Sep. 26, 2016
Is Wisconsin the best team in the Big Ten?
The Wisconsin Badgers pulled off another upset Saturday when they beat the Michigan State Spartans 30-6 in East Lansing. It was an upset on paper with Wisconsin being ranked 11 and Michigan State ranked eighth, but in reality it may not have been much of an upset at all. The Badgers are now 4-0 to start the season and are making the case of being the best team in the Big Ten. Is Wisconsin the Big Ten’s finest?
Wisconsin will likely be ranked within the top ten in the next AP Top 25 Poll. They shockingly defeated the LSU Tigers 16-14 in the first game of the season in Lambeau Field. Combining their two wins against LSU and Michigan State, the Badgers boast the best resume thus far. However, given that it is so early in the season, comparing resumes is not a great argument. The Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes both are undefeated, but haven’t had the opportunities yet to prove their dominance.
This start by the Badgers has been pretty surprisingly. Not many expected them to defeat LSU and Wisconsin were underdogs against Michigan State. That’s not to say the performance has been entirely surprising. Wisconsin is known for a devastating running game and a smash-mouth defense. It has been the defense that has been the catalyst that has propelled them to where they are.
Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator from last season, Dave Aranda, left to be the defensive coordinator for LSU. Despite losing one of the best defensive coordinators in college football, the Wisconsin defense may have gotten even better. In their four games this season, Wisconsin is allowing on average on 277 yards per game and 11.75 points per game. Those are incredible numbers considering the fact that they have played LSU and Michigan State. Both Michigan and Ohio State average more yards and points per game than Wisconsin
The main concern for Wisconsin that became evident playing against LSU was their quarterback situation. Senior quarterback Bart Houston made his first career start against LSU and struggled mightily. He went 19/31 for 205 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. Houston also struggled against Georgia State throwing 10/18, 91 yards, zero touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Head Coach Paul Chryst made the decision to change quarterbacks and make freshman Alex Hornibook the new starter. In his first game as a starter, Hornibrook played much better than Houston despite the stat line not saying the same story. Hornibrook went 16/26 for 195 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Despite the mediocre stat line, Hornibrook showed confidence in the pocket and made throws that Houston cannot make. The offense was much more fluid and balanced with Hornibrook as quarterback and it showed, scoring 30 points against Michigan State.
The Wisconsin running game has not been as dominant as in past years. Starting running back Corey Clement has struggled thus far. In three games, Clement had 197 rushing yards on 42 carries. Those are good numbers for some running backs, but far from what is expecting from a Wisconsin running back. That being said, Clement was inactive for Wisconsin’s game against Georgia State with a leg injury and has been banged up the past few weeks.
At this point it is too early to dethrone Ohio State or Michigan as being the best team in the Big Ten. However, Wisconsin has the talent to have that name later on in this season. The defense is likely the best in the Big Ten. In any game the defense will keep Wisconsin in the game. It’s a matter of whether or not the offense can score enough to beat the best teams. So far they have proven they can. However, their toughest games may be ahead of them. Wisconsin faces Michigan and Ohio State in the next two weeks. Hornibrook will have to continue to develop and the running game will need to improve to win those two games. If Wisconsin comes out of this three game stretch against Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State undefeated, it will be impossible not to call them the best team in the Big Ten