To say Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had an historic afternoon Saturday against Nebraska would be an understatement. Gordon’s 408 rushing yards against the Huskers clearly created some breathing room in his favor when discussing the top Big Ten running backs (Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah being the other candidate). It also threw Gordon to the top of the Heisman Trophy race along with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Gordon’s day was something incredible to watch unfold, but it almost took away from the bigger picture being painted by Wisconsin here. The Badgers are now a very dangerous team that could stand in the way of Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, and perhaps spoil any potential thought of the Buckeyes playing in the College Football Playoff.
With a win against Nebraska, Wisconsin now sits in a favorable position to return to the Big Ten Championship Game for the third time in four seasons. Still with games against Iowa and Minnesota to play, there is still some work to be done by the Badgers. However, Wisconsin looks like the heavy favorite to come out of this Big Ten West race en route to Indianapolis. Having a healthy running game appears to be the fuel Wisconsin needs to finish strong in 2014. Having Gordon healthy certainly helps, but so does having a supporting cast of a talented, yet often overlooked defense.
The Badgers lead the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing just 15.3 points per game. Want to run against the Badgers? Good luck. Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten against the run, allowing just 96.7 yards per game. Even Nebraska’s Abdullah could only manage to run for 69 yards on 18 attempts. The Badgers also allow the fewest passing yards per game in the Big Ten. When a team has a solid defense and a powerful running game, they can be difficult to beat.
And this is why Wisconsin may be generating enough steam at the right time to challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes have emerged in recent weeks and have started to turn narrative in their favor as a result of recent success on the road. At the same time though, Wisconsin has begun to hit its stride and there may not be anything standing in the way of a collision course between the Badgers and Buckeyes.
Wisconsin has everything it would need to beat Ohio State, except for a steadily reliable quarterback. Joel Stave has done enough to keep things going in the right direction lately, but the Badgers may need just a little bit more at some point. If they can get that out of Stave, then watch out for these Badgers. A shot at the College Football Playoff may be out of reach at this point, but a third Big Ten title in four years certainly is not.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)