Big Ten Champ. - Wisconsin vs. Nebraska

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Nov 28, 2012


Big Ten Championship Fearless Prediction - Wisconsin vs. Nebraska

Nebraska (10-2) at Wisconsin (7-5) Dec. 1, 8:17 FOX

Here’s The Deal … It’s an empty Big Ten championship without a 12-0 Ohio State representing the Leaders, but it could be argued – and it would be really, really thin – that attitudes and the general focus would’ve been a bit different for everyone had the division not been wrapped up the second Penn State and the Buckeyes were nailed with their respective NCAA sanctions.

Would Wisconsin have played any differently if it actually needed to try? Probably not – Bret Bielema really wanted to beat Ohio State – but the ticket to Indianapolis was effectively punched by mid-October. What happened when there was even the slightest bit of a threat to winning the division title? The Badgers came up with their strongest and most focused effort of the season setting a school record for rushing yards in a 62-14 win at Indiana.

No, this isn’t the Rose Bowl team of the last two years – it’s definitely not in the same ballpark as the 2011 version – but it’s an effective squad that was a consistent quarterback and a No. 2 receiver away from a far better record. Four of the five losses came by three points and the other was a seven point overtime loss to Ohio State. Three of the last four losses were in overtime, so it’s not like the Badgers have fallen completely off the grid. However, the sign of a good team is being able to win the tight battles,

Like Nebraska.

The Huskers haven’t exactly been consistent and they have a slew of major flaws, but they’ve been absolutely brilliant at coming up with the right play at the right moment to pull off improbable victories.

From the last-second miracle win over Michigan State, to getting a huge break on a bad call against Penn State, to rallying late to pull a win from out of nowhere against Northwestern, to hanging on in the elements against Iowa, the team has proven itself time and again on the way to the Legends title for a shot at the Big Ten title in just the second year in the league.

And one of the key close wins came against the Badgers.

Wisconsin got up early in Lincoln and appeared to be on the way to a dominant win, but the momentum changed and there was nothing Bucky could do to stop it as Taylor Martinez and the Husker offense rolled to a 30-27 victory.

But that win doesn’t mean anything now, and Ohio State and Penn State are irrelevant for the rest of this season. Now it’s all about going to the Rose Bowl with Nebraska looking to get back for the first time since getting blown away by Miami for the 2001 national championship, while Wisconsin is trying to became the first Big Ten team to make three straight trips to Pasadena since Michigan lost in 1978, 1979 and 1980.

Players to Watch: It has been an interesting and somewhat rocky career for Taylor Martinez, who led the team to the Big 12 championship game as a freshman, sputtered and struggled in big moments as a sophomore, and turned into T-Magic again as a junior throwing for close to 2,500 yards with 21 touchdowns and eight picks, while helping to carry the ground attack with 833 yards and eight scores. After spending the offseason working on his passing, he has turned into a more complete weapon with the ability to confidently and efficiently push the ball deep when he needs to. However, he’s at his best when he’s making things happen on the move, running for 205 yards and two scores against Michigan State and tearing off 107 yards and a score in the comeback win over the Badgers. While picks have been a problem at times throwing three against the Spartans and three in the loss to the Buckeyes, he has become a far better, far more mature player than the one who was stuffed by the Sooners in the 2010 Big 12 title game. He might be ready to make this his big moment.

Last year, the stars of the Big Ten show were Russell Wilson and Montee Ball, with Ball running for 137 yards and three scores to go along with a receiving touchdown. The 2011 Heisman finalist won’t get to New York this year, but he’ll have to settle for owning the NCAA’s all-time touchdown mark after adding to his gaudy total with 18 rushing scores and 1,528 yards. He hasn’t been the receiver he was last year, and he hasn’t been as effective behind an offensive line that’s struggling a bit too much against the better run defenses, but he has kicked it into high gear over the second half of the season running for 100 yards or more in six of the last seven games after being held to 93 yards on 31 carries in the first game against the Huskers. However, he scored three times in the loss.

Two of the key weapons are cleared to play. Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead has had a nightmare of a time staying healthy this season, but he was able to come back for the Iowa game and turned into a difference-maker in the windy and raw conditions, cranking out 69 yards with the team’s lone touchdown on 16 carries. He appeared to have life in his legs after missing most of the second half of the year with a quick burst and good cutting ability. With only 63 carries on the season, there’s plenty of tread on the tires. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is catching a huge break with top target Jared Abbrederis returning from a concussion. Cleared this week, he’s the team’s only field-stretcher and the only semblance of balance. Without him, the Huskers would’ve been able to cheat up and sell out to stop Ball and the running game.

Nebraska will win if … it can stop the run. Duh.

This isn’t that hard. The Huskers know exactly what’s coming, but can it stop it? The Badgers aren’t going to suddenly turn quarterback Curt Phillips loose and turn into the New Orleans Saints bombing the ball; they HAVE to run efficiently, the HAVE to control the clock and they HAVE to keep the defense on the sidelines as much as possible. In the first matchup, the Wisconsin ground game took advantage of early mistakes and a sleepy start from the Husker defensive line for a 20-3 lead, but it was a whole different animal in the second half as the offense couldn’t move the chains, couldn’t slow things down, and couldn’t get Martinez and the Huskers off the field as they rolled to 20-unanswered points and the win. This year, Wisconsin is 0-3 when being held to under 160 rushing yards, but Nebraska is allowing 166 per outing.

Wisconsin will win if … it can take advantage of all the Nebraska mistakes. Granted, it didn’t necessarily work so hot the first time around when the Badgers won the turnover battle, but they have to hope once again for the Huskers to keep screwing up and they have to produce whenever they get the opportunity.

Wisconsin doesn’t generally make the big mistake, with no games this year with more than six penalties and with a mere 11 turnovers. It’s not like the offense takes a slew of big shots down the field, but the O only gave up one pick in the last five games and one lost fumble in the last six. Meanwhile, penalties have occasionally been an issue for the Huskers while turnovers have been a big, BIG problem turning it over at least twice in every game except the opener against Southern Miss and the win over Michigan State.

What Will Happen: It’s so hard to win a rematch. Michigan State beat Wisconsin in heartbreaking fashion in the regular season last year, and the Badgers returned the favor in the Big Ten championship. Nebraska has been playing with fire all season long, and Wisconsin hasn’t found a way to get on the right side of the breaks over the last several weeks, but now the tables will turn.

It’s almost as if the Badgers have been in a holding pattern for the last few months. It’s not like they’re not trying to win, and it’s not like they don’t appear to be coming up with the maximum effort, but there hasn’t been the sense of urgency needed to come up with a stellar year. All the close losses were followed up by some sort of a comment about how all of the team’s goals were still in place, and this is it. Now the team is at the goal, and now is when the focused, effective effort will come.

Each team will try to be more physical than the other; the Badgers will win that battle. The bigger key, though, will be the +3 turnover margin that will carry Bucky to a third straight trip to L.A.

CFN Prediction: Wisconsin 27 … Nebraska 23 …

ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Nebraska -3 O/U: 49
Must Watch Rating (5 – Crossfire Hurricane, 1 – Comic Book Men: 4.5