There might not be a more anticipated game in college football than when Nebraska travels up to Madison for its Big Ten Conference debut at Wisconsin on Oct. 1. With several ties and similarities between the programs, the Badgers appear to be the perfect team to welcome the Huskers into the conference.
To get an idea of where Wisconsin is coming out of spring practice, we sat down with Jon McNamara of BadgerBlitz.com.
It seems like the biggest issue with Wisconsin coming out of spring ball is at quarterback. Did the Badgers make any progress in finding the successor for Scott Tolzein?
"It's probably the biggest question mark of uncertainty on this team. Jon Budmayr is going to most likely end up being the starter, but he really didn't have a whole lot of competition around him. They were hoping Curt Phillips would be available, but he just tore his ACL again for the third time, and he's going to miss this whole entire upcoming season.
"So that's definitely a position you could probably put in the category of weakness right now just because none of the quarterbacks had a particularly good spring. Budmayr is pretty much going to win the job by default. He's really not going to be pushed at all, There's only one other scholarship quarterback who's going to be in fall camp, so it's going to be a struggle there. Like I said before, Budmayr struggled quite a bit, and that's probably the biggest area of concern heading into the fall."
Does having such a deep and talented backfield help take some of the pressure off of Budmayr, or whoever ends up winning the quarterback job?
"I think that certainly does. Montee Ball looked great, James White looked very good and Zach Brown is back for his fifth year. That's not a concern, and it will definitely Budmayr's best friend handing the ball off to those guys. But even the intermediate throws, the dump-offs, the timing just all looked really poor in the spring, but yeah, I think Wisconsin might have the best backfield tandem in conference heading into next year."
With all the quarterback uncertainty, is the thinking up in Madison that this team can still once again compete for a Big Ten title?
"I think a lot of that is dependent on the quarterback position. Scott Tolzien just kind of made all the right decisions. He wasn't a great player or a great athlete, but he knew the offense, he knew his check downs, and he knew what he needed to do to win the game. I think this team, the kind of sentiment in Madison is this team is about as talented as last year and could make a run depending on the quarterback position.
"They return a ton of guys on offense and defense. I think the talent level is pretty high. They'll be able to run the ball. They lost two All-Americans on the offensive line, but they feel like they can replace them pretty well. I think the key to success, at least in the eyes of Badger fans, is going to come from the quarterback position."
What's the excitement level like around the Wisconsin fan base regarding Nebraska joining the conference and being the team that gets to officially welcome NU to the Big Ten?
"I think a lot of fans are very excited about Nebraska. I think that went over really well in Wisconsin. Outside of Iowa, I think Nebraska's kind of a team Wisconsin is always compared to. Nebraska kind of has that same mentality of being a tough team, a grind-it-out team, a hardworking team, whatever you want to call it.
"Wisconsin's definitely excited to welcome them into the conference, and Wisconsin loves those night games. I think that's going to be a great atmosphere and a great way to welcome Nebraska into the conference. Barry Alverez, Wisconsin's athletic director, has ties to Nebraska, so I think Wisconsin's pretty familiar with Nebraska through him and whatnot, and I think the general consensus is Nebraska's a welcomed addition and they can't wait to play Nebraska in that first Big Ten opener."
A lot of Husker fans kind of view Wisconsin as a friendly rivalry of sorts when you consider all the ties and similarities between the program. Is that feeling mutual from Badger fans?
"I would kind of view this as - you know, Wisconsin's rivalry with Iowa, it would be fairly similar to that in starting to build a rivalry with Nebraska, where there is a lot of mutual respect with how Nebraska runs things and the type of program that they have. It's kind of similar to Wisconsin and Iowa. I think the fan bases kind of respect each other, but at the same time they want to go out and rip each other's heads off in the game.
"I think Nebraska will step in right away and be a rivalry right from the start. It's definitely one that's going to rank pretty high up there. I think Wisconsin and Iowa is a big rivalry, Wisconsin-Minnesota is a big rivalry, and I think Nebraska is going to rank right up there with those three."