Montee BallToday is the start of intra-conference play in the Big Ten for the 2012 college football season.

The Wisconsin Badgers have not looked like the powerhouse so far this season, barely eking out wins against Northern Iowa, Utah State, and UTEP; then later losing to Oregon State.

The loss to Oregon State marked the Badgers’ swan dive out of the Top 25.

Tonight in the national game of the week, Badgers’ running back Montee Ball and company will try to pull off an upset of their own, against the Nebraska Cornhuskers and their much improved offense that is led by junior quarterback Taylor Martinez.

Prediction No. 1 – The Nebraska passing offense will have a banner day and consistently crush the Wisconsin defense, when given time.

The Nebraska passing attack features perhaps the most improved player in all of college football in Corona, CA native and former Centennial High School Star Taylor Martinez.

Martinez currently has the highest quarterback rating in the Big Ten this year, and his change in passing technique this season, compared to the lackadaisical lob passes he sometimes threw the previous two seasons, has led to a more accurate delivery with much more power behind his throws this season. 

With nine touchdowns and only one interception in the 2012 season so far, it seems as though Martinez is ready to avenge Wisconsin’s blowout beat down of Nebraska last year in Madison, where Martinez threw for three interceptions.

More poise for Martinez in the pocket and power behind his throws this season, coupled with the injury plagued Badger defensive line, leads to the prediction of time for Martinez to run and pass all day long, without dealing with a significant amount of pressure. 

Watch for Martinez and leading Cornhusker wide receiver Kenny Bell to both have huge days on the field at their respective positions, because of the time afforded Martinez in the pocket.

Prediction No. 2 – Rex Burkhead will have a 100+ yard game, but expect backup running back Ameer Abdullah, to get an increased workload of 15+ carries, with a heavy workload in the 4th quarter.

Nebraska’s game against Wisconsin represents the 2nd game back for Rex Burkhead after dealing with a knee injury that sidelined him for two games this season, including the big game vs. the UCLA Bruins. 

Burkhead will likely still be wearing a knee brace in today’s game, but look for him to be closer to his usual form than he was last week vs. Idaho State, as his knee continues to heal and get stronger.

Ameer Abdullah will come in throughout the game as a change of pace to Burkhead. Also, because of Burkhead’s injury, Abdullah will likely take the bulk of the carries in the 4th quarter, if the game is in hand for Nebraska by then. 

Expect a 10+ point margin of victory for the Cornhuskers and a big day for Abdullah, in which he will match his massive 6.0 yards per carry number that he has put up this season.

Prediction No. 3 – The Badgers’ freshman quarterback, Joel Stave, will have a tough time completing passes in his first ever road start.

At 6-5 inches tall with a strong arm, Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave certainly has the measurable elements that made him the primary option for Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to choose for quarterback of the Badgers. 

Stave got the job at halftime of the Badgers’ game against Utah State, and Badgers then went onto pull off a come from behind victory in the 2nd half. However, against Utah State, he only threw for 15 yards on 2-of-6 passing. 

And although vs. UTEP, Stave’s numbers greatly improved when he threw 12 completions out of 17 attempts, there is a big difference between the quality of the Nebraska Cornhusker Black-shirt defense and that of the UTEP Miners. 

There is no tougher place to play in the Big Ten currently than Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska.  For the former walk-on Wisconsin native Stave, his road to maturation at the quarterback position will get much worse today, before it gets better later in his career. 

Tonight might be one of the longest feeling Saturday evenings in Stave’s football life.

Final Score – Nebraska 42 - Wisconsin 24