The Badgers didn't look like the two-time defending Big Ten champs in September. But they're still the Gophers' fiercest, and oldest, rival.
GOPHERS OFFENSE VS. BADGERS DEFENSE
If freshman Philip Nelson starts at quarterback, as expected, there will be an undeniable excitement about the star recruit's debut. But injuries throughout the offense -- it's possible four opening-night starters on the offensive line will be on the sideline, and three receivers were held out of practice early in the week-- make Nelson's task far more difficult. Wisconsin's defense has created the fewest turnovers in the Big Ten but has a great pass rush (17 sacks), helping to hold four opponents to 14 points or fewer. Advantage: Wisconsin
GOPHERS DEFENSE VS. BADGERS DEFENSE
The Badgers don't hide what they're going to do: hand off to Montee Ball, and throw only when defenses stack up for the run. The defensive line's ability to hold its ground and force Ball to commit to a path quickly will be critical. The Gophers have been mistake-prone in plugging gaps, especially in the first half. Advantage: Wisconsin
Wisconsin's punt-coverage unit is the Big Ten's best, setting up an interesting matchup with Gophers punt returner A.J. Barker. But place-kicking has been a problem -- the Badgers are only 5-for-10 on field goals, worse than Minnesota's 6-for-11. Advantage: Even
It's big, it's old, and it's one of the loudest stadiums in college football. The 80,000 crazies at Camp Randall Stadium haven't witnessed a loss in 20 games, second-longest streak in the nation, and haven't watched the Gophers claim Paul Bunyan's Axe since 1994. That's a tough atmosphere to thrust a freshman quarterback into. Advantage: Wisconsin
Nelson impresses with some smart, effective throws and gets the Gophers off to a strong start. But the Badgers pass rush eventually wears down the Gophers' injury-ravaged offensive line and harasses the teenager into mistakes, while Montee Ball does what he does best: score touchdowns Wisconsin 42, Gophers 20
NUMBER TO KNOW
0 Opponents who have gained 400 yards on the Gophers this year. Wisconsin has eclipsed 400 three of the past four weeks.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT
Rodrick Williams Gophers coaches are intrigued by 240-pound freshman running back's speed and tackle-breaking ability.