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Big Ten Notebook: Wisconsin emerging as the No. 2 team in the conference

BY RYAN PROBASCO | OCTOBER 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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Following head coach Bret Bielema’s departure for Arkansas, the Wisconsin football team was left unsure of what its future entailed. Who would start at quarterback for the Badgers was a topic of debate, and Montee Ball’s graduation to the NFL put the team’s running game in question.

But aside from a loss to Arizona State early in the year — a game that was botched by the officials — Wisconsin has defeated every team on its schedule not named Ohio State.

Last week, the Badgers were dominant against Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern, earning a 35-6 win at Camp Randall Stadium.

“[Linebacker] Chris Borland led our defense, and the defensive effort that was as good as we’ve had this season for sure and as good as we’ve had since we’ve been here as a staff,” first-year head coach Gary Andersen said during the Big Ten teleconference. “Proud of those kids … That was a big game for us, and we were fortunate enough to come out on top.”

Wisconsin’s win against the Wildcats proved to many that the Badgers haven’t skipped a beat after losing their head coach. They’ve emerged as the second best team in the conference, but Andersen knows his team will have to keep pushing.

“No real surprises,” Andersen said about his experience in the Big Ten. “I expected it to be a great bunch of coaches, and you get that week in and week out by the way the kids play with their scheme and technique … There are good players you better prepare for every week. If you have a weakness, it’s going to be exploited very quickly.”

Michigan and Northwestern lose, drop out of AP Poll

Some would argue Wisconsin’s emergence as the No. 2 team in the Big Ten says more about the strength of the conference than the play of the Badgers. In the AP’s Week Eight poll, only two Big Ten teams were present in the top 25, calling the conference’s credibility into question.

Northwestern’s embarrassing loss to Wisconsin cost it a spot in the rankings. The effort from the Wildcats, Fitzgerald said, was unacceptable.

“We’ve got to get our guys to execute more cleanly and more consistently,” Fitzgerald said during Tuesday’s teleconference. “We obviously didn’t do that on Saturday, and that’s disappointing.”

Michigan’s loss in a four overtimes to Penn State on Oct. 12 also pushed the Wolverines outside the top 25. Brady Hoke’s squad seemed to be having issues before the Nittany Lions handed them their first loss of the season.

Following an impressive victory against Notre Dame, Michigan barely beat Akron at home and needed a fourth quarter comeback to beat Connecticut.

Quarterback Devin Gardner will need to solve his turnover problems if Michigan is to compete in the Big Ten. He has thrown 10 interceptions this season, the most in the conference and third most nationally.

“The decision making, once in a while, hasn’t been exactly where we we’d like it,” Hoke said during Tuesday’s teleconference. “But there’s a whole lot more that I like about Devin than I dislike … If you look at his fundamentals and technique, he’s stepping up in the pocket and doing a nice job with the mechanics.”


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