohio State defense. And our team seems to have embraced the challenge of a season without the possibility of a post-season reward. Striving for another undefeated week — and being one game away from an undefeated season — is enough of a goal.

Wisconsin has some motivation as well. I’m sure they don’t want to back into the Big Ten title game — their berth as the Pork representative is already assured — which they would do if they don’t win the division title outright by winning tomorrow.

And then there’s the matter of last year. I’ll never forget that game. I imagine they haven’t forgotten either.

We will get Wisconsin’s best shot tomorrow. Madison will be primed, as Columbus was a year ago, for what has become one of the conference’s better rivalries. And they’ll be playing to position themselves for the conference championship game and beyond.

But Ohio State has something bigger to play for. Not a bowl game. Not a conference championship. But for each other. And for the rest of the conference, so there’s no doubt who has the best team in the league, no matter what the NCAA has to say.

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2017 schedule

Aug. 31: vs. at Indiana, 8 p.m.
Sept. 9: Oklahoma, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16: Army, 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 23: UNLV
Sept. 30: at Rutgers
Oct. 4: at Maryland
Oct. 7: Maryland
Oct. 14: at Nebraska
Oct. 28: Penn State, 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 4: at Iowa
Nov. 11: Michigan State
Nov. 18: Illinois
Nov. 22: Indiana
Nov. 25: at Team Up North, noon
Dec. 2: B1G Championship, 8 p.m.

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