Week 5 – Wisconsin at Nebraska

Posted Sep 27, 2012

Week 5 CFN Fearless Prediction – Wisconsin at Nebraska

Wisconsin (3-1) at Nebraska (3-1) Sept. 29, 7:00, ABC

Here's The Deal: Sorry, Big Ten fans, but this might be the preview of your 2012 conference championship.

Wisconsin has been awful, but with Ohio State and Penn State not eligible for the Big Ten title and Illinois and Indiana both mediocre, Purdue might be the lone obstacle to get over. While that might seem easy in theory, it's going to be a tough road for a Badger team that's lucky to be 3-1 instead of 1-3, holding on for dear life against Northern Iowa and lucking out in the final moments against Utah State. The passing game still hasn't shown up, the running game has sputtered, and there hasn't been anything on either side of the ball to suggest that the team has a realistic shot at repeating as Big Ten champion. But is this a case of a team that's still trying to find its groove, or is it really that bad? A lot more will be figured out after going to Nebraska for the first time since a 20-13 loss in 1973.

Wisconsin has been so mediocre that if Nebraska is the real deal, it should win this game in a walk. Everything is properly tuned-up on offense after a 73-7 scrimmage over Idaho State, and the defense couldn't be more aggressive and more effective at getting into the backfield. This isn't a killer Husker D and the jury is still out on whether or not the Taylor Martinez passing game is for real, but the team has been unstoppable at home and seems to be past the tough loss at UCLA. With three of the next four games on the road including showdowns at Ohio State, Northwestern and Michigan State, beating the defending Big Ten champs could be the easiest game until hosting Penn State in mid-November.

Why Wisconsin Might Win: So what is Wisconsin doing right? Like last year, this continues to be a lightly penalized team committing just 17 in the first four games, and there haven't been a slew of big mistakes. However, the five turnovers have been magnified because the offense hasn't done much of anything to keep the chains moving. Nebraska has had a fumbling issues over the last few games – giving away seven in the last three outings – while the defense has been just okay at taking the ball away. The Badgers have to win the turnover battle, or at least keep it even.

What has worked really, really well is the run defense. Lost in all the issues over the first four games is a defensive front that kept a high-octane Utah State ground game to just 127 yards, stuff Oregon State for 78 yards, and has allowed just one rushing score all season. Nebraska might be able to throw the ball better, but it has been a big help that the ground attack has set up the run. If Wisconsin's front four can keep Rex Burkhead in check, and if linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland can hang back a bit, the Martinez passing show isn't going to work on a consistent basis.

Why Nebraska Might Win: Zero. That's how many rushing scores Nebraska has given up all season long. UCLA's Johnathan Franklin might have run wild, but he didn't get into the end zone. Wisconsin can't seem to keep the offense going because the offensive line isn't generating a push and it isn't blocking anyone on third downs. The Nebraska pass rush has been devastating so far with three sacks in each of the first three games before coming up with seven against Idaho State. Third downs are a huge issue for the Badgers, and they're about to be an even bigger deal in Lincoln.

Dead last in the Big Ten in passing offense, and dead last in scoring offense, the Badgers haven't been consistent through the air. They're playing it very safe and very cautious, and defenses are taking their chances on the deep ball to sell out to stop the run – and it's working. Joel Stave and Danny O'Brien were each able to come up with one big play here and there, but all the deep balls were chances worth taking by the defenses. On a consistent basis, the Bucky quarterbacks haven't been able to make anyone pay, especially on third downs. Wisconsin is 109th in the nation in third down conversion percentage.

What To Watch Out For: Montee Ball is expected to play after getting knocked out of the UTEP game, but there's something missing. Not quite right from the start of the season, he's not getting the blocking he enjoyed last year, but he's also not running with the same pop and quickness. He never, ever, ever fumbles, yet he took a huge shot last week and put the ball on the turf before being out for good on a touchdown run. Is he not quite right after the beating and concussion he suffered from this summer? That's speculation, but with 360 yards and three scores in four games, he's off to a disastrous start. Last year he destroyed the Huskers with 151 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries.

Ball was great in last year's 48-17 Badger win, but Martinez struggled completing 11-of-22 passes for 176 yards with three picks while running for 61 yards and a score. He has been nothing short of brilliant so far throwing nine touchdown passes with just one pick, while running for 112 yards against UCLA and 54 more against Arkansas State. While most of the attention has been focused on his revamped passing abilities, he's still more of an all-round baller, at his best when he's able to take off as well as throw deep. Wisconsin will give up the big play deep from time to time, and Martinez has to take advantage of his opportunities.

What Will Happen: Wisconsin is miraculously 3-1, but it's about to be in for a very, very long day. The defense will keep the game interesting, and Martinez won't go off, but the Badger offense won't go anywhere with too much pressure in the backfield killing drive after drive.

CFN Prediction: Nebraska 26 … Wisconsin 14
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Nebraska -13 O/U: 50.5
Must Watch Rating (5 – Ryder Cup 2012, 1 – SNL Thursday Weekend Update): X