Who is the best defensive end in the Big Ten?
Ohio State fans will say Cameron Heyward. Iowa fans will undoubtedly tout Adrian Clayborn. As Badgers fans will learn up close and personal this weekend, Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan certainly has quite a bit to say in the discussion.
Well, what about J.J. Watt?
"He is right with them, no doubt about it," UW defensive tackle Patrick Butrym said. "He is right in there with those guys."
"There are a lot of really really good defensive ends in the Big Ten this year," Defensive Line Coach Charlie Partridge added. "He is definitely in that class, J.J. is having a special year. He just needs to keep all distractions away and continue to do what he has done to get to the level he is at."
Watt's raw numbers stack up with anyone. He has more sacks on the season than any one player from Ohio State or Iowa and ranks No. 4 in the Big Ten with five sacks on the season. It should be noted Kerrigan ranks No. 1 with 7.5 sacks.
Tackles for a loss shows the same production. Watt ranks second in the conference; Kerrigan sits at No. 1. Throw in Watt's six pass break-ups and two blocked kicks and he is right behind Kerrigan in game breaking plays.
Maybe the question should wait until after Watt and Kerrigan have "faced off" this week when No.7 Wisconsin takes on Purdue here today at Ross-Ade Stadium at 11 a.m.
While comparing head-to-head game results is flimsy at best for obvious reasons, Watt has taken each match-up with the supposed Big Ten's "best" very seriously.
"I watch him a lot and he is an extremely high motor guy, a lot of his sacks are pure effort," Watt said "Those are the kinds of guys I love to watch and he is a lot of fun … I am definitely excited to watch him in person."
"I think that is something that good defensive linemen do, when they see someone in the league, on of their peers, they study what makes them good players," Partridge added.
"[Those guys] are as good as you are going to see, I don't care what conference you are in. They are great players and to have the opportunity to study every game that they play is a tremendous advantage."
Judging by those criteria, Watt certainly "won" his match-ups with Heyward and Clayborn.
Against the Buckeyes, Watt finished the game with three tackles for a loss and two sacks of the elusive Terrelle Pryor. Heyward was held to one tackle for a loss and four tackles in a quiet day.
Going up against the Buckeyes, Watt had the Badgers lone sack for the day against Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi, two tackles for a loss and the blocked PAT in a one point victory. Clayborn had one sack in five tackles.
Again, a very imperfect way of measuring, but Watt won both of those match-ups and the Badgers won both games.
"There is a definite reality to that," Partridge said. "When someone on the other sideline is regarded as one of the best in the country you certainly want to prove that you are on the same level and that is no question that it is certainly an additional motivator for J.J. with out a doubt."
For Watt, the take was much more simplistic — although it should be noted a grin appeared on his face when the question was broached.
"I am just glad we won the game," he said.