On Saturday night, the Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-2) and the Wisconsin Badgers (7-5) will face off in the second Big Ten Championship Game.
While the game features last year’s champion, Wisconsin, this season’s championship has a much different feel then the Wisconsin-Michigan State classic from 2011, and the two teams’ paths to this game couldn’t be much different.
Nebraska began its second season in the Big Ten with expectations of winning the Legends Division, but their season got off to a bit of a rough start, losing to UCLA in their second game.
The Cornhuskers managed to win their conference opener against Wisconsin (see below), which was a big step forward from the thrashing that Wisconsin had delivered to them in Nebraska’s Big Ten debut the year before.However, Nebraska would be brutalized in their next game, losing to the Ohio State Buckeyes 63-38 to leave them at 4-2.
The Cornhusker faithful began to grow restless, with a few even calling for Bo Pelini’s head. But Nebraska would answer the call, as the next week they came back to beat Northwestern, 39-38, and haven’t looked back.
Since the Ohio State loss, Nebraska hasn’t lost a single game, beating Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Minnesota, and Iowa. Plus, they’ve looked good while doing it. Nebraska fans are very excited, as a Rose Bowl berth is within their grasp. And all of a sudden, Bo Pelini is a popular man again in Lincoln.
While the good times are rolling in Lincoln, Nebraska, there is a little but of turmoil in Madison. The Wisconsin Badgers have had a roller coaster season, with more valleys than hills.
After defeating FCS opponent Northern Iowa in their first game, the Badgers would lose in Corvallis, Oregon, to the Oregon State Beavers. The next week, they should have lost in Madison to Utah State, but they were bailed out when the Aggie kicker Josh Thompson shanked a 37-yard field goal late in the 4th quarter. And the season didn’t get much better from there for Wisconsin.
In addition to Oregon State, Wisconsin has lost to Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State. And to make matters worse, their last three losses all came in overtime.
Transfer QB Danny O’Brien from Maryland has been a bust, and the quarterback position has been an issue from Wisconsin all season. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave would eventually take the starting job from O’Brien and orchestrated the offense better than him. But continuing the 2012 theme of bad luck for the Badgers, Stave would break his collarbone against the Spartans, leaving him out for the season.
While Wisconsin has basically been Offensive Line U in recent years, this year the line has struggled mightily, with Coach Bret Bielema even firing offensive line coach Mike Markuson after just two games.
Despite all the struggles and bad luck, Wisconsin has managed to make it back to the Big Ten Championship, thanks to the ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State. If the Badgers manage to pull off the upset against Nebraska, they’ll be back in the Rose Bowl for a third straight year.
The First Cornhuskers-Badgers Meeting
As you know, Wisconsin and Nebraska met earlier in the season on September 29, a game played at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Both teams wore kick-ass alternate uniforms, and the game wasn’t short on excitement.
Wisconsin dominated the first half behind Stave and Montee Ball, managing to get a 27-10 lead early in the 3rd quarter. But after that, it was all Nebraska. Taylor Martinez led the Cornhuskers on four consecutive scoring drives in the 3rd and 4th quarters.
For the final 10 minutes of the game, it was a defensive battle between the two teams, with the Nebraska D able to stuff Ball and force a fumble on a 4th-and-1 play for Wisconsin with just over a minute left in the game, sealing the Badgers’ fate. Nebraska won, and both teams would take very different paths to get to the Big Ten Championship.
2012 Big Ten Championship Prediction
As for the Big Ten Championship game, there’s no questioning that the Cornhuskers are the favorites. This is not the same Nebraska team that met Wisconsin in September. They have improved greatly, thanks to a heck of a coaching job by Bo Pelini.
After the disastrous loss to Ohio State, Pelini managed to right the ship, and it has shown. The Huskers have played very consistent football since that game, led by Taylor Martinez. Martinez has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards on the season to go along with 833 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns. Those numbers certainly aren’t mind-boggling, but he’s been solid and has made big plays when they need it. And Coach Pelini has to be proud of his defense as of late, giving up only 21 points in their last 2 games.
While we know what to expect out of Nebraska, Wisconsin is kind of a mystery. Sure, they’re 7-5 and have had games where they’ve struggled on offense, but there have been other games where Montee Ball, James White, and Co. have managed to break out and put up points. Plus, they have lost their five games by a combined 19 points, and as I mentioned previously, three of those losses came in overtime.
The Badgers could just as easily be 10-2 if a few plays have gone their way here and there. But at the same time, they could be 6-6 had Utah St. managed to make a fairly short field goal. But that’s all hypothetical. In reality, the Badgers have lost most of their close games, and they will have to step up and make big plays in critical moments if they want to slay the Cornhuskers.
Wisconsin managed to avenge their heartbreaking loss to Michigan St. on a last-second Hail Mary last year by taking down the Spartans in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game last year, and we’ll see if they manage to do it again this time around.
As far as my prediction goes, I think that no matter who wins, it will be a close game that comes down to the wire. Now I am a Badger fan, and I would really love to pick them to pull off the upset, march into Pasadena, and get that Rose Bowl victory for Bielema. But from a sports writer perspective, I know the odds of that happening are very slim.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers are playing very solid football, and I think they win this game, but I don’t think it will be by as big a margin as some people think. Wisconsin is going to give the Cornhuskers a run for their money, but Nebraska is the better team and will pull it off in the end thanks to their defense and some key 4th quarter plays on offense. The Cornhuskers are the superior football team and, frankly, would represent the Big Ten better in the Rose Bowl against either Stanford or UCLA.
My prediction: Nebraska beats Wisconsin, 28-24
2012 Big Ten Championship Game Info
Nebraska-Wisconsin Date: Saturday, December 1, 2012
Nebraska-Wisconsin Kickoff Time: 7:17 PM CT
Nebraska-Wisconsin TV Network: Fox
Nebraska-Wisconsin Location: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana
Nebraska-Wisconsin Point Spread: Cornhuskers -3
Nebraska-Wisconsin Over-Under Odds: 48
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