BYU Preview: Opposites Attract

The colleges of BYU and Wisconsin couldn't be any more different, except when it comes to its football programs. With two schools that have a successful running game, a 3-4 defense with talented linebackers and needing to win out to stay in the BCS hunt, this weekend's nonconference matchup is full of intrigue.

MADISON - Trying to compare the college campuses of Brigham Young and the University of Wisconsin is like trying to compare apples and oranges.

Taking a thumbnail sketch, Wisconsin is a public university which typically ranks among the top 10 party schools in the nation. BYU, located in Provo, Utah, is a private university that has been named the most sober school in the country seven years running by the Princeton Review.

Take the time to compare the football programs of both universities, however, and the two are convincing equals.

Both the Badgers and the Cougars like to run the ball (both averaging over 250 yards per game on the ground), each run a 3-4-4 defense with the strength coming from its linebackers and both are playing the ‘what-if' game when it comes to the BCS.

So with both teams clinging to a sliver of hope, No.21 Wisconsin's game against BYU this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, for all intensive purposes, an elimination game from BCS fortune and glory.

Both schools sit outside the top 20 in the latest standings (Wisconsin is No.24 in the BCS for the second straight week and BYU is unranked) in part because of early season stumbles.

Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) has only dropped a controversial game at Arizona State and lost by seven on the road to fourth-ranked Ohio State, but those losses loom large with the fact that the Badgers have beaten six teams with a combined record of 9-27 and don't have a ranked team remaining on their schedule.

BYU (6-2) has won five straight games, but started the season dropping two of three, a 19-16 decision at Virginia (one of only two wins in nine games for the Cavaliers) and a seven-point game at home to at Utah team currently 4-4.

While no team from outside the six automatic-qualifying conferences has made a BCS game with two losses, quarterback Taysom Hill acknowledged that the Cougars could enhance their profile with wins at Wisconsin and at No.24 Notre Dame on Nov.23.

"Going to Wisconsin gives us an opportunity to make noise on the national level," said Hill. "They're ranked in the top 25; they are a well-known program throughout the country. It gives us an opportunity to go into a hostile environment and show what we can do against a very good opponent."

The Cougars have already accepted a bid to the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on Dec.27, but the Cougars have an offense that operates at a BCS level.

Running a fast-tempo offense similar to an Arizona State or an Oregon, the Cougars ran 115 plays in a 47-46 win at Houston, tying a FBS record; put up 550 rushing yards in a win over No.14 Texas, the most rushing yards the Longhorns have allowed in school history and have a quarterback in Hill who ranks sixth in the country with an average of 357.7 yards per game.

"They're on a roll," said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, who is 7-8 against BYU in two stints as an assistant at Utah and in four seasons as Utah State's head coach. "They've gotten progressively better. They've beaten very good teams this year, and it's an opponent that a lot of people on this staff know fairly well … This is a good team we're playing. Quarterback driven on the offensive side of the ball without question. He has continually gotten better and better as the year goes on and from a year ago."

When asked to compare BYU's defense to a Big Ten team, Andersen said Wisconsin. Tenth nationally in forcing 5.88 three-and-outs per game, BYU has 11 players with at least 30 tackles with its top three tacklers all linebackers (UW's top four tacklers all play linebacker). Outside of the game at Houston, BYU hasn't allowed more than 21 points in a game this season.

"They communicate very well and they play great team defense," said Andersen. "(Head coach) Bronco (Mendenhall) is the defensive coordinator. He's always done a good job of putting the right pieces of the puzzle together and giving the best plays on defense the opportunity to make the plays. It's an aggressive defense. They come from all different angles. Much of it's based out of an odd front and they cause some problems."

Wisconsin hasn't played a nonconference game in the middle of the season since 2007 and has done it only three times since 1983. With the Badgers needing to make a statement in the final four games of the season, playing BYU at home is a good place to start.

"You've got to take games where you can get games," said Andersen. "I don't think there are a bunch of people in the country when they get the phone call about playing Wisconsin that they jump out of their skin and say we can't wait to do that and come to Camp Randall. We'll take the game, and play it, and it gives us an opportunity to get seven wins on the season, which would be a huge step."

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