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October 2, 2010EAST LANSING - Enough of the Austin Peay and Northern Colorado's of the world, its time for a true test in week five for both Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Each team is 4-0, each team is remarkably similar, each team has Big Ten title aspirations and each team is set to open conference play.
What better way for two very statistically similar teams to open the league slate, than against each other.
"We've had very close games with them during my tenure here," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "We know that going up there is a tremendous challenge. I think they're rolling pretty good as a 4-0 football team, as well.
"So I'm excited about the opportunity."
The Spartans, outside the Notre Dame thriller, has rolled this preseason. Averaging just shy of 37 points per game, the Spartans have a potent offense that is more than capable of putting points on the board.
With a balanced rushing attack led by Edwin Baker and De'Veon Bell, the Spartans look the part of a team that could give the Badgers fits. In essence, UW will need to play smart, mistake-free, football to get out of East Lansing with a win.
"They've got three guys rolling through there," Bielema said in reference to both Baker and Bell, as well as Larry Caper. "My guess is it's good coaching. They're taking advantage of their personnel."
Wisconsin, at the same time, has faired pretty well during the non-conference portion of the schedule. Outside a tight win over Arizona State at home, the Badgers haven't really been tested this season.
It's remarkably similar to the path Michigan State has taken so far this season.
"Especially now more than ever, their offense and our offense are very, very similar," Bielema said. "They're lining up with two backs in the backfield. They'll spread you out and do different things.
"Similar to what we'll do."
Sticking with the offense, the Badgers will get a boost at the wide receiver position during today's game when both Nick Toon and David Gilreath make their return following respective battles with turf toe and a concussion.
With two experienced, and veteran, players at the position, Scott Tolzien will have more weapons in his arsenal to toy around with.
"It's going to be nice having Nick and David back," Tolzien, who is completing 76 percent of his passes on the season, said. "Especially just because they are upperclassmen."
Toon has missed the past three weeks and Gilreath the last two. But according to Tolzien, rust really isn't a factor.
"I was surprised," Tolzien said. "I thought they looked really good (in practice) and were moving well. At the same time, practice does make perfect. The more reps we get in with them before the game, the sharper we'll be."
Another featured match up in today's game will take place when the Badgers have the ball. There's no secret Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst are going to pound the ball with Clay. He may even get more reps than he has during any other portion of the schedule.
Greg Jones, though, will test Clay's six-plus yard per carry average. It's a battle of the reigning Big Ten players of the year and one that should be incredibly fun to watch.
Clay leads the league in rushing and Jones is towards the top as a tackler. Something has got to give.
"The thing about him is he's extremely powerful," Bielema said in reference to Jones. "I think they list him at 6-foot-1, but I swear he's taller than that. He's got great power, but he's also very elusive. He's a guy, if you've got him covered up, he can make a wiggle and get unblocked in a hurry.
"Whoever is on him has got to cover him up and make sure he stays covered, because he has the ability, and you'll see it already this year on film, he'll be covered up for a minute, and all of a sudden he'll be in on the tackle just because he can engage and disengage a block so quickly."
Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. central time and can be seen regionally on ABC.