We preview Saturday's matchup between the Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers with a roundtable, featuring members of Corn Nation and Bucky's 5th Quarter.
There's little question which game is the featured matchup this weekend. On Saturday night, Wisconsin welcomes Nebraska to the Big Ten with a massive matchup at Camp Randall in front of what's expected to be a raucous capacity crowd. College Gameday will be there, both fanbases are expected to show up en masse and the whole day culminates with the on-field action as the No. 7 and No. 8 team in the country face off.
To get a better idea of what to expect on Saturday, we gathered some of our best and brightest blogging voices, tapping our Wisconsin blog, Bucky's 5th Quarter, and our Nebraska blog, Corn Nation, to preview the game. In the red corner, John Veldhuis, Adam Hoge and Louis Bien joined us from Bucky's 5th Quarter. In the black (and red, too) corner, Jon Johnston and Mike Jaixen joined us from Corn Nation.
So, welcome to the Big Ten? How do you guys (both teams) feel about this being your conference opener? Wisconsin looking to welcome Nebraska to the conference in style? Nebraska looking to make an early impression? Cool way to start the part of the season that matters?
John Veldhuis: I think it's awesome. It really couldn't have worked out any better, considering how high each team is ranked this year. I'm still upset with the divisions, but this looks like the Big Ten threw the Badgers a bone for splitting them up from Iowa and Minnesota. Anyway, not only is this a great way for both teams to open conference play, the Big Ten has to be pretty pleased with all of this. Now people can really see why getting Nebraska was a home run for the Big Ten. They wanted more media attention, and boy are they getting it.
Adam Hoge: I think both teams are pretty excited about it. I thought Wisconsin fans were jacked, but after talking to a bunch of Nebraska fans, it sounds like they are even more excited to make the trip to Madison. It's too bad these two schools won't be able play each other every year. I've made it clear that I thought the Big Ten should have done Western and Eastern divisions, but that didn't happen so we'll just have to accept this awesome first matchup.
Louis Bien: What better way to welcome Nebraska into the newfound B1G than giving them the best shot the conference has to offer. It's almost unfair to ask a brand new member to face the conference favorite on the road and at night, but from the sounds of things I'm not sure Nebraska fans would want it any other way. From a Wisconsin standpoint it is an absolute no brainer. Only an undefeated No. 1-ranked Ohio State could generate this much buzz, and even then I think people are more excited about the Nebraska game if only because the expectations are so much higher for the Badgers this year than last.
I've seen how Nebraska fans travel first-hand -- it's impressive! -- and expect this weekend to be no different. I've also seen the environment at Camp Randall when we traveled there, and it blew me away. So, combining the two ... what are you expecting on Saturday? A big, rowdy swath of Wisconsin fans with a smaller sea of red Nebraska fans?
Jon Johnston: It's gone from 20k to 30k to 40k, maybe by game time the whole state of Nebraska minus 173 farmers will be in Madison. I've never been to Camp Randall, and it's one place I've wanted to see a game, so I'm happy to be going and I have a ticket. Nebraska fans have been asked to wear black to stand out. I'm not sure how that'll work, but I wouldn't be surprised to see 10-15k make it inside the stadium.
Mike Jaixen: It won't be every Husker fan...mostly because I'm staying home. But I know an awful lot of Husker fans are going. 30k in Madison? Probably. 40k? You never know. Most of the people I know are going without tickets, so maybe it'll be 50k. As for the number of Husker fans who'll get in, my guess is that it'll be at least 20k. Washington fans didn't think that Nebraska fans would take up a third of their stadium last year...and this is an easier commute. I think you'll find a lot of black in Camp Randall on Saturday night. A lot.
John: To put it simply, I'm expecting a lot. Even if they don't make it into the stadium, there will still be a lot of them flooding the Madison bars and streets. I'm expecting a good amount to make it into the stadium, but nowhere near what the Huskers did to Notre Dame a few years ago. Expect to see so much red (interspersed with black) that your eyes will bleed.
Adam: Yeah, you'll see bunches of black in the normal sections the road team gets (upper deck corner, high in the south end zone and low along the visitors' sideline), but then there will be black shirts standing out like sore thumb everywhere else. Wisconsin fans are supposedly all wearing red, but those attempts have failed in the past. It should be a cool atmosphere.
Louis: I fully expect Wisconsin fans to be loud and inebriated. I expect them to be friendly too, if for no other reason than there really isn't enough recent history between the two to create any animosity. It'll be exciting to see the legendary swarm of Nebraska fans firsthand.
More for the Wisconsin side: Along the same lines, I've seen this game called the biggest in the history of Camp Randall. Agree?
John: It'll be the biggest game during my time here if you ask me. I certainly wouldn't stop anyone from saying that. The only way this could be bigger is if the two teams were in the same division and were playing for a division title late in the year. Ohio State might give it a run for its money, but I'd definitely like to know the final score before I call it the biggest ever.
Adam: I don't know. I think last year's Ohio State game was bigger. The Buckeyes were No. 1 in the country and Wisconsin needed that game to win the Big Ten. I don't think Nebraska is as good as that Ohio State team, so I don't think it's as big. It's certainly an awesome matchup considering all the other storylines going in, but I wouldn't call it the biggest camp in the history of a 94-year-old stadium.
Louis: That Ohio State game last year came two weeks after the Badgers suffered a disappointing loss to Michigan State, so expectations were tempered somewhat heading into the game. Wisconsin fancies itself a national title contender this year and Nebraska right now looks like the best team they will face all season. Elevated expectations make this week's matchup bigger, at least in terms of pregame hype.
What positional matchup worries you the most?
Jon: Wisconsin's passing game against the Nebraska secondary. Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is back, but Russell Wilson's ability to scramble will put pressure on the secondary to keep coverage on the Wisconsin receivers longer. That's a dangerous combination that leads to breakdowns and big plays.
Mike: Wisconsin tight end Jacob Pederson against Nebraska's linebackers or nickel back Daimion Stafford. It's just a physical mismatch...except perhaps Sean Fisher. And I'm not sure Fisher is fast enough or will be on the field much.
John: Not going to lie, Taylor Martinez scares me, so it's Martinez against the linebackers. I'm reasonably confident the defensive tackles and the linebackers can contain the between the tackles running game, but I doubt the Badgers have the speed to stop Martinez if he finds an edge. They need to make him throw if the Badgers want to win.
Adam: Special teams. Wisconsin has had issues in the kicking game. It sounds like kicker Philip Welch will return from injury and kick field goals, but he hasn't played yet this year so can Wisconsin count on him to be accurate? Lerner hasn't been great with his kickoffs either and Nebraska return man Ameer Adbullah may be able to take advantage of a unit that has given up big returns in recent years. If Nebraska wins, it's because they get a special teams touchdown.
Louis: Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead are both exceptional athletes, and together they've propelled one of the best running games in the college football. The Badgers' front seven has done a nice job, but they haven't exactly been tested, either. And they struggled some in the season opener against UNLV, the only non pro-style offense they've faced. Coaches said after the game that they were unprepared for the Rebels' pistol offense schematically, but even with a mulligan the point still stands that this defense front is essentially unproven, and that's scary heading into a game against an elite opponent like Nebraska.
Which worries you the least?
Jon: Nebraska receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner against the Wisconsin secondary. These two first-year players have excellent speed and have already shown they can catch the ball well. I look for them to have some big plays and put up some points.
Mike: Nebraska tight end Kyler Reed against Wisconsin's secondary. The Badgers are banged up in the secondary, and all Martinez has to do is get it close. Martinez has shown decent accuracy going deep this season, and Reed has been conspicously silent this season. I think that'll change Saturday night.
John: Can I just go with the Badger offense against Nebraska's defense? The Badgers have too many options for the Huskers to stop everything, so I'm confident the Badgers offense will still play at a high level. Maybe not a 50+ points level, but they'll be able to score.
Adam: Wisconsin's offense against Nebraska. It wouldn't surprise me if the Huskers slow down the running game in the first quarter, but Wilson showed against Oregon State that he can open up the running game by taking over the offense in the air. The Badgers simply have too many weapons not to score.
Louis: Nebraska's passing offense shouldn't strike fear into anyone. Taylor Martinez simply isn't a very good passer. For the year he's connecting on just over half of his pass attempts against mostly mediocre competition. The Huskers' leading receiver has just eight receptions on the year. Even without Devin Smith and Shelton Johnson this week I think the Badgers' are competent enough in the defensive backfield to hang with the Huskers through the air.
Saturday's matchup features two fun quarterbacks: would you give the edge to here?
Jon: Honestly, Russell Wilson. He's more experienced, he's at home with the crowd on his side, and honestly, he's smooth as glass. He should scramble well enough to avoid sacks and he can throw on the run pretty well. He's the type of guy that makes his receivers better. He's changed Wisconsin's offense to be less one-dimensional.
John: Has to be Russell. He's experienced, smart, and is a pass-first quarterback who can scramble for a first down if he needs to. Martinez is good, don't get me wrong, he's just not as consistent.
Adam: Both have speedy legs, only one has an NFL arm. Russell Wilson.
Louis: You have to give the edge to Wilson based on his arm, smarts and experience. Martinez is a freak, true, but he has yet to prove that he isn't a running back in a quarterback's clothing. And don't forget that Wilson has wheels too. He may not have Martinez' elite top-end speed, but he is far more elusive and he accelerates very well.
Mike: From a consistency perspective, it would clearly be Russell Wilson. But if one of these two quarterbacks is going to make a huge play, it'll be Taylor Martinez. Whether that's a big play for the Huskers or Badgers remains to be seen.
What type of game are you expecting? Shootout, defensive struggle, somewhere in between?
Jon: I expect something somewhere in between. Both offenses have done well scoring points. Nebraska has given up points on defense, but treated the non-conference games like NFL-preseason, moving players around to see who worked in what combinations. If Taylor Martinez can have some success early and doesn't get rattled, Nebraska can score as many points against Wisconsin's offense as vice versa.
John: Somewhere in between. Both teams are good enough on defense where it won't be a shootout. I expect a good four quarter game, where the winner forces a turnover or two and takes advantage of red zone opportunities. You can't count on getting the ball right back as if you're playing South Dakota or Wyoming.
Adam: In between. As good as Wisconsin's offense is, I can't see them scoring more than four touchdowns against a good Nebraska defense. On the flip-side, the Badgers never give up rushing touchdowns, which is where the Huskers score most of their points. Nebraska will score, but Wisconsin's bend-but-don't-break defense won't give up an absurd amount of points.
Louis: I agree with the "somewhere in between" crowd, with the game fulfilling Brent Musberger's most romantic visions of what a B1G game should look like. Watch for both offenses to start off slow as they try to establish the run. I expect some patented B1G sloppiness too, with the Badgers prone to penalties and Martinez making mistakes on a big stage.
Mike: In between. I honestly don't know what to expect from this game. Wisconsin hasn't really been tested this season, and Nebraska has been too inconsistent.
Predictions and why?
Jon: I look around at web sites all over the place and nearly no one is predicting Nebraska to win this game. Ooooohh, it's a night game at Camp Randall, oooooh. Flowing rivers of molten cheese, radioactive gas-creating bratwurst, drunk Wisconsin fans and linemen the size of dairy cows will overwhelm you poor Nebraskans. It's getting a little tiring. I'm guessing that by the time the game starts, the Nebraska players are going to feel the same way. Bo Pelini has done a good job of winning on the road. All the one-side prediction play into his tough-minded mentalitya and that will spill onto the team. Nebraska 31, Wisconsin 28.
John: Wisconsin 35, Nebraska 27. I think the Badgers start out fast in the first half, and then hold off a furious Cornhusker rally in the second half to seal their first Big Ten win. The Badgers' offense is going to be too potent for the Huskers to pull off the road win. But don't worry - this is just the warm up. These two teams will meet again later this year, if you know what I mean.
Adam: Wisconsin 34, Nebraska 20. Everyone likes to point out Wisconsin's weak non-conference schedule, but few bring up the point that it operated a lot like an NFL preseason. Bielema used it as such as he built the team and slowly installed more on both sides of the ball. Everything has led up to this game. They will be extremely prepared.
Louis: I have to go with Wisconsin, though I think it will be much closer than the 10-point spread. I'll go with 31-27 final, with the difference being the Badgers' superior quarterback play. I will say that if the Badgers get out to a quick 10-0 or 14-0 lead, the game could get out of hand. The sooner Martinez is forced to throw, the better.
Mike: I'm all over the board here. Heart says Nebraska 21, Wisconsin 17. Head says maybe Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 16 ... or perhaps Nebraska 35, Wisconsin 31 ... or even Wisconsin 62, Nebraska 24. Oy vey. So what do I do? Nebraska 17, Wisconsin 14.
Final thoughts, players to watch, story lines that intrigue you, B1G SMACK TALK?
Jon: Nebraska returner Ameer Abdullah set a school record in kickoff return yardage in only his second game in college. I expect him to to be a big difference in this game, and Nebraska's special teams to be the difference in the game.
John: Keep an eye on tight end Jacob Pedersen. He's been one of Wilson's favorite targets so far this season, and just seems to be open in key spots. (Re: Last year against Ohio State.) If the Huskers are shutting down Toon and Abbrederis, don't be shocked to see Pedersen rack up some yards and a touchdown or two.
Adam: We've been told the defense was going to be more aggressive. We were told there would be wrinkles in the offense showcasing Russell Wilson. So far, we haven't seen either. I bet you the UW coaching staff has some wrinkles up their sleeve that they will pull out if neccessary.
Louis: Ameer Abdullah really scares me in the return game. Last year, David Gilreath sparked Wisconsin's upset over Ohio State by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. I hope Bielema kicks away to avoid giving the Huskers that same type of momentum.
Mike: I'm going to go with Taylor Martinez. He's going to be involved in some critical play...but it's not clear whether that'll be in Nebraska or Wisconsin's favor.