He showed up on the front pages of ESPN.com, SI.com and Yahoo.com, among others. Wilson and the Badgers breezed through the rest of the non-conference schedule, UW's offense putting up huge numbers with Wilson directing it all.
At the beginning of October, the Badgers were 4-0, ranked seventh in the country and Wilson and his unique story were making national headlines. The eyes of the college football world descended upon Madison that first weekend of October for No. 8 Nebraska's first-ever Big Ten game. ESPN College GameDay was there and the game was on primetime on ABC.
Wilson responded with probably his best game up to that point, starting with his opening pass when he sidestepped an unblocked Jared Crick and uncorked a 21-yard completion to Jared Abbrederis to convert a third down. He finished the game 14-of-20 for 255 yards and two TDs while also running for 32 yards and another score as the Badgers rolled to a 48-17 win.
The next week, Wilson was at or near the top of every Heisman Watch. RussellManiaXVI was launched and picking up steam. A bye week was followed by a rout of Indiana, in which Wilson CAUGHT a TD pass that made all the highlight shows. Things were good, especially with two primetime showcase games on the horizon.
But RussellMania hit an unexpected bump. Things started out well enough, as the Badgers dominated the first quarter and jumped out to 14-0 lead at Michigan State. A disastrous second quarter put the Badgers in a hole, one that Wilson nearly pulled them out of. Down 31-17 with less than 10 minutes left in the game, he ran for a TD and threw for another as UW tied the game with 1:26 left. I think we all remember what happened next.
The next week, at Ohio State, a familiar script played out. Wisconsin jumped out to a first-half lead, Ohio State dominated the third quarter and Wilson led a furious comeback. This time, he threw two TD passes and added a 2-point conversion in the final four minutes to give the Badgers a 3-point lead. Once again, I think we all know how the game ended.
His fourth quarter numbers in those two games: 10-of-19 for 173 yards, three TDs and one interception (pass efficiency of 170.7). That pass efficiency would rank fifth in the country (ahead of Luck, Weeden, Jones and Barkley). Add to that a rushing TD and a completed two-point conversion pass.
As you can guess, the two losses not only dropped the Badgers down the national polls but also derailed RussellMania. Fair or not, many of the national awards, chief among them the Heisman Trophy, have a lot to do with which teams win games. I've been around long enough to understand that. I also know that if we had held on to win the Ohio State game, Wilson would have been hailed for leading an unbelievable comeback and been talked about with all the other frontrunners.
And that's the reason for this blog. I realize that this year's quarterback class is one of the best in recent years. Each week it seems a new QB pushes himself into the national spotlight with an outstanding performance.
After 11 weeks, though, it seems as though a group has separated itself at the top. The QBs who are most often discussed are Wilson, Andrew Luck (Stanford), Kellen Moore (Boise State), Landry Jones (Oklahoma), Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State), Case Keenum (Houston), Matt Barkley (USC) and Robert Griffin III (Baylor). It's a terrific QB class and is seems as though each on has "won" the Heisman at some point or another this year.
The thing that I think separates Wilson from the others is his efficiency. He ranks 81st in the country in pass attempts. While the other seven QBs mentioned above all throw the ball at least 31 times a game, Wilson is averaging 21.8 pass attempts per game. So in order to be successful, the emphasis at Wisconsin is placed on efficiency at the QB position. And Wilson has taken the word to a whole different level this season.
He leads the country and is on pace to break the NCAA record in pass efficiency. With yesterday's performance at Minnesota, that number is at an other-worldly 201.6. He is also on pace to break the NCAA records for yards per attempt and yards per play. His yards per completion are also the best in the nation and nearly a full yard better than Keenum, who is second. Wilson is on pace to become only the fourth QB in Big Ten history to throw at least 30 TD passes in a season despite only attempting 21.8 passes a game.
The quality of defenses Russell has faced also measures up favorably against the other QBs. Wisconsin has played five teams that are ranked among the top 70 in total defense. That's compared to just one for Baylor, two for Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Houston (none higher than 57), and three for Boise State and Stanford (none ranked higher than 49). USC and Barkley have also faced five teams among the top 70.
There's still two games left and for the Badgers and that means facing two defenses ranked in the national top 10. My hope is that the folks who vote for the national awards take all the numbers (wins and losses included) into consideration and let the season play out before leaving Wilson off any ballot he may be deserving of.