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After leveling Nebraska, Wisconsin should be thinking big

Wisconsquarterback Russell Wils(16) eludes Nebraska’s Eric Martget off pass Saturday night’s game Madison. | Andy Manis~AP

Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson (16) eludes Nebraska’s Eric Martin to get off a pass in Saturday night’s game in Madison. | Andy Manis~AP

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:28AM

MADISON, Wis. — It was straight talk coming from Bo Pelini.

The Nebraska football coach sat at the podium during the Big Ten luncheon just over two months ago, fielding question after question about the obvious: Adjusting to life in his new conference.

“We feel like we can line up and play against anybody in the country,’’ Pelini said. “We’re going to do our thing. We’re going to play our way.’’

Then Pelini had that very matter-of-fact moment.

“We’re going to do what we do, and we’re going to do it well,’’ the coach added. “We’re not really going to adapt what we do to the conference. We’re going to hopefully make the conference adapt to what we do.’’

If getting rolled in a laugher was what Pelini had in mind, the No. 8 Cornhuskers did that very well. And the only adapting that has to be done after the welcome-to-the-Big-Ten clinic put on by Wisconsin in a sold-out Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday night is the big boys in the SEC now at least must look in the rearview mirror at a team from the usually overrated Midwest.

Not only did the 48-17 win for the No. 7 Badgers serve as a message to Nebraska in the Cornhuskers’ first Big Ten game, but the bigger picture was the vibrations that made their way all the way down to Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge.

It’s been over a decade since a Big Ten team looked as though, player for player, it could line up with one of the SEC elites and go toe-to -toe for the right to hold up the BCS national championship trophy, but Wisconsin showed in its smackdown of the Huskers that it at least deserved the right to step in the ring.

Fortunately for Wisconsin, it might now get that chance, thanks to the rest of the Big Ten being mediocre at best, as well as Madison landing one of the best free-agent acquisitions in sports this year, with quarterback Russell Wilson transferring from North Carolina State.

Doing his best Cam Newton imitation as an instant impact player, all Wilson did against the Blackshirts was throw for 255 yards and two touchdowns and rush for 32 yards and another score. When the unbeaten Badgers (5-0) needed a big play, he delivered, going 6-for-6 on third-down passes.

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez? Not so much, as the opponent also wearing red and white must have confused the man they call “T-Magic.’’ Although he did have a nice trick, making a lead completely vanish with three interceptions.

For just over a quarter, Nebraska (4-1) hung in there, even taking a 14-7 lead into the second after a Rex Burkhead one-yard score. Then it was as if Wilson said, “OK, play time is over,’’ leading Wisconsin down the field to pull the Badgers to within one after a blocked extra point, and then throwing two touchdown passes within 90 seconds of each other to turn what was hyped as a Saturday night thriller into lullaby time for Nebraska by halftime.

“They made plays, and we didn’t,’’ Pelini said afterward, sounding a lot more humbled.

So, now what?

Well, the Badgers have very little resistance left, looking every bit the part of an unbeatable team in conference play. Meanwhile, LSU plays at Alabama on Nov. 5, in what might actually be the real national title game. The good news for Wisconsin is one of them will have to lose, so booking a trip to New Orleans for Jan. 9 isn’t that far-fetched.

Well, not everyone was sold.

“It’s one game at a time,’’ Martinez said, “but we’ll see them again.’’

Better hope not, “T-Magic.’’

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