Monday, August 25, 2008

Big Ten Preview: Wisconsin

College football season is approaching and for the next couple of weeks I'll be giving you some quick previews of the Big Ten. All ten....ummm eleven teams will be featured. Today it's Wisconsin.

If I were a defensive coordinator in the Big Ten this season, my plan to stop Wisconsin would include selling out to stop the run. You hear the phrase "eight in the box" a lot when it comes to this approach. Eight will almost certainly not be enough against UW's running game.

The Badgers lost one of the best criminals in football in Lance Smith (he was also a good RB) to...ummm...crime, but return star P.J. Hill and backup Zach Brown. Look out for redshirt freshman John Clay as well. Two great running backs returning is good; couple it with the return of five starters on the offensive line and it has the potential to be one of the nation's best running games.

Despite the return of Travis Beckum, an all-american candidate at tight end, and some good young talent at wide receiver, the passing game is suspect. It looks like senior Allan Evridge has won the starting QB job. Evridge started at Kansas State his fresman year, but other than that brief stint, has little experience. The Badgers do seem to have a knack for turning an unknown starter into a dependable game-manager type lately though, and it will need to happen this year, or defenses will be content to stop the run at all costs.

Defensively, things look pretty good for Wisconsin. Despite losing CB Jack Ikegwuonu, the Badgers have some experience and talent returning. Safety Shane Carter picked off seven passes last season, senior Allen Langford will step in for Ikegwuono, and the front seven is strong. Langford and Carter are solid, but the rest of the defensive backs are generally inexperienced. Wisconsin also had trouble forcing turnovers last season, with only 19 in 13 games.

The non-conference schedule looks very soft with Akron, Marshall, and Fresno State at the start, and the ever dangerous Cal Poly to end the season. There is a killer run in the Big Ten season, though: at Michigan, then home games against Ohio State, Penn State, and Illinois, with a trip to Iowa in the middle. The toughest games are at home, but the toughest games are also, you know, tough.

Bielema is 21-5 in two years with Wisconsin, and he looks to have another strong squad capable of winning the Big Ten. Anything outside of the top three should be a huge disappointment for the Badgers.

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