Defensively, Wisconsin has allowed a first down on just 19 of 45 possessions, gave up just 49 yards passing against South Dakota and is the only school in the county to shut down a BCS opponent this season.
Needless to say, the competition is about to pick up but the Badgers have got a wealth of confidence to hang their hat on. It will always separate the players from the pretenders, which we attempt to do each week in the Front Seven.
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) —Wilson was upset with his first half performance against South Dakota. Clearly 14-of-20 for 243 yards passing and two touchdowns fails to reach his expectations. His second half was slightly better, and his 345 passing yards made him just the fourth quarterback in school history to throw for 300 yards in back-to-back games. Wilson said games like this Saturdays are the reason he came to Wisconsin. Games like Saturday are the reason Wisconsin recruited Wilson. Let's see if they match up and Wilson takes another Heisman leap.
2, Nick Toon, WR (4) —This was the game Wisconsin fans were hoping for out of the senior heading into conference play. Tying a career high with seven catches for a career-best 155 yards and two scores, Toon continues to climb up Wisconsin's career receiving charts and is just 106 yards away from surpassing last year's receiving total. That's a testament to how poor last season was for him, and how solid he's been in the nonconference season.
3, Jared Abbrederis, WR (6) –Abbrederis recorded his first 100-yard receiving game with his 101-yard receiving, one touchdown performance against South Dakota but that's not the reason he jumped three spots. Abbrederis is not only developing himself into a solid punt return, he's become a tenacious downfield blocker. Every week it seems like the sophomore makes a great block to spring a touchdown, and he made two on Saturday on Toon's 55-yard run and White's 49-yard run. Without those blocks, those guys wouldn't have scored, and that's 14 points off the board.
4, Montee Ball, RB (2) — Ball is simply grinding along this season without slowing down. He's only has one 100-yard game this year, but he's scoring a ton. Add two more touchdowns to his career scoring list, upping his total to 31 in three years, and you just get the feeling that Ball is on the verge of breaking out in a big way.
5, Chris Borland, LB (3) — After each passing game, fans have to feel more and more comfortable with the Wisconsin coaching staff's decision to put Borland in the middle of the defense. He didn't lead the team in tackles for the fourth straight game, but Borland had the first of his two TFLs on the first play, had one quarterback hurry, one 29-yard interception and eight tackles. When Borland is unleashed, there is no better linebacker in the conference.
6, RB James White (7) – Leading the team with 95 rushing yards against South Dakota, White accomplished that feat in just nine carries, which equates to a whopping 10.6 yards per carry. His touchdown run of 49 yards showed maturity as he found the seam, turned on the jets to gain separation and slowed down slightly to allow Abbrederis to get in front of him for a block.
7, Mike Taylor, LB (NR) – Like Borland, the more Taylor sees the field the more comfortable he's going to be. Taylor led the team with 10 tackles and added a TFL against South Dakota, pushing his season total to 30 tackles, second best on the team. At that pace, he'll finish the regular season with 90 tackles, not much to complain about there.
Others to Note
DT Patrick Butrym – Got his first sack of the season against the Coyotes and limited their running game to 124 yards. The pressure from the DTs has to improve heading into conference play and Butrym is just the guy to ramp up the pressure.
RT Rob Havenstein – Making his first career start in place of Josh Oglesby, Havenstein was above average in all areas of protection, giving O-Line coach Bob Bostad more added insurance and depth at his position.
P Brad Nortman – The envy of all kids that had to pay their own way to go to school, the senior punter has punted an average of just twice a game, including just once on Saturday. Even scarier is that coach Bret Bielema said nobody is kicking better in the country than Nortman … if he's ever out there.
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