Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon is the key to his team's chances to defeat the AP No. 4-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday evening in Ohio Stadium.
This prime-time Big 10 affair is bound to be close, but Gordon must continue the scalding pace he's on thus far in his redshirt sophomore season to give Wisconsin the edge.
On only 53 carries to date in 2013, Gordon has accumulated 624 yards—an 11.8-yard average—with a whopping seven touchdowns in four games.
It's all the more impressive that Gordon leads the nation in rushing considering his backfield teammate, James White, leads the country in career rushing yards, per Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com:
Josh Norris of Rotoworld is comparing Gordon to Tennessee Titans star Chris Johnson—that's just how much of a home run threat Gordon is.
Draft expert Dane Brugler has started warming up to Norris' assessment that Gordon is the best NFL draft-eligible running back:
White's production must remain steady so that the Wisconsin running game can keep the ball away from Ohio State's fourth-ranked scoring offense. Freshman Corey Clement deepens the stable of Badger backs, too, having tossed in 334 yards of his own on the ground.
However, nothing will silence the raucous crowd more than a multitude of big plays ripped off by Gordon, who is facing the 14th-best run defense statistically.
Ohio State has fielded a vaunted defense nearly every season since the Jim Tressel era, but the 2013 schedule so far has featured cupcake game after cupcake game. A 76-0 trouncing of Florida A&M was the most recent ride for Urban Meyer's Buckeyes aboard the gravy train.
Gordon had his best game against the No. 23 Badgers' best opponent to date in Purdue last week, running for 147 yards and three touchdowns.
The Ohio State game could be Gordon's chance to mount a legitimate Heisman Trophy campaign, and it will take that type of performance for Wisconsin to garner greater national respect and truly revitalize its season.
ESPN.com's Austin Ward points out how thin the Buckeyes' defensive line is, with Adolphus Washington missing the past two games with a groin injury and Tommy Schutt still yet to suit up this season.
Beyond star linebacker Ryan Shazier, Ohio State doesn't have many proven commodities to stop Wisconsin's relentless, physical and powerful rushing attack. Shazier is the only returning starter in the Buckeyes' front seven, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin.
All of the elements are in place for Gordon to have a huge outing in Columbus, but it's up to him to deliver on his promise in the Badgers' most important game of the year to date.