Breakdown: Big Ten Championship

After a frustrating regular season full of transition and tough losses, Wisconsin can successfully turn the page when the Badgers face No.14 Nebraska at Lucas Oil Field in the Big Ten Championship game Saturday. Badger Nation breaks down and predicts the matchup.

No.14 Nebraska (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Saturday, December 1 at 7:17 p.m. CT

Stadium –Lucas Oil Stadium (62,421/FieldTurf)

Television –FOX (Gus Johnson, Charles Davis, Petros Papadakis, Julie Alexandria)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas), Sirius 91, XM 91

Series – Nebraska leads 4-3 (Wisconsin leads 1-0 in neutral sites)

Last Meeting – Nebraska won, 30-27, on September 29, 2011 in Lincoln

Last week's Badger Nation game coverage

Last meeting's Badger Nation game coverage

Series Notes

Nebraska leads the all-time series between the two teams 4-3 after scoring a 30-27 win over the Badgers on Sept. 29. The series is split 1-1 since the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011.

UW head coach Bret Bielema and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini are each 1-1 in the series.

This will be the second meeting at neutral site between the Badgers and Huskers. Wisconsin scored an 18-10 win over Nebraska in Milwaukee in 1901.

Wisconsin makes its second appearance in the Big Ten Football Championship Game, while Nebraska will take part in a conference title game for the third time in four seasons. The Huskers appeared in the 2009 and 2010 Big 12 championship games in their final two seasons in that league.

Wisconsin Notes

The Badgers seek to become the first Big Ten school to play in three consecutive Rose Bowl games since Michigan appeared in Pasadena from 1977-79.

Wisconsin's senior class owns a 39-13 (.750) record over the last four seasons and is the second-winningest class in UW history. A win Saturday would tie the 2007 class' school record of 40 victories in a four-year span (40-11, .784).

The nation's top tackler over the past two seasons with 265 total stops, senior LB Mike Taylor has averaged 18.6 tackles in two career games vs. Nebraska. He had a career-high 22 tackles last season and totaled 15 stops in the teams' Sept. 29 meeting.

The Badgers averaged 247.5 rushing yards per game in Big Ten play this season, an improvement on their average of 247.2 in 2011. UW is the first Big Ten team to average 240+ yards in conference play in three straight seasons since at least 1992.

Wisconsin ranks 11th in the nation in total defense, allowing just 307.9 yards per game. Nebraska is 15th in the country, giving up 318.3 yards per contest.

Wisconsin has won its last nine games in the state of Indiana, dating back to 2002. The Badgers are 8-0 in games played in Indiana under head coach Bret Bielema, winning those games by an average margin of 23.8 points.

Each of Wisconsin's five losses this season have come by a margin of a touchdown or less, including four by three points and three in overtime. The average scoring margin in those five losses is 3.8 points.

Wisconsin has lost just 11 turnovers on the season, matching Iowa for the fewest in the Big Ten and tying for the fourth-fewest nationally. Only Ohio (8), Pittsburgh (8) and Kansas State (9) have fewer giveaways than UW this season.

Nebraska Notes

The 7-1 conference record is Nebraska's best mark in Big Ten or Big 12 play since also posting a 7-1 record in the 2001 Big 12 season. Between 2001 and 2012, Nebraska posted three 6-2 conference seasons, with two of those coming under Bo Pelini in 2009 and 2010, and the other in 2006. Each of those three seasons ended in a Big 12 Championship Game appearance.

The five straight years of nine wins marks the first time NU has accomplished that since its NCAA record streak of 33 straight nine-win seasons from 1969 to 2001.

Nebraska posted a perfect 4-0 record in the month of November, including rallies from double-digit deficits against both Michigan State and Penn State, before closing with wins over Minnesota and Iowa. The Huskers have extended their overall winning streak to six games with their 4-0 November run.

The Red Zone has been good to Nebraska in 2012. Offensively, the Huskers have scored on 46 of their 55 trips into the red zone, producing 34 touchdowns and 12 field goals. The Huskers had converted 24 consecutive red-zone trips into points before a missed opportunity at Michigan State. NU was 30-of-35 in the red zone in Big Ten games. Nebraska's 83.6 percent red-zone success rate in all games ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 39th nationally.

Defensively, the Blackshirts have allowed opponents to score on 29 of their 38 trips to the red zone, but only 18-of-38 have resulted in touchdowns. NU's overall red-zone defense rate of 76.3 percent is third in the Big Ten and 27th nationally. Overall, Nebraska has outscored its opponents 272-158 in red-zone trips.

Prediction

Bret Bielema gets it. He understands that public sentiment has shifted from the two ineligible teams in the Big Ten Leaders Division on to his football team, as some people don't believe the Badgers – third-place finishers in their division – belong in the title game.

He understands the question completely, but don't think for a second he's going to make any apologies for their record or the situation.

"The biggest thing is our kids have come every week ready to play and battled their tails off," said Bielema. "They went through some adversity both on the field and off the field. Some injuries that (have made) kids continue to step up and play through a lot of pain. I couldn't be more proud of where they are at. Obviously would like to have more wins, but to have one shot opportunity to get our way into the Rose Bowl is incredible."

The despite the five losses that has drawn the public's criticism of Wisconsin, including the back-to-back losses to the teams that finished first and second in the division, the optimist in Bielema says his team was in both of those games and just didn't come away with the game-changing moment that benefited his team in situations prior.

"We lost to them both in overtime," he said. "We were one play here or there from winning them, but we didn't and I get it. That's going to be my task for the next year to come up with reasons why we have to."

But it's not going to diminish what Wisconsin has accomplished, or could accomplish, with a win tomorrow in Lucas Oil Field. Wisconsin owns the title of champion, a title that earned by coming through in a ‘redemption game' last season against Michigan State in the same building.

Bielema acknowledges that Nebraska is a better team that the squad Wisconsin faces in late September, as Taylor Martinez has taken advantage of more gaps in opposing defenses and got a better chemistry with his wide receivers. Those numbers can be seen in second-team All-Big Ten standout Kenny Bell (44 catches, 789 yards, eight touchdowns).

"I have been very impressed with him even going back to a year ago," said Bielema of Bell, "just using his ability to use his speed in connection with the play-action passing game. It's awesome."

He said in the same breath that his team is better, as well. Wisconsin enters Saturday's big-game environment the healthiest it has been since the bye week and much more complete since the last time UW went to Lincoln. Wisconsin will have senior safety Shelton Johnson and senior defensive end Brendan Kelly, along with junior defensive end Pat Muldoon, back in the lineup after missing the first meeting.

UW will also have defensive end David Gilbert in the starting lineup and have linebacker Chris Borland go through nearly an entire week of practice.

"That's what I am excited about," said Bielema. "There were a number of players in that game that didn't practice or even play that are back to full strength now. It's been a difficult year for us. In my time here as a head coach, I don't know if I had more players miss who were great players for us who have missed entire ball games.

"I am excited about how good we can be. We're going to be a great team on Saturday, no matter who is going to show up and play. We're going to play great and put on a great competitive ball game against a great team in Nebraska. May the best man win."

Nebraska may be the best team, but they are only favored by 2.5 points, hardly an overwhelming vote of confidence. I've been real impressed with Wisconsin's defensive performance over the last seven weeks, particularly its job about Braxton Miller. If UW can duplicate that kind of effort, Nebraska's offense should be stymied. That should give some leeway to UW's struggling offense, especially with the Cornhuskers not having All-Big Ten defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler in the game.

Wisconsin has been in big games with championships on the line the last two seasons. Nebraska hasn't. That also has to play a small factor.

This isn't a homer pick at all (look at my history), but just a hunch that Wisconsin will finally figure out how to win a close game against a ranked opponent away from Camp Randall. Bielema hasn't won much away from home against good competition. For his sake, he better start now.

Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 24

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 10-2

Against the Spread: 10-1

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