Northwestern and Wisconsin are arguably the two quietest two-loss teams in the country. Their combined four losses have come at the hands of three ranked teams, and the result is respect from the College Football Playoff committee via a Top 25 placement for both teams.
They'll meet Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison — basically for second place in the Big Ten West. The winning team will improve its bowl resume, possibly getting a chance to play in a New Year's Six bowl.
College Football Podcast: Week 12 Preview
Northwestern at Wisconsin
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Wisconsin -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Wisconsin's patchwork O-line
Traditionally a signature of Wisconsin football, this year's Badger offensive line has been held together by duct tape. Three freshmen have found themselves in starting roles throughout the year, thanks to injuries to what were projected to be key pieces. That — and the injury-marred season of running back Corey Clement — has had a detrimental effect on Wisconsin's rushing attack. Joel Stave has felt the pain as well. Wisconsin has given up 18 sacks through 10 games — five more than they gave up in all of 2014. The young line is maturing by the day. They'll need to bring their A-game to stop a Northwestern defense that thrives off of point off turnovers caused by pressure.
2. Justin Jackson's touches
In Northwestern's two losses, Justin Jackson carried the ball a combined 22 times. In the seven games where he's carried the ball 20 or more times, he's eclipsed the 100-yard mark in six and the Wildcats are 7-0. Jackson is Northwestern's bread and butter. The Wildcats go how Jackson goes, and the number of times he touches the ball will tell the story. If he's getting a lot of carries, it means Northwestern is moving the ball and controlling tempo.
3. Which defense can make a play?
These are two of the better defenses in the nation. They don't allow a lot of yards or points, so don't look for an offensive explosion from either team. In what should be a low-scoring, grind-it-out game, look for one of the defenses to make that one play — likely a turnover that results in points — that turns the tide of the game or seals the deal altogether.
My heart and gut tell me Northwestern is going to pull this one out, but my mind and stats tell me it's going to be tough. Wisconsin has only lost one game at home all year — a matchup with Iowa that it was in position to win. I think the Badger passing game is just good enough to spread the field and open up the running game enough to have more success when they have the ball than Northwestern will. Look for the Wildcats to trail but keep it close throughout, before the Badger defense makes that big play to put the game away.