Badgers belong in BCS title conversation

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Jeff Potrykus
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
— Two brief responses, both dramatic understatements, summarize where Wisconsin stands one game into Big Ten Conference play.

“Through Game 5,” UW coach Bret Bielema said, “we’re pretty good.”

Specifically, UW (5-0, 1-0) on Sunday climbed two spots to No. 5 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll and three spots to No. 4 in The Associated Press media poll after a 48-17 whipping of Nebraska.

“Russell Wilson is a good football player,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said after his team’s Big Ten debut turned into a dud.

So, UW, third nationally in scoring offense (48.4 ppg) and tied for second nationally in scoring defense (10.2 ppg), is pretty good?

And Wilson, second nationally in passing efficiency (216.89 points, with 13 touchdowns and one interception) and 20th nationally in yards per game (306.0), is a good football player?

This just in: UW fans eagerly await the end of the third quarter so they can jump, jump, jump and shake the foundation of Camp Randall Stadium.

The Southeastern Conference, led this season by No. 2 Alabama and LSU (No. 1 AP, No. 3 ESPN/USA Today), remains the best league in college football, with five consecutive BCS titles.

Yet if UW can keep winning—the Oct. 22 game at Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) looks even bigger now—and a few of the other unbeatens stumble, the Badgers should be in the BCS title conversation. The first BCS standings are to be released after the Oct. 22 games.

If Wilson stays healthy and continues his stellar play, he should be in the running for the Heisman Trophy, which is to be awarded in December.

Several national writers who were at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday night wrote how the 2011 season could be special for UW and Wilson.

UW officials have kicked off what is sure to be a modest Heisman campaign for Wilson with a Twitter field @RussellManiaXVI.

“To me, if there’s a better player in college football right now,” Bielema said, “I’d like to see it. The big stage, he thrives on it.”

The same can be said of junior tailback Montee Ball, who rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns against Nebraska.

Please do not ask him about national titles, however.

“That’s looking way, way far into the future,” he said. “But really to get there, we have to stay focused on every opponent we come up against. We are going to keep the one-game mentality and make sure that we stay hungry.”

Bielema and the rest of the coaching staff will hammer that point home during the bye week and beyond.

As well as UW is playing, the bye week comes at a good time.

The Badgers faced Nebraska without starting strong safety Shelton Johnson (calf) and starting defensive end David Gilbert (broken foot).

Johnson could return for UW’s next game, Oct. 15 against visiting Indiana. Whether Johnson regains his starting spot or the staff sticks with Dezmen Southward, UW appears to have two solid strong safeties.

Gilbert is expected to be out from four to six weeks, according to Bielema. The bye week gives Gilbert an extra week to heal. It appears his earliest return would be Oct. 29 at Ohio State, with the latest date Nov. 12 against Minnesota. Guard Kevin Zeitler (ankle) and tight end Jake Byrne (leg cramps) should be good to go against Indiana.

Yet even with Gilbert and Johnson out—and starting cornerback Devin Smith (foot) out for the season—UW’s defense executed its game plan beautifully after a shaky start.

UW controlled Nebraska’s running game and forced quarterback Taylor Martinez to lead the Cornhuskers with his arm. That’s a recipe for disaster, as his three interceptions illustrated.

UW’s defensive ends kept Martinez in the pocket, the tackles didn’t allow Martinez room in the middle and the linebackers and defensive backs were there to snatch three errant throws.

“Boy, they’re getting better each and every football game,” ESPN analyst Lou Holtz said during “College Football Final.” “They played outstanding. And I think you have to credit the defensive line.

“They only needed three and four men to put pressure on him, which enabled their secondary to play well.”

UW suffered one loss in the regular season in 2010—a 34-24 decision at Michigan State.

The rematch comes Oct. 22. The Spartans, who ground out a 10-7 victory at Ohio State Saturday, are off this week and then host rival Michigan on Oct. 15 before welcoming UW to East Lansing.

The Spartans are No. 1 nationally in total defense (173.4 ypg) and tied with UW at No. 2 in scoring defense (10.2 ppg).

Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, speaking on “The Final Drive” after the Nebraska game, shared his impressions of UW’s offense.

“I’m not sure Wisconsin doesn’t have the best offense in the country,” he said.

The future should determine that, as well as whether Wilson remains in the running for the Heisman Trophy and UW remains in the conversation for a national title.

Last updated: 6:48 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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