Who: Wisconsin Badgers @ Minnesota Gophers
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, ESPN
When: Saturday, Oct. 3, 11 a.m. CST.
In listening to the new Beatles remasters, I keep having the same thought over and over:
Man, that Paul McCartney can play the bass.
In continuing with my musings, I also consider how McCartney was clearly the best vocalist of the four, clearly the best looking of the four (not completely irrelevant in their embryonic period), and not that far behind Lennon in terms of songwriting.
Yet, Beatle Paul is almost universally underappreciated and disrespected in comparison to Beatle John.
I feel the same way about this weekend’s Wisconsin/Minnesota Border Battles: The Packers/Vikings game is getting all the attention, while the Badgers/Gophers game is getting no respect.
And like I could make several arguments why Paul McCartney was the most talented Beatle, I could make several arguments why the Badgers/ Gophers matchup Saturday will actually be the better game.
So here, with a nod to the Beatles, are the Channel 3000 three storylines to watch as the Badgers travel to Minneapolis to continue the longest rivalry in NCAA Division 1-A football:
1. Why Don’t We Do It (On) The Road? The Badgers—particularly Scott Tolzien—have been fairly impressive so far, but can they repeat their early-season success on the road?
Last year’s Badger team was uninspiring away from Camp Randall, beating only Fresno State and lowly Indiana to finish 2-4 (including that awful showing in the Florida Citrus Bowl) on the road.
With upcoming games against Top 25 teams Ohio State and Iowa (the Hawkeyes coming off that big upset over Penn State), it’s imperative for Wisconsin to play well in Minneapolis Saturday to avoid a slide reminiscent of last year’s 0-4 stretch.
Beyond the obvious aesthetic improvements over the crappy Metrodome and the fact that alcohol is now no longer sold at Gopher home games, the fact that the game is Minnesota’s first Big Ten game in their new on-campus TCF Bank Stadium shouldn’t matter much. They could play this game at the new $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium or at Appleton West High School and it would be a game that both teams have circled on their calendars.
2. Will Scott Tolzien Be Throwing Here, There, and Everywhere? Wisconsin’s passing game is improving every week, and while fans shouldn’t expect Tolzien to repeat his four-touchdown performance from a week ago, which came against a horrid Michigan State secondary, it’s worth noting that Minnesota has its own issues with its defense.
Just last week, the Gophers gave up a whopping 309 passing yards in a 35-24 victory against Northwestern; then, on Monday, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster suspended two defensive players for violating team rules.
Seems like the Minnesota defense is as good a defense as any for Tolzien to face in his first conference road game.
3. Will Eric Decker Have The Badgers Secondary Yelling “Help!”? Wisconsin’s defense did a fine job last week of shutting down Michigan State’s formidable passing attack, only allowing the Spartans to open it up after building a 38-17 fourth-quarter lead (255 of MSU’s 396 passing yards came in the final quarter).
Now Wisconsin’s backfield has to contend with Minnesota wideout Eric Decker, who is statistically the third-best receiver in the country. In four games this year, Decker has four touchdowns while averaging over 124 yards a game.
Last year, in what was a wild 35-32 Wisconsin win at home, Decker was out; two years ago, Decker torched the Badgers for 125 yards on just six receptions for two touchdowns. Decker is the best opposing skill player the Badgers have faced so far this season and they will have their hands full containing him.
In my preseason preview, I picked the Badgers to suffer their first loss of the season on Saturday. Obviously I’ve been right so far, but given the unexpected strong play of Scott Tolzien (which has been so good people have been forgetting about the run game, which oh, by the way, is second in the Big Ten), I expect to be proven wrong.
Picking the Gophers to take possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which has only happened twice since 1995?
I Should Have Known Better.