The 2011 Big Ten Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year won't be announced until Nov. 30, but it's a pretty good bet both award winners will be on the field Saturday in Madison.
Wisconsin boasts the two front-runners for the offensive award in senior quarterback Russell Wilson and junior running back Montee Ball. Wilson leads the nation in pass efficiency (199.3) and is on pace to break Colt Brennan's NCAA record. Ball leads the nation in touchdowns (30) and is within range of Barry Sanders' record mark of 39.
For Penn State to take down Wisconsin on a field where the Badgers average 52.3 points per game, the Lions need their brightest defensive star to shine. They likely need defensive tackle Devon Still to have the game of his life.
"Devon's very important," Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley said. "If we're going to be able to stop these guys, our front four has got to do an excellent job. They're a hard team to stunt, they're a hard team to do certain things against because they're thorough, they're efficient. Devon's going to be a guy, his work's cut out for him."
If any Big Ten defender can meet the challenge, it's Still. He's tied for the league lead in solo tackles for loss (15) and is tied for third in overall TFLs (16.5). He has recorded four sacks and boasts 53 total tackles with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
On Monday he was named one of three finalists for both the Bednarik Award and the Outland Trophy. He's the likely choice for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
"Ever since I got here," Still said, "I wanted to win those types of awards."
He could lock up some hardware with a huge game against Wisconsin. The Badgers lead the Big Ten and rank fifth nationally in scoring (48.2), and they boast an offensive line Still calls the best in the Big Ten.
But Wisconsin likely will be without starting center Peter Konz (ankle) for the second consecutive game. The Badgers struggled to move the ball for stretches last week against Illinois and had to use two centers, eventually settling on Travis Frederick. The middle of the line could be an area Still and fellow tackle Jordan Hill exploit Saturday.
"I don't think it changes our game plan that much," Still said. "Wisconsin's always been a school that always produces great offensive linemen. I'm pretty sure the backup has as close to the amount of talent as the first-string center has. We're going to attack him the same way."
Still's name wasn't called once last week at Ohio Stadium as he failed to record a tackle for the first time this season. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound senior had the flu and "decided to play through that" because he knew his presence would be needed.
He has since recovered and should be back at full strength Saturday.
"They use him in a variety of different fashions," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "He's a big guy that can move extremely well. He's got a very quick first step. ... Wherever he's at, and whatever the blocking scheme is, I think you've got to be cognizant of how you're blocking him, and what you're doing."
As one of Penn State's captains, Still has played an important role in keeping the team focused during the past few weeks as the sex-abuse scandal rocked the school and the football program. Bradley said as well as Still has played this year, he'll remember the senior more for his off-field leadership and communication skills.
Still is confident his teammates will be ready for Wisconsin.
"This is not just an ordinary game," he said. "We're practicing harder than we ever practiced. We’re focusing more than we ever focused. ... We know what's on the line."
Still must make sure Wisconsin also knows who's on the line Saturday afternoon.