By Casey Keefe
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The game of the week features two undefeated teams with national championship aspirations. The Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-0) travel to Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers (4-0) in what will be Big Red’s first ever Big 10 game. You can listen to all the action tomorrow evening right here on WFAN starting at 8pm.
The hype generated from this matchup has been building for a quite a while. Former Badger coach and current Athletic Director, Barry Alvarez, has called this the toughest ticket Camp Randall Stadium has ever seen. To say we’re in for a rowdy atmosphere would be the understatement of the century. Camp Randall provides the most underrated home field advantage in all of college football—and it’ll play host to its first matchup between top 10 teams in 49 years. It’s sure to be a crazy scene in Madison and I’ll bet we’ll see our fair share of red in the stands.
It’s been interesting how each coach has dealt with the pressure and hype differently. Wisconsin head man Bret Bielema has fully embraced the heightened spotlight with open arms. He’s made it clear this is not “just another game”—which is the exact opposite approach that Nebraska’s Bo Pelini is taking. He’s shying away from the spotlight which I understand, the whole business-as-usual, another day at the office approach. But I wish more coaches would be like Bielema and tell it like it is…you know what? This is a HUGE game. It’s a game that may very well make or break your season—act like it.
Something Pelini can and should be using as motivation for his team is Vegas’ line on the game. Wisconsin is firmly set as a 10 ½ point favorite. Call it immature or juvenile, but if I’m a Husker, I’m enraged by this sign of disrespect. A chip would be on my shoulder the size of the Grand Canyon… That again would be if I was actually a Husker. That line to any impartial person should seem more than fair. The fact is Wisconsin is clearly a better team. Don’t get me wrong, Nebraska is scary-talented, but the Badgers are on a whole other level.
The addition of NC State transfer Russell Wilson has added an explosive dynamic to an already high-powered offense. The senior quarterback can do major damage both on the ground and through the air. He plays behind the best offensive line in the country which provides him with all the time in the world in the pocket. He’s been incredibly efficient so far this season, connecting on 76% of his passes and totaling 11 touchdowns against just 1 interception.
As dangerous as Wilson is, the bread and butter of the Badger offense is their ground game which features the thunder and lightning duo of Montee Ball (360 yards, 9 TD’s) and James White (303 yards, 3 TD’s). Between those running backs, Wilson, the enormous offensive line and wideout deep threat Nick Toon (353 yards, 5 TD’s) the Badgers will be extremely tough to slow down. They’re averaging 49 points per game and have yet to win by less than 35 points.
Nebraska on the other hand is a team I can’t trust quite frankly. For the past couple seasons their MO has been the same—ultra talented but incapable of not committing a million dumb penalties and turnovers. Their sloppiness and laziness has been just about unparallel. Although still undefeated, I’m not so sure this season will turn out much different. Their “star” quarterback, Taylor Martinez (647 yards, 4 TD’s, 2 INT’s, 50%), is probably the most inconstant player in the nation. He perfectly represents the Cornhuskers as a whole—talented but painfully frustrating. I do not trust his decision making one bit.
The ground game is much more stable for Nebraska thanks to Rex Burkhead (420 yards, 7 TD’s) who seems to consistently play with his head on straight believe it or not. The problem for the Huskers is that Martinez won’t be able to hold his end of the bargain up, so I expect that front seven of Wisconsin to key-in on Burkhead.
I’m sure Nebraska will show up on defense as they usually do. The return of defensive tackle Jared Crick will be huge. His streak of 31 straight starts was snapped last Saturday due to a non-concussion head injury. The Husker defense will put out a solid effort, but slowing down the Badgers—let alone stopping them—is no easy task…especially when their offense won’t be doing them any favors.
The bottom line? Wisconsin is too good, too deep, too hungry. I know that sounds simple—maybe because it is. Sometimes that’s all it comes down to. Nebraska’s carelessness on offense (Martinez in particular) is what’ll end up dooming Big Red. The Badgers and their crowd will smell blood in the water, and will attack…early and often… Prediction: Wisconsin
#3 Alabama (4-0) @ #12 Florida (4-0) – 8pm
You know how I feel about Alabama. With apologies to Oklahoma and LSU, the Tide are the best team in the nation. But they’ll be tested tomorrow evening in The Swamp. The Gators have to things going for them—their SEC-leading rush attack (259 yards/game) and their stingy run defense.
Both defenses will have their hands full dealing with the opposing run games which will put extra importance on quarterback play. It’s a big spot for first-year Tide starter A.J. McCarron. I expect him to have some success against Florida’s weak secondary. Gator QB John Brantley on the other hand is a mess and is doomed to fail. He’s a terrible quarterback and is good for a pick or two.
I expect the Tide to pull through late thanks Florida ultimately being exposed for being just a little too one-dimensional on offense and defense… Prediction: Alabama
#13 Clemson (4-0) @ #11 Virginia Tech (4-0) – 6pm
The Tigers have quickly made a mark on the college football landscape. They’re a well put-together team built on speed and aggression. Quarterback Tajh Boyd (1,255 yards, 13 TD’s, 1 INT) is a Heisman contender while wide receiver Sammy Watkins (433 yards, 6 TD’s) has cemented himself as one of the most explosive deep-threats in the county.
Where Clemson falls short is experience. Part of me likes that a lot of their main players are “too young to know any better” when the pressurized spotlight starts shining—but at the end of the day, they still have to go up against the Hokies’ dominant defense… Home field advantage will also play a factor for Tech, along with the fact that the Tigers struggle mightily in short-yardage situations.
Keep an eye on Hokie defensive ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins. I have a feeling Mr. Boyd will get to know them quite well tomorrow evening… Prediction: Virginia Tech
#14 Texas A&M (2-1) @ #18 Arkansas (3-1) – 12pm
The Aggies will get a little taste of what’s to come as they’ll take on soon-to-be conference ally Arkansas at Cowboy Stadium. Although still an out of conference affair, this game takes on an enormous importance especially since both teams already have a loss in the bank. This game could be a big boom or bust for BCS rankings.
A&M’s defense was exposed last week against Oklahoma State. The tandem of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon marched up and down the field on the Aggies (as they do to most teams). While the Razorbacks offense is nearly as explosive as Oklahoma State, their defense is atrocious… I think we’ll be in for a high-scoring game. I’m confident QB Ryan Tannehill and the Aggies will be able to overwhelm and overpower Arkansas’ putrid defense.
We know A&M’s offense will show up…the question is will their defense? It’s gut-check time and I think they’ll get the job done… Prediction: Texas A&M
Auburn (3-1) @ #10 South Carolina (4-0) – 3:30pm
The Gamecocks are one of the more fascinating teams in the nation. They have the talent of a top 3 club, especially on offense. Stephen Garcia, Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore combine for the most talented QB-WR-RB trio in the SEC. However, they haven’t been in much of a rhythm through the first four weeks.
I’m not a huge believer in Auburn. Last year’s national title mind as well be a century ago. This is not the same team. Michael Dyer (426 yards, 6 TD’s) is the most important player on their offense and will no doubt be the focal point of the Gamecock defense.
Will South Carolina finally get a little flow going on offense? I think so… Even if they only play up to half of their capabilities it’ll be much more than Auburn’s defense can handle… Prediction: South Carolina
Rutgers (2-1) @ Syracuse (3-1) – 12pm
Neither of these teams are any good. I know a lot of people in this area don’t want to hear that, but it’s the cold hard truth. Yes, Mohamed Sanu is coming off a wonderful game against Ohio and has transformed himself into a special weapon on that Rutgers offense. The problem is there are no other weapons on that offense. Syracuse who has a pretty solid defense will double-team Sanu at all times to limit his production.
What the Scarlet Knights aren’t ready for is a much improved Ryan Nassib. The Syracuse quarterback has improved himself dramatically and I expect him to pick apart Rutgers’ defense. He has been very accurate and efficient so far this season. He’ll need to continue that type of mistake-free ball if the Orange are to pull off their fourth win of the season—something that I expect will happen… Prediction: Syracuse
Follow Casey Keefe on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN