The campuses of Wisconsin and Notre Dame in Madison, Wisconsin, and South Bend, Indiana, are separated by roughly 250 miles -- about a four-hour trip by car. About halfway through that trip is Chicago, so it's just about as neutral as a neutral site can be. And that's the purpose Soldier Field -- home of the Chicago Bears -- will be used for on Saturday when No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 18 Wisconsin clash.
It's a matchup of two of the most significant programs in the Midwest. Notre Dame has all the history and a stronger foothold in the area, and it's been to the College Football Playoff twice in the last three seasons. Wisconsin is yet to make a playoff appearance, but it has been the dominant force in the Big Ten's western half for the last couple of decades, winning five Big Ten titles and five division titles since the 1998 season.
And Wisconsin has a lot to thank Notre Dame for. It was Barry Alvarez who came to Madison in the 1990 season and began the turnaround within the football program. Wisconsin hadn't won a Big Ten title since 1962 before Alvarez arrived, and he won his first just three years later in 1993. What does this have to do with Notre Dame? Well, before he became the coach at Wisconsin, Alvarez served as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, which he helped win a national title in 1988.
Check out CBS Sports' LIVE coverage of Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin in Soldier Field.
Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin: Need to know
Jack Coan Revenge Game: While he can pretend this is just another game, you know Jack Coan has had this one circled on the calendar since the moment he transferred to Notre Dame. Coan spent the first three years of his college career at Wisconsin before losing his job to Graham Mertz due to an injury before the (delayed) start of Wisconsin's 2020 season. Irish fans are undoubtedly hoping Coan shows his former team what they're missing out on after two average starts.
Coan threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns while completing 74.3% of his passes in his Notre Dame debut, a 41-38 overtime win over Florida State. However, the last two weeks have been rough. Coan has completed only 56.3% of his passes against Toledo and Purdue, with four touchdowns and an interception. More noticeably, after averaging 10.5 yards per pass attempt against FSU, that number has dropped to 7.2 yards per attempt the last two weeks.
The Irish have not been all that impressive in 2021: Yes, Notre Dame is 3-0 and ranked No. 12 in the country, but it hasn't lived up to the expectations. It needed overtime to squeeze by Florida State 41-38, just averted disaster in a 32-29 win over Toledo, and struggled to put Purdue away in a 27-13 win last week. Notre Dame has been favored by a total of 31 points in its first three games but won them by 20. It's one of those situations where a team hasn't played poorly, it just hasn't played well enough to convince anybody it's a team that's still capable of competing for a College Football Playoff spot, and that's the expectation with this program.
Wisconsin is the most formidable team the Irish will have faced so far and their biggest chance to make a statement about how good they can be in 2021.
Wisconsin's offense has lacked explosive plays: The team's defense is as suffocating as ever, as it ranks eighth in the country in points allowed per drive (0.76) and third in available yards allowed (22.1%). The offense just hasn't done nearly enough to pick up the slack.
Entering this week's game against Notre Dame, the Badgers offense has produced only three plays of 20 yards or more. That ranks last in the Big Ten -- Iowa is 13th with eight -- and 129th nationally, ahead of only Louisiana-Monroe. Of course, Wisconsin has only played two games, but if we break it down to the rate of explosive plays, Wisconsin's offense ranks 128th. Having a great defense is wonderful, but it's hard to win games without big plays on offense.
How to watch Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin live
Date: Saturday, September, 25 | Time: 12 p.m. ET
Location: Soldier Field -- Chicago
TV: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin prediction, picks
Not only do I think Notre Dame covers the spread on Saturday, but I'm picking it to win the game outright. While the Notre Dame offense has struggled lately, there's enough talent at the skill positions to trust its ability to bounce back. I don't have near the same level of faith in the Wisconsin offense right now. We all saw how the Badgers struggled to move the ball against Penn State in their first game of the season, and Notre Dame's defense is just as stout as Penn State's. Wisconsin's defense will keep the Badgers in the game, but unless it forces multiple turnovers and possibly a score, I don't see how the Wisconsin offense scores enough to win the game. Prediction: Notre Dame (+5.5)
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