It has been 44 years since Ohio State played an opponent twice in a season.

The top-ranked Buckeyes hope Saturday's Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin goes better than it did for the 1975 team.

Those Woody Hayes-coached Buckeyes were undefeated heading into their rematch against UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State had routed the Bruins 41-20 on Oct. 4 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That victory propelled the Buckeyes to No. 1, where they spent the rest of the season until the teams met again in Pasadena.

With a national championship in their grasp, Ohio State controlled play in the first half but led only 3-0. UCLA, ranked No. 11, then dominated the second half for a 23-10 victory. Ohio State was never again ranked No. 1 under Hayes.

That season's games against UCLA are the only time after the 19th century that the Buckeyes have faced a rematch in the same season. They are bracing for the challenge against the No. 8 Badgers.

Wisconsin (10-2) gave the Buckeyes their first scare of the season on Oct. 26 when the Badgers scored early in the third quarter after a blocked punt to close within 10-7. Ohio State then scored four unanswered touchdowns for a 38-7 victory at rainy Ohio Stadium.

“I don't feel the score represented what that game was,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Thursday on his radio show. “I think our kids would say the same thing. These guys are very good. I think our guys respect (the Badgers). They respect their toughness. They respect how well-coached they are, how disciplined they are. I would be disappointed if we were overconfident coming into this game.”

The Buckeyes (12-0) are 15-point favorites Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium as they try to become the first Big Ten team ever to win three consecutive outright championships. Unlike past years, Ohio State doesn't need style points in the title game to get into the College Football Playoff. Probably anything but an ugly loss would be enough to get the Buckeyes in.

But Ohio State would like to fend off LSU for the No. 1 ranking. That would almost certainly allow the Buckeyes to avoid a semifinal against undefeated, defending champion Clemson, which is ranked No. 3.

No. 2 LSU plays No. 4 Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game. Clemson is a prohibitive favorite over Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

Ohio State has deflected talk all season about the playoff. The Buckeyes have stuck to their season-long philosophy of focusing strictly on the present.

On the surface, Wisconsin would seem to be a fairly easy team for which to prepare. The Badgers' formula doesn't change much — play disciplined defense, use a star running back to grind out yards and throw just enough to keep defenses honest. Containing Jonathan Taylor remains the key, but it's not quite that simple.

Familiarity has required more preparation, not less, Ohio State center Josh Myers said Monday.

“There's a difference in watching on film and living it,” he said. “We've played each other. We kind of have a feel for the way the other one plays, so there's going to be probably a significant more amount of preparation going into this game.

“We're fully aware they're going to do things they haven't done and we're going to see things that we haven't seen on film.”

The Buckeyes have handled every challenge so far this season. They hope they handle the rematch better than their 1975 predecessors did.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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