Nebraska at Wisconsin
The only knock on Wisconsin going into the huge showdown against Nebraska was the competition. Yeah, the Badgers steamrolled everything in their path against UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois, and South Dakota, but that was against UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois, and South Dakota. They hadn't played anyone.
They still haven't.
Nebraska did nothing, absolutely nothing, over the first four games to suggest it had any hope whatsoever of staying with a Wisconsin team that's been flawless so far. Against Chattanooga, Fresno State, Washington, and Wyoming, the Husker secondary struggled, the defensive front couldn't get into the backfield, and the passing game was a disaster.
Against the Badgers, the Huskers were sloppy, couldn't tackle, and got obliterated off the ball by a superior offensive front. Taylor Martinez isn't a passer, and when he tried to be, Wisconsin made him pay and Russell Wilson, Montee Ball, and the offense converted.
The Badgers are really, really good, but they still haven't faced anyone who can throw the ball well enough to exploit the weak secondary. They still haven't faced anyone physical enough to slug the defensive line in the mouth with a pounding ground game. They still haven't played a team with any semblance of a pass rush. With two weeks off to rest up and let the praise come flowing in before the scrimmage against Indiana, it all comes down to a two-game season on the road at Michigan State and Ohio State before a nice and breezy final month – and that includes a trip to Illinois.
Meanwhile, Nebraska still hasn't beaten an elite team in years and is getting by on reputation and a great past. Wisconsin managed to show it.
If you're a Badgers fan, you might want to start scoreboard watching pretty soon.
Wisconsin is for real, and not just as a contender for a Big Ten crown. No, after putting Nebraska over their knee in a 48-17 spanking, the Badgers just might be good enough to contend for more than only league supremacy in 2011. Sure, the Huskers were overrated even before arriving in Madison, but that was still a top 10 team that Wisky lit up as if it was UNLV. As long as LSU or Alabama doesn't suddenly appear on the regular season schedule, no one is going to stop an offense that playing with more balanced than a Toledo scale. And the defense continues to quietly do its part, picking off erratic QB Taylor Martinez three times in the win.
The rest of the schedule sets up nicely for the Badgers to run the table leading up to the Big Ten Championship Game in December. Of course, there are no guarantees in this sport, but then again, there are also no heavyweights left on the docket either. While road trips to East Lansing, Columbus and Champaign will be thorny, QB Russell Wilson has this squad confident and rolling downhill. To the fans of Wisconsin, you might want to begin paying attention to the other notable Universities without a blemish, such as LSU, Oklahoma, Alabama, Oklahoma State and Stanford. Any time one of those schools loses this fall, the prospects for your team playing in New Orleans on Jan. 9 improves dramatically. Yeah, the Badgers will need to take care of business, but it's not too early to begin peaking around to see what's going on in the rest of the country.
By Matt Zemek
Russell Wilson is delivering the goods this season. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is doing the best job this side of Chad Morris (at Clemson). The Badgers are hitting on all cylinders. Wisconsin looks scary... national-title scary... at the moment. Bret Bielema has his team playing with the fury, poise and precision of the team that thundered through November last year and mashed helpless foes each and every Saturday. It's worth being impressed by the Badgers - no doubt.
... Nebraska doesn't play defense. It's as though Bo Pelini has morphed into Bill Callahan in 2011. The Huskers, let's recall, gave up 29 points to a not-very-special Fresno State team at home, then 38 points to a decent but hardly imposing Washington team at home. The Blackshirts are agents of darkness, all right... for themselves, not opponents. Moreover, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez - shocking no one - proved how unprepared he was for a prime-time prizefight such as this one.
If you saw the rest of the Big Ten on Saturday, you'd arrive at the conclusion that - gulp! - Michigan is the only team with a possible, remote whiff of a prayer of keeping pace with Wisconsin. Michigan State and Ohio State pulled a joint clunker that set back the sport of football by 57 years. It's going to take a minor miracle for anyone to deny Wisconsin a place in the Rose Bowl at the end of the season.
The one remaining question for Wisconsin is not a local or regional one in the Big Ten, but a national one: Can Wilson avoid the proverbial "one bad game" that could deny the Badgers a shot at the national title? Wisconsin should be favored in every remaining game it plays, but Wilson will face defenses that can play much better than Nebraska's ever can (at least in 2011). If Wilson doesn't give a game away, two results - losses by Oklahoma and Clemson - will put the kings of the Big Ten in the big show on Monday, January 9, 2012.
The narrative has been established. The drama is waiting to unfold. Let's see how Wisconsin handles a bulls-eye in a conference it currently owns with two-fisted totality.