Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
There won’t be any jumping around this Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers are on a bye. Fortunately, that is exactly what the Badgers need after squandering multiple attempts to pull an upset over the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0) at the Horseshoe last week. The resulting 31-24 defeat deflated much of the Badgers’ hopes of a historic four-peat as Big Ten champions. Still, hope remains and the next two weeks will determine if that hope is just wishful thinking or a possible scenario.
This bye week should be used by the Badgers to regroup, but not to relax.
The Badgers’ schedule does not get any easier as a familiar foe is slated to make its way down State Street towards Camp Randall on Saturday, Oct. 12, for an enormous showdown.
The No. 16 Northwestern Wildcats who will be sure to bring their high-powered offense, clicking at a hefty 41.3 points per game to Madison for what is sure to be a classic.
Whether or not the Wildcats bring their undefeated record (4-0) is another question. Ironically enough, the Badgers hope the Wildcats do bring their spotless record to Camp Randall, since they face the Leaders Division leading No. 4 Buckeyes this Saturday, Oct. 5. The remaining hope that the Badgers have of representing the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game in Indianapolis presumably hangs in the outcome of the next two weeks of games. If Northwestern and their home crowd can beat Ohio State and the Badgers can best the Wildcats the following week, the hope of another championship won’t seem so far-fetched for the Wisconsin faithful.
Although none of this will be easy.
Northwestern is a program on the rise, under the steady hand of alumnus Pat Fitzgerald. The young coach’s aggressive recruiting and enthusiasm for the program in recent years has rejuvenated Wildcats’ football. In 2012 Fitzgerald led the Wildcats to their first 10 win season in 17 years.
Despite the fact that Northwestern’s football program is now seemingly turning a corner, their games against Wisconsin games have been competitive for many years. The Badgers are 6-4 against the Wildcats in their previous 10 matchups, hardly a one-sided rivalry.
And this truly is a rivalry game.
Geographically, the Wildcats are the nearest team in the Big Ten to the Badgers, as their campuses are roughly 140 miles apart down I-90. Not to mention that they battle to recruit many of the same regional high school players year-round.
The rivalry is poised to reach new heights as the Big Ten realignment comes into play next season. Northwestern will join Wisconsin and Nebraska as the top dogs in the new Big Ten West division. This ensures that these two teams will play meaningful games every year for the foreseeable future.
The upcoming game in Madison, at 2:30 CST on Saturday, Oct. 12, is the next chapter in this rivalry. It is a chance for Wisconsin (3-2), recently fallen from the AP Top 25, to state their case to be ranked again. It is also an opportunity for Northwestern to flex their muscles and show the entire Big Ten that they are a force to be reckoned with this year and for years to come. If Northwestern can win both of their next two games, they most certainly will be smelling roses while a likely rematch with the Buckeyes would loom on the horizon with the conference championship on the line.
The match-up between the Badgers and the Wildcats two Saturdays from now has possible championship implications for both teams, features a budding rivalry and is going to be televised on ABC. What more can a Badger fan ask for?
A win, obviously.
Win or lose, it promises to be an exciting game and a sign of things to come from this burgeoning border-state rivalry.