Thursday, July 15, 2010

Season Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

As a UW alumna (grad school) and current resident of Madison, I really ought to cheer harder for the Badgers. But for whatever reason, I'm definitely less a "fan" and more a "well-wisher." (In my defense, I'm not sure I've met any Huge Badger Fans [insert your own joke about Wisconsin residents' love of beer and cheese here]. My theory is that Sconnies just love the Packers too much to make room in their hearts for their college team.) However, if I'm ever going to move up to the really nice seats on the Badger bandwagon, this may be the year to do it.

There are a lot of returning offensive starters from what was the most productive offense in the Big Ten last season. (Most impressive statistic: UW led the nation in time of possession, averaging over 39 minutes a game. I'm surprised it's even possible to average over 39 minutes of possession a game.) It's the first time in Bret Bielma's tenure that the starting QB will be the same guy two years in a row. Sure, Scott Tolzien isn't showing up on any Heisman watch lists, but he's solid.

He can dig it.

Even though it's a Wisconsin offense, which usually runs its starting RB into the ground, they were surprisingly balanced last year. There won't be any excuse (barring catastrophic and widespread injuries) if they fail to be very, very good this year.

The defense is more questionable. Many important starters and a couple of the position coaches are gone, but the replacements should be at least decent.

The biggest cause for concern is that Bielma's teams seem to have an inverse relationship between expectations and results. The better they're predicted to do (and on paper, they ought to do pretty dang well), the worse they usually perform.

Nonconference schedule
UW starts its season by playing two teams with brand-new coaches. Also, both of them--UNLV and San Jose State--should be atrocious. (OK, UNLV maybe won't be atrocious, and the game will be at their place, but still, they're nothing much to be afraid of.) The biggest ticket non-con game is against actual BCS conference member Arizona State, which might have a new coach next year if he keeps doing as poorly as he has so far. UW's fourth opponent will be Austin Peay State University. Here's the most important fact about them: it's pronounced "Austin P." In conclusion, if Wisconsin doesn't start 4-0, something has gone terribly wrong.

Conference schedule
The obvious worries are October 16th's game against Ohio State (although that's in Madison, which is nice) and the next week, Iowa at Iowa. But you can't write off Michgan State (in Wisconsin's first conference matchup of the season, October 2nd); UW hasn't won in Lansing since 2002.

Best player name
Louis Nzegwu

My prediction
I can't see Wisconsin going unbeaten through the Big Ten, but maybe if Iowa and Ohio State drop a few games between them, the Badgers can share the conference title? At the very least, I won't be surprised if they come in second. They're projected to be a top-ten or -fifteen team, and I don't see any reason why they can't achieve the latter (and maybe the former, if and only if they do better than Iowa) . . . unless, of course, they fall victim to their chronic underachiev-itis. But I'll be optimistic and declare that this will be the big year! (That is, the year Wisconsin can come in a healthy second place to Ohio State.)

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