Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big Ten Football Previews – Part VII

Editor's Note: This is the seventh in a series of my annual summer Big Ten football previews. Check back often to see who’s next...

Team: Wisconsin Badgers

Tidbits … Coach Bret Bielema's 21-5 two season record is tied for the second best start in conference history (Jim Tressel went 21-5 as well). The Badgers are the first team ever to draw Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State - in succession - to start league play.

Past Predictions/Results:
2007 Prediction / actual: 11-1, 7-1 (T-1st), Rose / 9-4, 5-3 (4th), Outback
2006 Prediction / actual: 8-4, 4-4 (T-6th), Alamo / 12-1, 7-1 (T-2nd), Capital One
2005 Prediction / actual: 8-4, 4-4 (T-5th), Alamo / 10-3, 5-3 (T-3rd), Capital One
2004 Prediction / actual: 7-4, 4-4 (T-5th), Alamo / 9-3, 6-2 (3rd), Outback
2003 Prediction / actual: 10-2, 6-2 (T-2nd) / 7-6, 4-4 (T-7th)
2002 Prediction / actual: 8-5, 4-4 (T-6th) / 8-6, 2-6 (T-8th)
2001 Prediction / actual: 8-4, 5-3 (4th) / 5-7, 3-5 (T-8th)

*Note, bowl shown only from 2004 on as I did not predict the bowl berths prior to that season.

Returning Starters: 8 offense, 9 defense

Key Returnees: RB P.J. Hill, TE Travis Beckum, OL Kraig Urbik, DE Matt Shaughnessy, LB Jonathan Casillas, CB Aaron Henry

Key Losses: QB Tyler Donovan, WR Luke Swan, WR Paul Hubbard, DT Nick Hayden, CB Jack Ikegwuonu, P Kenny DeBauche, PK Tyler Mehlhaff

Looking Back ... Wisconsin got off to a tremendous start in 2007, winning five straight before back to back road setbacks. For that matter, after the two slip-ups, the Badgers won four of five before a disappointing loss in the Outback Bowl. Despite the nine wins, it was seen as a disappointing season in Madison. A far cry from any era pre Barry Alvarez for certain. Wisconsin had its share of ups and downs but continues to be a mainstay among the top of the league. Post season interviews with all returning players turned up a common theme - disappointment in the way the season went when expectations were running high. A far cry from the days when Camp Randall was perhaps the easiest place to play in the conference...

Outlook - Offense ... Is there a team around the country returning as many offensive starters (8) that is as uncertain about what to expect as Wisconsin? Tyler Donovan may not have been spectacular, but he certainly was serviceable - a heady leader that provided the team with a spark when called upon. Now that he's gone, questions abound. Transfer Allan Evridge was thought to be a guy who might win the job last season, but that never happened. Between he and Dustin Sherer, someone needs to take the bull by the horns. The backfield is as loaded as any in the nation, led by P.J. Hill. Hill needs to get better at avoiding the big hits, though, in order to stay healthy and on the field. The Badger front five is always good, so no worries there. Tight end Travis Beckum is a phenom and will have to carry the load for a young, albeit talented receiving corps. It all rests on the QB. If Evridge or Sherer can take the reigns and provide steady play, the sky is the limit. The problem? Right now that appears to be a big IF.

Outlook - Defense ... Wisconsin returns a load of defenders but this group gave up a load of points at times last season. A load of those players also spent the spring on the shelf. With injury questions still looming large, there are some concerns here. The good news is, those that return are experienced and can make big plays. Three seniors return up front, a pair of seniors and a junior make up the linebacker level and the secondary should be good albeit a little less experienced. Matt Shaughnessy, Jonathan Casillas and Shane Carter lead this defense with the ability to make big plays from defensive end, linebacker and free safety respectively. If this defense can patch up the injuries and avoid a stretch like last season, the sky is also the limit. In fact, if it all comes together, last year's prediction will be more likely than this year's...

Outlook - Special Teams ... It seemed like DeBauche and Mehlhaff were in the cardinal and white of Wisconsin forever. Not so this year and the departure of the pair leaves a noticeable gap in the special teams area. The return game should be strong, with plenty of quick athletes available to make plays, but the development of consistent, reliable kickers could spell the difference between games won or lost...

8/30 - AKRON
9/13 - at Fresno State
9/27 - at Michigan
10/11 - PENN STATE
10/18 - at Iowa
10/25 - ILLINOIS
11/1 - at Michigan State
11/8 - at Indiana
11/22 - CAL-POLY

Key Games:
9/13 - at Fresno State, 9/27 - at Michigan, 10/4 - Ohio State, 10/11 - Penn State, 11/15 - Minnesota

Prediction ... No secret here - the Badgers have potential - A LOT of potential, but I have plenty of questions and concerns as well. The gauntlet run of Michigan, OSU and PSU is huge, though Michigan is down and the latter two are at home. The back end of the schedule - after a tricky trip to East Lansing - is cupcake city. If the pieces and parts all come together and don't fall apart due to the injury bug, I'll eat my words. But for now, I'm going with the prediction I seem to make most every year with this team...

OOC: 3-1 (Road loss to Fresno State, the other three? Who called Minny for scheduling help?)
B10: 5-3 (wins over Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota)
Overall: 8-4, T-2nd in the conference, Alamo Bowl


BruceS said...

8-4 sounds a little low for me. That said, I'm not sure how I would predict it any differently. Somehow the Badgers will go 10-2. I think they will go 4-0 OCC and will get at least 2 out of 3 to start the conference. There seems to be too much talent on this team to expect much less.

AndrewJ1313 said...

My thoughts exactly, Bruce. I can see them going 4-0 to start the season, but Wiscy has been known to lose games they shouldn't have in the past (UNLV). I really think the toughest game for Wisconsin this season after OSU will be MSU and I think they will lose both. The Illinois game is a toss up but they do get the Illini at home so that might go in their favor.