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Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. Wisconsin Badgers Preview and Prediction

Author:
Joel Stave

Joel Stave

The Wisconsin Badgers were expected by most people to contend for a division title as usual. Despite key injuries and some early setbacks, they're doing just that. Their only two losses of the season have come at the hands of two top-10 teams. Outside of those games, the Badgers have pressed on and are looking to win double-digit games for the fifth time in seven years.

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The Rutgers Scarlet Knights have had a slightly more difficult journey in 2015. Some off the field issues involving both players and their head coach threatened to turn the season into a mess. They fought through it and were sitting at .500 before Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes visited this past weekend. A couple of weeks ago, becoming bowl eligible seemed unfathomable for this bunch. Now, with a manageable schedule in front of them, it looks like a real possibility.

Rutgers at Wisconsin

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

Spread: Wisconsin -19.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Wisconsin contain Leonte Carroo?

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Carroo is probably the best all-around receiver in the Big Ten and his stats are a reflection of that. Ohio State's elite secondary was able to bottle him up, holding him to 55 yards on three catches. He's gone for over 125 yards and three scores in three other games this season. His presence alone will change the way Wisconsin plays defense. If the Badgers can eliminate him as an option early without sacrificing the big play elsewhere, they should be in good shape.

2. Joel Stave's poise early

Stave is listed as the starter despite being knocked out of the Illinois game with a concussion. How he starts the game will be key, especially considering he lost his starting center last week. His line is going to need to keep him upright early, long enough to get comfortable with the flow of the game. In the event that Stave cannot go, Bart Houston proved to be a viable backup last week against Illinois.

3. Which team has more success running the ball?

As mentioned, Carroo is going to draw a lot of attention. This will put a lot of pressure on Rutgers' talented stable of running backs to produce and keep the chains moving. For Wisconsin, they'll need to have success running the ball against an underrated and athletic defense in order to open things up for Stave. The Badger running backs struggled last week against Illinois. That can't be the case against Rutgers, as the Scarlet Knight are likely to be more stingy than the Illini were against the pass.

Final Analysis

Wisconsin can be run on and Rutgers can run the ball well. The threat of Leonte Carroo is only going to open up the box even more for the Scarlet Knight backs. On the other side of the ball, the Badgers cannot continue to rely so heavily on receiver Alex Erickson and expect to keep winning. Unfortunately, it appears that he is their only real threat on offense at this point. Expect Rutgers to take him out of the game plan and force Stave, the running backs and a banged up offensive line to try and win the game. I'm not sure Wisconsin is healthy enough to get that done and prevent the upset.

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Prediction: Rutgers 23, Wisconsin, 20

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of KnowItAllFootball.com, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.