No. 20 Northwestern, No. 21 Wisconsin to settle second place
A win on Saturday against 20th-ranked Northwestern would give Stave his 30th victory as a starting quarterback, matching a program record held by Brooks Bollinger.
There is a more pressing matter for Wisconsin's Senior Day. Win and the Badgers' slim hopes for an outright Big Ten West division title stay alive.
''You've just got to find a way to not get caught up in the emotions of it,'' Stave said about his last game at Camp Randall Stadium. ''It'll be a challenge for us.''
Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1, No. 25 CFP) is well aware of just how dangerous Northwestern (8-2, 4-2, No. 20 CFP) can be. A year ago in Evanston, Justin Jackson rushed for 162 yards on 33 carries to help then-unranked Northwestern beat the ranked Badgers.
Jackson, a sophomore, is back, coming off two straight 100-yard games. With snow and chilly weather in the forecast for Saturday morning, conditions could be ripe for Jackson to get a lot of attempts again.
''Ball's going to be solid as a rock,'' Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Stave has played in all kinds of conditions, starting 38 of 41 games since his freshman year. He has weathered criticism off the field, too, at times from Wisconsin fans.
He's solid but not flashy. Stave can still make a few maddeningly poor decisions each game, and yet he has provided a constant, calming presence on an offense that has otherwise been racked by injuries.
Now mentored by offensive-minded head coach Paul Chryst, Stave has completed 61 percent of his passes this year for 2,162 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
''Really impressed by Joel, he's had a terrific season. He's had to shoulder a lot,'' Fitzgerald said.
The even-keeled Stave realizes that some Wisconsin fans may not be upbeat in describing his career. Stave takes the talk in stride, especially with just one game left to go for him at home.
''When you play quarterback, you kind of put yourself on a pedestal I think with criticism,'' Stave said. ''That just comes along (with) playing the position.''
Other notes and things to watch ahead of Saturday's game:
CAN COREY GO?: Following Corey Clement's progression through injuries this season has been somewhat like a college football soap opera. He's played in just two games because of sports hernia surgery. During the bye last week, he hurt his hand after Wisconsin said Clement and a security guard were allegedly assaulted after getting involved in what started as a verbal dispute at his off-campus apartment.
Chryst had said that he expected Clement to practice this week. It could be Clement's last home game as well given the junior has spoken about possibly leaving early to enter the NFL draft.
D-LIGHTFUL: Jackson faces a tough task going up against Wisconsin's tough defense, which is the stingiest in the country in points allowed (12.3) and yards rushing (97.3). The Badgers have playmakers all over the field, starting with linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel and safety Michael Caputo.
CLOSING TIME: Fitzgerald likes the way his team has played late in contests during a three-game winning streak. Northwestern has won those games by a combined 11 points.
The Wildcats had a hard time shaking Purdue last week until Jackson's 2-yard touchdown run with 4:37 left in a 21-14 win. The previous week, Jack Mitchell hit a 25-yard field goal with 9 seconds left for a 23-21 victory over Penn State.
GOING BOWLING: Both teams are assured bowl berths, so this game is more about jockeying for position for postseason trips to warm locales and second place in the Big Ten West, assuming undefeated Iowa doesn't collapse.
''There is an outside chance that you could earn a right for two more games. We don't know, but the only thing you can focus on is what you're involved in and you can control,'' Chryst said.
PLAYING UNDERDOG: The Wildcats have lost their last two games against ranked opponents, falling to Michigan and Iowa in October. They haven't beaten Wisconsin on the road since a 47-44 win in double overtime on Sept. 23, 2000.
AP College Football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/