2012 Big Ten Championship Wisconsin Badgers vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers Preview

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers Preview

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

The Wisconsin Badgers (7-5) will get an opportunity to win their third straight Big Ten Championship Saturday night when they take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-2). No matter what the records are coming into the game, anything can happen with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line.

Many say the Badgers do not deserve to play in the 2012 Big Ten Championship game against the Cornhuskers. Statistically speaking, those people are right as Wisconsin finished third in the Big Ten Leaders division behind the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes and the 6-2 Penn State Nittany Lions. However, both of those teams are ineligible to play in the championship game due to NCAA sanctions and penalties brought on by members of their programs.

The Badgers may not have played like they deserve to be in the Big Ten title game but all else considered they did what was asked of them to be eligible. The Badgers have five losses, four of which were by three points and three of which came in overtime. In fact, Wisconsin took Ohio State and Penn State to overtime with a legitimate chance to win both games if it were not for mental screw-ups.

Nebraska, on the other hand, very much deserves to play in the Big Ten Championship in only their second year in the conference. The Cornhuskers defeated the Badgers 30-27 on Sept. 29 in a slow start that ended in a flashy finish. It will be no easy task for Nebraska but they certainly have the fire power to get the job done.

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Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Wisconsin: The Badgers’ problems on offense can be boiled down to poor offensive line play and zero contribution from the quarterback position. Senior Curt Phillips will take the reins at quarterback and will do his very best to lead Wisconsin to victory. Phillips took over the role three games ago and has done a decent job despite the Badgers losing two of those games. Phillips has completed 52.6 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception.

Ideally, Wisconsin will want to get Montee Ball involved as much as possible. The chance of the Badgers winning the football game will all depend on how active Ball is and what he can accomplish against a Cornhusker defense that has given up their fair share of yardage on the ground this season. Wisconsin averages 212.7 rushing yards per game but they will need much more than that to defeat Nebraska.

Nebraska: Unlike the Badgers, the Cornhuskers have a decent quarterback under center that is more than capable of shredding Wisconsin’s defense. Taylor Martinez has competed 63.3 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. He has a quality set of receivers led by sophomore Kenny Bell that will take just enough attention off of the running game to keep Wisconsin unbalanced.

Speaking of the running game, Nebraska has one of the top rushing attacks in the country. The Cornhuskers rank eighth in the FBS with an average of 252.2 rushing yards per game. Running back Ameer Abdullah has rushed for 1,071 yards and eight touchdowns on 214 carries while Martinez has also rushed for eight touchdowns.

Advantage: Nebraska

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Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Wisconsin: The Badgers have improved greatly on defense this season as they rank 28th in the FBS in opponent passing yards (196.6 yards per game) and 13th against the run (111.3 yards per game). Wisconsin has also held their opponents to an average of 18.1 points per game, which is good for 17th in the FBS. Unfortunately, the most points they allowed all season came against the Cornhuskers when they allowed 30 in four quarters of play. The Badgers also rank dead last in the Big Ten with a measly six interceptions, zero of which were returned for a touchdown.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers rank second in the FBS against the pass (152.1 yards per game) and 65th in stopping the run (166.2 yards per game). Obviously, Nebraska will be focused on forcing Wisconsin to pass and could very well win the game if they can shut down Ball and the rushing attack. The Cornhuskers have allowed 22.6 points per game this season, which is significant considering the Badgers average 27.5 points. Nebraska will focus all of their attention on trying to get Phillips to make mistakes and turn the ball over, especially since the Cornhuskers have 11 interceptions on the season.

Advantage: Nebraska

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Special Teams

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Wisconsin: The Badgers have averaged 6.92 yards per punt return and scored a touchdown on one of them. Jared Abbrederis, who certainly has the capability to be a special teams factor, has averaged 7.43 yards per punt return. Wisconsin has also averaged 23.05 yards per kick return. Overall, the return game has been a non-factor for the Badgers this season unlike in years past where it was a critical part of their game. Placekicker Kyle French has been less than spectacular, as he has only converted 66.7 percent of his field goals and 94.1 percent of his extra point attempts.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have averaged 11.48 yards per punt return and even returned one for a touchdown. Abdullah has been outstanding on special teams, as he has returned 16 punts for an average of 13.06 yards. Nebraska has also been decent on kick returns, as they have averaged 20.77 yards per attempt. Placekicker Brett Maher has converted all 51 of his extra point attempts and has made 75 percent of his field goals. However, he has missed six attempts from 30 yards and beyond.

Advantage: Nebraska

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Key Matchups

Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE

Wisconsin: The matchup to watch will certainly be Wisconsin’s run offense against Nebraska’s run defense. The Badgers know the only chance they have of winning the game is run the ball early and often. Ball and James White will have to give the greatest performance of their career in order to upset the Cornhuskers and clinch their third Big Ten title. If Wisconsin is able to successfully run against Nebraska then they might be able to do some damage in the passing game.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers pass defense against Phillips will be something Nebraska will be focused on the entire game. Nebraska knows if they can get after Phillips and drop him for a few sacks then they should be able to make the Badgers’ pass game non-existent. By doing that, they will be able to focus on stopping Ball and White which would end any title hopes for Wisconsin.

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Reese Strickland-US PRESSWIRE

The Cornhuskers will have advantages all over the gridiron and their playmakers on both sides of the ball may prove to be too much for the Badgers to handle. Even though games can still be won without certain advantages on paper, it may not make a difference for Wisconsin. If the Badgers are unable to run the ball successfully then there is simply no way they can win. However, I still do believe the game will be a lot closer than people think. Nebraska will go on to win the game and clinch their first Rose Bowl berth since 2002.

Nebraska 28, Wisconsin 24

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