Wisconsin opens the season as the No. 12 ranked team in the land against Northern Iowa who enters this game ranked No. 9 in The Sports Network Poll and No. 7 in the FCS Coaches Poll.
Bielema and the Badgers take the field today for the first time this season
Although Northern Iowa is just 2-10 against BCS opponents under head coach Mark Farley, the Panthers have played well with three of their losses coming by just one point.
"We don't need to educate our players on respecting opponents," Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema said. "UNI is not intimidated in any way, shape, or form of big stadiums. They're used to playing in any type of crowds. I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach (Mark) Farley and what he brings to this program."
Coming off an 11-3 season, winning the Big Ten Championship, and appearing in the Rose Bowl, the Badgers will get a test against a team that also had a good amount of success in 2011. The Panthers won 10 games last season before falling to Montana in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs.
When the Badgers have the ball
Northern Iowa will get a healthy dose of Wisconsin's trio at running back. Up front the Badgers are very strong once again and the Wisconsin feels the Panthers don't have the size along their defensive line to match up with the likes of Ricky Wagner, Travis Frederick and company.
"As coaches we try and find the best way to get guys on the field," said Assistant Coach Thomas Hammock. "The depth chart, that doesn't matter. You can be fifth on the depth chart and play 35 snaps. We're just trying to find the best possible match up week to week."
The passing game is the big question today. We'll see how well transfer Quarterback Danny O'Brien transitioned into Wisconsin's offense and if his receivers can give him some help. With Northern Iowa focused on Jared Abbrederis, it will be important for Jordan Frederick and Kenzel Doe among others, to alleviate some pressure.
White is one of four running backs expected to get carries today.
"I'm going to play it by ear," Assistant Coach Zach Azzanni said. "I think we have four, possibly five, that could go in there and rotate right now. It's more of a feel thing for me. I might rotate a bit based on the flow of the game."
Wisconsin will keep it simple for O'Brien, using short routes and a heavy assault in the run game, but O'Brien and the passing game would like to get some things going through the air before they head to Oregon State next week.
"They are going to crowd the box," Bielmea said. "I'm sure they're going to try to make us throw the football if we have to. And they know we've got a first-year starter in Danny O'Brien here at Wisconsin as well."
When the Panthers have the ball
As shown in their previous affairs against BCS opponents, Northern Iowa wants a low scoring, grind it out ball game. Northern Iowa feels they have strength and size along their offensive to move the ball against anyone.
"They're very strong up front," Bielema said. "Offensive line, that's probably their strongest position, four out of five back starters, and they're big people. Kind of a line that we're used to facing already."
Although Northern Iowa will start a freshman in Sawyer Kollmorgen.at quarterback, that can have it's advantages for the Panthers. Northern Iowa will likely do everything in its power not to let the game fall into the hands of Kollmorgen, but that doesn't mean you can discount the element or surprise that comes with a first-year starter.
"They're starting a new quarterback," Bielema said. "So obviously they're going to do certain things we've never seen on film based off his abilities."
Gilbert returns to the field for the first time since he broke his foot early into the 2011 season.
1. Danny O'Brien: Anytime a new quarterback is starting his first game there's going to be butterflies and anxious fans waiting to see what he can do. O'Brien just has to manage the game, make his third down throws, and pick his spots occasionally with calculated risks. That will be the key for him today, and throughout the season quite frankly.
2. Jordan Fredrick: Starting his first game, Redshirt Freshman Jordan Fredrick won't have to be spectacular, at least not today, but he will have to show he's worthy of being Wisconsin's No. 2 receiver. Fredrick isn't the most physically gifted player at receiver, but catches the ball well, runs solid routes, and is an excellent down field blocker.
3. David Gilbert: In his first game back since he broke his foot against South Dakota last season, Gilbert looks to continue where he left off in 2011, after compiling three sacks in his first four games. Chasing after a freshman and first-year starter at quarterback, Gilbert can get the Northern Iowa offense rattled with a consistent pass rush.
- Wisconsin is 10-0 all-time against FCS opponents, including a 3-0 mark against teams from the Missouri Valley Conference.
- This is the first ever meeting between Northern Iowa and Wisconsin in football.
- In 11 seasons as head coach, Farley has led the Panthers to seven MVFC championships. Farley is the winningest coach in MVFC history with a 60-20 record in league games. Overall, he has a record of 99-40 at Northern Iowa.
- Wisconsin has won 14 straight season openers, a run that goes back to 1998. That streak of consecutive season opening wins is tied for third in the FBS with USC, trailing only Nebraska (26) and Florida (22).
- Wisconsin has won 32 straight regular season nonconference games, trailing only LSU (37) for the longest active streak among FBS teams. UW’s last loss
was a 23-5 home defeat to UNLV in 2003.
Northern Iowa has the right game plan and mind set coming into this match up, but they're facing a team in Wisconsin, who is equipped to handle what they bring to the table, because they face it every day in practice.
Wisconsin 32 Northern Iowa 7.