Wisconsin O line
Sixteen hundred pounds of man
Badgers now second
In 1990, Wisconsin hired Barry Alvarez as head football coach. It was a rebuilding project, as the Badgers had only won 9 games the previous 4 years. But Alvarez had ideas. He had played linebacker at Nebraska and wanted to bring their physical style of football to Wisconsin. “You’re not going to find many five-star running backs in Nebraska or Wisconsin, but you can find big offensive linemen,” he recently told Sports Illustrated. “So we wanted a big line, and we wanted to be physical. That’s how we played at Nebraska, and that’s how we play here now.” Creating a new culture is always hard, as Wisconsin only won one game in 1991. But two years later, they went 10-1-1. By the time Alvarez left coaching in 1995, he had led the Badgers to three Rose Bowl victories and 118 wins in 16 years.
So when Nebraska traveled to Madison to play their first Big Ten game this weekend, the Cornhuskers faced a program inspired by their long tradition. While Nebraska’s offense now features quarterback options plays that run towards the sidelines, Wisconsin uses 1610 pounds of offensive line to run the ball up the middle. From left to right, Ricky Wagner, Travis Frederick, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler and Josh Oglesby open up holes for the running game. In our preview of the game, we noted that Nebraska’s highly touted defense had given up 4.7 yards per carry to Fresno State’s Robbie Rouse (169 total) and 5.9 yards per carry to Washington’s Chris Polk (130 total). Against Wisconsin’s running game, Nebraska would have a hard time getting the ball back. On Saturday, Wisconsin ran for 4.6 yards per carry (231 total) on their way to a convincing 48-17 win over Nebraska. Wisconsin’s offense got the ball 9 times and scored 7 touchdowns. The final two drives, which consisted primarily of running plays, ate up 7:13 and 8:24 on the clock.
With this big win, Wisconsin rockets up to 2nd in The Power Rank, a wisker behind top ranked Boise State. The algorithm rewards teams for beating other highly ranked teams, and the 31 point margin of victory increased Wisconsin’s rating by almost 5 points. Based on last season’s games, the Badgers began the season at 10th with a 15.4 rating. This rating implies the prediction that Wisconsin would beat the average bowl subdivision team by 15.4 points at a neutral site. Despite playing poor competition the first four games of the season, Wisconsin moved to 7th with a 18.4 rating. This rise can be attributed to the one year window of games used in our early season rankings that dropped a 27-14 home win over lowly San Jose State (currently, a -11.9 rating) from last year. In their remaining schedule, the Badgers still play road games against Ohio State (22), Michigan State (28) and Illinois (27). However, Ohio State is a wreck without former coach Jim Tressel and is most likely rated too highly in The Power Rank. Using only games from this year, the algorithm ranks Ohio State as 59th with a -0.45 rating. Moreover, Wisconsin is more than two touchdowns better than Michigan State or Illinois, the two other most highly ranked teams on their schedule. The Badgers look like a serious national championship contender.