Despite two tough-to-swallow road losses, the Wisconsin Badgers will still have a shot Saturday at the Big Ten Leaders division, the next step in their quest back to the Rose Bowl.
Standing in their way: the Penn State Nittany Lions, whose players desperately want the focus on something other than former coach Jerry Sandusky and the accusations of child molestation and statutory rape that have thrown the football program and school into chaos.
Beyond the division title and a shot at Michigan State (or in Wisconsin’s case, another shot) for the conference, both teams will be playing for the right to control the season-long storylines surrounding them.
Wilson the Hired Gun
Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson mixes a powerful, accurate arm, with great speed and agility, and a brain smart enough to discern when to use either.
The result: a 73.6 perfect completion-rate, a 26-3 touchdown-interception ratio, and a 199.3 QB rating that leads the NCAA and is more than 30 points higher than his predecessor, Scott Tolzien. And at Camp Randall Stadium – where Saturday’s game will be – Wilson’s numbers somehow are even better.
But Wilson has had to post numbers that good – his place in Wisconsin history is still very much in flux.
Coach Bret Bielema brought in Wilson as a change of pace from the quarterbacks Badgers fans were used to. The move worked, with a 6-0 start that had Wisconsinites dreaming of national championships and Heisman Trophies.
Then came back-to-back road losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. Wilson threw two picks against the Spartans and completed a season-low 62.5 percent of his passes against the Buckeyes. He struggled most in his team’s two biggest tests.
As a hired gun, Wilson knows his story will be defined by how he did on the biggest stage. He’s not a QB who Bielema developed for two or three years before finally giving him the starting job; Bielema brought in Wilson as is. Should Wilson struggle, Badgers fans won’t be able to blame the steady but uncreative Bielema.
If Wilson fails, the loss will fall squarely on the quarterback himself. Wilson set a high bar for himself with his early-season magic, and on Saturday he’ll need to cast a spell over a Penn State defense that ranks second in the nation in opponent-scoring.