NCAA FB

Wisconsin has altered the Big Ten race

Wisconsin Scott Tolzien
Scott Tolzien isn't flashy but he does enough to help Wisconsin to a big victory.
CollegeFootballNews.com Pete Fiutak, Richard Cirminiello, Matt Zemek
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Top wide receiver, Nick Toon ... out.

Running back No. 1A, James White … knocked out.

The best tight end in the nation (no, it wasn’t Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph before his blown hamstring), Lance Kendricks … ankle injury.

Starting center, Peter Konz … knocked out.

Wisconsin was missing five vital players from its offense as the Iowa game went on, but it kept on rumbling and kept on rolling with the tremendous offensive line pounding away on the phenomenal Iowa defensive line when a vital drive was needed the most. It’s a cliché, but this was Wisconsin football the way the program dreams about it being.

But Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi had seen it all before.

There were times throughout last year when the Hawkeyes had played down to the level of their competition and made games far closer and far tighter than they needed to be, but all those tough, heart-stopping battles gave the Tom Brady-coiffed Stanzi the experience to make him battle-hardened and ready to come through with yet another game-winning drive in the final minute.

And then Iowa turned into LSU.

From the coaching blunder by calling its final timeout with 14 seconds to play, when Stanzi could’ve easily spiked it, to a bad completion in the middle of the field that allowed the time to run out, Iowa didn’t learn from all the last-gasp drives of last year and faltered for the second time this year when push came to shove. Arizona dominated late in Iowa’s first defeat of the year, and Wisconsin held firm in the second. But while plenty will be written about blowing it on the final drive, the game was more about Wisconsin overcoming all the injuries, and a recent history of floundering against the Hawkeyes, especially in Iowa City, to power its way to a huge win.

A fake punt, a few key throws from Scott Tolzien, and Gabe Carimi and the offensive line stepping up when it had to, and the Badgers exorcised their Hawkeye demons. Now with two weeks off to get everyone rested up for a relatively easy finishing kick, it’s time to start thinking about a BCS game.

This was a true gut-check game. Wisconsin did its part, Iowa blinked, and now the Big Ten race really gets fun.

-- Pete Fiutak

Kirk Ferentz is one of the best head coaches in college football, but he looked like a rookie in the final 15 seconds of Iowa’s loss to Wisconsin.

Obviously, no single play is responsible for the outcome, and no one knows what the Hawkeyes would have done with a few ticks from the 35-yard line, but why take your final timeout when spiking the ball was the no-brainer call? It’s just hard to fathom the logic of a decision that really cost Iowa an opportunity at trying a game-winning field goal. I’m sure there’ll be some convenient coach-speak for that decision, but it’ll go down as very curious and very costly from a usually rock-solid coach.

On the Wisconsin side of things, how about back-to-back wins over Ohio State and Iowa? It turned out to be a great day for fake punts in the Big Ten, with the Badgers and Michigan State deftly using them in the final quarter to spark come-from-behind wins. It won’t get enough attention since there were so many heroes in this one, but QB Scott Tolzien did a terrific job of managing the game and leading Wisconsin down the field for the winning score after the fake. He’s just your prototypical Badger quarterback, who plays smart and with a dearth of mistakes.

Besides the obvious, the big winner in this 31-30 thriller was Michigan State. Wisconsin is going to soar up the BCS standings after the consecutive wins over ranked teams. It’s only loss? Yup. The Spartans got them three weeks ago.

-- Richard Cirminiello

Most college football experts were not ready for Wisconsin to come off the euphoria of the Ohio State ambush and win in Iowa City against a Hawkeyes team waiting in the weeds. Most pigskin pundits were not expecting a Wisconsin team that was so markedly inconsistent over the first five weeks of the season to become a machine-like power generator on the road. But here we are: Thanks to yet another faked kick on a day when aggressive coaching was most certainly rewarded in the Big Ten (just ask Mark Dantonio after the Northwestern Houdini he pulled off earlier in the day), Wisconsin suddenly and sharply altered the trajectory of the Big Ten race.

The calculus is as undeniable as it is improbable: Because of this Badger breakthrough in Kinnick Stadium, Wisconsin has an excellent chance of finishing the season with an 11-1 record. Purdue, Indiana, Michigan and Northwestern are the Badgers’ remaining foes, and that gives coach Bret Bielema a rather clear path to a BCS bowl. It’s going to be very hard to see how Wisconsin can be denied a BCS bowl if it continues to take care of business, although Michigan State and Ohio State will have something to say about the matter.

It’s essential to keep in mind that Wisconsin travels extremely well; that’s not what SHOULD decide a BCS bowl bid, but it DOES, and that’s just one reason why this win possesses value beyond the Big Ten title chase.

Speaking of that title chase, though… Because Ohio State and Michigan State don’t play this year, Wisconsin must have Iowa knock off Sparty next week if it wants to have a legitimate hope of going to Pasadena on New Year’s Day. In a conference that figured to give us a battle between Ohio State and Iowa, the terrain has suddenly shifted to Sparty and Wisconsin as November nears.

This is a remarkable job by Bielema of not only calling a fake punt at just the right time (before the final few minutes of regulation; the call came with just under six minutes to go), but getting his team to peak for the biggest stretch of the season. While Kirk Ferentz and Ricky Stanzi are left to lament their horrible handling of Iowa’s final drive, Wisconsin is relishing its immensely improved status in the college football cosmos. A letdown-free finish will ensure that this team’s balky September is long forgotten by the time the BCS Bowl Selection Show arrives.

-- Matt Zemek

Tagged: Iowa, Wisconsin, Scott Tolzien, Ricky Stanzi

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