After opening its season with a road victory, Wisconsin has a chance to be 4-0 before leaving Camp Randall Stadium again.
It seems all but certain that the 11th-ranked Badgers will at least win their 15th consecutive home opener.
Wisconsin’s relentless running game will likely take center stage again as it begins a stretch of three straight non-conference home games Saturday with an apparent mismatch against San Jose State.
The Badgers (1-0) boasted the Big Ten’s top rushing offense each of the last two years, and they proved their strength on the ground again during a 41-21 win at UNLV on Saturday.
While reigning Big Ten offense player of the year John Clay led the way with 123 yards and two touchdowns, sophomore Montee Ball added 79 yards and two scores while freshman James White carried 11 times for 59 yards.
Coach Bret Bielema may continue to use the three-pronged attack, which complements White’s speed with the size and strength of Clay and Ball.
“The part I like about all three guys is they all kind of have different skill sets,” Bielema said. “To have a fresh running back in there every three or four plays doing what Wisconsin does is a true advantage for us.
“I understand running backs want numbers and they want yards,” the coach added, “but I really do believe they know that the fresher they are, the better they are, the more productive they are.”
Two costly turnovers by the Badgers kept their opener close at halftime, but Wisconsin started the second half with a 20-yard fumble return for a touchdown and scored 24 third-quarter points to pull away.
“Turnovers kill offenses and you can’t have those,” said wide receiver Nick Toon, whose second-quarter fumble led to a UNLV touchdown. “We’re going to correct those mistakes, move forward, and hopefully continue to have success the rest of the year.”
One mistake was made by senior quarterback Scott Tolzien, whose first-quarter interception was returned for a touchdown. But Tolzien also went 15 of 20 for 197 yards to begin his second season as a starter.
He led the Badgers to a 7-1 home record last year as Bielema’s teams improved to 27-4 in Madison since the coach took over in 2006 - including a 24-0 mark against unranked opponents.
Wisconsin also faces Arizona State and Austin Peay at home before beginning Big Ten play Oct. 2 at Michigan State.
The Badgers haven’t lost a home opener since a 43-7 loss to Colorado in 1995, winning their last 14. Their 25-game winning streak in regular season non-conference games will also be on the line against San Jose State.
The Spartans (0-1) had no answer for Wisconsin’s running game in the lone previous meeting between the teams, allowing 403 rushing yards in a 56-10 home loss Sept. 13, 1997.
San Jose State, which was picked to finish last in the WAC by coaches and media, faces a daunting task for the second straight week after opening its season - and Mike MacIntyre’s coaching tenure - with a 48-3 loss at No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.
MacIntyre, who replaced the retiring Dick Tomey after a 2-10 season last year, remained positive even though the reigning national champions had a 591-175 edge in total yards.
“One thing I noticed is that we’re in pretty good shape,” the former Duke defensive coordinator said. “They kept fighting and there is not a tired guy in there. … I was impressed with our conditioning and how they’re doing there. That’s something we’ve been working on.”
Still, San Jose State has lost 13 straight games against ranked opponents. The closest of the Spartans last six road games against Top 25 foes was a 42-7 loss at then-No. 21 Boise State on Nov. 3, 2007.