Wisconsin Badgers @ Northern Illinois Huskies Football Preview
Wisconsin 's football team, to this point in the young season, has played two opponents from the top seven conferences in the country: one from the Mountain West and one from the Pac-12. Yet, the defending Big Ten champion might face its stiffest test to date from a Mid-American Conference opponent.
Is that an upside-down notion? Yes. Should it be taken seriously? Actually, it really should be. This is not your normal Big Ten-MAC slaughterhouse game. The team that will challenge Wisconsin this upcoming weekend actually has the talent and the motivation to do something special. It's not likely, but it's certainly possible, that Wisconsin could get a run for the money in a few days. When the seventh-ranked Badgers will travel to Chicago's Soldier Field on Saturday to face the Northern Illinois Huskies, they have to be ready to rumble from the opening kickoff.
Wisconsin has been impressive in both of its games this season. The Badgers crushed visiting Oregon State 35-0 last week. The Beavers gained just 23 yards on the ground. Quarterback Russell Wilson has had an outstanding start, completing 79.4 percent of his pass attempts for 444 yards and five touchdowns. The North Carolina State transfer, who also has one rushing touchdown, has not yet been picked off. However, it's been easy pickings for Wilson in light of the fact that UNLV and Oregon State haven't breathed on him... or on the Badgers' defense. UNLV scored 17 points against UW, but 14 of those points came in garbage time. Wisconsin has yet to be tested this season. Its skill position players have frankly frolicked.
Tight end Jacob Pedersen has three touchdown receptions. Nick Toon leads the Badgers with 123 yards on nine receptions, and has one touchdown catch. Starting running back Montee Ball has carried 28 times for 181 yards and five touchdowns this season. James White also has 28 carries, for 117 yards and one TD.
Who will stop this team? This week's opponent might not succeed, but it has a better chance than Vegas or Oregon State.
Northern Illinois is coached by former Badger defensive coordinator Dave Doeren. That fact, by itself, gives NIU increased familiarity with Wisconsin's inner workings, thereby leveling the playing field.
The Huskies, perhaps looking ahead to Wisconsin, lost 45-42 at Kansas last week in an ambush job. In their season opener, NIU trounced Army and appeared to be on the right track, but the Huskies clearly took their eye off the ball against the Jayhawks of the Big 12 Conference.
Quarterback Chandler Harnish completed 27 of 33 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns last week, and added 89 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Harnish has thrown for 510 yards this season, with seven touchdowns and one interception. This is the kind of quarterback who can throw Wisconsin's powerful defense off balance. The clash between NIU's signal caller and the Badgers' defensive eleven will be worth the price of admission alone.
Senior running back Jasmin Hopkins has carried 27 times for 185 yards and a touchdown for NIU. Senior wide receiver Nathan Palmer has 10 catches for 105 yards and one score. The Huskies have weapons, and they have the desire to shock the world... and Wisconsin.
Will they do it? Probably not. Can they? Probably so.
That's why they play the games, as a wise person once said.