The No. 8 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers have beaten their four previous opponents by a total of 84 points. You would think that a margin of victory that massive would earn then some bragging rights going into this week’s highly-touted showdown against the No. 7 ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
As it turns out, not so much.
Despite the Huskers undefeated record and their repeated thumping of their opponents -- just like their counterparts from Camp Randall Stadium -- the Badgers are being viewed as the far superior team by just about everyone.
Now, to be fair, there is a certain case to be made for Wisconsin’s excellence. As a direct result of the squad's pretty notable personnel change at the quarterback slot, Wisconsin’s offense has improved over the last year. New quarterback Russell Wilson is an early Heisman favorite and, to date, has been just as amazing as advertised.
Wilson alone makes the Badgers a scary foe for any team in the nation.
After their latest 59-10 massacre of South Dakota this past weekend, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema made it clear that the Badgers’ attention was now squarely focused on their Big Ten rivals from Lincoln.
“I’m very excited for this week to finally get here,” Badgers Coach Bret Bielema said. “You guys might’ve heard, but we’re playing Nebraska, so there are some fun things to prepare this week. It’s a really exciting time for us because you put in all this hard work and effort into getting through the non-conference schedule, playing as clean as you can and get into a Big Ten race. There’s also the opportunity to play at home and at night. It’ll be a great scene, a great environment for college football and hopefully it’ll be a nice infomercial all week for University of Wisconsin.”
All year long, Nebraska has slowly but steadily adjusted to its new conference digs in a series of tune-ups. While some may have complained that the games were “too easy” for a program of the Huskers’ caliber, in reality, they provided the ideal practice for a team making some pretty big changes heading into the new year.
That first blowout win versus Chattanooga was a simple home game against substandard opponents, a little warm-up to get the squad into the swing of things. The victory over Fresno State was a slightly more challenging home outing against a traditionally gritty opponent, a noticeable step up from the first game.
Then, against Washington, Nebraska got their first real taste of legitimate competition -- against a familiar foe -- in yet another home game but, again, with tougher opposition. And, finally, this past weekend versus Wyoming, the Huskers went on the road for the first time and beat down the Cowboys in a somewhat contained surrounding away from home.
At this point, in theory at least, Nebraska has slowly but surely progressed through the year at a steady pace and should be ready for their first big challenge of the season.
It’s worth noting, also, that it’s not as if Wisconsin has been facing particularly challenging opponents through their first four games. UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota aren’t exactly BCS powerhouses.
Both the Huskers and the Badgers have gone through the year beating up on weak opposition. However, for whatever reason, it’s the former group that has caught the majority of the slack for not being as good as advertised. (Amazingly enough, though, Nebraska has steadily risen through the ranks every week whereas Wisconsin has dipped.)
The truth is, the only difference between Nebraska and their Big Ten rivals is that they win unorthodox fashion. They beat Chattanooga 51-7 and Wisconsin beat South Dakota 59-10, but the latter game was supposedly more impressive because the Badgers looked better throughout. A team’s looks are purely subjective, of course, and folks often see what they want to see.
This week’s match-up will be very telling. It will either prove that critics were right when they condemned Nebraska for not winning “nicely enough” in prior games even though their victories were largely coming in the same fashion as Wisconsin’s or, they’ll be praised for being the underdogs that nobody saw coming.
As with most things relating to college football, the wins and losses will determine the eventual narrative.