Camp Randall Stadium has been around for nearly a century, but it’s never staged a college football moment quite like this.
A pair of Heisman Trophy candidates — good friends actually — going stat sheet for stat sheet.
Two nationally ranked teams — their entourages linked in a variety of ways — angling to represent the West Division in the Big Ten Conference championship game.
When 11th-ranked Nebraska comes to town Saturday to face the 22nd-ranked University of Wisconsin, it will form the most dynamic marquee in the history of the 97-year-old facility.
Sure, the Badgers have hosted more compelling matchups in terms of rankings. Since 1942 there have been eight instances where both schools were in the top 10. The last time that happened, in 2011, it was seventh-ranked UW rolling to a 48-17 victory over the eighth-ranked Cornhuskers.
On two occasions the Badgers were ranked in the top 10 and they knocked off the No. 1 team in the land at Camp Randall: Ohio State in 1942 and Northwestern in ’62.
What takes this meeting to another level in terms of hype is the Heisman subplot.
UW junior tailback Melvin Gordon leads the nation in rushing, while Nebraska senior I-back Ameer Abdullah leads the country in all-purpose yardage.
They’re not the most prominent blips on the Heisman radar screen at the moment — the notoriously fickle electorate appears most enamored with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper — but that conversation is subject to change.
Gordon is averaging 166.8 rushing yards per game — including three 200-yard performances — and is vying to become the first UW back in history to lead the nation in that category.
Abdullah is averaging 187.9 all-purpose yards per game — a combination of rushing, receiving and returns — and is the only Football Bowl Subdivision running back with four 200-yard rushing performances this season.
The individual duel looked to be in jeopardy when Abdullah suffered a sprained left knee against Purdue on Nov. 1, but Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said last week he expected Abdullah to be full-go.
Over the years, 11 players who won the Heisman Trophy appeared at Camp Randall, including Iowa back Nile Kinnick in 1939, Notre Dame quarterback Angelo Bertelli in ’43, Ohio State back Les Horvath in ’44, UW fullback Alan Ameche in ’54, Ohio State back Howard Cassady in ’55, Notre Dame quarterback John Huarte in ’64, Southern California tailback Mike Garrett in ’65, Oklahoma back Steve Owens in ’69, Ohio State tailback Eddie George in ’95, Michigan cornerback/wide receiver Charles Woodson in ’97 and UW tailback Ron Dayne in 1999.
Both Gordon and Abdullah could enhance their Heisman candidacies Saturday, but it stands to reason whoever leaves Camp Randall with a victory grin will have the edge.
Gordon will face a defense that ranks 20th nationally against the run, while Abdullah will look to solve a unit that ranks first in total defense and fifth vs. the run.
Nebraska (8-1 overall, 4-1 in the Big Ten) has lost its past two trips to Madison as a top-10 entity. The Badgers (7-2, 4-1) are averaging 44.4 points per outing at home this season.
A cool reality in this individual showdown is Gordon and Abdullah are good friends — they met at a high school all-star game in South Carolina and stay in touch via social media — and are sure to be besieged by the national media this week.
Another thread in the storyline is that UW athletic director Barry Alvarez is a Nebraska grad who played linebacker for the Cornhuskers from 1965 to ’67. His counterpart is Shawn Eichorst, who attended UW-Whitewater and Marquette and was part of Alvarez’s senior staff from 2006 to ’11.
Camp Randall has been host to Knute Rockne, Bronko Nagurski, William Shakespeare — the 1935 Heisman finalist from Notre Dame, not the English poet and playwright — as well as Mick Jagger and Bono.
It also has been the site for some distinctive individual confrontations on the football field. Perhaps the best came on Oct. 23, 1999 when UW faced Michigan State. Dayne stared down the nation’s top-ranked run defense, while cornerback Jamar Fletcher was matched against wide receiver Plaxico Burress in a duel of future first-round NFL draft picks.
Dayne ran for 214 yards and two touchdowns, Burress was a non-factor, and the Badgers cold-cocked Michigan State 40-10 en route to their second straight Big Ten title and third during Alvarez’s Hall of Fame coaching tenure.
But those individual moments of brilliance don’t compare to the moment at hand.
You have two Heisman candidates, two electric resumes and two title contenders tangling on the same field at the same time.
You have the makings of something very special.