One of the things I enjoy about college football is that you never really know what’s coming. Because there are so few games in a season relative to other sports and because so much needs to be sorted out in those few games, college football lends itself to having multiple “games of the year.” Nebraska-Wisconsin seemed like the Big Ten “game of the year” a few weeks ago. Now Wisconsin-Michigan State is taking on that feel. And, if the Badgers win and, say, Illinois gets back on track, then their meeting in Champaign on Nov. 19 will get that “game of the year” tag. Or, if the Spartans win, their game at Nebraska next week may suddenly earn the spotlight treatment.
For now, though, the Badgers and Spartans are front and center – an unusual situation given the history of this rivalry.
As for the match-up itself – Wisconsin obviously comes in as the favorite, thanks to an offense that is making history.
6: The Badgers have won all 6 of their games by at least 30 points. That is the longest streak to start a season for any FBS team going back to at least 1950 – breaking a tie they held with Virginia Tech in 2001 and Nebraska in ’83, both of which had five straight 30+ point routs to start the season.
If they can somehow muster a similar win against Michigan State Saturday, they would tie the all-time Big Ten record.
1903, 1905: The Badgers six game streak trails only the 1903 Michigan team and the 1905 Minnesota team, both of which started the season with seven straight wins of 30+ points.
I know Wisconsin has gotten some grief over its non-conference schedule, but it was brutal compared to what those two teams faced more than a century ago. The Wolverines’ early-season run included victories against Case, Albion, Beloit, Ohio Northern, Ferris State and Drake. How could Fielding Yost even look himself in the mirror with that slate? Perhaps recognizing a solid recipe for success, Henry Williams’ Gophers schedule in ’05 started with games against Twin Cities High, Shattuck and St. Thomas, and also included a battle with Lawrence.
13: Wisconsin has also now gone 13 straight regular season games scoring at least 30 points. That is tied for the longest streak in Big Ten history with Penn State’s great teams of 1993 and ’94.
But the Badgers aren’t just an offensive juggernaut – they’ve also played some impressive “D” as evidenced by this nugget:
7, 17: Wisconsin has given up just 7 touchdowns this season. For a little perspective, consider that Montee Ball has scored 17 all by himself.
Of course the Badgers will be facing an impressive defense in Michigan State, setting up a classic “strength against strength” battle.
1st, 1st: Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson is 1st in the nation in Passing Efficiency. MSU is 1st in the nation in Pass Efficiency Defense.
Just getting to the point where you actually throw the pass is an accomplishment against the Spartans.
As for the back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes and Wolverines, they put the Spartans in a very exclusive group.
91, 9th: Of the 91 Big Ten teams all-time that have played Ohio State and Michigan in consecutive games, the Spartans were just the 9th ever to sweep them. Penn State accomplished it in 1994 and 2008. Aside from the Nittany Lions, the prior 51 teams that had been in that situation had failed to pull off the sweep. Interestingly, seven of the eight teams that beat those two back-to-back went on to win the Big Ten Championship.
Impressive as that all is, beating Wisconsin would obviously be an even bigger accomplishment. Given how well Michigan State ran the ball last week, they had to be encouraged to see the success Indiana had against the Badgers on the ground.
223: Indiana totaled 223 rushing yards last week against Wisconsin. It was the first time IU has rushed for more than 200 yards against a Big Ten foe since 2007 against Purdue.
The Hoosiers face Iowa this week, in a game where part of the focus will be on potential milestones in the passing game.
189, 21: Indiana’s DeMarlo Belcher comes into the game with 189 career catches – three shy of passing James Hardy to become IU’s all-time leader. Belcher’s status is up in the air, though, due to a bone bruise on his knee. Meanwhile, Iowa’s Marvin McNutt has 21 career TD catches. He needs one more to break a tie with Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes and move into first place on the Hawkeyes’ career list.
Taylor Martinez is moving up the charts at Nebraska as well.
8th: Martinez’s 102 yard rushing night in the Huskers’ come-from-behind win against Ohio State marked the 8th time he’s hit the century mark in his career, tying him with Jamaal Lord for second all-time among Nebraska QBs. He still has a ways to go to catch all-time leader Eric Crouch, who pulled it off 18 times.
51, 50: This will be the 52nd all-time meeting between the Gophers and the Huskers. The 51 prior match-ups are actually one more than the 50 Minnesota has played against Ohio State, despite the fact that the Gophers and Buckeyes have been in the same conference since 1912.
Illinois’ 98th all-time match-up with Ohio State didn’t go so well on Saturday, as the Illini offense was held uncharacteristically in check.
3rd in 12, 2 of 3: The Illini were held under 200 rushing yards in the loss to the Buckeyes, mustering just 116 yards on the ground. It was just the 3rd time in its last 12 games that Illinois has been held under that mark – though it has now happened in 2 of their last 3 games. Northwestern also kept them under 200.
13: Scheelhaase threw two interceptions against OSU. He had gone 13 straight games before that without throwing multiple picks.
This week, Illinois will face a Purdue team that is starting to get things rolling offensively, at least when compared to last year’s struggles.
89.2: The Boilers’ average of 400.8 yards of total offense is 89.2 yards per game more than they averaged last year. That’s the biggest jump in the Big Ten.
Purdue had a great shot to win at Penn State last weekend, and might have pulled it off were it not for turnovers. They are certainly not the only team that’s had trouble hanging onto the ball against the Nittany Lions, though.
17: Penn State has forced 17 turnovers through seven games. That equals the Nittany Lions’ total from 13 games last season.
They’ll get a good defensive challenge this week from a Northwestern team that can really move the ball. Defense has been the issue for the ‘Cats. And it’s a major issue.
47.8: Northwestern has given up an average of 47.8 points per game in its last five Big Ten games, dating back to last season. They’ve allowed at least 38 points in all five of those games.
16.6: NU is allowing 16.6 yards per completion this season. That is the worst mark in the nation.
9: Northwestern has allowed 9 fourth quarter rushing TDs this season. That too is the most in the nation.
We have Northwestern and Penn State in prime time this weekend on BTN. They’ll square off at 7 p.m. ET – a game that will be preceded by the Auto Owners Insurance Pre-Game at 6 PM ET. That’ll be our second pre-game of the day. We’ll also be in our traditional 10:30 a.m. ET slot leading up to Indiana and Iowa at noon. And, of course, we’ll have complete post-game coverage of those contests as well. See you on Saturday.
(Follow Dave Revsine on Twitter @BTNDaveRevsine.)