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Ohio State the Big Ten's benchmark, but Wisconsin closing fast

INDIANAPOLIS—College football coaches like to use examples of success to tap into the impressionable minds of their players.

Urban Meyer isn’t original in using Michael Jordan as an example for his Ohio State Buckeyes.

But when Wisconsin plays Meyer’s bunch Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Big Ten Championship, what might their benchmark be? It’s unclear. But maybe it should be the Buckeyes themselves.

The bar-setting Ohio State program has certainly looked down at the rest of the Big Ten since Meyer took over in 2012. Proof is they haven’t lost a regular-season conference game in his tenure.

In fairness to the Badgers, though, they’ve been breathing on the necks of the Buckeyes since Wisconsin throttled Nebraska 59-24 in Madison on Nov. 15—a game that sent the Nebraska program into a tailspin, cost coach Bo Pelini his job and solidified the Badgers’ program as the best in the West.

Maybe that’s why Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen seemed a little insulted at the idea that his program was inferior.

“To say one team is the benchmark of the Big Ten, I don’t think so,” Andersen said Friday.

“We all look at ourselves as an elite team within the conference. Why wouldn’t you if that’s where you’re at?”

One thing reigns true in Andersen’s statement: Wisconsin does believe it can play with the elite team. The Badgers opened this season with a game against LSU in Houston. They’ve scheduled a game against Alabama in Dallas to open the 2015 season.

Regardless of accolades, status or national perceptions, this game means no more to one than the other.

Meyer needs this win after his team flopped away a chance to play for the national championship last season. The undefeated Buckeyes lost to Michigan State in last year’s conference championship, largely due some questionable coaching decisions down the stretch.

A win Saturday would give Meyer his first Big Ten Championship and, pending the results of earlier games, keep the Buckeyes in the hunt for the college football playoff.

For Wisconsin the obvious: a conference championship would mean that Andersen, who was Meyer’s defensive line coach Utah in 2004, could stand as tall as the Buckeyes and their celebrity coach.

“From my first time I walked into Ohio State when I was 21 years old, when you decide to play athletics, football in particular, you’re measured by championships,” Meyer, a graduate assistant at Ohio State from 1986-87, said.

“As Bill Parcells said in the champions’ video we watch quite often ‘It changes forever who you are. It ties a team together for the rest of their lives, a championship.’”

For Meyer it’s about raising a trophy. For the Badgers have to stop saying they can play with the big boys. And instead just say they have beaten them.

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen