With perennial Big Ten powers Ohio State and Penn State suffering through controversy and Michigan taking a step back for a couple of years, the Wisconsin Badgers have cemented their status among the league’s elite. Bret Bielema has transitioned from the Barry Alvarez Era without missing a beat. Another transfer quarterback steps under center in Madison, but it will be their always dangerous ground game that could have UW smelling roses for a third straight season.
2011 was: heartbreaking, yet still a success. Had it not been for two Hail Mary losses, the Wisconsin Badgers could possibly have been playing for the National Championship. Back-to-back road losses at Michigan State and Ohio State were truly painful for Badger Nation. However, UW still won the Leaders Division and first ever Big Ten Championship game to clinch their second straight trip to the Rose Bowl. Even though that game was again ended in disappointment, there was a ton to feel good about. Montee Ball had a record breaking season on the ground and was a Heisman Trophy finalist, Russell Wilson was incredible under center, and the offensive line was once again one of the best in college football.
2012 will go smoothly if: the Badgers simply take care of business. With OSU and PSU ineligible for postseason play, Wisconsin can already book their tickets to the Big Ten Title Game since the other teams in their division (Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue) are not real threats. The focus of every team will be stopping Ball and the Badgers’ potent run game which certainly isn’t easy to do with the size Wisconsin boasts on their offensive line. With Michigan and Iowa not on the schedule for a second straight year, there are really only two games that could trip up the Badgers; at Nebraska on September 29th and the final game of the year in Happy Valley.
2012 will be rough if: Danny O’Brien can’t be efficient under center. Wilson was such a leader in the huddle and made so many solid decision in the passing game that really kept defenses honest and opened things up for the ground game. O’Brien wasn’t sharp in his sophomore year at Maryland, throwing ten picks to just seven touchdowns. Without any proven depth behind O’Brien, Curt Phillips is trying to recover from consecutive torn ACL’s to earn the starting spot which seems unlikely, O’Brien must keep defenses honest through the air with a fairly inexperienced receiving core. He has more Scott Tolzien to him than Wilson so not forcing passes and taking what defenses give him through the air will be essential if the Badgers are going to truly live up to their potential.
BMOC: Montee Ball: Camp kicked off with the disturbing news that Ball was jumped in an alley in downtown Madison and suffered a concussion forcing him to miss the first several days of practice. He could have easily bolted for the NFL but wanted to return for his final season to become a better leader and improve his draft stock. It would be insane to think that he can match his numbers from last season, but Ball can still be a Heisman favorite with another monster season.
All Name team: DB Hugs Etienne, WR Jared Abbrederis (a Brent Musberger favorite)
Bottom Line: Wisconsin is going to the Big Ten Championship Game and could very well run the regular season slate. If their defense can not let up as many big plays as they did a year ago and Ball once again runs wild, anything less than a third consecutive trip to Pasadena will be viewed as a disappointment.