No. 9 Wisconsin has stirred plenty of excitement in Madison with a sudden rise into the top 10 and the Badgers host big underdog Georgia State on Saturday (noon ET) before the nail-biting portion of the schedule begins.
Wisconsin (2-0) recorded its 36th consecutive non-conference victory at Camp Randall with a 54-10 trouncing of Akron last week and more importantly didn't take a step back after stunning then-No. 5 LSU 16-14 in the season opener at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
"We want to do that every week no matter (where) we're ranked," senior running back Corey Clement said. "We have to approach every game as if we're not in the rankings at all."
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The Badgers weren't picked by pundits in the preseason to make much noise in the Big Ten -- and they haven't yet -- but are one of five conference teams ranked in the top 13 on the strength of the LSU victory.
Wisconsin gets a chance to validate that performance when it visits No. 12 Michigan State next week, followed by a trip to No. 4 Michigan, a home game against No. 3 Ohio State and a road contest with No. 13 Iowa. Throw in Nebraska at home Oct. 29, and the Badgers arguably own the toughest five-game stretch in the nation.
But first, Wisconsin must get past the 34-point underdog Panthers (0-2), who are last among the 128 FBS teams in rushing defense (394.5 yards per game). That could give coach Paul Chryst the opportunity to use Clement sparingly after he left the Akron game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and 111 yards with two touchdowns.
"I would have played if it was closer," said Clement, who is 86 yards shy of becoming the 16th player in school history to rush for 2,000. "But seeing that we were up a lot, why risk it to turn into a bigger injury? I've dealt with injuries in the past and I know it's nothing to play with. I really had to be mature about the situation. I had to really sit back and let other guys take the load and then I'll be back for next week."
The Badgers should be stronger on defense now that inside linebacker T.J. Edwards is back in the fold. The redshirt sophomore, who led Wisconsin with 84 tackles last season, played against Akron after missing the LSU game with a fractured left foot.
"I was itching (to play)," Edwards said. "It was hard for me to sit and wait."
The Badgers allowed 24 points in their first two games and appear to have a defense capable of shutting down some of the Big Ten heavyweights.
"We've started the first two games the way you'd like," Chryst said. "If you want to form your identity, then you have to do it again and again."
Wisconsin's depth in the secondary will be tested as junior cornerback/kick returner Natrell Jamerson could miss 4-to-6 weeks with a leg injury sustained against Akron. Freshman Caesar Williams is a leading candidate to support the top two corners in junior Derrick Tindal and senior Sojourn Shelton.
Clement is expected to replace Jamerson, who is also a full-time special teams performer, as the No. 1 kickoff returner.
"My first thought is I feel bad for Natrell," Chryst said. "He's a neat kid, fun to be around. Yesterday, in talking with him, he's got the right approach."
Badgers senior quarterback Bart Houston is off to a good start by completing 64.2 percent of his 53 passes and spearheads an offense which recorded 294 yards rushing and 292 passing last week.
Wisconsin sophomore kicker P.J. Rosowski boasts eight touchbacks on 13 kickoffs this season and could help neutralize the threat Georgia State's Glenn Smith presents. The junior running back averages 31.9 yards per return with a long of 88. Wisconsin recorded touchbacks on 13 of 71 kickoffs in 2015.
The Panthers are coming off a 48-14 loss to Air Force last week in which they yielded 464 rushing yards to the run-happy Falcons. Georgia State lost its opener 31-21 to Ball State.
Panthers junior quarterback Conner Manning, a transfer from Utah, completed 51.8 of his 56 passes and has a favorite target in senior wide receiver Robert Davis (11 catches, 140 yards).