Dienhart: 4 things to watch for tonight

Kickoff of the second Big Ten title game is hours away between Nebraska and Wisconsin. A Big Ten title is on the line, and the winner will play Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Here are four things to watch.

1. Can Curt Phillips pass? It’s basically a given that Nebraska will slide an extra man in the box in an effort to thwart the potent Badger ground game. If the fifth-year senior Wisconsin signal caller can’t make the Huskers pay for committing to stop the run, the Badger offense figures to bog down.

[RELATED: Join Tom Dienhart and Brent Yarina or our Big Ten Championship Live Blog tonight. ]

2. Is Nebraska tough enough up front? Several Big Ten offensive coordinators told me earlier this week that their teams were able to push around the Husker defensive front. And the Nebraska line may be weakened with big tackle Baker Steinkuhler out with injury. Even with Steinkuhler, the Cornhuskers rank just eighth in the Big Ten in rush defense (166.2 ypg). That has to excite Wisconsin running backs Montee Ball and James White.

3. Wisconsin’s start. The Badgers come into tonight’s game having lost two in a row and three of their last four—all in overtime. What is the team’s psyche? If Nebraska gets up early, will it take the steam and fight out of a 7-5 Wisconsin squad, that also has to feel jinxed after losing so many close games (all five losses have come by an aggregate 19 points)? Conversely, Nebraska has thrived under pressure, rally from double-digit holes to beat Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State.

4. Watch those kickers. If this thing comes down to a team having to make a big kick late to tie or win the game, Nebraska appears to be in better shape. The Cornhuskers have a weapon in Brett Maher. He has made big kicks and has a big leg. But kicking has been an issue for Wisconsin. Jack Russell began the year as the top option but lost his job to Kyle French after missing an extra point and 41-yard field-goal attempt in the loss to Nebraska earlier this year. French has struggled of late, missing two kicks (40 and 44) in each of the last two weeks that contributed to losses. Hmmmm.

More from Indianapolis:

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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1 Comment

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (1 Comment)
Doug on 12/1/2012 @ 11:53pm EDT Said:

1. Didn’t have to
2. NO
3. Awsome start
4. Kickers didn’t matter

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