It seems like a small stadium (it is), it feels like it's not even full (it usually isn't), but Ryan Field can be a house of horrors for visiting schools. The Badgers know that all too well, dropping their last two games there after coming in the favorite. So what's the solution? Fill up Camp Randall a third of the way and have the fans cheer half-heartedly? Whatever it is, this year's squad better get up and stay up for the game and not let Ryan Field suck the life out of them.
According to Wikipedia, something that is Kafkaesque is "marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity." If you've seen Northwestern play, you might agree that the definition fits Mike Kafka almost as well as it fits Franz, minus the senseless part. Kafka runs the spread as well as anyone in the Big Ten, ranking third in passing yards per game and third in rushing yards per game (among QBs). While the Wildcats have a breakout performer in WR Zeke Markshausen, Kafka isn't afraid to spread the ball around to anyone who will run a route. Last week, Kafka hit 10 different receivers en route to a victory over Illinois. Sounds disorienting and menacingly complex to me.
3, First-down throwdown
It may seem like a simple key. Field position is always important. In this case, I refer mainly to when Wisconsin is on defense. In Big Ten games, Wisconsin leads the league in least first downs given up (102). On the flip side, Northwestern leads the league in first downs (163). Remember against Fresno when they ran that little 5-7 yard out route over and over? Remember the end of the Iowa game when Johnson-Koulianos was running those 10-12 yard routes and getting it every time? Those things cannot happen. Make no mistake, Kafka will target those throws and the Badgers need to find a way to stop them, fast.
4, And the award goes to ...
The Badgers have a good chance at any or even all of the Big Ten's hardware. To share the conference title, the Badgers simply need to win and have Ohio State lose to Michigan. As unlikely as that is, a) OSU lost to Purdue, and b) I hear it's a rivalry game or something. On a more personal level, there a few Badgers who are a little more invested than the rest. John Clay has to be the front runner for offensive player of the year after battering and bruising defenses across the Midwest. O'Brien Schofield is second in the Big Ten in TFL's (his 19.5 trail Brandon Graham's 21, but Wisconsin has one more game left than Michigan). Chris Borland went from underappreciated special teamer to all-around media darling - and Badger Nation Magazine cover boy - with his intense, never quit attitude. Last but not least coach Bret Bielema, the man whose head many people wanted at the beginning of the season, has transformed the mess of 2008 into a cohesive unit that clicks on both sides of the ball despite being younger than most teams in the conference.
5, Big Chance on Saturday
Northwestern is considered a solid team. Beating a solid team to a bloody pulp would do wonders in impressing voters in the coaches and Harris polls. Wisconsin needs to move up two spots to even be considered for a BCS bowl and in all likelihood need at least Iowa, if not Iowa and Penn State to lose to get a spot. A shaky performance by Iowa and Penn State coupled with blowouts by the Badgers in Evanston and across the Pacific (at a time when the other two don't play) could give Wisconsin a shot. If they want to have any control in their destiny though, they have to win big.
The passing game has been the Achilles heel for the Badger defense, and Northwestern boasts a good one. Then again, so did Purdue. It really should be a matter of whether the Badgers can impose their will and break down the hopes of the Wildcats early. The more confidence Kafka builds, the more dangerous the Northwestern offense will be. I think the Badgers will come out fast, but at some point in the second quarter, as has been their thing, Northwestern's offense will start clicking. That said, Wisconsin's will have already been clicking, and will continue to do so.
Wisconsin 34, Northwestern 27
Fearless Fedie: 9-1