How will college football titan Nebraska fare against Wisconsin this weekend in its first conference game as a member of the Big Ten? As the luck of the Huskers has it, Nebraska will have to handle another titan ranked ahead of them in the national polls.
In three major surveys—the AP, USA Today and ESPN.com—the Wisconsin Badgers are ranked No. 7. Nebraska is ranked No. 8 in the AP and USA Today polls and No. 9 at ESPN.com.
This game is more than a battle between top 10 teams and conference rivals, it’s an epic showdown depicting the original Big Ten performance by the Cornhuskers against an opponent that also has national title aspirations.
The stands at Camp Randall Stadium will be filled to capacity and beyond if the Badgers have anything to do with it, and they do. The college football world will be the audience as ABC-ESPN is scheduled to broadcast the game under the bright lights of a Saturday night.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It will be the first Big Ten game of the year for both schools—the top two teams in the conference if you believe in early season rankings. I don’t give too much priority to the rankings until, oh, around the end of the season. The polls have let me down too often.
Neither Nebraska nor Wisconsin should have to worry about suffering from letdown syndrome. Both teams had one of their best performances of the season last week. The Huskers beat Wyoming the way they were supposed to, and Wisconsin did the same to South Dakota.
Nebraska's passing game looked good against the Cowboys, but I believe it is still far from what they'll need to be a force against Big Ten defensive backs.
On the other side of the field, the Badgers have one of the best passing attacks in the nation. Transfer quarterback Russell Wilson stepped into the Big Ten from the ACC (North Carolina State) and hasn’t missed a beat with wide receiver Nick Toon.
Wilson is protected by a rugged and versatile offensive line that loves to beat opponents down in the run game. Wisconsin’s line had significant turnover from last season’s powerhouse running team that lost to TCU in the Rose Bowl, but they haven’t slacked off.
Running backs James White and Montee Ball form the Big Ten’s most vaunted offensive backfield duo. White was a 1,000 yard rusher and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season, and Ball rushed for 996 yards. Neither White nor Ball was the starter in 2010.
This game marks the start of a classic Big Ten rushing rivalry.
Nebraska’s vaunted rushing attack takes a back seat to no other school. When you get a chance, check out my list of the top 50 Nebraska I-backs.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez is more of a runner than a passer, but that doesn’t mean he can’t chuck it when he needs to. He tossed two touchdown passes in the game against Wyoming, but he’ll have to repeat it on the road against a stingy defense.
Wisconsin’s defensive-minded coach, Bret Bielema, is blessed and excited to have a part-time professional baseball player in Wilson. The senior arrived in Madison this past July and has boosted the Badgers who are having another magnificent season.
Wilson was the ACC’s leading passer last season with over 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns. He pitched 76 touchdowns and 26 interceptions in three years.
The ramifications of this game go beyond the Big Ten Leaders (Wisconsin) and Legends (Nebraska) divisions, but to the Big Ten Championship Game.
That game will take place on December 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The winner gets an automatic invitation to the Rose Bowl, unless they finish in the top two of the final BCS standings. In that case, they’ll stand in the BCS National Championship Game.
For instance these Badgers are trying to complete the rare accomplishment of having the same state Super Bowl and college football national champions in the same football year. Predicting whether or not they will is not an easy task, but someone has to do it.
Wisconsin is my pick to win the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
The lack of a legitimate passing game will hurt Nebraska this weekend. If the Huskers can run the ball and control time of possession, then they’ll have a chance to win.
The Badgers offensive line averages 322 pounds and the Blackshirts haven’t been as stingy as long time fans are accustomed to. I believe they'll keep the pass rush off Wilson and allow him to do his thing.
If the Badgers are forced to run the ball in the face of consistent nine men in the box looks, then Wilson and Toon will have a field day. At the end of the day, Wisconsin will win by a score of 34-24 and relegate the Huskers to second-best status, for now, in the Big Ten.
Contact Lake Cruise: Lakecruise@att.net.
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