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Lucas at Large: Sporting News squarely on Badgers bandwagon

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110628_FB_Wilson.jpgNearly two weeks before the Russell-mania outbreak in the state of Wisconsin, one national pundit had the Badgers winning the Big Ten's Leaders Division "no matter who the quarterback is.''

That was The Sporting News' Matt Hayes, who liked Wisconsin more than he liked Ohio State or Penn State. Why the Badgers? "Least amount of questions, least of amount of turmoil,'' Hayes said.

Last summer, Hayes wrote a profile on North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson. "And he made it very clear to me that he was playing football all four years,'' Hayes said.

But where? In mid-June, Wilson was still pondering his options -- Wisconsin or Auburn -- when Hayes said, "Russell Wilson is an elite quarterback. I don't think people realize how good this kid is.''

Hayes then made the argument for Wilson choosing the UW.

"If you're Russell Wilson and you have one more year of football to play,'' he said, " and you haven't won a championship and haven't been to a big bowl, you look at the two rosters and ...

"Wisconsin is more set up to win a championship and go to a BCS bowl than Auburn.''

Hayes has the utmost respect for NC State coach Tom O'Brien, who's entering his sixth season with a 25-25 record and junior Mike Glennon as his replacement for Wilson.

"He's big on chemistry,'' Hayes said of O'Brien, who was unhappy with Wilson's decision to play baseball in the spring and summer because he felt that it took away from his football commitment.

O'Brien thus shut the door on Wilson and opened it for Glennon to be his starter.

"He's very talented, but he's certainly not Russell Wilson,'' Hayes said.

How unique is Wilson? At the end of the 2010 season, Wilson was one of just three active quarterbacks with at least 1,000 yards rushing and 8,000 yards passing.

TCU's Andy Dalton and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick were the others. Both have graduated. That leaves Wilson, who has thrown for 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns and rushed for 1,083 and 17 scores.

Last season, Wilson was responsible for 37 touchdowns, trying Philip Rivers' school record. "He's a dual-threat quarterback; a dynamic player with a strong arm,'' Hayes said.

Why hasn't he received more national notoriety?

"Playing at NC State, you're not going to be seen that much,'' Hayes added.

In The Sporting News' College Football preseason rankings, the Badgers were listed No. 25.

"If Russell Wilson goes there,'' Hayes said on June 14, "I think they're a legitimate Top 10.''

In the July 4 edition of The Sporting News Magazine, Hayes had his byline on the story announcing the publication's preseason ranking of all 120 FBS teams in college football.

Wisconsin was No. 10.

"Excited to be in the Top 10,'' said UW coach Bret Bielema. "It's a great recognition of what we've accomplished in the past and what our team expects and is working to achieve in the future.''

How did Matt Hayes sum up Russell Wilson?

"He's a great kid who loves to play sports,'' he said.

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With Wilson at quarterback, Wisconsin will always be a running threat on every play, regardless of formation. Of course, Wilson is always a passing threat. Wilson can buy time in the backfield like no other quarterback. The Badger offense will cause major problems for every defense they play. And the one additional factor that is difficult to analyze at this point is that Wilson has been so impressive in a backfield at NCS, a team that doesn't have a fraction of the front line the Badgers do. So Wilson has never played to his potential yet. The Badgers have to be looked at as a potential threat to the National Title in 2011-2012.