The Nebraska Cornhuskers will look to get off to a 3-0 start in the Big Ten, but more importantly, win the seasonal head to head match up with the heavy favorites in the Big Ten West division, the Wisconsin Badgers.
The game will take place on October 7th at 8:00pm (ET) at Memorial Stadium. The Cornhuskers have won 21 consecutive home night games in Lincoln, but haven’t been a 12 point underdog at home since at least 1974 (43 years).
The Badgers hold a 5-1 head to head record versus the Huskers since Nebraska joined the Big Ten conference back in 2011. Nebraska has been more competitive at home though, as the head to head record against the Badgers in Lincoln is 1-1, including a wild 2015 game in which Rafael Gaglionone made a game winning field goal for the Badgers after missing a field goal just minutes earlier.
The last time these two teams met in Champaign, Illinois emerged victorious after a series of extremely bizarre and perplexing plays. In the latter stages of the game, veteran QB Tommy Armstrong inexplicably passed the ball on a third down situation where taking a knee would have all but ended the game.
This season’s match up will feature a top ten ranked Wisconsin Badgers team that has shown great balance on all sides of the ball. It will take an outstanding performance from the Cornhuskers to have a chance to knock off the most talented Badgers team since 2011.
Before the game kicks off under the lights on Friday, a great deal can be learned by taking a look back at the last five recruiting classes fielded by both teams.
For objectivity, the recruiting site 247Sports was used to determine which team has been more effective on the recruiting trail over the past few years. The majority of the players who will be on the field Saturday were members of the 2013-2016 recruiting classes.
Back in 2013, Wisconsin was led by then-head coach Gary Anderson. The Badgers’ 2013 class was rated as the 40th best in the nation. That class included starting players Alec James (3-star), Chikwe Obasih (3-star), Garret Dooley (3-star), Austin Ramesh (3-star), Jazz Peavy (3-star), Troy Fumagalli (3-star) and Leon Jacobs (3-star).
In 2013, Bo Pelini’s final season as head coach of the Cornhuskers, the team finished with the 22nd rated recruiting class in the nation. That class included starters such as Marcus Newby (4-star) and David Knevel (3-star).
In 2014, Gary Andersen hauled in the 32nd rated recruiting class for the Badgers. Starters from that class include Conor Sheehy (3-star), D’Cota Dixon (3-star), Natrell Jamerson (3-star), Derrick Tindal (3 star) and T.J. Edwards (2-star).
On the other side, the Cornhuskers, who were transitioning to current head coach Mike Riley, finished their 2014 recruiting class rated 35th nationally.
Some notable starters who developed out of the Huskers 2014 class include Tanner Farmer (4-star), Nick Gates (4-star), Jerald Foster (3-star), Mick Stoltenburg (3-star), Luke Gifford (3-star), Josh Kalu (3-star) and Freedom Akinmoladun (3-star).
After Gary Andersen left Wisconsin for Oregon State in 2015, Paul Chryst become the head coach of the Badgers. Chryst’s 2015 class was rated as the 41st best in the nation. That class included starters such as Jon Dietzen (3-star), Bradrick Shaw (3-star), David Edwards (3 star), Olive Sagapolu (3-star) and Alex Hornibrook (3-star).
In 2015, Mike Riley’s first full season as the head coach, the Huskers recruiting class ended up being ranked 30th in the nation. Notable players to emerge out of Riley’s first full recruiting class are Eric Lee (4-star), Khalil Davis (3-star), Carlos Davis (3-star), Dedrick Young (3-star) and Stanley Morgan (3-star).
In 2016, Paul Chryst’s second year at the helm, the Badgers finished with the 35th rated recruiting class in the nation. Notable contributors from the 2016 class are Garrett Rand (4-star), A.J. Taylor (4-star), Quintez Cephus (3-star) and Isaiahh Loudermilk (3-star).
In 2016, Riley recruited very well and ended up securing the 26th best class in the nation. Notable Huskers already contributing early in their second season of college football are Lamar Jackson (4-star), JD Spielman (3-star) and Tre Bryant (3-star).
Paul Chryst has continued to bring talent into Madison. In 2017, Chryst’s recruiting class ranked 39th in the nation. Early contributors from this promising class include Danny Davis (4-star), Jonathon Taylor (3-star) and Andrew Van Ginkel (3-star).
In Lincoln, Riley and the Cornhuskers’ 2017 recruiting class was rated as the 27th best in the nation. So far, Tyjon Lindsey (4-star) has been the biggest true freshman contributor for the Huskers.
The five year average recruiting class ranking for both schools ended up being:
Wisconsin- 37 Nebraska – 27
When you look solely at past recruiting classes, you begin to wonder why Nebraska is a double digit underdog at home going into the game this weekend.
The true explanation behind Wisconsin’s success is a combination of finding gems in the ruff, developing talent and molding that talent to tailor fit the system that they like to run on offense (power running game, big offensive lineman and a play action pass game) and defense (attacking linebackers and cover corners fit to play in a multiple defense).
Based on recent history between the two teams in Lincoln (1-1 head to head record) and Mike Riley’s close encounters against the Badgers the past two seasons, there is reason for optimism, Huskers fans.
Something that hasn’t been talked about enough going into the Saturday night showdown is Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee’s inability to scramble/escape pressure. Expect Wisconsin to turn up the heat on the Nebraska offense early and often. Can Nebraska score enough points to keep up?