Head Coach: Bret Bielema (5th season)
Location: Madison, WI
Stadium: Camp Randall (80,321)
2010 Record: 11-2 (7-1)
Wisconsin football website
The biggest news out of Wisconsin since their Rose Bowl loss to TCU was the incoming transfer of quarterback Russell Wilson from North Carolina State. Because Wilson has graduated from NC State, he will eligible immediately and is a saving grace for the Badgers. Without Wilson there would be a real concern at the quarterback position trying to replace Scott Tolzien. Last season Wisconsin was able to run over their opponents en route to an appearance in the Rose Bowl. If Wisconsin is to get back to the Rose Bowl, it will again be because of the run game and the outstanding tandem of Montee Ball and James White running behind a decent offensive line. While it is almost for certain that the Badgers run game will be one of the best in the Big Ten, a solid passing attack will be needed for Wisconsin to make it to the Big Ten Championship game. Wilson has proven to be a great passing quarterback, having thrown for over 8500 yards in his career. But now Wilson has to learn a new offense and develop chemistry with new receivers, something that should come a little easier for a fifth year senior. Wisconsin also lost three of their top four receivers from last year, and will rely on a lot of underclassmen along with Nick Toon to get the job done this year.
In 2010 Wisconsin was third in the Big Ten in scoring defense giving up 20.5 points per game but lose five of their top nine tacklers this season, including first round draft pick J.J. Watt. The Badgers will get a boost with the return of linebacker Chris Borland who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. Wisconsin’s defensive starters look to be a solid group, but depth can be a concern this season. Most of the backups are untested and it will be important for them to get some reps during the non-conference schedule so they are prepared for Big Ten play.
Top Three players
1. Montee Ball
2. Chris Borland
3. James White
Montee Ball was only third on the team in yards rushing last season, but still managed to get within four yards of the 1000 mark. The bruising tailback rushed for a Big Ten leading 18 touchdowns last season. Most impressively was how Ball finished last season, rushing for 650 yards over the last four games of the season. Ball was also sixth on the team in receptions with 16 catches.
Chris Borland only played in two games last season, but his performance as a true freshman in 2009 shows how great of a player he can be. Borland was named to the Freshman All-American team and was the Freshman of the Year in the Big Ten. He also garnered Big Ten Honorable Mention laurels in 2009. As a freshman Borland had 54 tackles, of which 10.5 were for a loss. He forced 5 fumbles and recovered three fumbles to go along with five sacks, which was third best on the team. And if that wasn’t enough he kicked three extra points and returned six kickoffs for 106 yards.
James White led Wisconsin in rushing last season with 1052 yards and 14 touchdowns. His 1052 yards was the fourth most by a freshman in Wisconsin history. White was named to the Big Ten Second Team along with making several Freshman All-American teams. The shifty White was also honored with being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
J.J. Watt put up impressive stats last season on his way to being a first team Big Ten performer. Watt tallied seven sacks and 21 tackles for loss along with 62 total tackles. Watt was second in the Big Ten in both sacks and tackles for loss. It will be hard for Wisconsin to replace the pressure he put on opposing quarterbacks, his absence will be noticed across all levels of the defense.
Scott Tolzien led the Big Ten in passing efficiency last year with a rating of 165.9 and completed almost 73% of his passes. Tolzien has also set school records for career completion percentage and passing efficiency and is fourth in career passing yards. In addition to being a Big Ten Second Team performer, Tolzien won the Johny Unitas Golden Arm Award. While not flashy, Tolzien ran the Wisconsin offense perfectly which is not easy to do as it relies on being highly efficient in the passing game as the main focus is on the running game.
Gabe Carimi was the leader of one of the top offensive lines in the country last season. Wisconsin was first in the Big Ten in scoring offense and second in rushing yards at 245.7 yards per game. Carimi was named to the Big Ten First Team and was voted as Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year by the league coaches. He was also awarded the Outland Trophy, which goes to the best interior lineman in the country.
9/10: Oregon State
9/17: Northern Illinois (N)
9/24: South Dakota
10/22: @Michigan State
10/29: @Ohio State
11/26: Penn State
Easiest Game: South Dakota
Hardest Game: @Ohio State
Must win game: @Ohio State
The first thing that sticks out with Wisconsin’s schedule is that they don’t play a road game until October 22nd against Michigan State. They do have a game
against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in week three, but no true road game until the trip to East Lansing. The downside to this is that they close the season with four of the last six games being on the road, which is during the most important part of the season. The non-conference schedule should be easier than it looks at first glance. Oregon State didn’t qualify for a bowl game last year and has lost some of their key players; meanwhile 2010 MAC Conference Championship participant Northern Illinois will be adjusting to a new coach this season and lost a 1500 yard rusher among other good players.
By far the biggest game on the schedule will be when the Badgers travel to Ohio State in what may determine who will win the Leaders Division. In the last 20 years Wisconsin has only won back to back games against Ohio State one time, in 2003-2004. Another game of significance will be October first, when Wisconsin takes on Nebraska in Nebraska’s first Big Ten conference game. If Wisconsin can get by Ohio State and Nebraska early in the earlier part of the season, they have a fairly easy November schedule and should be able to roll into the Big Ten Championship game.
The transfer of Russell Wilson to Wisconsin took the Badgers from being a strong contender to win the Leaders Division, to being the front runner to win the division. This is not because Wilson is a duplicate of Cam Newton and will carry the Badgers to Indianapolis, but rather he is the final piece of the puzzle for a team that would have been good even without him. Wisconsin has a great opportunity to repeat as Big Ten champions, as there is no Big Ten team that I would consider to be great this season. Wisconsin has two of the best backs in the conference, a quarterback who should be one of the best in the conference, an offensive line that should be in the top third in the conference, and a defense that is returning talent and experience at every level.
Wisconsin will be in the conversation of making it to the BCS title game at the end of the year, even though they won’t be undefeated. I see Wisconsin making it to the inaugural Big Ten Championship game and earning a BCS Bowl bid along the way. Once again they will finish the regular season at 11-1 and a win in the Big Ten title game could earn them their first trip to the BCS National Championship game.
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