Phenomenal freshman

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Associated Press Running back Jonathan Taylor leads Wisconsin into the Big Ten Championship game Saturday.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Jonathan Taylor's most important carry of the year may have come before No. 3 Wisconsin took a regular-season snap.

The setting: a scrimmage in the second week of training camp. Taylor busted through what would become one of the nation's best defenses for a big play.

It was a sign of things to come.

The Badgers' breakout star is 120 yards away from breaking the major college rushing record in a season for a freshman, set by Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson in 2004 (1,925 yards). The stage is set for the most important night yet of his young career, against No. 8 Ohio State at the Big Ten title game on Saturday with a College Football Playoff berth on the line.

A productive outing and a win against the Buckeyes (10-2, No. 8 CFP) could also strengthen Taylor's postseason award resume and earn him a potential invite to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

"I feel as that it will be a big step, having a great game," Taylor said when asked about the possibility to be selected a Heisman finalist.

His top goal, though, is clear. A loss spoils an undefeated season for Wisconsin (12-0, No. 4 CFP) and overshadows hype about individual accolades.

"That doesn't really impact how I prepare," Taylor said. "I don't prepare for an award - I prepare for the team we're going to play."

It has been quite the rise to stardom for Taylor, the 5-foot-11, 214-pound dynamo from Salem, New Jersey, who boasts a blend of power, agility, vision and breakaway speed.

He wasn't even on the two-deep chart to start the season. But he had already caught his teammates' attention by then.

"I've really never seen anyone break four or five tackles against our defense like that on that one particular play," tight end Troy Fumagalli said of Taylor's eye-opening carry during the training camp scrimmage.

An injury to starter Bradrick Shaw offered opportunities for Taylor in the season opener. Taylor has been entrenched as the starter since then.

Taylor leads the Big Ten averaging 150.5 yards per game and 7.0 yards per carry. He needed just seven games to reach 1,000 yards for the season, tying the FBS record for fewest games for a freshman to reach the plateau shared by five other players.

"Big, physical, run downhill, run straight at you," Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker said of the Badgers' run game. "They're going to tell you ... 'Are (you) going to stop it?' And you have to stop it."

Defensive end Sam Hubbard compared Taylor to Ohio State's own productive freshman tailback, J.K. Dobbins.

"He's got great vision, very strong, great speed and he finds gaps," Hubbard said about Taylor. "I think vision is what sets him apart. He finds gaps where there are none, and it's no surprise why he has so many yards."

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