For the Wisconsin Badgers, a win at the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis would mean three straight Big Ten titles and three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, a feet which is unprecedented in school history.
For the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a win in the Championship game would be their official welcome to the conference as they move on from a successful history in the Big 12 and start anew in just their second year in the Big Ten.
Who said there wasn’t a lot at stake in Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday?
Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-2, 7-1) Analysis: In order for the Huskers to capture their first conference title in 13 years, they will have to effectively run the ball. They rank 8th in the country with 252.1 rushing yards per game with much thanks to quarterback Taylor Martinez’s 833 yards on the year. Martinez is having his best year through the air with 21 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. While the Badgers held down Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller, they will need to chalk up a similar game-plan to stop Martinez.
If Wisconsin was struggling to find openings in the pass-game before, it won’t get much easier when Badgers QB Curt Phillips sees his first action against the top-ranked pass defense in the nation. In the 30-27 win in Lincoln earlier this season, it wasn’t the Huskers defense who made the most mistakes, but the offense who turned the ball over and put them in tough spots. Corner Ciante Evans is a guy to keep an eye on as he’s been one of the best lock-down guys in the nation. Where the Huskers are vulnerable is defending the run (without senior DT Baker Steinkuhler) which will most likely result in at least keeping the Badgers in the game.
Wisconsin Badgers (7-5, 4-4) Analysis: As I mentioned above, the Badgers key to victory will be running the ball. Whenever that’s the case, they are probably pretty happy since they have the best running back in the conference. Montee Ball backed up that notion this past weekend with the Ameche-Dayne Award (Big Ten’s Best RB) and the way he finished conference-play with a league-leading 146.0 rushing yards per game. It would help to get WR Jared Abbrederis and TE Jacob Pedersen going, but that will be a daunting task against the Huskers.
It was slightly puzzling to see so many of UW’s offensive players as all-conference selections because it was the defense who carried the team on their back this year. Linebacker Mike Taylor is the nation’s top tackler over the past two seasons with 256 stops and is averaging a crazy 18.6 tackles in two games vs. Nebraska. Wisconsin ranks 11th in total defense while allowing 307.9 yards per game. They should also receive a huge boost with linebacker Chris Borland making his return from a hamstring injury after missing two weeks.
Prediction: Nebraska 27 Wisconsin 20
Have no doubt about it, this will be a close game because Wisconsin just doesn’t play in blowout losses. All five of their losses this season have been by seven points or less. Even though Bret Bielema has never lost in the state of Indiana, a perfect 8-0, I don’t see them pulling out a win against a Huskers team who has persevered to six straight wins. For Wisconsin to become the first five-loss team to make the Rose Bowl, they would need a tremendous performance from someone not named Montee Ball and we just haven’t seen it much this year. Look for the Huskers to make their first BCS bowl since 2001.
TV Coverage: FOX at 7:17 PM CT with Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analyst) and Petros Papadekis/Julie Alexandria on the sidelines.
Betting Lines: Nebraska favored by 3 points and over/under set at 49 points.
2012 Record straight up: 10-2
2012 Record against the spread: 5-6
2012 Record in over/under: 9-2
*No betting line for Badgers march-up with Northern Iowa
Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers. He also enjoys to share Fantasy Advice and pretend to be a Golf expert from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best. If social media is not your thing, shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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