Front Seven - Northern Illinois

A week after Wisconsin's offense set the pace in the Badgers' 51-17 victory over the Rebels, the Badgers' defense was the big storyline in shutting down an Oregon State offense. With both units playing solid, it makes it tough to pick who makes this week's Badger Nation's Front Seven.

MADISON — With a shutout over a banged up Oregon State squad, No.7 Wisconsin has started 2-0 each season since 2002 (10 straight years). Wisconsin has won 30 straight regular-season games against non-conference foes. Under head coach Bret Bielema, UW is 22-0 against non-conference opponents during the regular season. While the 35-0 shutout appeared easy (and it was at times), the balance that UW exuded was the most impressive.

Three first-quarter rushing yards didn't stymie Wisconsin, which had a 21-0 lead at halftime and just kept rolling along in the second half. Wisconsin has not committed a turnover at home since the second quarter of the Ohio State game on Oct. 16, 2010, a span of four-and-a-half games. With the early success Wisconsin has had at home, it makes identifying the top seven players on the roster that much harder.

The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance, expectations and need — a wonderfully vague definition of valuable to justify just about any selection. Please vent debates and disagreements on the premium board, as it wasn't easy narrowing the last down to seven.

Last week's rankings in parentheses

1, Russell Wilson, QB (1) —Through two games, Wilson has seven incompletions. All those doubts on whether or not he can fit into the Badgers' offense can be put the rest. Wilson helped revive a stagnate running game in the first half when the Beavers were loading the box. As a result, Wilson took advantage of 1-on-1 coverage and threw his three touchdown passes in the first half. That led to Oregon State dropping more players in coverage, which allowed the run game to open up. Wilson's off to a good start, but his match-up against Northern Illinois on the road will be his first major test this season.

2, Montee Ball, RB (2) — Through Wisconsin's first four drives, Ball has six rushing yards on five carries. On his next three carries, Ball had 37 yards and he was off and running. Showing good patience and belief that the run game would eventually open up, Ball finished with 118 yards and two scores. Ball went over the 100-yard mark for the sixth time in his last seven games and scored at least one rushing touchdown in last eight games. After not being a factor in the early parts last season, Ball has emerged as one of the top runners in the nation.

3, Jacob Pedersen, TE, (NR) — It's important to Wisconsin's offensive scheme to have a tight end that can block and run and catch passes. It's a reason why the Badgers have been so successful in past years and if Pedersen keeps up this kind of production, the offense will be really successful in the future. Pedersen is a fantasy football player's dream. He has 16 career receptions, and five of them have been for touchdowns. Saturday was the first two-TD game of his career. Pedersen had career highs in both receptions (6), yards (80) and touchdowns (2). His 34-yard reception in the fourth quarter was also a career long.

4, Chris Borland, LB (7) — Borland gave himself a ‘C' grade following his UNLV game and he gave himself a ‘B' following the OSU game. By his own accord, Borland is getting more comfortable in his new position and more comfortable being back on the football field, which is vital for Wisconsin's defense. Borland lead the team in tackles for the second straight week, finishing tied with Mike Taylor for nine, had two pass breakups and a half tackle for loss.

5, Nick Toon, WR (5) — After he impressed with his downfield blocking in week one, Toon showed he can still catch the football with the best of him. Toon had five catches in the first half – including a beautiful red-zone timing route that went for a touchdown – and tied his career high with seven catches. Through camp and the first two weeks of the season, it's obvious that Toon and Pedersen are Wilson's favorite playmakers.

7, DE David Gilbert (NR) – If Wisconsin is going to be a successful team, the Badgers are going to need consistent pressure from their defensive line (ala J.J. Watt). Gilbert isn't there yet, but he is certainly on his way. He had a 10-yard sack and two quarterback hurries against the Beavers, keeping pressure in the backfield that led to a lot of rushed decisions by the quarterbacks. Gilbert did a great job in helping hold OSU in 23 rushing yards and the film showed he played probably his best game of the year.

Others to Note

CB Antonio Fenelus – Fenelus didn't do anything wrong to drop out of the top seven as other people just played better. Still, nobody is playing better than Fenelus in the secondary. He's been solid in coverage, hasn't given up any big plays and is playing with a ton of confidence as he heads into his toughest test of the season.

CB Marcus Cromartie – Cromartie entered Saturday with seven career tackles. He equaled that total with a career-high seven stops, filling in for senior CB Devin Smith after Smith was injured in the first half. With Smith out for the season, Cromartie will be the starting corner, a spot he earned with his abilities in camp. Now, he has the chance to keep it.

SS Shelton Johnson – Forced to shift around due to Smith's injury in the nickel package, Johnson played his best game as a college player, finishing with a career-high three tackles for loss and one forced fumble.

P Brad Nortman – Yes, he is allowed to play in the first half of games and yes, he's one of the best in the country. Nortman had a 45.8-yard average on his punts with a long of 57 and three inside the 20 against Oregon State.

Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!

For more Badger sports news, notes and discussion, especially on game day, follow Badger Nation on Twitter @TheBadgerNation


Badger Nation Top Stories