We’ve made some jokes at the expense of the Big Ten’s worst division. With Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State all in the East, we wondered who would win the weak West — Western Michigan? North Dakota State? Surely, it wouldn’t be Wisconsin, who drew a hellish hand by facing all three of the East’s best teams back-to-back-to-back in randomly selected crossover games. Right?
Well, Wisconsin disagreed. They pummeled Michigan State 30-6 Saturday, their second win over a team with a top-10 ranking this year.
It was a bold move to start QB Alex Hornibrook for his first-ever game, a road matchup against a Spartans squad whose defense is often its strength. But he did fine. He looked fine throwing deep, something that hasn’t been true of all Wisconsin QBs of late. He did his best work on third down, going 7-for-9 for 127 yards. He showed composure against MSU’s pass rush, sometimes dishing out passes under serious duress. Deep balls and play under pressure are things you don’t always get out of seniors, and Hornibrook’s a freshman.
And Michigan State’s offense sputtered and made some mistakes against the Badgers. Tyler O’Connor threw three picks, and an L.J. Scott fumble ended with Wisconsin in the end zone. (There was a rare defensive spin move on that play.)
We knew Wisconsin could be good. They won ten games last year and lost only to teams that also won ten games (Alabama, who is very good, Iowa, who won the West, and Northwestern, who, well, won ten games.)
But it seemed like their schedule might doom them. Bill Connelly predicted the team would improve on last year’s squad but speculated that the string of East powerhouses and non-conference game against LSU could lead to a decrease in wins.
Four games in, it seems the Badgers are up to the task. They shut down the Tigers and Spartans, making their offense look like disorganized mush.
Will Wisconsin run the table? I mean, probably not. Michigan and Ohio State are really, really, really good. Beating one would be impressive. Beating both might be impossible.
But they look good enough to make up for the fact that the fates saddled them with a schedule from hell. If they get out of the gauntlet with a loss or two and handle their business against the chaff of the Big Ten West, the Badgers could find themselves in Indianapolis in December.