Created:Tuesday, September 13, 2011 2:29 p.m.CDT
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Shootout on the horizon?

Even Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren, a lifelong defensive assistant who cringes at the thought of allowing points, couldn't deny what seems inevitable Saturday against Wisconsin.

Wisconsin's offense scored at least 70 points three times last season and have looked unstoppable this fall. Against a Huskies defense allowing 35.5 points per game through the first two, a shoootout is likely.

"I would be disappointed if it was," said Doeren, NIU's first-time head coach who was Wisconsin's defense coordinator the past five seasons. "But their offense hasn't been stopped yet, and our offense hasn't either. So on paper, that's kind of what it looks like. I know our defensive players and coaches are going to do everything they can to prevent that from happening, but they're a very good offense."

Doeren's answer was a stark contrast to earlier this season. Before NIU's opener against Army, he responded to a similar question by saying he would never go into a game admitting his defense may give up a lot of points.

But the Black Knights are not the No. 7 Badgers. Far from it.

Wisconsin ranks second in the 12-team Big Ten in scoring offense (43 points per game), total offense (448 yards), third in rushing offense (224 yards) and fourth in passing offense (223.5 yards). Doeren said the Badgers may be better than last season.

"I think the tailbacks are better than they were a year ago. I think Montee (Ball) is playing at an extremely high level, and so is James (White)," Doeren said, referring to two of the Big Ten's best running backs. "The quarterback (North Carolina State transfer Russell Wilson) manages the game the same way that Scott Tolzein did, but he's a better athlete. So there's a new dimension there to what can happen when things break down.

"They do a lot of good things, and they don't beat themselves. That's the big thing. You've got to play a clean game, you've got to tackle well, you've got to get off blocks."

Of course, the other half of what may makes Saturday a likely shootout is positive. NIU's offense, led by quarterback Chandler Harnish, has looked as dominant as any. The Huskies lead the Mid-American Conference with 45.5 points per game.

To be competitive Saturday, they likely need to continue playing at that caliber.

“If our offense plays the way that is has been, I think it can cause problems for a lot of people just because they're versatile,” Doeren said. “Chandler is throwing and running well, the tailbacks are playing well, we've got a lot of receivers that can rotate and keep it fresh. Our offensive line did a great job protecting (Harnish). So we've got to continue to execute at the level we are and move the chains.

“Whether we can do that to Wisconsin or not, we'll find out.”

– Ryan Wood, @rwood_DDC on Twitter, rwood@shawmedia.com

Given a full slate of games against Big Ten teams, which team finishes with the best record?
NIU
Purdue
Northwestern