The Wisconsin Badgers are the class of the Big Ten. Bret Bielema's squad has won the last two conference championships and is poised for a three-peat.
Montee Ball returns to lead the Badgers vaunted rushing attack, while Danny O'Brien and Jared Abbrederis attack through the air. On defense, Mike Taylor and Chris Borland head a fearsome front seven.
Here is the complete season preview for the Wisconsin Badgers.
The Wisconsin Badgers offseason was dominated by the quarterback position. Star quarterback Russell Wilson graduated and moved on to the NFL. After posting one of the greatest seasons in Wisconsin history, Russell's replacement was a hot topic in Madison.
Enter transfer Danny O'Brien. The former starting quarterback at Maryland comes to Madison as the new starting quarterback. While he isn't as talented as Russell Wilson, O'Brien is more than capable of ensuring the Badgers offense continues to dominate.
Off the field, Wisconsin's season almost went up in flames after Montee Ball was attacked by multiple assailants. While Ball was not seriously injured, the attack served as a serious scare for Badgers fans—personally and professionally. A healthy Montee Ball is a key for the season.
The Badgers offense is going to be very, very good in 2012. Not only does Wisconsin return Heisman finalist Montee Ball, but they're stacked across the board.
The Badgers boast All-Big Ten performers at every position with Jared Abbrederis, Jacob Pedersen, Ricky Wagner and Travis Frederick guaranteed first-teamers.
The rushing attack will be the Badgers bread and butter, but don't sleep on the Wisconsin passing attack. Danny O'Brien, Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen are more than capable of taking over games.
To no one’s surprise, the Badgers will also have one of the best offensive lines in the country. Ricky Wagner and Travis Frederick are absolute studs, and Ryan Groy, Kyle Costigan, and Rob Havenstein are also very talented.
The Badgers defense isn't as star-studded as the offense, but it is more than capable of holding its own. Chris Borland and Mike Taylor lead one of the best linebacker corps in the Big Ten, and both the secondary and defensive line are very solid.
The defensive unit won't be as flashy as some of the others across the country nor as famous, but the unit will be dependable. The Badgers will not lose any games because of their defense.
The kicking game is the Badgers one weakness entering 2012. The Badgers are breaking in new players at both kicker and punter. Wisconsin is relying on some serious youth in freshman Jack Russell or Kyle French, and sophomore Drew Moyer. Each is poised to be a key component for the Badgers in 2012.
While the kicking game is in flux, the Badgers are more than set in the return game. Jared Abbrederis is one of the best return men in the nation, and he is poised to dominate again in 2012. He will be the rock of the Badgers special teams.
The Badgers coaching staff is in flux after the departure of Paul Chryst to the University of Pittsburgh. Wisconsin also lost five other assistants, three of whom joined Chryst at Pitt.
Nothing has changed, however. The Badgers will still be a power run team that dominates the ball.
Honestly, the only thing that matters is that Bret Bielema is still in Madison. He's the best coach in the Big Ten, and the Badgers will be in great shape as long as Bielema is still coaching at Wisconsin.
The Badgers schedule for 2012 is one of the easiest in the Big Ten.
The non-conference schedule is a joke with a only a game at Oregon State that isn't certain to end in a blow out.
Home games against Northern Iowa, Utah State, UTEP and Minnesota are guaranteed wins, as are the road games against Indiana and Oregon State. Illinois, Purdue and Penn State could provide a scare, but they aren't capable of beating the Badgers.
Additionally, the Badgers don't play Michigan, and both Michigan State and Ohio State have to travel to Madison. The Badgers only difficult road game is a trip to Lincoln to face Nebraska.
Wisconsin owns Indiana in football—absolutely owns them.
The 2012 version of the Badgers is more than capable of ringing up another astronomical score. Look for Montee Ball and James White to have a field day against the Hoosier defense.
The Badgers are going to win this game. No doubt about it.
Michigan State is going to have a very strong defense in 2012, potentially one of the best in the nation. The defense is so talented, it will be able to win games by itself. However, the Spartans are breaking in a new quarterback and receiving corps. That's not a good position to be in when traveling to Madison.
If the Spartans have their offense figured out by the time they travel to Madison, Michigan State could certainly pull the upset. The defense is talented enough to shut down the Badgers offense.
The Nebraska game in Lincoln is one the Badgers absolutely could lose. Rex Burkhead is a stud, and Taylor Martinez is a tremendous runner and has supposedly improved his throwing motion.
The Badgers defense is susceptible to spread quarterbacks, and—as long as Martinez doesn't turn the ball over—he is more than capable of causing fits for the Badgers defense.
Nebraska is looking for revenge after the Badgers embarrassed them last year, and they'll be extra motivated to return the favor this year. If the Badgers don't take this game seriously, Nebraska could score the upset.
Montee Ball, short and simple.
He's the key to the Badgers offense and the best player on the team. The entire Badgers offense flows through Ball, and he will put up numbers.
Ball probably won't equal his incredible stats from 2011, but he will earn another trip back to New York City.
While Chris Borland and Mike Taylor are much more accomplished and recognizable players, David Gilbert is going to be the key to the success of the Badgers defense. Gilbert started the 2011 season on a tear, posting three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in four games before being lost for the season.
The Badgers defense sorely missed a consistent pass rush in 2011, and Wisconsin will be in good shape if Gilbert can pick up where he left off. A healthy David Gilbert completely transforms the Badgers defense.
The Badgers newcomer of the year will be whichever player wins the starting kicking job.
Jack Russell—a freshman walk-on—and Kyle French—a redshirt sophomore—are currently battling for the spot. Whoever wins the competition will be essential to the Badgers success in 2012.
Games against Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State and the Big Ten Championship game will all likely be close affairs and could certainly come down to a field goal. Whoever wins the job has to be consistent throughout the year.
The Badgers have plenty of NFL talent on the roster. Montee Ball, Jacob Pedersen and Jared Abbrederis all could be taken in the first couple rounds of the NFL Draft.
However, the Badgers best NFL prospect is offensive lineman Ricky Wagner. Wagner is one of the best offensive linemen in the nation and is on the preseason watch list for both the Outland Trophy as well as the Vince Lombardi/Rotary award. Barring injury, Wagner will continue Wisconsin's great offensive line tradition and will be a first round draft pick in the NFL draft.
The Wisconsin Badgers are full of quality Twitter follows, and here are the five best.
@BretBielema is a Twitter machine—the guy is constantly tweeting. Follow Bret for news and updates surrounding the program.
@M_Ball28 is the Badgers star running back. He's a must-follow just for the insight into a dominant player's life.
Mike Taylor, Jacob Pedersen and Beau Allen
@MTaylor053, @j_ped48 and @Beau_Allen are the comedy elements of the team. Follow them for all of the jokes and pranks surrounding the players.
According to Vegas, the Badgers enter the season at 2/1 odds to win the 2012 Big Ten Conference Championship. Additionally, the Badgers are heavily favored to win the Leaders division with the odds being set at 1/5.
Both of these lines are fair. Vegas has also tabbed the over/under for total wins at nine. Nine wins is a likely possibility for the Badgers, so I'd definitely take the over.
As for the Badgers' national championship aspirations, Vegas has Wisconsin at 40/1 odds to capture this season's BCS National Championship. Montee Ball also makes an appearance, coming in at 6/1 odds to win this year’s Heisman.
The Badgers are going to win the Big Ten for the third straight time. The real question is whether they can go undefeated. IF they can—and no one else goes undefeated—then they will play for the BCS National Championship.
However, the Badgers most likely landing spot is a third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin will likely lose one game during the regular season, eliminating it from BCS National Championship contention.
Expect the Badgers to win the Rose Bowl this year.
The Badgers are going to go 13-1 in 2012.
They will lose a heartbreaker at Nebraska, but will rally around the loss to steam roll the rest of the Big Ten. Danny O'Brien plays as well as advertised, and Montee Ball runs away with the Heisman.
Wisconsin's one loss keeps them out of the BCS National Championship, but they return to Pasadena for another Rose Bowl. The Badgers face Oregon in a rematch of last year’s game, and Wisconsin returns the favor winning 38-30.