After fourteen days off, football is back in Madison. The nation's eyes will be on Camp Randall Stadium as No. 13 Wisconsin (2-0) takes on No. 11 Michigan (2-0) in the Big Ten’s biggest week four matchup.
Michigan enters the ballgame fresh off a bye week of their own, and they needed every day of it. The Wolverines hosted a sneaky-good Army team in Week Two and struggled to prove themselves as a top-ten team in the country. Quarterback Shea Patterson coughed up two of Michigan’s three fumbles lost, clouding a strong performance from the offense that went 9/16 on third down.
Michigan survived 24-21 in overtime to stay undefeated and keep their playoff hopes alive, but the turnovers and sloppiness raise questions about how strong the team really is. It was a classic underwhelming performance from Michigan in the Jim Harbaugh era, which has been marked by great recruiting, high expectations, and little to show for it.
With all that being said, this Michigan team *is* incredibly talented. The offense rolls out multiple former five star recruits, though at the time of writing junior wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones is questionable to play.
Peoples-Jones is Patterson’s go-to receiver; the two connected on 47 passes for eight touchdowns a season ago, but People’s-Jones has yet to appear in a game this year. Senior left tackle Jon Runyan will start Saturday for the Wolverines, his first healthy appearance of 2019. If Michigan can get into the endzone this afternoon, they’ll be the first team to score against the Wisconsin defense this year.
For the Badgers, Saturday will be a great litmus test of the roster’s true talent. Wisconsin is receiving quite a bit of hype in the national media following their 49-0 and 61-0 victories to start the season (most notably from FOX’s Joel Klatt), and they’ve earned each and every ounce of credit they’ve received. But the conference games are the ones that matter in December, and Wisconsin is fresh off a disappointing season in which they lost to Minnesota and Northwestern as favorites.
The Badgers would like to completely forget about last year, and junior quarterback Jack Coan is making that a lot easier. The Sayville, New Jersey native has completed 76.3% of his passes for 564 yards and five touchdowns in two games this year, and has just looked so much more comfortable in the pocket than now-Florida State backup quarterback Alex Hornibrook ever did.
Michigan’s defensive line should provide a lot more pressure than South Florida and Central Michigan were able to, but early signs point toward optimism that Coan and the strong Wisconsin offensive line can hold their own.
College football fans will leave Saturday’s showdown of top-fifteen teams with a much better idea of the Big Ten landscape. Will Michigan dust off their early cobwebs and play like a college football playoff contender that they’ve been lauded as for a few years now? Can Wisconsin’s defense prove sturdy against a more powerful attack in Patterson and the Wolverines? What we know for certain: it’ll be quite the entertaining battle.