Madison, Wis. • It is somehow appropriate for the BYU Cougars that when opportunity knocks to get a true signature road win in their third season of football independence it comes in Big Ten country and at the home of the physical, bruising, pound-the-ball-down-your-throat Wisconsin Badgers.
Can coach Bronco Mendenhall's Cougars kick down the door that stands between them and renewed national prominence? One of their rare chances comes Saturday at 1:30 p.m. MST when they tangle with former Utah State coach Gary Andersen's No. 21-ranked Badgers at 80,321-seat Camp Randall Stadium.
"Opportunities like this don't come around very often for us," said Taysom Hill, perhaps the BYU quarterback best equipped to pull off a monumental upset since fiery leader Max Hall stunned Oklahoma at Cowboys Stadium in Texas in the 2009 opener. "But it is going to take everything we have to beat these guys."
He is referring to a team that hasn't lost a nonconference home game since Sept. 13, 2003, a streak of 28 straight wins. Wisconsin (6-2) is more than a touchdown favorite over BYU (6-2), which has won five straight games since losing 20-13 to Utah.
The Cougars passed the first test in their troika of season-defining games, walloping Boise State 37-20 before getting the bye last week to prepare for the Badgers. In two weeks, they will test Notre Dame.
But that game will lose a ton of luster if they lay an egg at Camp Randall, which Andersen called this week the "best venue" in college football.
"It is going to be a battle. It is not going to be easy. It is going to go back and forth the whole game and probably go down to the wire," said BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who figures to be chasing steady UW quarterback Joel Stave all game when he's not trying to take down two of the best running backs in the land, Melvin Gordon and James White.
"It is going to be very physical, " Van Noy continued. "They are going to make plays, and we are going to make plays. It is going to be very entertaining, and I am happy that my family will be able to watch the game back home on ESPN."
Yeah, there's that.
This one is on a national stage, providing the kind of exposure the Cougars rarely got in the Mountain West Conference and crave as an independent. Paul Myerberg of USA Today listed BYU among his 10 teams with something to prove in Week 11. A victory would almost assuredly vault the Cougars into the national rankings.
"It is a quality opponent on the road," Mendenhall said. "I believe we are knocking on the door [of the rankings] as well. So it is a great chance to prove, for either team, where they stand."
Mendenhall and Hill both said the same things when asked what the Cougars need to do to spring the upset: convert on third down on offense and keep the Badgers from doing the same when BYU's defense is on the field. And, BYU must be able to score touchdowns in the red zone, which it couldn't do against Utah.
"We will find out," Mendenhall said when asked if BYU's lines are stout enough to protect Hill on offense and keep UW from running up and down the field on defense. "The number one thing I care about is how many points they score. If we can manage that well, we will have a chance to win."
BYU at No. 21 Wisconsin
O At Camp Randall Stadium (Madison, Wis.)
Kickoff • Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MT
TV • ESPN. Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 6-2, Wisconsin 6-2
Series • BYU leads 1-0
Last Meeting • BYU 28, Wisconsin 3 (Sept. 20, 1980)
About the Badgers • They have won 28 straight home games against nonconference opponents. They are ranked No. 5 nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 15.0 points per game. … Head coach Gary Andersen will face BYU for the 10th-straight season, having coached against the Cougars at Utah State (2009-12) and Utah (2004-08).
About the Cougars • They have not faced a Big Ten team since 1993, when they lost 28-21 to Ohio State in the Holiday Bowl. … The are No. 12 in the country in total offense, averaging 511.1 yards per game. … WR Cody Hoffman needs 14 receiving yards to pass Austin Collie as the all-time yardage leader in school history.