Excitement, mystery and revenge are just a few of the words that can be used to describe the start of the conference season for the Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Both teams look to move forward from what was a disappointing non-conference slate from not only their-selves, but the entire Big Ten conference as a whole.
The Badgers are still searching for their offensive identity and the Huskers still have a bad taste in their mouth from the 48-17 drubbing Wisconsin handed them to open the conference season in Madison last year.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-1) Analysis: Considered by many to be the best team in the Big Ten, Nebraska boasts a potent offense which put up an astounding 73 points on Idaho State last week. Their offense begins and ends with junior quarterback Taylor Martinez. Against UW last season, he had a terrible time while throwing three interceptions. He also struggled in the loss at UCLA this season, throwing a pick which went for a score late in the game. Martinez isn’t the only one who has hiccups on this offense as they tend to beat themselves with penalties, something head coach Bo Pelini is looking to correct before conference play.
The job in front of the defense is to stop the Badgers heavy-volume run game and contain wide-out Jared Abbrederis. Look for defensive back Josh Mitchell to match-up with Abbrederis and use his speed to take one of the most important pieces away from Wisconsin’s offensive attack. The Huskers have struggled against the run so far this season, giving up 177 yards per game, so they know where to focus. Wisconsin will be hard-pressed to have a huge day on the ground after UCLA shredded Nebraska for 344 yards on 56 attempts.
Wisconsin Badgers (3-1) Analysis: In a 37-26 win over UTEP, the Badgers showed glimpses of what their offense should look like. Despite losing Montee Ball to a concussion in the first half (still not known if he will play in this game), the running game was a success. James White is morphing into a more all-around back and Melvin Gordon had a coming-out party with 112 yards on just eight attempts. A lot will hinge on redshirt freshman Joel Stave making just his second start of the season in the most hostile environment he will probably ever see.
On the defensive side, linebacker Chris Borland is coming off a week where he was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. He posted 12 tackles (3.5 for a loss) and a career-high two sacks to help the Badgers’ defense hold UTEP to just 77 rushing yards on 33 attempts. Through four games, they are allowing only 80.8 rushing yards per game (13th in the nation). It will be critical for them to keep Nebraska’s Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead from busting out a long play. Up to this point, the Badgers are one of the three FBS teams to not allow one run of 20+ yards.
Prediction: Nebraska 48 Wisconsin 17
Not sure if you noticed, but I took last year’s result and just flipped the names. I just haven’t seen enough from the Badgers’ lackluster offense to believe they can go into Nebraska and compete. Heck, this team barely put up seven points when they went to Oregon State, a venue which crumbles in comparison to Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium. UW’s defense is good enough to compete early, but an inexperienced Stave and under-performing offensive line will put the Badgers in bad spots. Even though Nebraska went and lost at UCLA, it wasn’t because of an inept offense, they will surely put up points this weekend. The Huskers are seeking revenge and they will get it.
TV Coverage: ABC at 7:12 PM CT, Brad Nessler (play-by-play) and Todd Blackledge (Analyst) with Holly Rowe on the sideline.
Betting Lines: Nebraska favored by 12.5 points and over/under set at 50.5 points.
2012 Record straight up: 3-1
2012 Record against the spread: 1-2
2012 Record in over/under: 2-1
*No betting line for Badgers match-up with Northern Iowa
What are your predictions for the 2012 conference season, who wins the opener in Lincoln? Let me know by commenting below!
Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers. He also enjoys to share Fantasy Advice and pretend to be a Golf expert from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best. If social media is not your thing, shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joel Stave and Team from 2011 (Wisc.edu)
WI and NEB Uniforms (bleacherreport.com)
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