Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The Wisconsin Badgers are back to back Big Ten champions and primed for another run. The only downside to those championships are back to back Rose Bowl defeats. Russell Wilson's transfer to Wisconsin last year had them in the thick of the BCS race until they lost two straight heartbreakers to Michigan State and Ohio State on the last play of the game. Bret Bielema has amassed a 60-19 record in his 6 years and has another chance at a ten win season. While the Badgers are losing half of their starters, they have the depth to replace them.
Wisconsin's offense last year was a well oiled machine last year finishing ranked 14th in Total Offense, 11th in Rushing Offense, and 61st in passing. Wisconsin will return 5 starters on offense and are breaking in a new quarterback. The Badgers had great success with an ACC transfer quarterback Russell Wilson last year and have another ACC transfer as a starter this year in Davey O'Brien. Davey O'Brien was a two year starter at Maryland while throwing for 4,086 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions. Wisconsin won't have to rely on O'Brien too much though as Montee Ball and James White return at running back. Montee Ball came on late as a Heisman candidate. Ball ran for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns and White ran for 713 yards and 6 touchdowns. Ball will once again be leaned on heavily for the Badgers until O'Brien and a receiving corps mesh. The only returning receiver with significant experience is Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen. Abbrederis had 933 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns while Pedersen had 356 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns. The offensive line only returns center Travis Frederick and Outland Trophy Watch List Candidate Ricky Wagner. Ricky Wagner is arguably one of the best if not the best left tackle in college. If the offensive line can come together and open up holes for Montee Ball, this offense can be a bruising force that can run roughshod on the Big Ten.
The Wisconsin defense was a ferocious one in the Big Ten last year. They finished ranked 15th in Total Defense, 60th in Rushing Defense, and 4th in Passing Defense. Leading tacklers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland will return to the defense. These two combined for nearly 300 tackles on the season as well as 28 Tackles for Loss and 4.5 sacks. Taylor and Borland will be the heart of this defense. The defensive line will return two starters with Brendan Kelly at defensive end and Ethan Hemer at defensive tackle. These two as well as Junior defensive tackle Beau Allen and Junior defensive end David Gilbert will need to win the battle for the line of scrimmage. The Badgers were unable to generate much of a pass rush last year and only generated 25 sacks last year which landed them at 71st in the nation. Marcus Cromartie returns at cornerback and Shelton Johnson returns at strong safety to shore up the secondary. Dezmen Southward had experience at free safety but didn't start and Devin Smith only played in two games last year at cornerback. If Southward and Smith can continue to help the secondary stay on top of their game, they will be able to blitz more. Unless the defensive line shores up that pass rush and keep their linebackers clean, the Badgers will be unable to move up higher in rushing defense and sacks.
The schedule for the Wisconsin Badgers is a very favorable one. The first four non-conference games are not that challenging with three of the four at home. The only away game in the first four is a trip to Corvalis to play Oregon State. Norhtern Iowa, Utah State, and UTEP make up the rest of the non-conference schedule. The Big Ten schedule starts with a road game to Nebraska in what should be the Badgers only test in their first 8 games. If the Badgers get by that, they will have perennial loser Illinois at home, a road game at Purdue, and then home for Minnesota. A homecoming game against Michigan State is up next and revenge will be on the mind after a last second loss last year to the Spartans in the regular season. After that, the Badgers head to Indiana and then come home again to try and avenge their other last second loss to Ohio State. The Badgers finish the year with a trip to Penn State. Looking at this schedule, a minimum of 10 wins should be expected. The only three games on the schedule that should be of concern are Nebraska, Michigan State, and Ohio State. If the Badgers can get through those games, an undefeated season is not out of the question. I see Wisconsin going 10-2 but I wouldn't be shocked to see a better season out of Bret Bielema and the Badgers.