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Opponent Watch: Nathan Scheelhaase and Illlinois are Bipolar and Terrifying Edition

Wisconsin looked really, really good last week, so naturally we should all freak out about 3-2 Illinois and Nathan Scheelhaase.

Eric Francis




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

Last week: BYE

What happened: Illinois is a tough team to figure. It stomped a schizophrenic Cincinnati squad and held its own against Washington, but looked listless against Nebraska two weeks ago. The Illini are consistent in a few areas. The run defense (well, the defense in general) is pretty poor in every regard, but the run offense has been consistently all right. The difference, then, between a blowout win over Cincinnati and a blowout loss to Nebraska is Nathan Scheelhaase. The Illini signal caller can't decide whether or not he wants to be, like, good.

Consider the disparity of his performances against the Bearcats and the Huskers. Against the former, Scheelhaase went 26-of-37 for 312 yards, four touchdowns and zero picks. Against the latter, he went 13-of-26 for 135 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. Cincinnati is ranked No. 4 in the nation against the pass, Nebraska is ranked No. 87. Yeah strength of schedule makes a difference and stats lie, but that's still weird.

As Rosin pointed out, the difference between good Scheelhaase and bad Scheelhaase is pressure, which is something that Wisconsin is apparently really good at providing now. Still, something gives me the willies.

Why you should be afraid: Wisconsin looked as good as we could have possibly hoped last weekend, weathering two turnovers and a Jared Abbrederis injury to turn in a blowout win over a very good opponent. So yeah, the Badgers are right on schedule for a letdown. Illinois really dislikes Wisconsin, and the game is 1. at night and 2. on the road. Those two factors have worked against Wisconsin this season.

Why you shouldn't: Wisconsin is clearly the better team, duh. Wisconsin has been able to run at will this season against bad rush defenses, and Illinois' unit is definitively bad. If Illinois wins, it'll be close, but Wisconsin has the potential to blow the Illini out of the water.

Hubris: Have I talked up Illinois enough to offset bad juju? Dangerous game, but Wisconsin looks too dang good right now and is a double-digit favorite for a reason.

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

This week: @Ohio State

Last week: BYE

What happened: Iowa is the most Iowa to ever Iowa. If it beats Ohio State this week, it'll be in the most Iowa way possible. Ohio State's offense will settle for field goals near the red zone, and Iowa's offense will successfully shorten the game with long drives ... probably finishing with field goals. The final score will be 26-15 one way or the other. It has been foretold.

Why you should be afraid: It's at Kinnick. Wisconsin is due to be caught napping some time this season.

Why you shouldn't: Iowa iowa Iowa iowa iowa iowa Iowa iowa.

Hubris: Iowa?

BYU (4-2), Nov. 9

This week: @ Houston

Last week: BYU 38, Georgia Tech 20

What happened: The worst is being realized for the Badgers: Taysom Hill is actually getting good at passing the ball. Good enough, anyway. The sophomore turned in what may have been his best passing performance of the season. Hill went 19-of-27 for 244 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he didn't throw an interception for the first time this season. Hill did exactly what he was supposed to do to support the Cougars' rushing attack, and the result was 345 yards of offense by halftime.

BYU gained just 88 yards the rest of the way, and Hill was just 3-of-7 passing after intermission, but the Cougars' defense was able to take over. Kyle Van Noy may be the best defensive player the Badgers face this season, and he was once again dominant last weekend, notching three tackles for loss, two of which were sacks to make him the NCAA's active career leader.

Yes, Van Noy is BYU's Chris Borland.

Why you should be afraid: Wisconsin has every reason to be complacent during this game. It's an odd non-conference matchup during a stretch when the team will be completely focused on the conference picture, and Hill and the BYU offense will give a completely different look from anything the Badgers face this season.

Why you shouldn't: It's a long trip for BYU, and Wisconsin will be coming off a bye. Plus, no team has yet to have much success on the Badgers running the ball. If Wisconsin forces Hill to become a pass-happy quarterback, turnovers are bound to happen by the truckload.

Hubris: This game ... is shaping up to be really, really fascinating.

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

This week: @ Michigan

Last week: Michigan State 42, Indiana 28

What happened: A microcosm of Indiana's season: It gave up 16 more points than Michigan State has scored against any FBS team this season, but also scored 11 more points than Michigan State has allowed to any opponent.

Nate Sudfeld had a rough outing, going 14-of-30 passing, but Tre Roberson was solid at 11-of-17 with a pair of touchdown passes to go with 20 yards rushing on five carries. It's a Trevor Siemian/Kain Colter-type thing, and as with Northwestern, the dynamic means that if one quarterback is struggling, the Hoosiers can simply lean a little more heavily on the other. Both are competent.

Indiana's defense is still awful. The Spartans are clearly an improving squad, but for real they should not be able to put up nearly 500 yards of total offense on anybody.

Why you should be afraid: Indiana's offense is ridiculously good when it gets going.

Why you shouldn't: Indiana's defense is really bad, like all the time.

Hubris: I'm trying to figure out why this game won't look like every other time Wisconsin has faced Indiana recently. Other than the Hoosiers' offense being slightly better, I'm not seeing any reason. Blowout win it is!

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

This week: @ Northwestern

Last week: BYE

What happened: Minnesota kicked the crap out of BYE. They did the opposite of kicking the crap out of Iowa and Michigan, however, and will head to Evanston on a two-game losing streak to take on a P.O.'d Northwestern team this week.

Why you should be afraid: I've been effusive in praise of Mitch Leidner, and tight end Maxx Williams is also big and impressive.

Why you shouldn't: Minnesota isn't Purdue bad, but it's still a basement-level Big Ten team.

Hubris: Google image search of Maxx Williams is exactly the mix of stodgy football figures and probably porn stars that you never knew was missing in your life.

Penn State (4-2, 1-1), Nov. 30

This week: BYE

Last week: Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4OT)

What happened: Two teams tried to out-suck each other, and Michigan won by playing for field goals twice in freakin' overtime. Penn State's defense looked good, but bear in mind that Michigan's gameplan was to say WE SHALL RUN HERE and then proceed to do so. Penn State responded VERILY and held the Wolverines to 2.8 yards per carry (and 1.0 yards per carry for Fitzgerald Toussaint, who had 27 carries for the game ... which is insane).

Christian Hackenberg continues to be a plus-freshman quarterback. He threw for 305 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against an admittedly solid Michigan defense. Still, 3-of-16 on third downs? Bleeeeccchhhhhh.

Why you should be afraid: Allen Robinson vs. a young secondary and the nation's No. 15 rush defense on a per-play basis.

Why you shouldn't: A non-descript offense that has zero weapons outside of Robinson and maaaybe Kyle Carter.

Hubris: This game could be a for BCS bowl bid for Wisconsin. No way in heck they lose if it is, because I would just die if that happened. Just die.


UMass (1-5, 1-1)


Tennessee Tech (3-4, 0-3)

Another week, another conference loss for the Golden Eagles. They are now 1-10 in their last 11 games against Ohio Valley Conference opponents.

Arizona State (4-2, 2-1)

The Sun Devils routed Colorado, 54-13, to take the sour taste of the Notre Dame loss of their mouths. Up next is a home game against Washington. Win, and Arizona State could find itself back in the Top 25.

Purdue (1-5, 0-2)


Ohio State (6-0, 2-0)

BYE kept the Buckeyes from putting a tick in the win column for the first time this season. As is the nature of BYE, there is still no tick in the Buckeyes' loss column. For some reason, I could see the Hawkeyes doing the exact same thing. Kirk Ferentz will find a way to grind both teams into an existential funk and convince everyone that football doesn't exist for a day.