There are few things that can make or break a conference's reputation like postseason inter-league competition. When the dust settles it won't be the Big Ten's (32-12) out of conference record that defines its national worth; it'll be seven bowl games, beginning with tonight's Champs Sports Bowl.
Make no mistake, this isn't the same Wisconsin team that got drilled 42-17 by Florida State in Orlando last year. In fact, there's one big difference that I think gives the Badgers more than a fighting chance: offensive balance.
The numbers don't tell the whole story. Last year Wisconsin ran 900 plays. Sixty-three percent of them were on the ground. That 2008 offensive campaign resulted in 5,190 total yards, of which 2,745 or 53 percent of them were rushing yards. The Badgers continue to run with the exact same frequency in 2009. Of their 4490 total yards at present, 54 percent of them have been gained on the ground.
On paper it looks like the 2008 Badgers had the better balance. But anyone who watched Wisconsin play this year, knows that there's a difference behind center. Last year Wisconsin's best passer, Dustin Sherer had a quarterback rating of 120.66. This year, Scott Tolzien has a 142.45 rating.
This year's Badgers can move the ball through the air without making mistakes when needed. It's a side they showcased in wins against Fresno State, Indiana, and Michigan. While Wisky hasn't had to turn to the pass too often, if the 2009 Badgers get down, they have the weapons to come back.
That makes me surprisingly optimistic about tonight's showdown with the Hurricanes.