Here's how high the expectations are for Wisconsin: The Badgers slugged South Dakota 59-10 on Saturday and dropped a spot in the Associated Press poll.
While that's a weird sign, it doesn't matter in the slightest going forward because Wisconsin is ranked high enough in the polls (No. 7 in AP as well as the coaches' vote) to control its own destiny the rest of the way.
Starting with Saturday's Big Ten opener, when the Badgers host Nebraska's league debut, Wisconsin will all but decide whether it reaches the BCS title game. Unless teams like No. 1 LSU or No. 2 Oklahoma win out, it will be next to impossible to keep the Badgers away from a shot at the national title. How's that for high stakes?
While talk of a national title might be way too premature, especially considering Wisconsin has started its last three Big Ten seasons either 0-1 or 1-2, it's not crazy.
"In practice we go against one of the best defenses in the country every single day," quarterback Russell Wilson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Same with the defense (against) our offense...We just have to make sure we watch a lot of film and come out sharp, ready to go."
Wisconsin boasts perhaps the most complete offense in America with Wilson at the controls. The senior threw for 345 more yards and 3 more touchdowns against South Dakota, which boosts his numbers to 1,136 yards and 11 scores for the year. He ranks second nationally in pass efficiency and hasn't begun to tap the part of Wisconsin's playbook where he uses his feet to gain yardage.
Wilson enjoys plenty of favorable matchups in the secondary because defenses must honor the two-headed tailback monster that is Montee Ball and James White. The duo combined for 108 carries, 663 yards and 12 touchdowns in non-conference play.
And Wisconsin's defense? Since having to adjust on the fly in the opener when UNLV showed up running the Pistol -- a scheme the Badgers didn't expect -- Wisconsin has allowed just two touchdowns with its regular defense on the field. Of course, it's one thing to dominate UNLV, South Dakota, Northern Illinois and Oregon State. None of those programs approach Nebraska's stature -- or anybody else who figures to be in the Big Ten hunt.
"We'll be tested with great lines," middle linebacker Chris Borland told the Journal Sentinel. "We've played some good teams but it'll be a whole different animal with Big Ten lines. They'll pound the ball at you."
--Wisconsin enters Big Ten play having trailed for exactly zero minutes and zero seconds in 2011. Northern Illinois is the only team that forged a tie after Wisconsin's initial score --- and that 7-7 tie on Sept. 17 lasted all of 62 seconds. The Badgers lead the nation in scoring margin at plus-40.0 points per game.
--Wisconsin's defense has surrendered 17 points in the last three games, which has enabled the Badgers to jump to No. 3 nationally in scoring defense at 8.5 ppg. They rank seventh in yards allowed (246.5). They've allowed just 1 touchdown in the first half this year. The opponents' other 3 touchdowns have come long after the games had been decided.
--Wisconsin enters Saturday's Big Ten opener against Nebraska with 12 consecutive wins at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers are 35-3 at home since Bret Bielema became the head coach in 2006.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Jared Abbrederis -- As senior WR Nick Toon and TE Jacob Pedersen continue to garner the lion's share of attention from opposing pass defenses, this former walk-on will have more one-on-one opportunities going forward. Abbrederis caught 5 passes for a career-high 101 yards and his first TD of the year in Saturday's win over South Dakota. He owns 15 catches for 233 yards this season. LOOKING GOOD: Wisconsin's offense has yet to meet a defense that can solve it -- with the possible exception of Oregon State's decision to sell out against the run in the first half on Sept. 10. The Badgers have thrown for 1,147 yards and rushed for 982 yards while averaging 48.5 points per game. Junior tailback Montee Ball ranks third in the nation with 10 touchdowns.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Senior punter Brad Nortman averages 43.4 yards per punt, but he can't rank among the national leaders because he doesn't get enough work. Nortman has booted just one ball in each of the last two games. On the other hand, Wisconsin's kickers are getting a lot of work and not always faring so well. Alec Lerner knocked two kickoffs out of bounds against South Dakota. Redshirt freshman Kyle French, who has been handling placements with Philip Welch out, has made 2 of 4 field goals.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want people to respect what we do. We've spent a lot of time trying to build up a reputation here of playing physical football, a mentality of doing what you said, put people away, kind of putting your foot on them." -- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema in the Wisconsin State Journal.