Hostile fans await NU

Scouting Report
Bollinger is easily the most underrated QB in the Big Ten
Bennett is a gamebreaker, but Anderson is Mr. Reliable
Not that it matters much with UW’s swarming secondary
Even without Gibson & Tauscher, still the Big Ten’s best
Bryant’s a superstar, but don’t forget Favret at rush end
UW’s weakest link on defense is NU’s strongest position
J-Fletch may be out, but Echols and Doering are All-Big Ten too
Simmons can make or break this game on kick returns
Alavrez may not be Mr. Congeniality, but his record speaks volumes
Sneakergate still taking its toll on Badgers

After enduring a scandal and posting three narrow nonconference wins, the No. 7 Wisconsin football team that Northwestern faces Saturday has resembled anything but a national title contender so far this season.

The Wildcats (2-1) hope to dodge the flying beer cans and to silence the bratwurst-toting cheeseheads as they face a Badgers’ squad whose 28-25 overtime victory against unranked Cincinnati was only the latest chapter in what has been a stressful period for coach Barry Alvarez.

Wisconsin’s shaky start can be attributed to “Sneakergate,” which involved 26 players receiving significant discounts at a Black Earth, Wis., shoe store called The Shoe Box.

The NCAA announced the penalties — which ranged from community service to three-game suspensions — hours before Wisconsin’s opening game against Western Michigan.

The Badgers’ Jamal Fletcher, arguably the nation’s best cornerback, will sit out the last of his three-game suspension against the Cats. Surprisingly, Wisconsin elected to play the Jim Thorpe Award candidate against Oregon instead of in the Big Ten opener.

That could be perceived as a slight toward NU, but the Cats players said they did not keep tabs on the scandal in Madison and are not concerned with which Badgers play.

“We’re just concerned with lining up and playing against whoever shows up,” cornerback Harold Blackmon said. “To be honest, I don’t know who is sitting out and who is playing or whatever — I’m just going out there to play a football game.”

Despite the absence of Fletcher and wide receiver Chris Chambers, NU still has to face the two-time defending Rose Bowl champions at Camp Randall Stadium, undoubtedly one of the toughest road environments in the country. And the Cats’ poise and patience will be tested as the decibel level gets higher this weekend.

“We’re going into a hostile environment and we need to be mentally prepared to deal with the crowd as well as a great team,” Blackmon said.

NU will be trying to rebound from an abysmal performance against Texas Christian, in which they were outgained by more than 200 yards. The no-huddle offense was unable to move the ball, netting only 11 first downs as the Horned Frogs held the ball for nearly 40 minutes.

And after Heisman candidate LaDainian Tomlinson ran wild for 243 yards last week, the Cats are dreading the sight of another star ball carrier in Badgers tailback Michael Bennett, who returns from a one-game suspension. Bennett ran for 290 yards and the game-winning touchdown as Wisconsin edged Oregon 27-23 Sept. 16 in Madison.

Getting into a groove with the no-huddle attack will be a challenge with the crowd noise at Wisconsin. NU hopes to stretch the field with its passing game, opening up the middle of the field for running back Damien Anderson.

“I think Camp Randall’s probably one of the greatest stadiums to play in in the Big Ten,” quarterback Zak Kustok said. “Last week we really didn’t get into a rhythm, but we can’t worry about that. I don’t think the crowd has that much to do with it or the other team, it’s more about us executing our plays.”

Walker agreed.

“I talk to the kids a lot about trust and continue to believe in what we do and how we play,” he said. “All of us — coaches and players — need to trust what this program’s about. This is a week in trying to build back that trust against a real difficult opponent.”


The Cincinnati Bearcats scared the bejesus out of the Badgers last week by putting the screws to sophomore signal-caller Brooks Bollinger, who ended up running 20 times for 35 yards and completing just 10 passes. Northwestern’s starting linebackers — Kevin Bentley, Napoleon Harris and Billy Silva — are its top three tacklers, and terrors besides. If they can keep Bollinger on his heels, NU can shorten Wisconsin’s possessions and perhaps pull off the upset.
– Sam Eifling

2 – Kevin Bentley
6-foot-1, 230 lbs.
Jr. Linebacker
North Hills, Calif.
2000 Statistics (three games)
26 tackles,
2 sacks for minus-15 yards


5 – Brooks Bollinger
6-foot-2, 207 lbs.
Soph. Quarterback
Grand Forks, N.D.
2000 Statistics (three games)
21 for 43 passing, 246 yards,
1 int., 0 TDs