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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 11: Wisconsin

At Tennessee, replacing seven assistant coaches isn’t so much cause for alarm as it is a sign of the times: Tennessee has suffered back-to-back seven-loss seasons, so it’s not surprising to see that Derek Dooley and the Volunteers are nearly starting from scratch — because assistant coaches value many things, but no one thing more than job security. But at Wisconsin, with the Badgers fresh off back-to-back trips to Pasadena, the changing cast of assistant coaches is met with some degree of surprise, if not outright skepticism: Wisconsin has been so good over the last three years, was so dominant over the last two years, that you’d almost expect every one of Bret Bielema’s assistants to remain in the fold until a head coaching opportunity opened up, as was the case with former coordinator Paul Chryst at Pittsburgh. While Tennessee and Wisconsin share this overhaul, the similarities end there: U.T. wants to regain some of its lost luster in the SEC; Wisconsin wants more of the same — more wins, more intimidation, more points, another Big Ten title and another shot at the Rose Bowl.

Conference
Big Ten, Leaders

Location
Madison, Wisc.

Nickname
Badgers

Returning starters
11 (6 offense, 5 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 11

2011 record
(11-3, 6-2)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 11

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    Northern Iowa
  • Sept. 8
    at Oregon St.
  • Sept. 15
    Utah St.
  • Sept. 22
    UTEP
  • Sept. 29
    at Nebraska
  • Oct. 6
    Illinois
  • Oct. 13
    at Purdue
  • Oct. 20
    Minnesota
  • Oct. 27
    Michigan St.
  • Nov. 10
    at Indiana
  • Nov. 17
    Ohio St.
  • Nov. 24
    at Penn St.

Last year’s prediction

All told, I like the Badgers to take home the Leaders division, in large part because of the team’s talent and coaching but also, it must be said, because of Ohio State’s projected slight decline. Are the Badgers national title contenders? You have to say yes, but I hesitate to place Wisconsin in the select group of five or six teams that stand atop the rest of the country. Not to detract from the team at large, as the Badgers are terrific, but this is what separates the great from the excellent. Still, another double-digit win season should be the baseline for success.

2011 recap

In a nutshell In all, Wisconsin wasn’t sieve-like when it came to limiting big plays on defense; the Badgers allowed 23 plays of 30 or more yards, a total that ranked inside the top half of the F.B.S., and finished even higher in the national rankings when it came to allowing passing plays of 30 or more yards. Yet last season will be remembered for the two moments when Wisconsin’s big-play defense came up short: Michigan State, which notched the game-winning touchdown with no time left, and Ohio State, which heaved a 40-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left after failing to achieve anything through the air for the game’s first 59-plus minutes. Disappointing, this. Prior to this two-game losing streak — an avoidable streak, you could say — Wisconsin won five straight; afterwards, the Badgers would win another six straight, including a revenge win over Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Another Rose Bowl loss followed, but you can’t ignore one very painful fact: Wisconsin was meeting L.S.U., not Oregon, had its secondary not faltered over back-to-back weeks in October.

High point The second win over Michigan State meant the most; it gave a very, very strong team some degree of accomplishment, even if the Badgers were already far outside of the national title picture. But in terms of the best win — the most impressive win, I suppose — I’d lean towards the Badgers’ second-half annihilation of Nebraska in the Big Ten opener. Wisconsin rolled out the Big Ten’s welcome mat for the Cornhuskers.

Low point Ohio State, Michigan State, Oregon — I think that’s the order. Why? I have no doubt that the Rose Bowl loss hurts, but the Badgers could have met the Tigers, as noted, had they sneaked past the Buckeyes and Spartans during the regular season. Having said that, it would be great for U.W. to get back in the win column in Pasadena.

Tidbit Wisconsin is the fifth program to lose the Rose Bowl in back-to-back years, joining Michigan (2004-5; 1977-79), U.S.C. (1988-89), Ohio State (1975-76), California (1949-51) and Stanford (1934-35). The Badgers are also one of seven programs to win the Rose Bowl in back-to-back years: Wisconsin (1999-2000), U.S.C. (2007-9; 1979-80; 1944-45; 1939-40; 1932-33), Texas (2005-6), Washington (1991-92; 1960-61), U.C.L.A. (1983-84), Stanford (1971-72) and Alabama (1926-27). You’ll notice that Wisconsin is the lone Big Ten program to win two straight Rose Bowls.

Tidbit (magic number edition) Wisconsin’s magic number under Bielema: 20. Since 2006, the Badgers are 41-2 when allowing 20 points or less – and 28-0 when allowing 15 points or less. The two losses: Ohio State in 2008 (20-17) and Iowa in 2009 (20-10).

Former players in the N.F.L.

32 TE Travis Beckum (New York Giants) DE Patrick Butrym (San Francisco), TE Jake Byrne (New Orleans), OT Gabe Carimi (Chicago), LB Jonathan Casillas (New Orleans), TE Owen Daniels (Houston), RB Brodie Ewing (Atlanta), S Antonio Fenelus (Indianapolis), WR David Gilreath (Pittsburgh), TE Garrett Graham (Houston), DT Nick Hayden (Cincinnati), CB Aaron Henry (Oakland), LS Matt Katula (Pittsburgh), TE Lance Kendricks (St. Louis), C Peter Konz (Atlanta), S Jim Leonhard (Denver), LB DeAndre Levy (Detroit), S CHris Maragos (Seattle), OG John Moffitt (Seattle), C Bill Nagy (Detroit), P Brad Nortman (Carolina), DE Louis Nzegwu (Atlanta), FB Chris Pressley (Cincinnati), LB O’Brien Schofield (Arizona), DE Matt Shaughnessy (Oakland), OT Joe Thomas (Cleveland), QB Scott Tolzien (San Francisco), WR Nick Toon (New Orleans), OG Kraig Urbik (Buffalo), DE J.J. Watt (Houston), QB Russell Wilson (Seattle), OG Kevin Zeitler (Cincinnati).

Arbitrary top five list

Re-ranking 2012 quarterback draft class (in 2022)
1. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis.
2. Kirk Cousins, Washington.
3. Russell Wilson, Seattle.
4. Robert Griffin III, Washington.
5. Nick Foles, Philadelphia.

Coaching

Bret Bielema (Iowa ’92), 60-19 after six seasons with the Badgers. Wisconsin continues to get better and better under Bielema, who has won at least 10 games in each of the last three years and four times overall. Prior to taking over in 2006, Bielema served two years as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator while Barry Alvarez concluded his sterling 16-year career in Madison; over this time, it was acknowledged that Bielema would be the program’s next head coach when Alvarez chose to step down. He at first excelled at maintaining – if not building upon – the success of his predecessor, winning 21 games over his first two seasons. Bielema and the Badgers won a school-record 12 games in 2006, making him only the third first-year coach in F.B.S. history to record 12 victories. Bielema followed that by taking Wisconsin to a fourth consecutive New Year’s Day bowl game in 2007 — the previous two came under Alvarez — joining the 1994-95 and 1998-2000 Badgers in participating in back-to-back January bowl games. That streak ended in 2008, when Wisconsin failed to live up to its preseason billing with a 7-6 finish, but the last three teams have been Bielema’s best yet. Before going to Madison in 2004, Bielema spent two seasons at Kansas State, helping the Wildcats post back-to-back 11-win seasons and a Big 12 title in 2003. Bielema also served as an assistant at Iowa for eight seasons, the last six as the linebackers coach. Seven of the last nine Bielema-coached teams – either as a head coach or assistant – have played in a January bowl game, including the 2003 Wildcats, who made a B.C.S. appearance after their conference title. He has compiled a 101-31 mark both as an assistant and head coach over the last nine seasons. He has Wisconsin in a great place, it’s safe to say.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Let’s begin with the assistant coaches who returned in 2012, because it’s a shorter list: co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chris Ash, running backs coach Thomas Hammock — a newcomer in 2011; he’s off to a good start — and co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge. Having Ash and Partridge back as co-coordinators will help Wisconsin take another step forward on defense. But the new faces are a slight concern for a program accustomed to coaching continuity. Former Northern Illinois assistant Matt Canada will take on Chryst’s role as coordinator and quarterbacks coach; while Canada has a spread-first background, don’t look for him to change a thing. Canada is one of four new offensive assistants, joining former Western Kentucky coordinator Zach Azzanni as wide receivers coach, former N.I.U. running backs coach Eddie Faulkner as tight ends coach — Faulkner was once a U.W. running back — and former Mississippi assistant Mike Markuson as line coach.

I’ll touch on Canada below, along with the entire offense, but very briefly: I can understand some of the apprehension over his hiring, both because of his background and the fact that he’s replacing a wonderful coordinator in Chryst — and can understand why there is some concern over Markuson’s ability to keep this line rolling along, such as it was with Bob Bostad at the controls. Markuson is no Bostad, but few are. Canada, on the other hand, should have no difficulty swapping the run-first spread he ran a year ago at N.I.U. for Wisconsin’s run-first pro-style system. He’ll fit in very well. Rounding out the new staff are former graduate assistant Ben Strickland, who will take over the secondary, and former Nevada defensive coordinator Andy Buh, who will replace Dave Huxtable as the Badgers’ linebackers coach.

Players to watch

Danny O’Brien wasn’t brought into Madison to play backup to a slew of injury-prone, raw, inexperienced or incapable quarterbacks — he was brought into Wisconsin to start, so it was not surprising in the least to see Bielema finally end the suspense earlier this week and name the former Maryland transfer as the Badgers’ starting quarterback. He steps into some big shoes, albeit a pair of shoes that might seem familiar: Russell Wilson, like O’Brien before him, was an A.C.C. transfer who flourished in Wisconsin’s quarterback-friendly offense — it’s a system that does not get enough recognition, in fact, for the way it makes life easy for its starting quarterback. O’Brien is not Wilson in one regard, however: he’s not a proven F.B.S. starter, which Wilson was after three seasons at N.C. State. Instead, O’Brien is a somewhat polished quarterback who has shown both sides of the coin over his two seasons of starting experience; O’Brien has shown the good and the bad.

It’s the good that Wisconsin is banking on in 2012 and 2013. And when he’s on, O’Brien is an all-conference contender — as we saw in 2010, when the then-freshman piloted the Terrapins to a nine-win finish in Ralph Friedgen’s final season with the program. But the bad came last fall, when O’Brien seemed uncomfortable and tentative as Randy Edsall’s starter; and yes, O’Brien’s decline had just as much to do with poor coaching as it did with some sort of sophomore slump. In short, O’Brien is more 2010 than 2011: he’s a good quarterback, not a great one, but certainly nowhere near the mess you saw last season. For the junior, good coaching will make a huge difference — as will this offense line and backfield.

What sort of season should Wisconsin expect from the transfer? Nothing like the year Wilson put forth last year, for one. But O’Brien should fit this offense like a glove, as would most starting-caliber quarterbacks on the F.B.S. level. My expectations? O’Brien should hit on 65.0 percent of his attempts, toss two touchdowns for every interception, average at least 8.0 yards per attempt and throw for at least 2,700 yards. Those numbers, if true, will be more than enough to lead Wisconsin to at least nine wins during the regular season — and that’s being cautious. Above all else, I love three things about O’Brien’s move to Wisconsin: one, he’s highly motivated; two, he’s a two-year rental, not a one-and-done addition; and three, O’Brien is eons better than any other option on this roster. At some point, the Badgers will need to develop their own starter. For two years, O’Brien will hold down the fort.

It’s easy to forget this fact, but wide receiver was a bit of a concern heading into last fall — at this point a year ago, it was my biggest issue with this entire offense by a fairly wide margin. Any questions about Wisconsin’s ability to make things happen in the passing game, whether downfield, over the middle, in the intermediate game or in the red zone, were answered very early into the 2011 season, and the questions remain answered heading into September. With Nick Toon gone, junior Jared Abbrederis (55 receptions for 933 yards) takes on the undisputed mantle as the Badgers’ top target; he likely held this role last fall, though Toon did play a huge role as a senior. With Abbrederis an all-conference lock, what U.W. needs aren’t top-flight targets — receivers who would need to carry O’Brien in the early going — but rather four or five secondary receivers who can take advantage of single coverage. Here are your top four behind Abbrederis, and it’s a fairly fluid group: junior Jeff Duckworth (15 for 230), sophomore Kenzel Doe, junior Manasseh Garner, sophomore Chase Hammond and redshirt freshmen Jordan Frederick and A.J. Jordan.

If the season started today, according to Wisconsin’s latest depth chart, Frederick and Doe would join Abbrederis in the starting lineup. That’s not bad: Abbrederis and Frederick are big, physical receivers, while Doe is one of the more shifty targets on the roster. Whether Doe and Frederick remain in the starting lineup hinges heavily on how well they produce in September, especially with seasoned receivers like Garner and Duckworth on the second level. The Badgers also return a second-team all-Big Ten pick in junior tight end Jacob Pedersen (30 for 356), who should serve as O’Brien’s security blanket. If only spectacular in one spot, with Abbrederis, Wisconsin’s receiver corps — including Pedersen — is as steady as they come. If the freshmen step up, the Badgers should be able to stretch the field against every team on this schedule.

And if Wisconsin can stretch the field? Then good night, and thanks for playing. I’m not going to go too deep into senior back Montee Ball (1,923 yards and 39 total touchdowns), seeing that there’s not much left to be said. Instead, just a few notes: I love his balance more than anything; I’m in awe of his ability to find the first-down marker, the end zone, what have you; he’s underrated as a pass-catcher; the story of how he went from nothingness prior to the Iowa game in 2010 to a Heisman finalist is one of the best in recent F.B.S. memory; he’s the best running back in college football; and I have him second for the Heisman heading into 2012, right behind Matt Barkley, and Ball will have every opportunity to lift every single meaningful piece of national hardware in December and January.

It’s almost unfair — to every team but the Badgers, who couldn’t be happier. At a cursory glance, I count just shy of 100 teams in the F.B.S. that would trade in their starting running back for junior James White (713 yards), the Badgers’ backup. Unfair? Well, yeah. But don’t blame Wisconsin, which can pound away with Ball and then, when the Heisman favorite tires, bring in one of the nation’s best backups — best backups anywhere, not merely at running back — and continue blasting away for another three or four plays until Ball re-buckles his chin strap. Wisconsin also returns sophomore Jeffrey Lewis (187 yards) while bringing in a few touted true freshmen, which is good: O’Brien won’t give the Badgers much on the ground, which might hand Lewis or one of the youngsters a few touches behind Ball and White. There’s no better backfield in college football.

Wisconsin isn’t perfect on defense, or anywhere in the vicinity of perfect. The Badgers are good enough, however, and that’s all U.W. needs when this offense continues to break school record after school record when it comes to scoring points. Not to say that U.W. can’t do more: the Badgers could and even should do more, especially when it comes to stopping the run. This was an issue last fall, especially against more finesse teams like Ohio State and Oregon, not to mention in the second go-round with Michigan State – overall, the Badgers finished 60th nationally in run defense. It’s an issue to watch moving forward as this defense prepares for September; more specifically, it’s an issue to watch as the Badgers prepare for Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State.

The offense will change, even if only slightly; the offense will change because the personalities behind the offense have changed, and Canada, while an assistant to watch nationally, simply doesn’t have a strong knowledge of the players, schemes and the Big Ten. He will, but not yet. For this defense, returning Ash and Partridge as co-coordinators is enough in itself to help keep the Badgers in a good place – again, a good place, not a great place. Whether Wisconsin can take a step forward on defense depends on its ability to stop the run, as mentioned, but also on its ability to get a little more pressure on passing downs. Obviously, the defensive line is under the spotlight.

It’s a group that makes up for a lack of star power with adequate depth. Wisconsin will take that, even if I’d rather have it reversed – when you’re talking title contenders, teams like Wisconsin, I’d rather have one star coming off the edge than five or six ends capable of shuffling in and out of the rotation. For now, unless someone breaks through, the Badgers will roll out an end trio of senior Brendan Kelly (35 tackles, 3.0 sacks) and juniors David Gilbert (10 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Pat Muldoon. Kelly and Gilbert will start, with the latter coming off an injury-plagued 2011 season – Gilbert was playing very well before his injury in September – while Muldoon swings between both end spots as the top reserve. Two youngsters to watch: redshirt freshmen James Adeyanju and Jesse Hayes.

Junior Ethan Hemer (34 tackles), a returning starter, will be joined at tackle by junior Beau Allen (22 tackles, 4.0 sacks), who played well as the Badgers’ third tackle last fall. But it’ll be a new role for Allen in 2012; he’ll now need to give down-to-down effort instead of being a change-of-pace reserve – meaning that it’ll take a transition, though Allen remains one new starter to watch in the Big Ten. Depth inside comes from sophomores Warren Herring and Bryce Gilbert. So what’s the story up front? On paper, it’s not a group that catches your eye. But the starting duo along the interior are solid, if not anything close to spectacular. At end, the Badgers should get more in the pass rush if David Gilbert can remain healthy, let alone make a full recovery after last season’s foot injury.

To me, the line’s a concern. Not an utter concern, one that removes Wisconsin from the Rose Bowl conversation, but it’s a concern. Think of all the sublime edge rushers the Badgers have just over the last three or four years, from Schofield O’Brien to J.J. Watt; that’s missing here, barring a monster year out of Gilbert or an unforeseeable breakthrough from one of the two redshirt freshmen. The question marks up front even overshadow Wisconsin’s search for a new starting four in the secondary, where the Badgers lost a pair of first-team all-Big Ten selections.

The secondary isn’t an issue at all, in fact. Yes, the Badgers lost a pair of standouts in cornerback Antonio Fenelus and free safety Aaron Henry. But what helps, in this case, is the fact that U.W. has no questions whatsoever about its new lineup: Fenelus and Henry are out, Devin Smith and Dezmen Southward are in. Smith, a senior, started the first two games of last season before suffering a year-ending injury; his absence pushed senior Marcus Cromartie (47 tackles) into a starting role the rest of the way. As you might expect, the secondary will be better for this in 2012 – though the Badgers will miss Fenelus, who could be a stopper, and must keep Smith healthy for an entire season.

Southward (35 tackles) steps in for Henry, as he did for three games over the early stages of Big Ten play a year ago. Shelton Johnson (54 tackles, 4 interceptions) returns at strong safety, meaning that U.W. will start three seniors and a junior – and each defensive back has past starting experience. That’s a good thing. Is there any bad news? Well, there’s no experienced depth. The Badgers like sophomore Michael Trotter as the backup at safety, but the defense could use a fourth option. Another pair of sophomores, Peniel Jean (24 tackles) and Devin Gaulden will play behind Smith and Cromartie at cornerback. Overall, I think that the secondary is solid.

Wisconsin’s linebackers carry the water for this defense. Junior Chris Borland (143 tackles, 19.0 for loss) and senior Mike Taylor (150 tackles, 9.0 for loss) form one of the most productive linebacker pairings in the nation, in fact; healthy again after missing all of 2010, Borland was a menace in the middle – and Taylor, one of the team’s leaders, took his game to the next level after earning second-team all-Big Ten honors in 2010. This is the heart of this entire defense: Borland in the middle, Taylor on the weak side, and both give an otherwise pedestrian front seven the sort of all-American production and big-play ability this defense truly needs. While Kevin Claxton is gone off the strong side, U.W. should find no difficulty replacing his production with juniors Ethan Armstrong (29 tackles) – he made two starts a year ago – and Conor O’Neill.

This defense isn’t outstanding. It’s not even great, to be honest. Again, it’s just good enough. Good enough for what, you might ask? It’s good enough to allow at least one point fewer than Wisconsin’s offense scores at least 10 times during the course of this coming season. It’s good enough to help lead the Badgers to another Big Ten title and another Rose Bowl berth. But it’s not perfect; it’s not a defense that will carry the Badgers past a marquee opponent if the offense sputters, nor is it a defense, in my mind, that is capable of helping Wisconsin win a national championship. Again: it’s just good enough.

I’d love to see White and Doe take over in the return game, which would allow Abbrederis to focus more so on the offensive side of the ball – and which would lessen the chance that Abbrederis suffers an injury on special teams. The issue with that is the fact that Abbrederis is just so good in the return game, especially on punts, and U.W. really can’t afford to keep him on the sidelines. The kicking game is a bigger worry: Wisconsin will break in a new full-time kicker, a new punter and a new kickoff specialist. While sophomore Kyle French handled some field-goal duties last fall, the lack of experience is troubling. Look for Wisconsin’s kicking game to take a step back.

Position battle(s) to watch

Offensive line Elsewhere, the losses would be disastrous: one first-team all-American, a second first-team all-American and a third linemen who earned first-team all-Big Ten honors. But this isn’t elsewhere; this is Wisconsin, and the pipeline will roll on. Yes, the Badgers will be fine up front even without Bostad and Chryst running the show offensively. Not to get too off topic, but my bigger worry with Wisconsin’s offensive front is the future, the time beyond this coming season or two, as that’s when the new staff of offensive assistants will be developing starters from scratch. Can U.W. continue churning out all-American linemen with a different staff at the controls? As of today, it’s too early to lean in either direction — either to say that Wisconsin’s salad days are over or to say that the line will continue rolling along.

The line will remain one of the Big Ten’s best in 2012 — how could it not? — though it’s natural to expect Wisconsin to take a slight step back in the trenches. There’s the coaching change, for starters. More than that, however, it’s the personnel turnover: three lost starters, two returning starters, several young underclassmen either holding starting roles or serving as key reserves across the two-deep. The returning starters also earned postseason honors, though not of the all-American variety: senior left tackle Ricky Wagner was an honorable mention all-conference pick and junior center Travis Frederick a second-team all-Big Ten selection. They’ll carry the water up front, not only producing at a very high level but also lending leadership and experience to an otherwise inexperienced offensive front.

One of the three new starters, junior left guard Ryan Groy, has adequate past starting experience; Groy made four starts last fall, including three on the left side. With Groy flanked by Wagner and Frederick, it’s clear that Wisconsin’s strength lies on the weak side. The strong side, on the other hand, is in flux, especially at guard — sophomore Kyle Costigan, the projected starter, was moved over from the defensive side of the ball prior to last spring. Right tackle Rob Havenstein, a sophomore, made a single start at the position last fall. Is this lack of experience going to cripple Wisconsin’s offense? Oh, please. Groy and Havenstein were groomed for their starting roles last fall. Costigan is very raw, but Wisconsin loves his physicality. Look, the Badgers are not going to be as dominating inside as they were a year ago — but will still push teams around inside the box.

Game(s) to watch

Nothing too scary during non-conference play, though Oregon State will be improved — the Beavers never sniffed U.W. last fall — and Utah State remains a very tough out coming out of the WAC. As was the case last fall, the year kicks into high gear with the Big Ten opener; again, that’s against Nebraska. The differences between this year and last are twofold: one, this game is in Lincoln, not in Madison, and you should expect a different feel; and two, here’s guessing that the Cornhuskers are highly motivated to avenge last season’s horrific embarrassment. Whether that means anything remains to be seen — and I’ve seen Nebraska come out firing, hit a wall early and then roll over and quit over the final 45 minutes. Games against Nebraska and Michigan State, while meaningful nationally, have no bearing on Wisconsin’s push for a title game berth. With Ohio State facing a one-year postseason ban, the Badgers are the overwhelming favorites in the Leaders division.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell This team is not quite as good as last year’s version, though I could certainly name a few areas where the Badgers are improved: running back, based on accumulated experience and better overall depth; linebacker, for the same reasons; and wide receiver, especially if the redshirt freshmen compliment Abbrederis’ ability to serve as the focal point in Wisconsin’s passing attack. And overall, despite some moving pieces – and some areas of concern – the Badgers should win another 10 games and earn a berth in the Big Ten title game, where I think they’ll face Michigan State. This will be a successful season: Wisconsin will again end the year with a high national ranking, again in the conference title game, again with a potential Rose Bowl on the line. If you looked a little closer, you’d see a program that is making a distinct case for being one of the most consistent in college football.

So why is Wisconsin no more than a Rose Bowl contender? Because the team has some holes: quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and the secondary. Again, these aren’t major holes; teams that will factor into the B.C.S. mix don’t have major holes. But you see the question marks, beginning with O’Brien at quarterback. He won’t be Wilson, who was outstanding. But can O’Brien be an all-conference quarterback? U.W. needs that sort of balance to take this offense to another level. The secondary is fine, though perhaps in trouble if one or more starters miss any extended time due to injury. The defensive line is a concern, especially given Wisconsin’s up-and-down run defense and inability to get consistent pressure with its front four. The offensive line… well, it’s still going to be terrific, just not quite as dominant as last year’s starting five.

So Wisconsin isn’t a perfect team, merely a very good team. And what the Badgers do well – run the football, for example – they do better than nearly everyone else. Come the end of the regular season, I think that U.W. will be 10-2, 6-2 in Big Ten play, and atop the Leaders division. It’ll be the status quo, in a sense, despite the changing cast on the roster and along the sidelines. Once Wisconsin clinches a spot in the Big Ten title game, all it needs is one more win to ensure another trip to Pasadena. Would the third time be the charm?

Dream season The Badgers just pummel each and every comer, from Northern Iowa through Penn State. After beating Michigan State in the conference championship game, Wisconsin earns a berth in the B.C.S. title game.

Nightmare season For this team, head coach and program, a disappointing season would be eight wins. So let’s drop it down one more, calling a nightmare season a seven-win finish.

In case you were wondering

Where do Wisconsin fans congregate? Wisconsin fans gather at Badger Nation and Badger Blitz to follow recruiting and gang up on the odd Iowa and Minnesota fan courageous enough to venture on the message boards and talk trash. Another option is Buckyville.com, Wisconsin’s lone independent fan site, to the best of my knowledge. For a blog’s view, check out Badger Beat. As always, let me know if I missed anyone.

Wisconsin’s all-name nominee QB Clay Rust.

Word Count

Through 114 teams 469,270.

Up Next

Who is No. 10? Take tomorrow’s program’s director of high school relations and flip his last name — if his last name was Jones, make it “Senoj.” What you’ll get is a Twitter account that had 1,611 followers as of Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.

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Comments

  1. selil says:

    South Carolina is next.

  2. Aaron says:

    South Carolina is next.

    The director of high school relations is Robbie Liles. The twitter handle @selil has 1,611 followers.

  3. Andrew says:

    A lot of people are predicting Oregon Wisconsin re-match in the Rosebowl.

  4. glenn says:

    @selil is the handle for sam liles at purdue.  sam liles does have 1611 followers, though.

  5. I-39 (The Fertile Highway) says:

    Lots of NIU Huskie/Wisconsin Badger cross-fertilization going on between Dekalb and Madison. Interesting.

  6. Mr Football says:

    RGIII is clearly the best QB in the 2012 draft class. He is the best passer. Best pocket comfort, best arm, most accurate…..on and on..

  7. Hokieshibe says:

    Kirk Cousins over RGIII? I really liked the Cousins pick and all, but really?

    Paul: As a Redskins fan, I just know deep in my soul that Griffin won’t pan out. It’s just the way things go.

  8. 11 says:

    Last Year’s Ranking: 11

    Last Year’s Re-ranking: 11

    This Year’s Ranking: 11

    This Year’s Re-ranking: ??

    Paul, do you think Wisconsin has “topped” out?

  9. Roneth says:

    Wilson>Cousins>RGIII – just wait ’till Friday!

  10. Jordan says:

    This was a very well thought out analysis. I wish all college football analysis could be half as good.

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