By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) Based on some of the chatter I have seen and heard this week from Michigan State fans, some of them don’t have much respect for Wisconsin’s offense.
They have pointed to a weak schedule as evidence that the Badgers’ offense — currently the No. 1 scoring offense in the country — isn’t as good as the stats say.
My response to those fans: Have you been paying attention?
Sure, the schedule has been soft — Wisconsin will play its first true road game of the season Saturday night at Michigan State — but if you’ve watched five minutes of Russell Wilson this season, you know he’s the real deal.
There’s a difference between winning easily because you are playing bad teams and winning easily because your team is simply that good. Just turn on the Nebraska tape and you’ll see Wisconsin has been winning because of the latter. In fact, the Badgers are the first FBS team since at least 1953 to win their first six games by at least 30 points. That’s no small feat no matter who you are playing.
I wrote before the Nebraska game that the Badgers had barely reached page two of the playbook. In the last two weeks, they’ve put more on tape, but they still aren’t quite to page three. Last week offensive coordinator Paul Chryst called for a trick play where running back Montee Ball threw a touchdown pass to Wilson. The Badgers did that for a reason. They wanted it on tape. Wilson is one of the best ball-fakers in the country and the Spartans will have to keep a guy on him on almost every single play, even when it’s clear he has given up the football.
If the Spartans want to win Saturday, they need to play defense on both sides of the ball. Not only will their defensive front have to win the line of scrimmage (not easy to do against Wisconsin’s offensive line), but their offense will have to sustain long scoring drives to keep the ball away from Russell Wilson.
Michigan State loves its defense. And it should. The Spartans are No. 4 in the country in scoring defense (10.83 points per game). But something no one is talking about is Wisconsin’s defense, which is even better at No. 3 (9.67 points per game). And before you throw Wisconsin’s schedule at me as the reason why the Badgers rank higher in scoring defense, you should know that UW has actually faced better offenses. The average scoring offense ranking of UW’s five FBS opponents is 68.4. The average for Michigan State’s five FBS opponents is 73.4.
Meanwhile, Michigan State is ranked No. 65 nationally in scoring offense and I just can’t see how they are going to keep up with the nation’s top offense.
Sure, this is a night game in East Lansing and Wisconsin has lost three straight games at Spartan stadium (including its only regular season loss last year), but the Badgers have never had this much talent before. And they’ve never had Russell Wilson.
My pick: Wisconsin 34, Michigan State 20.
Now onto the rest of my Big Ten picks where I am still perfect (15-0) in conference play:
Home team in CAPS
IOWA 41, Indiana 20
The Hoosiers have been tough on Iowa the last couple of years, but I can’t see how they keep up with James Vandenberg and Marcus Coker in this game.
NEBRASKA 51, Minnesota 17
This will most likely be the ugliest game of the week. Both teams are coming off byes, but unless Jerry Kill replaced his entire team during the off week, the Gophers don’t have a chance in this one.
NORTHWESTERN 24, Penn State 23
This is the battle of a team that can’t stop anyone vs. a team that can’t score against anyone. Northwestern’s defense has been downright horrible in recent weeks, but I even less faith in Penn State’s offense, especially on the road. Meanwhile, the Lions’ defense is very good, but the Wildcats always find ways to score at home. Dan Persa is due for a big game so I’m taking Northwestern at home in a minor upset.
Illinois 28, PURDUE 24
I was called a “hater” by Illini fans last week, but I guess those people saw why I was “hating” against Ohio State. This one just smells like a game the Illini would lose, doesn’t it? Purdue has looked better in recent weeks and nearly upset Penn State on the road last week. So the question is: Is this the start of an Illini slide? It could be, but I’m still not a believer of the Boilermakers and I’ll take the team with a lot more talent.
Season record: 50-12 (15-0 Big Ten)
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox 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.