Nebraska in for rough Big Ten welcome with Wisconsin showdown
Nebraska-Wisconsin game is the first top-10 matchup at Camp Randall since 1962
Taylor Martinez will need to balance his rushing game with successful throwing
With the addition of QB Russell Wilson, the Badgers appear to be the better team
The city of Madison has reeled in its legendary Halloween street parties in recent years after too many incidents required tear gas and pepper spray to break up rowdy students. While no tear gas or pepper spray is expected on Saturday night, should the Badgers welcome Nebraska to the Big Ten with a loss, students will likely throw a party on State Street that resembles some of those legendary bashes. The Nebraska-Wisconsin matchup has been discussed all summer, and with both teams having glorified scrimmages for the season's first four weeks, both teams are eager to see themselves against top-level competition. Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said it is the hottest ticket he has seen in his 21 years at the school. With the historic visit of a legendary program (and an estimated 15,000 ticketless fans), ESPN GameDay's presence and the first top-10 matchup at Camp Randall Stadium since 1962, the pieces are in place for a memorable night that will help shape the BCS chase as the calendar turns to October.
1. Can Nebraska badger the Badgers? The competition thus far has offered little resistance to the Wisconsin offense, but the Badgers appear to have a unit that could drive down a 200-yard field with ease. Defensive coordinators always like to say they want to force an opponent to be one-dimensional, but that does not appear to be possible with Wisconsin. A dominating offensive line that averages 322 pounds paves the way for a pair of stud backs in Montee Ball and James White. And when Wisconsin throws, it's just as impressive with N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson completing 76 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and one interception. Nebraska boasts at least three NFL-type players on defense in DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David and CB Alfonzo Dennard, but the unit has been inconsistent this season and cannot afford any lapses on Saturday. "They really haven't changed their offense much (with the addition of Wilson)," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. "He just fits in well."
2. Taylor Martinez loves to run, but he's going to have to throw. The Nebraska quarterback is second in the nation in rushing among QBs with 105.3 yards per game and seven touchdowns, but if he is going to lead the Huskers to victory, he is going to have to be successful throwing downfield. Wisconsin's defense, which comes into the game ranked No. 7 nationally, is presumably going to focus on stopping the running of Martinez and Rex Burkhead (105 ypg), leaving young receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner with room to run. Martinez will not have to throw for 323 yards like he did in a win over Oklahoma State last year, but he will likely need to exceed 200 yards passing -- something he's only done twice in 16 career starts.
3. Maybe we'll meet you in Indianapolis. For all of the excitement and anticipation surrounding this matchup, it may be just a prelude to the first Big Ten championship game on Dec. 3. Both teams are considered the favorites to win their divisions. Nebraska's chief competition may be Michigan, and the Huskers have to visit Ann Arbor in November. Wisconsin should be favored to win its remaining league games despite tough trips to Ohio State and Illinois. Neither side will be holding anything back this weekend to save for December, but any subplots born Saturday night may be continued nine weeks down the road.
Wisconsin enters the game as a 9.5-point favorite. Both teams have favorable trends. Wisconsin is 10-0-1 in its last 11 games against the spread and boasts a 6-2 record ATS the last two seasons in Big Ten home games. Under Bo Pelini, Nebraska is 6-2 against the spread as an underdog, including 4-1 as a road dog. However, the Huskers are 1-3 ATS this season.
Wilson has thrown a touchdown pass in 28 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the nation and eight shy of Graham Harrell's alltime mark set at Texas Tech.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
Jared Crick/DL/Nebraska: Crick is another quality defensive lineman from the Cornhusker program that has NFL decision-makers excited. He's a fiery player that displays tremendous quickness, intensity and athleticism on the field. Primarily lining up at defensive tackle for Nebraska, a number of league scouts project Crick as a two-gap end in a 3-4 alignment at the next level. Grade: First-round prospect
Alfonzo Dennard/CB/Nebraska: Dennard has struggled with injuries during the early part of the season, yet scouts still love his next-level potential. He's a bump-and-run cornerback that plays a physical game. Though not graded as high as former teammate Prince Amukamara (first-round pick of the Giants last April), Dennard offers starting potential for the franchise that selects him. Grade: First-round prospect
Nick Toon/WR/Wisconsin: Son of former Jets All-Pro wideout Al Toon, the Badger senior possesses many of his father's football traits. He's smooth, graceful and very dependable. He also plays a smart brand of football. Toon's battle against Dennard is a must watch. Grade: Second-round prospect
Peter Konz/C/Wisconsin: The Big Ten has a pair of highly rated next-level centers in Mike Brewster of Ohio State and David Molk from Michigan, yet scouts think Konz could be the best of them all. The junior is a powerful blocker that moves well on his feet and annihilates the opposition on every level. He has the opportunity to make a statement when matched up opposite Crick. Grade: Second-round prospect
The last time Camp Randall braced itself for a wild Saturday night was last season when the Badgers welcomed top-ranked Ohio State in mid-October. Wisconsin jumped to a 21-0 lead and rode the emotion to a 31-18 win. The atmosphere figures to be similar this week, and with the addition of Wilson, Wisconsin appears to be better. Nebraska has plenty of talent, and Bo Pelini is an excellent defensive coach who will figure ways to slow the balanced Badger attack. But in the end, Martinez and the Huskers will have trouble keeping pace with Wisconsin for four quarters.
WISCONSIN 34, NEBRASKA 20