Bringing Hype, Headlines, and Hypotheticals

From his tremendous efficient start to the 2011 football season to the way-to-early Heisman talk, everybody is talking about the talent Russell Wilson is bringing to Wisconsin's offense.

CHICAGO - Listen to everyone talk about Russell Wilson. He's going to put the Wisconsin Badgers over the hump, finally. He's going to be so good the Badgers won't miss former talented quarterback Scott Tolzien. He's going to be Wisconsin's best quarterback ever.

The hype even spreads to Wisconsin's head coach.

"If there's someone out there better than him right now, I'd like to see him because he is a tough football player," said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema.

Quite the hype for anyone, not just Wilson, to live up to. Don't worry though; the hype has plenty of ways to defend itself.

Look at Wilson's career before even coming to the Badgers, the hype shouts. During his three-year career as a starter at North Carolina State, he amassed 76 touchdowns and 26 interceptions, improved his passing yards each year, won All-ACC first- and second-team honors, and even was drafted by the Colorado Rockies.

Wait there's more, the hype screams. In Wisconsin's running system, Wilson has become a true passer who scrambles when necessary and makes clutch throws. In fact, he's posted great numbers this year against UNLV (10-for-13, 255 passing yards, 2 passing TDs, 2 carries for 62 yards, and one rushing TD) and Oregon State (17-for-21, 189 passing yards, and 3 passing TDs).

"His ability to run the ball when no one is open and there's pressure, that helps the most," said Wisconsin running back James White. "It just really helps out our offense when things aren't going well."

In the ultimate sign of hype (or respect depending upon your view), Wilson's opposing head coach on Saturday complemented Wilson by comparing him favorably to perhaps Wisconsin's best quarterback in a long time.

"(He) manages the game the same way that Scott Tolzien did, but he's a better athlete," said Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren. "So there's another dimension there when things break down, or if things are covered up." Well, at least Doeren knows what he's talking about. Before becoming the Huskies' head coach, Doeren was the Badgers' defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2010. So if anyone knows what works for the Badgers' offense and how to stop it, it's Doeren.

Thus, Doeren's familiarity should have created an added level of difficulty for Wilson. Instead of simply blitzing and pressuring Wilson, Doeren could use creative schemes and substitutions geared towards stopping Wisconsin's strengths and Wilson's skills.

It didn't happen for the Huskies. During the Badgers' 49-7 win, Wilson played impressively in going 23-for-32 for 347 yards and three TDs and one interception. Wilson also ran five times for 37 yards, including a key 11-yard scramble on third down with a blitizing backer coming in his face.

"If I was playing us, I would do exactly what [Northern Illinois] did," said Bielema, referring to NIU trying to stymie the run. "Fortunately for us, we have a guy that can throw it very accurately."

But shouldn't Doeren have been able to use some of that personal and intimate knowledge of Wisconsin's offense to take advantage of it? If not, what makes Wilson so special?

"It's his mind to along with an incredible amount of athleticism, but his mind is second to none," said Bielema. "[He] never ceases to amaze me. He just continues to think ahead of the play."

So all in all it was a good day's work for Wilson. He avoided several blitzes by scrambling and then either throwing sharp passes or timely rushes. He made solid throws on quick slants and accurate bombs on deep passes, including a 55-yard completion to tight end Jacob Pedersen. Except for the interception and a few incompletions, Wilson played spectacularly.

That means Wilson did everything right to keep the hype rolling. He wasn't just one reason the Badgers won the game, the hype screams; he was the main reason along with the defense's impressive afternoon.

But see the problem with Wilson, like all hype, is we still don't know what it means. Even against Northern Illinois, Wilson's played great, but it's only hype. It's not hard to picture Tolzien, or any other recent Badgers quarterback, playing well against the Huskies.

Instead, take at look at Wilson from a different angle. North Carolina State was never a great team and Wilson didn't face great competition very often. And when he did, his play wasn't the best. Last year, against the top two ACC defenses, Wilson went 21-for-49 and threw three INTs (a loss against Virginia Tech) and threw for just 212 yards (a loss against Clemson).

But Wilson had 347 passing yards against Northern Illinois, which were seventh most in Badgers history. That proves part of the hype is now legit, right?

"As a defensive coordinator to play everything covered and have everything in order and then have [Wilson] have the ability to make something happen is really really unique," said Bielema. "He's so far ahead of the game."

That's going too far. Saturday's game shouldn't have increased Wilson's hype; instead, it really shouldn't have done anything. No one expected anything but a blowout: Northern Illinois is not a great team that should beat the seventh-ranked team in the country.

Wilson, however, will get a chance to prove himself soon enough. In October, Wisconsin hosts Nebraska, travels to Michigan State and then the following week to Ohio State. Those back-to-back games will really prove how much of this hype is deserved.

But before we get to the point, the hype will only build. Maybe there's someone out there who understands that championships and a Heisman aren't won in games against UNLV, Oregon State, or Northern Illinois.

"We're not focused on [our upcoming schedule]. We gotta watch film and see what we did well and not so well, and then getting prepared for the next week," said Wilson. "We're going to have a lot of adversity throughout the year, but we're just going to have to keep overcoming."

Thank goodness. It seems like the only person that understands nothing has been won, or lost, yet is the man all the hype is surrounding. Until Wilson and Wisconsin can get past some tougher opponents, the results don't justify the hype.

No one actually knows if Wilson will deliver a championship and an undefeated season, but if you listen to the hype, you'd have to swear it's already happened.


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