I began by taking a broad overview of the Wisconsin program; what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Badgers will do this season.
Last week, I scanned over the 2012 Wisconsin offense and how it projects.
Two days later, I looked at the 2012 Wisconsin defense and how it is shaping up.
This week, I'll look at the Badgers' specialists, recruiting class and schedule and I'll give a final breakdown and my prediction for Wisconsin in 2012.
The Big Ten doesn't give out conference honors for return men, but if it did, Jared Abbrederis would have won it for punt returner in 2011.
The junior was easily the best in the conference—15.75 YPC on 20 returns—and led the Badgers to the second-best team average in the conference.
He was also solid on kickoffs, averaging a conference sixth-best 24.61 YPR.
UW graduated both its starting punter and kicker, but Kyle French got valuable experience in the beginning of the season before injured starter Phillip Welch returned.
In effect, French was the favorite to win the job, but freshman walk-on Jack Russell was listed as No. 1 on the season's first depth chart. French is slotted to handle kickoffs.
Finally, punter is a worry, as there is nobody on the roster. Sophomore Drew Meyer was most recently at the top of the depth chart, with true freshman walk-on Matt Salerno behind him.
2012 Recruiting Class
Rivals ranked the Badgers 2012 class No. 8 in the Big Ten while Scout ranked it No. 10. The low ranking was mostly due to the low number of recruits in the class, which was a meager 12, thereby tying it with Colorado State for the smallest class in the country.
As the Badgers have such a young team—currently, only seven seniors are listed as starters—most true freshmen will probably redshirt.
However, two new faces on campus have already made their way onto the depth chart.
Offensive linemen Dan Voltz out of Barrington, Ill., is listed as the second-team right guard. He chose Wisconsin over pretty much everybody—Alabama, Auburn, Michigan, Iowa, Notre Dame and Nebraska to name a few. He is currently listed as 301 pounds, and will take over at center or guard after a bit of maturation.
On the other side of the line, Arthur Goldberg out of beautiful Pittsburgh, Pa., has cracked the depth chart as a third-string defensive tackle. As defensive line depth is an issue, Goldberg could see immediate time as a 3-technique defensive tackle or even a strong-side defensive end.
A pound sign (#) indicates a must-win for Wisconsin.
An exclamation point (!) indicates a probable loss.
A dollar sign ($) indicates a swing game.
09/01: Northern Iowa Panthers #
09/08: At Oregon State Beavers $
09/15: Utah State Aggies #
09/22: UTEP Miners #
09/29: At Nebraska Cornhuskers $
10/06: Illinois Fighting Illini #
10/13: At Purdue Boilermakers #
10/20: Minnesota Golden Gophers #
10/27: Michigan State Spartans $
11/10: At Indiana Hoosiers #
11/17: Ohio State Buckeyes $
11/24: At Penn State Nittany Lions #
Best-Case Scenario: 12-0
In order for this to happen, Wisconsin needs:
- The offensive line to come together and play as well as the 2010 and 2011 big uglies did. That is a lot to ask from a group that is, relative to those groups, green.
- Due to the offensive line, Danny O'Brien will get some space and time to get his feet wet. There is no situation where O'Brien will be as good as Wilson or as efficient as Tolzien (this year). But if he can be solid and trustworthy, it could be enough to let the rushing game take care of business.
- The defense to play at a consistent level it hasn't played at under Bret Bielema, most notably in marquee games, and especially in marquee games away from Camp Randall.
Worst-Case Scenario: 8-4
In order for this to happen, Wisconsin needs:
- The offensive line to take a palpable step back from the play of the past few years. There is no situation where the UW line won't be good, but even a good line is a number of steps back from where the Badgers were in 2011 or 2010. This could be complicated or triggered by an injury to Frederick or Wagner.
- O'Brien to have issues, particularly in getting the ball off and turning the ball over.
- A weak pass rush and a defense that continues to fall flat when it is away from home and when the spotlight is on.
The Season Will Be a Success If...
UW wins 10 games.
The Leaders Division championship is all but a given. If the Badgers don't win their division then the season will be an abject failure.
However, given the soft schedule, a division championship to go with the Badgers' fourth double-digit win season in a row—and the best four-year run in Wisconsin's history—would have to be considered a success in a year when UW returns the second-fewest starters in the conference.
The Badgers are on the precipice of greatness. They are not yet an elite program, but three Big Ten championships in a row would certainly be a nice addition to their resume.
And given the exclusion of OSU from the championship picture, along with the Penn State debacle, there aren't any programs within their own division that can stop them.
Nevertheless, it takes decades of consistent winning to reach "elite" status. Also, a national championship or two helps.
UW had an opportune shot at those national championships in 2010 and 2011. During those seasons, the Badgers were playing at a level as impressive as anybody in the nation. I'm not saying they would have beaten 'Bama last or Auburn in 2010, but they were definitively a Top 10 team that would have given either champion a run for their money.
This season, the Badgers don't look as powerful as 2010 or 2011. However, the schedule is such where there are only three games in which UW might not be favored and two of those are at home.
Despite this, I am going to call for the Badgers to go 10-2. This will include a home loss to Ohio State—in this scenario, the first home loss in 22 games—as well as a huge early season upset loss to Oregon State.
10-2 overall and 7-1 in conference will easily be good enough to put them in the Top 15 and in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Check out past installments of 2012 Big Ten Breakdown, beginning with the most recent, the Ohio State Buckeyes.