Preview -- Wisconsin at Michigan State






31 points.  That's been Wisconsin's least margin of victory so far in a 48-17 victory over Nebraska 20 days ago in Madison.  While the Badgers' composition may be decent (Nebraska) to weak (everyone else), they've destroyed every team they've played so far.  They've put up less than 40 points in one game this season.  Wisconsin is a very good team, but are they of national championship caliber?

After the jump, a look at the Badgers on offense, defense, special teams, and the standard prediction.


Good is an understatement for how well Wisconsin has moved the ball this season.  The Badgers are 8th in the nation with 523.2 yards per game, and sadly for MSU, that's not the most impressive part.  They're leading the nation with 7.8 yards per play; that is a lot.  They've attained a lot of this yardage through explosive plays.  Wisconsin is second in the FBS with 22 plays of 30+ yards, and tied for third in the FBS with 13 plays of 40+ yards.

Behind many of these explosive plays is the Badgers' rental at quarterback (no criticism, MSU did the same thing with Brandon Wood), Russell Wilson.  I wasn't sure if the way Wilson played (a playmaker supreme) would be a good fit at Wisconsin (hand the ball off, convert third downs when needed, throw deep a few times a game), but I was wrong.  Wilson leads the FBS in passing efficiency and is rightfully one of the leaders to win the Heisman.  He'll have receivers to throw to, as Nick Toon is back from injury.  Below, we have an exclusive photo of NickToon.



He looks great.  But seriously, a healthy Toon and receiver Jared Abbrederis are two primary targets along with tight end Jacob Petersen.

I haven't even gotten to Montee Ball and James White yet.  The two primary running backs for the Badgers have been fantastic this year, both averaging 6.0 yards or more per carry.  The 5'11", 210 lb. Ball gets more of the carries than the 5'10", 195 lb. White (107 to White's 69), and 12 more touchdowns (16 to 4) as well.  Even though Ball has a little more mass, I'm not sure it matters who gets the ball more.  It appears both kill weak defenses just as dead.


While the Badger offense has gotten the majority of the media's attention this Fall, the defense has been almost, if not as efficient.  At 4.4 yards allowed per play, Wisconsin's defense is tied for 10th among all FBS teams in that metric.  While the stout defense may not be based on plays behind the line of scrimmage (UW is tied for 45th in the FBS with 6.33 tackles for a loss per game), it's still nonetheless been very, very effective.

While J.J. Watt, the Thor of last year's defense has left, inside linebacker Chris Borland (5'11", 245 lbs!!) has returned from a shoulder injury that made him miss most of last season.  Borland's averaged 1.43 tackles for a loss per game this season, good for a tie for 24th in the nation in the statistic.  He's the new playmaker on the Badger defense, and the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2009 is making up for lost time.  He'll be a tough one to control.

Wisconsin has also done a very good job of limiting quarterbacks' efficiency.  They've held opposing passers to a rating of 103.83, 13th in the nation (number one?  MSU, at 84.39).  However, they've allowed teams to complete 59.1% of their passes, which places them right in the middle of the pack (60th) in that metric.  There's a reason for that -- they've allowed only three passes of more than 30 yards all season; only three teams (Penn State, Mississippi State, USC) have allowed less.  Their philosophy is clear -- bend, but don't break.

Defending the run?  Wisconsin can do that as well, albeit not as effectively as they defend the pass.  They're allowing 3.48 yards per carry, placing them 38th in that statistic.  While the run would seem to be somewhat effective, one has to take into consideration the passing offenses UW has faced has faced has well.  The one passing offense in the top half of the FBS in passing efficiency, Nebraska(PSYCH!  UN is 70th in passing efficiency), Northern Illinois managed to complete 17 of 27 passes for 173 yards.  That's a yards per attempt of 6.7, which isn't great, but isn't bad either.


For field goals, the data set is incomplete.  Kyle French filled in as well as he could for Philip Welch while the latter was nursing a groin injury; French made both of this two kicks from inside the 30 and missed two kicks longer than 50 yards.  Welch, 17-22 for his field goals last year and 8-11 from 40-49 yards will be more than adequate.  The punter is Brad Nortman, and although he hasn't had to punt much, he's averaging 43.4 yards per punt, 26th in the FBS.

Wisconsin hasn't had many kick returns (15 total), but James White is the primary kick returner and he's averaged a little over 21 yards per return.  Wide receiver and punt returner Jared Abbrederis is dangerous however.  He's returned one punt for a touchdown so far this year and has averaged 22.8 yards per return.  He must be watched.


This game is a strange one to predict.  Almost all of the tangibles seem to favor the Badgers, while almost all of the intangibles (College GameDay presence, night game, Homecoming, emotion over Gholston suspension) seem to favor the Spartans.  I have no idea how to pick this game -- part of me feels like Wisconsin might falter when facing an opponent at their caliber, but on the other hand they've blown out every team they've faced, and look to be one of the college football elite this season.  Despite what some blogs are saying, I think this game will be close.  I don't know how they'll do it -- it may be an anomalous Wilson interception, it may be me being a homer -- but I think MSU pulls this out by the slimmest of margins.


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