By Adam Hoge-
MADISON, Wis. – On a day where most of the Big Ten looked futile, the Wisconsin Badgers stepped up and toyed with the only the team that supposedly could hang with them.
Montee Ball tossed away “Blackshirt” defenders like they were high-schoolers. Nick Toon moved his way up draft boards with NFL scouts in attendance. And Russell Wilson had all the national writers in the Camp Randall press box saying “Heisman” out loud.
And trust me, there were a lot of Heisman Trophy voters in attendance.
When all the Cornhusks were cleared off the field, Wisconsin had welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten with a 48-17 butt whooping that sent a message clear across the country from coast-to-coast:
The Badgers are for real.
“I threw it out to the guys (before the game),” Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. “‘This week I’ve heard about big game, big stage, you know, all these big things. All we have is a big opportunity. What are we going to do with it?’ And I think they answered the bell.”
No one answered the bell louder than Wilson, who threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns while also completing 14-of-20 passes. Both touchdowns and 233 of the yards came in the first half as Wilson only threw the ball four times in the second half. But, just for good measure, Wilson added a pretty 10-yard touchdown run to give the Badgers a 34-14 lead not even four minutes into the third quarter.
Heisman talk? Look no further than his own head coach to hear it.
“If there’s a better player in college football right now, I’d like to see it,” Bielema said.
There might not be a better offense either. Wilson has two extremely good targets to throw the ball to in Nick Toon (four catches for 94 yards and a touchdown) and Jared Abbrederis (five catches for 95 yards and touchdown), who, by the way, still doesn’t have a scholarship. And when you add in running back Montee Ball (151 yards on 30 carries and four touchdowns), it would be tough to argue that there’s a better offense in the country.
The reality is that Wisconsin should have won this game comfortably. They were 10-point favorites and were clearly better on paper, but how many people expected a 31-point cushion?
And to those who questioned the teams Wisconsin had played in the first four weeks, the Badgers showed they could take a punch and hit right back as they rattled off 34 unanswered points after falling behind 14-7 early in the second quarter.
By the end of it, the talk had already started. Could Wisconsin beat LSU? Could they hang with Alabama? What about Oklahoma?
It sure looks like the Badgers – who arguably have the nation’s best offense – could hang with any of those teams. Whether or not they could beat them, is a different argument to have later down the road.
But more importantly, for a conference that has looked overwhelmingly weak this season, the Badgers are the Big Ten’s only hope for the BCS National Championship Game. They’ll be favored in every game the rest of the way, despite tough tests remaining on the road at Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois.
And who does everyone believe Wisconsin will see in the Big Ten Championship Game? That would be the same Nebraska team that got punched in the mouth Saturday night by these very Badgers.
Excuse me if it’s only Week 1 of the Big Ten season, but reality is reality. No other team in the conference has what the Badgers have (including you, Michigan). Even Bielema, who admitted he expects the national title talk to heat up this week, knows it.
“I still believe we are Wisconsin and what we (usually) are. We’re just extremely good right now,” he said.
It was estimated somewhere between 20,000-40,000 Nebraska fans had travelled to Madison for the game. About 10,000 of those fans actually made it inside in hopes of finding out which team was the best in the Big Ten. They quickly found out that team was the Wisconsin Badgers.
The Big Ten’s only hope.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the White Sox, Blackhawks and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.