The Wisconsin Badgers have had a strong start of the season, getting out to a 3-1 record. The only loss came at the hands of Arizona State on September 14. That involved a controversial ending where Wisconsin was denied a chance at a game-winning field goal because of an officiating mishap. The three wins were dominating victories, in which they won by a combined score of 134-10. Now the tough part begins, as Wisconsin faces off against two undefeated teams ranked in the Top 25, #4 Ohio State and #17 Northwestern. Can the Badgers win both games or split at the very least? Let’s break it down.
Going into the Horseshoe (Ohio Stadium)and upsetting the Buckeyes will not be an easy task. Ohio State has won eleven straight games at home and the atmosphere of a prime-time game under the lights is sure to make the crowd even more boisterous on Saturday night. Yet, this game is the perfect opportunity for the Badgers to end that streak and make a major statement. First off, Ohio State’s quarterback situation is very much up in the air. Urban Meyer has named Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton co-starters for the game, saying Miller “will probably start.” The QB debate was sparked again when Guiton threw for six touchdowns in the injured Miller’s place on Saturday against Florida A&M. Though both quarterbacks are probably more talented than Wisconsin QB Joel Stave, the fact that they are listed as co-starters for Saturday’s game may give the Badgers an advantage. If two quarterbacks alternate snaps in a game with as much pressure as this one, one or both of the quarterbacks are going to lose their rhythm. Add the fact that Miller is not 100%, and Ohio State should have some real concerns with their signal-callers going into the Shoe on Saturday. The other distinct advantage Wisconsin has is one of the best three-headed monsters at tailback in college football. Running backs Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement combined for 375 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in last week’s rout over Purdue. Ohio State has struggled to have one player rush for 100 yards and Wisconsin is coming off a dominating defensive performance against the run. No team defended Braxton Miller better last season than the Badgers, who held Miller to just 145 yards of total offense and no touchdowns in a game that Ohio State squeaked out in overtime. In the end, Miller will struggle, Guiton will not be able to salvage the game, and Wisconsin will pull off the biggest upset of the year so far. 27-23 Badgers
After a possibly emotional game against the Buckeyes, Wisconsin will head back home to face the Northwestern Wildcats. It’ll be Homecoming Weekend in Madison, so Gary Andersen’s team will be playing in a high-pressure environment for the second straight week. Northwestern, like Wisconsin, is a run-oriented team ranked just one slot ahead of the Badgers in points this season. The big difference in this matchup is defense. While Wisconsin shut out their cupcake teams, Northwestern gave up 21 points last week to Maine. The Badgers are 10th in the nation on defense, while the Wildcats are 58th. If FCS school Maine had 379 total yards against the defense, how many yards is the third best rushing attack in the FBS going to rack up on them? On Homecoming, with thousands of alumni rooting on their Badgers, Wisconsin will set the tone early, contain Kain Colter, resist a Northwestern comeback attempt and improve to 5-1. 30-24 Badgers
These next two weeks are huge for Wisconsin’s chances to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl for a fourth consecutive year. If the rushing attack and defensive intensity hold up, the Badgers will upset Ohio State and beat Northwestern en route to smooth sailing ahead against Illinois and Iowa, who they will be big favorites against. Tests like these determine the direction of a team’s season. Can Gary Andersen’s team, with Joel Stave at quarterback and the three-headed monster at tailback, pass with flying colors?