Badger fans the world 'round want to watch the Badgers beat down the Northern Illinois Huskies like a pesky gnat to prove to the skeptics (Badger fans included) that Wisconsin is back with a vengeance.
That, friends, isn't going to happen.
Oh, the Badgers may win big (I suspect not), but it won't prove the Badgers are back; Nor would a close win (I predict "comfortable win") prove they aren't. Would you believe me if I told you even a loss wouldn't show that?
But when the Badgers are good they blow these opponents out, right? Not really. Let's start with 1993 as the beginning of our "good" period.
In '93, ending with a Big Ten championship, Rose Bowl victory, and top 5 national ranking, we comfortably beat Nevada (35-17) and Iowa State (28-7), but squeaked by a bad (2-7-2) SMU team (24-16). Maybe Iowa State was a blowout, but easily balanced out by that win over SMU.
I will grant that in '98 we destroyed two opponents on the non-conference schedule, but we only beat 7-5 San Diego State 26-14.
In '99 (the third of the three Rose Bowl seasons), yeah, we crushed 1-AA Murray State and Ball State (they went 0-11), but...well, there was that loss to pre-Big East (C-USA) Cincinnati. And it's not like they were a good team; they finished the year 3-8.
In '05, the year we beat Auburn in the Capital One Bowl, Bowling Green (MAC, 5-6) pushed us before they just couldn't stop Brian Calhoun anymore; yeah, we scored 56, but they scored 42. We only beat 5-6 North Carolina (BCS squad, granted) 14-5.
Lest we forget that forgetful '08 campaign, the Badgers started with big wins over Akron (38-17) and Marshall (51-14), but that didn't mean anything when it came to the conference slate.
The point is one big win, close winning (see '04), or even a loss (Cincinnati in '98) won't tell us how good this team is.
So what can we learn?
(1) What kind of a passer Scott Tolzien is. By the end of the blowouts over Akron and Marshall last season we already knew Evridge was too inconsistent. So, we'll watch to see if Tolzien is as steady as Bielema and Chryst keep telling us.
(2) Remember when UNLV and the Citadel exposed our defense's inability to stop the spread in '07? Here's the first test in '09. Can the front seven contain a pretty decent spread attack?
I know the DC Doeren is concerned about giving up big plays, but that's something you evaluate over the course of the season; in this game we'll see whether our new defenders can play their position, shed blocks, and contain the spread.
(3) We're going to be able to run the ball. The question is how early Chryst will make NIU pay (if he can) for loading up to stop it. Now, if they can't stop the run, even when they load up, we won't find out how Chryst will react, but that will also tell us the Badgers can run as well or even better than we all expect.
(4) Finally, we should get a sense for how our kick-return game looks. Not just the return man himself, but the blocking and protection.
I'd say we'll learn something about our young offensive line, but I'm not at all sure the freshmen (true and redshirt) starting on Saturday will still be there even a week later.
So grab a beer and a brat, fire up the 5th Quarter game day CD, and enjoy. This is your first chance to evaluate the hot seat-fired Badgers.
Most important? Enjoy. It's finally football season again!