Wisconsin (5-2) at Rutgers (5-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 1, 12 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: High Point Solutions Stadium (52,454) -- Piscataway, New Jersey. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Wisconsin 5-0, Rutgers 3-1. Away Record: Wisconsin 0-1, Rutgers 2-2. Neutral Record: Wisconsin 0-1, Rutgers 0-0. Conference Record: Wisconsin 2-1, Rutgers 1-3. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Two teams fighting for bowl eligibility meet up at High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as the Wisconsin Badgers pay a visit to new Big Ten Conference rival Rutgers.
Wisconsin is hoping to become bowl eligible for the 13th consecutive season, as the team currently owns the longest active bowl streak in the Big Ten and tied for seventh-longest in the country. The Badgers improved to 5-2 with last weekend's 52-7 rout over the league's other new member, Maryland, snapping the Terrapins' five-game road win streak. However, Wisconsin lost its only two games outside of Camp Randall Stadium this season.
Meanwhile, it is Homecoming weekend for a Rutgers team that has not played on its own campus in nearly a month. A win would make the Scarlet Knights bowl eligible for the ninth time in 10 seasons, and it would also tie the team's 2013 win total. But they have been stuck on win No. 5 for two straight weeks after suffering a 56-17 setback at 13th-ranked Ohio State, and then a 42-24 loss at No. 16 Nebraska.
Despite a combined 271 years of football between these two storied programs, this marks the first time they have ever met.
Leading the way for Wisconsin is the nation's second-leading rusher in Melvin Gordon, who is averaging 166.9 yards per game on the ground and has scored a national-best 17 touchdowns. His total of 17 runs of 20 yards or longer is also tops in the nation. The junior went over the century mark for the fifth straight game with 122 yards and three first-half scores against Maryland before spending most of the second half as a spectator. The nation's active career leader in rushing average at 7.91 yards per attempt, Gordon is on pace to break Mike Rozier's all-time FBS record of 7.16 ypc.
Badgers leading tackler Warren Herring and run-stuffer Marcus Trotter both returned from injuries against the Terrapins, who needed a last-minute TD to avoid the shutout. In fact, Wisconsin held the Terps to a season-low 175 total yards -- 227 below their season average -- with most of that total coming in garbage time. On the season, UW is one of only four teams in the FBS, Clemson, Louisville and Stanford being the others, to rank in the top-15 in all four major defensive categories. The Badgers are the Big Ten standard in total defense (270.1 ypg), passing defense (163.4 ypg) and scoring defense (16.1 ypg).
While no Scarlet Knights running back will be mistaken for Gordon any time soon, the team is averaging a healthy 155.9 rushing yards per game, an improvement of nearly 30 ypg from last year's average (129.5 ypg). And that is with top rusher Paul James (90.8 ypg, five TDs through four games) sidelined since September with a season-ending knee injury. Rutgers ran for 143 yards (3.8 ypc) and two TDs against a formidable Nebraska defense, but with starting quarterback Gary Nova knocked out for the entire second half with a knee injury, the Cornhuskers were able to stack the box. Nova is considered doubtful for this weekend's contest.
Rutgers faced Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah last week, will get Gordon this week and then Indiana's Tevin Coleman in the following game. That trio ranks 1-2-3 in the nation in rushing yards per game, with the aforementioned Gordon at No. 2. Put simply, Rutgers' defenders will need to keep their lunch pails packed. Should they manage to get Wisconsin into some obvious passing situations, the Scarlet Knights have an advantage there as they are tied for 15th nationally with 24 sacks. Of course, in order to do that they must find a way to limit Gordon on first and second down, which so far has been easier said than done.
Rutgers faces another big challenge here after coming up well short against nationally-ranked foes in back-to-back games. However, the Scarlet Knights figure to be charged up for Homecoming, while Wisconsin has not fared well in enemy territory this year.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rutgers 30, Wisconsin 27
10/29 10:55:58 ET