Every week, we sit down with the SB Nation blog for Northwestern's opponent to see what we need to know. This week, we talked to Mike Fiammetta of the great Wisconsin blog Bucky's 5th Quarter. Here's what Mike had to say about the Badgers and this game.
1. What are your thoughts on this game? Are you guys at all worried by it? The Northwestern fan base seems to think this game is far more out of reach than I do, so I was wondering what your perspective is.
Northwestern is essentially the "pesky" Big Ten opponent Wisconsin fans fear. It's like, if you forced our hand for a prediction, we'd most likely pick Wisconsin. But for some reason -- most likely, the Wildcats' Mike Kafka-led win in 2009 -- Badgers fans never really enjoy seeing Northwestern on the schedule. It's kinda weird, especially considering Wisconsin's won the last two games by a combined 105-29, but that's how it feels. There's a lame "Chicago's Pesky Big Ten Team" joke to be made somewhere, but I can't find a quality one right now.
2. The front seven seems like it's been pretty good despite its youth. Has that surprised you? Or has the success really only come against weaker opponents?
The front seven has been awesome. Realistically, plenty of it is due -- like all good things from non-conference play -- to the weaker opponents. But with that out of the way, it's been so fun to see this unit mesh with Derek Landisch at the helm, looking more and more like Chris Borland every game at inside linebacker. The front seven does have some young players -- redshirt freshman Chikwe Obasih has held up at defensive end, while sophomore outside linebacker Vince Biegel is a promising playmaker and sophomore nose guard has so far done a quality job filling in for the injured Warren Herring. Losing Herring in the first game vs. LSU was huge, though it seems like he'll be back for the latter half of Big Ten play. Elsewhere, though, the front seven is actually pretty experienced. Defensive end Konrad Zagzebski, though he was nicked up vs. LSU, has been solid in his senior season, and next to Landisch, senior inside linebacker Marcus Trotter has been all over the place. It's been really fun to watch.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda also deserves a ton of credit. In his second year in Madison with Gary Andersen, it's clear that he's a coaching star on the rise. Wisconsin's all about player development (though recruiting is picking up under Andersen), and that's especially true on defense. It's been a marvel watching Aranda continue to implement his 3-4 base system, and turn the whole unit into a pretty versatile defense that looks better each game.
3. The Wisconsin o-line is huge. Have smaller, faster defensive lines (like Northwestern) ever been a problem for those guys, or is NU's run defense probably in for a rude awakening?
I think NU is probably in for a rude awakening from UW's run game, though South Florida did show some things last Saturday that the Wildcats would be good to look into. A combination of presnap shifting and awesome jumps at the line of scrimmage helped USF enter halftime tied 3-3 before Gordon broke loose. One fun fact? Gordon is averaging more than 51 yards per carryon his first run out of halftime against FBS opponents this season. Small sample size, so what -- that's pretty nuts. NU might as well put all 11 in the box for UW's first second-half drive.
4. If Northwestern can make Tanner McEvoy throw ... (finish sentence).
... we all better be strapped in. Wisconsin fans keep thinking/hoping McEvoy's gonna have this stellar, breakout passing game and validate the coaching staff's longstanding trust in him. Maybe it'll happen against Northwestern ... or maybe it won't, and he'll end up with a three-interception day and the Badgers will lose, like, 33-31 again.
5. What's your prediction?
Peskiness aside, I think Wisconsin wins relatively easily. I'll say 31-20, Badgers.