NCF Nation: Shane Carter


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The national spotlight will shine brightest in Dallas and South Bend this week, but quite a few eyes and ears will be tuned to what happens Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
 
 Scott Boehm/Getty Images
 Bret Bielema's Badgers are looking to rebound from Saturday's loss at Ohio State.


The Iowa-Wisconsin matchup means something, and not just to the two rivals competing for the Heartland Trophy. It means a lot in the Big Ten title race, and possibly the national title chase, given Iowa's unblemished record. Granted, we'll hear the standard storylines all week (Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema facing his alma mater, border battle, homecoming in Madison, etc.), but the matchup has bigger-picture implications.

Back in the preseason, a marquee matchup seemed unlikely as both teams dealt with major concerns.

Wisconsin entered August without a starting quarterback -- again. The Badgers were banged up along the offensive line and had major questions at linebacker after losing DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas. Running back John Clay, a projected star, didn't have the offseason many had hoped for and slipped behind Zach Brown on the depth chart. Dark horse quarterback candidate Scott Tolzien emerged as a surprise starter. Veteran safeties Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant were indefinitely suspended. Bielema showed up on lists of coaches on the hot seat, even though his job was never in serious jeopardy.

Iowa, meanwhile, endured arguably the worst preseason of any Big Ten team. Hawkeyes running back Jewel Hampton, the projected successor to Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene, couldn't recover from a knee injury and had to be shut down for the season. Injuries also hit the wide receiving corps hard. Things still looked bleak after the season began, as Iowa barely survived its opener against Northern Iowa and lost more standout players (left tackle Bryan Bulaga, tight end Tony Moeaki, wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) to injuries.

The fortunes have changed for both teams heading into Saturday's matchup (ESPN, noon ET).
 
 AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
 Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are 6-0 for the first time since 1985.


Iowa is 6-0 for the first time since 1985, a season that resulted in a Big Ten championship and a trip to Pasadena. The Hawkeyes own the nation's second-longest win streak (10) and the longest in head coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure. They're tied for second nationally in takeaways (19) and rank 20th in points allowed (15.8 ppg). The defensive line has been fabulous, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi continues to show resiliency despite some troubling miscues. Perhaps most important, Iowa has maintained its poise in close games, winning three by a combined six points.

"This year's team just has that air about them," running back Adam Robinson said. "Everybody wants to win when it's crunch time. We just have that no-quit attitude."

Wisconsin continues to sniff the national rankings despite a loss to Ohio State that in many ways validated the team's 5-0 start. The Badgers boast the Big Ten's most balanced offense and a defense that ranks third in the league in takeaways (16). Tolzien has emerged as the answer at quarterback, and Clay re-established himself as the team's top back with big performances against Michigan State and Minnesota. Senior end O'Brien Schofield has been the Big Ten's best defensive lineman this season, leading the nation in tackles for loss (2.42 per game). Defenders like Mike Taylor, Chris Maragos and Chris Borland have emerged as surprise stars.

If Wisconsin had translated a strong game plan into more points and fewer mistakes in Columbus, Saturday's matchup would pair two undefeated teams. Would that take the spotlight away from Texas-Oklahoma or USC-Notre Dame? Hard to tell.

But the Badgers and the Hawkeyes still deserve your attention.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

  • Nick Sheridan had impressed Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez before his leg injury, while young players like Vincent Smith and Martell Webb have stood out, Pete Bigelow writes in The Ann Arbor News.
  • More on the Sheridan situation, plus tackle Stephen Schilling has moved from tackle to guard, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. 
  • Minnesota has a bit more depth at quarterback, and freshman MarQueis Gray will see the field right away, Marcus Fuller writes in the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press. 
"He's probably further ahead than I thought he would be," coach Tim Brewster said. "Obviously, you can see his talent. His talent jumps out at you, but what has impressed me is his ability to learn and pick things up. He has some real presence about him."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Spring is here, people. Time to get serious. 

  • Ben Chappell has done enough to open spring practice as Indiana's starting quarterback, while Kellen Lewis gets more work as a wide receiver, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star.  
"The biggest difference in our offense is that we're going to be more of a downhill running football team," head coach Bill Lynch said. "I think that fits us better if Kellen isn't back there at quarterback."

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's not quite the holiday vacation yet, and there are still plenty of ACC bowls to talk about. Today we'll focus on the Champs Sports Bowl and the Emerald Bowl. Let's start with the Seminoles.

Here are three reasons why Florida State will win:

1. Speed. The Seminoles have it, and Wisconsin isn't used to seeing it. Badgers quarterback Dustin Sherer, who replaced Allan Evridge as the starter in October, will get up close and personal with FSU defensive end Everette Brown, one of the best pass-rushers in the country. And the Badgers' scoring defense has been friendly, allowing 25 points per game. FSU has plenty of speedy playmakers ready to take advantage of a veteran defensive line that has underperformed this season.

2. Home turf. Florida State has never lost a game in Orlando (6-0-2), and is 2-0 in bowl games there. Bobby Bowden played -- and won -- the first bowl game of his career in Orlando, a 40-17 win over Texas Tech in the 1977 Tangerine Bowl.

3. Special teams. The Seminoles have Lou Groza award winner Graham Gano, and Wisconsin has the worst kickoff return unit in the country. FSU's Michael Ray Garvin leads the country in kickoff returns, and Gano leads the country in field goals. Gano is averaging 41.1 yards per punt, and Wisconsin is 48th in the country in punt returns.

Here are three reasons why FSU won't win:

1. Momentum. Wisconsin enters this game on a three-game winning streak while Florida State is trying to regroup after losing two of its last three, including that pounding the Noles took from Florida.

2. The Big Ten's No. 1 rushing offense. This is obviously the Badgers' strength, as they lead the Big Ten with 212 rushing yards per game, good for 14th in the country. It's the best the program has been on the ground since 1999. Junior P.J. Hill and redshirt freshman John Clay combined to run for 1,866 yards this season. Over the past four games, Hill and Clay each went over the 100-yard mark three times and combined to total 773 yards (an average of 193.3 ypg). They also scored 13 touchdowns over that span. Wisconsin will try to pound the ball and control the clock.

3. Wisconsin's secondary. Niles Brinkley, Allen Langford and Shane Carter have combined for eight interceptions this season, and Jay Valai has developed a reputation as a hard hitter. If the Badgers can force quarterback Christian Ponder to throw the ball, this group is capable of making game-changing plays.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells limped into the interview room and made his way up to the podium late Saturday night.

Wells and several of his Buckeyes teammates called their clash against Wisconsin the most physical game they've ever played. The constant pounding took a toll on Wells, playing in just his second game back from a right foot/toe injury.

"It's in so much pain," Wells said of his foot/toe. "It's a lot worse this week than it was last week. ... I was telling some guys in the locker room, it was the hardest game I've ever been involved in where I was getting hit, constantly, every play."

When given the choice to list his foot at 80 or 75 percent, Wells chose the lower number. He didn't think he'd be able to walk Sunday morning.

Still, it's hard to imagine the star not taking the field Saturday when No. 12 Ohio State hosts Purdue (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

He certainly looked at full strength when he tossed Wisconsin safety Shane Carter aside while scoring on a 33-yard touchdown run. On Ohio State's first play of the third quarter, Wells took off for a 54-yard dash. The junior finished with 168 rushing yards on only 22 carries (7.6 average).

"It's so much better to be out there giving your all with those guys," Wells said.

And Wells' teammates are happy to have him, especially freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

"He's a big beast," Pryor said. "He's got on his arm [a tattoo that reads] 'King of the Jungle.' He's the king of the jungle."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Ohio State might be the most hated team in America, but there's a lot to like about the new-look offense featuring Terrelle Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells.

The Buckeyes have mixed up their formations, going from the I-formation to the shotgun spread to the pistol. They scored their lone touchdown in the pistol, with Wells lined up next to Pryor and Dan Herron as the deep back. An Ohio State beat writer told me that while the team has used the pistol before, this marked the first time Wells has lined up next to Pryor. It worked on a 33-yard touchdown run, as Wells pushed aside Shane Carter on his way to the end zone.

Wisconsin is staying close thanks to its defense, which has forced Pryor into some tough situations. Cornerback Allen Langford made a great athletic play to intercept a deep ball to Brandon Saine, and a blitz brought down Pryor for a huge loss. Though the Badgers are having trouble bringing down Pryor on first contact, they're swarming nicely.

Wisconsin's offense hasn't done much (55 total yards). H-back/tight end Travis Beckum is playing but has yet to make an impact. After a third-down overthrow, quarterback Allan Evridge and Beckum were talking about a possible mix-up. Evridge seems out of sync (2-for-5 passing).

It has been a bit weird without a marching band here. Wisconsin students were allowed into the seats usually occupied by the band just before kickoff, and they've been pumping in music like a NFL game.

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