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Ohio State vs. Wisconsin served better when it’s bitter

BraxtMiller Ethan Hemer Mike Taylor

Braxton Miller, Ethan Hemer, Mike Taylor

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The ugly truth is, Urban Meyer and Gary Andersen really like each other. Although they spent only one season together as coaches — 2004, when Meyer’s Utah team, with Andersen on the defensive staff, went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl — they clicked and have remained in close contact.

‘‘I couldn’t be more proud of who he is as a person,’’ Meyer said over the summer.

‘‘It’s an important relationship to me,’’ Andersen said this week.

There’s a word for guys like these two: friends.

Sickening, isn’t it?

The Big Ten needs the coaches of Ohio State and Wisconsin to get along like it needs another season on the outside looking in at the national title race.

The Southeastern Conference has Alabama and Auburn hating each other, Alabama and LSU in an annual death match and now Alabama and Texas A&M in college football’s fastest-developing rivalry — and that’s all in the same division.

The Big Ten Leaders Division has precious little football rivalry juice beyond the Buckeyes’ and Badgers’ recent history of not being able to stand each other. And now Meyer, in his second season in Columbus, and Andersen, in Year 1 in Madison, are daring — with pure, unadulterated spitelessness — to make nice.

It’s just not right.

Andersen’s predecessor, Bret Bielema, and Meyer shared mutual, honest-to-goodness contempt. It trickled down to their players, though anyone who has fastened a chinstrap for the Buckeyes or the Badgers in recent seasons would say the series had long been moving in the direction of a legit, heated rivalry. Another Ohio State-Michigan, certainly not. But just as relevant — perhaps more so — in the context of Big Ten titles and Rose Bowls.

Now, ever more so in that regard. The Badgers have been to Pasadena three years in a row. The Buckeyes are huge favorites to get there in 2013, either for the Rose Bowl or for the BCS title game, which will take place on the same field five days later.

It won’t be winner-take-all this weekend in Columbus. It’s not even October yet. But given the rest of the Leaders field — Penn State (postseason-ineligible), Illinois, Indiana and Purdue — we already know it’ll be the Buckeyes or the Badgers representing the division in the Big Ten championship game.

The victor Saturday night will have essentially a two-game lead in the standings, with the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Yep, this is another big one between these programs.

And forget the rankings — it’s also another toss-up.

Last year, the Buckeyes, bound for 12-0 (but also banned from the postseason), needed overtime to beat an eventual six-loss Wisconsin team that was on its third different starting quarterback. In 2011, the Russell Wilson-led Badgers were better than OSU, but they lost in Columbus on a last-ditch heave by Braxton Miller.

The year before that? The No.  1-ranked Buckeyes got their rear ends handed to them 31-18.

‘‘Our players and their players know that it’s going to come down [to the finish],’’ Meyer said. ‘‘This will be a classic game.’’

But will it also be a classy game? We can only hope not. At times like this, it’s good to remember 2003, when an OSU linebacker literally choked UW’s quarterback out of the game.

OK, so that’s a little drastic, but you get the idea.

‘‘Ohio State has a thing for us,’’ said Melvin Gordon, the Badgers’ star running back, ‘‘and we have a thing for them.’’

See? That’s more like it.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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