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Opponent watch: Scouting Northwestern and the rest of Wisconsin's schedule

Wisconsin and Northwestern will duke it out this weekend to determine who is the No. 2 team in the Big Ten.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports


Made excellent spaghetti sauce. Had my heartbroken all over again by Northwestern


Northwestern (4-1, 0-1), Oct. 12

Last week: Ohio State 40, Northwestern 30

What happened: Northwestern played their game of the year of the century and couldn't finish. The Wildcats played really well for the most part, but they gave Ohio State their requisite freebie touchdown then stalled several drives in the red zone. Note that the game was much closer than the final score. Northwestern tried a hook-and-lateral play at the end of the game and gifted the Buckeyes another score to cover the spread in Vegas.

Why you should be afraid: The Wildcats are the second best team Wisconsin faces this season, and the Badgers have already lost to No. 1 and No. 3. Venric Mark is healthy and ugh I hate that I like that guy so much.

Why you shouldn't: Northwestern is going through some shit right now. A win over Ohio State with College Gameday in town was the opportunity to make one of the most profound statements in program history, and they lost while providing more fodder to the dumb "Northwestern can't close in the 4th" meme. Wisconsin has had two weeks to jump their emotional hurdle, Northwestern has had one.

Hubris: I hate being cocky about Northwestern for every reason that Rosin laid out, but Wisconsin actually has a defense and [closes eyes and screams to drown out typing this next part] should win handily by a touchdown or two.

@ Illinois (3-2, 0-1), Oct. 19

This week: BYE

Last week: Nebraska 39, Illinois 19

What happened: Illinois finally looked like the Illinois we all expected, which ... thank god. I still think this is a dangerous team whenever Nathan Scheelhaase decides he wants to be good again, but that doesn't happen too often. Nebraska finished the day with very Wisconsin-ian numbers. The running game picked up 335 yards led by Ameer Abdullah's 225, and Tommy Armstrong did his best Curt Phillips impression going 8-for-13 for 135 yards and two touchdowns in place of an injured Taylor Martinez.

Why you should be afraid: Scheelhaase completed at least 70 percent of his passes in Illinois' three wins, throwing for a combined 1,006 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Why you shouldn't: He is 22-for-51 for 291 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions combined in Illinois' two losses.

Hubris: What is Illinois really good at, exactly? Like, anything?

@ Iowa (4-2, 1-1), Nov. 2

This week: BYE

Last week: Michigan State 26, Iowa 14

What happened: The Hawkeyes made Michigan State's former fourth-string quarterback look pretty good, and Kirk Ferentz fell for a fake punt again (seriously, what's wrong with that guy?). Iowa's win over Minnesota briefly made the Hawkeyes look like a viable team, until Michigan promptly waxed the Gophers last week. Now Iowa's back to being boring 'ol Iowa again. The defense is stout against the run and reasonably good at forcing turnovers, but the offense should be an art school performance piece entitled "Ennui."

Why you should be afraid: The defense and that semi-encouraging offensive performance a couple weeks ago.

Why you shouldn't: Iowa still seems to be who we thought they were. Wisconsin is big and tough enough to make Mark Weisman a non-factor, and beyond him what is there?.

Hubris: I see this game being somehow closer than expected, but I don't have any faith in Ferentz to beat anyone he shouldn't anymore. I think that's the meanest thing I've ever typed.

BYU (3-2), Nov. 9

This week: Georgia Tech

Last week: BYU 31, Utah State 14

What happened: BYU officially staked its spot in the middle of the Utah totem pole, below a Utah team that will be dangerous to Pac-12 contenders as the season rolls on, and above a Chuckie Keeton-less ( :( ) Utah State. The Aggies still managed 397 total yards, which is impressive given they were without their star quarterback for 80 percent of the game. That said, they were rarely a threat to score. The first touchdown was set up by a fumble deep in BYU territory and the second came at the end of the fourth quarter.

Disconcerting for the Badgers is that Taysom Hill was non-awful throwing the ball for a second straight game. If BYU's offense develops a consistent passing element, November's game could be tricky.

Why you should be afraid: Hill quadrupled his passing touchdowns for the season on the night, and the Kyle Van Noy-led defense (he had a pick-six to start scoring) is still strong.

Why you shouldn't: Hill threw an interception for a fifth straight game. The Cougars will need to run over the Badgers, which no one has been able to do yet.

Hubris: Wisconsin should be able to solve for Hill, and by attrition be able to come out on top over a good defense.

Indiana (3-2, 1-0), Nov. 16

This week: Michigan State

Last week: Indiana 44, Penn State 24

What happened: I'm not sure what happened, all I know is that it was terrifying. The Hoosiers just, like, snapped, and took years of pent up frustration from losing--0-16 all-time against Penn State--and went berserk, turning a tight game into a laugher in a matter of minutes.

Indiana seemed to figure out a viable two-quarterback system, letting Tre Roberson take over for Nate Sudfeld for something of a Wildcat look. Roberson had a touchdown run and a two-point conversion. Penn State didn't do itself any favors by failing to convert a 4th-and-2 on their own 33 and then fumbling the ensuing kickoff on their own 9-yard line after Indiana scored a touchdown.

Why you should be afraid: If Indiana does that again, everyone team in college football should be afraid.

Why you shouldn't: Teams occasionally play above their standing, this isn't new. Wisconsin has better weapons than Penn State, and Indiana still isn't much for defense.

Hubris: I'm sticking with my final score prediction from last time, 60-27 Wisconsin.

@ Minnesota (4-2, 0-2), Nov. 23

This week: BYE

Last week: Michigan 42, Minnesota 13

What happened: Yet another Big Ten team on a bye this week to think about what they've done. To be fair, Minnesota's loss didn't feel as lopsided as the score indicates. Mitch Leidner looked much better than Philip Nelson at quarterback. He is big and lumbering, but not as lumbering as you or defenders expect, so more often than you would think he is capable of making a nifty move and [Chris Berman WHOOP] getting by defenders for a sizable gain.

Minnesota's defense isn't good, but they are helped by an offense that can successfully shorten games. The Gophers had a 16-play, 75-yard drive that took 9:44 off the clock against Michigan. If they can do that more than once a game, they'll be difficult to beat.

Why you should be afraid: Mitch Leidner is either a ballerina among moose, or a moose among ballerinas. Either way, he is Minnesota's best weapon.

Why you shouldn't: Minnesota is one dimensional at the moment. Stop the run and you're in good shape.

Hubris: Minnesota's strengths on offense play neatly into Wisconsin's strengths on defense. I'd be much more worried about Indiana.

Penn State (3-2, 0-1), Nov. 30

This week: Michigan

Last week: Indiana 44, Penn State 24

What happened: Penn State fans were worried that they would have to suffer through a close game against Indiana when Penn State took a 14-13 lead in the third quarter. Indiana then took pity by promptly blowing the doors off Penn State.

Why you should be afraid: Allen Robinson is their Jared Abbrederis, and Christian Hackenberg is well on his way to being a very, very good quarterback under Bill O'Brien.

Why you shouldn't: As with Abbrederis, Robinson has no No. 2 who can help, nor does he have the support of running game as strong as Wisconsin's. Also, the defense hasn't shown that it's anything special this season.

Hubris: Zach Zwinak carried the ball 17 times for 72 yards against the Hoosiers. That's 4.2 yards per carry. Where Zwinak goes, so goes the Nittany Lions offense. The running game needs to improve if Penn State is going to cure its red zone woes. I don't have much faith.


UMass (0-5, 0-1)

Bowling Green beat the Minutemen, 28-7. Also, in this age of political correctness, how is UMass getting away with that name? Minutepersons, please.

Tennessee Tech (3-3, 0-2)

Somewhat predictably, the Golden Eagles are struggling with their conference slate just as they did last season. They've tied their 2012 win total, though!

Arizona State (3-2, 1-1)

Notre Dame found a pass rush and beat Arizona State, 37-34, in Dallas. The game was a nail biter to the end, but Taylor Kelly made more mistakes than Tyler Rees, and the Sun Devils got little help from Marion Grice and Co. Arizona State still seems like a decent team to me, but on paper they aren't doing Wisconsin's SOS any favors.

Purdue (1-4, 0-1)

Remembered they were Purdue after Wisconsin loss, fell 55-24 to Northern Illinois last Saturday.

Ohio State (6-0, 2-0)

Beat Northwestern, 40-30, in a back-and-forth affair. The Buckeyes look mortal, but who's going to beat them at this point?