Wisconsin started off the 2012 season ranked in the top 15 in the national preseason polls. The Badgers had the goal of repeating as Big Ten champions and making it back to their third straight Rose Bowl. However, they’ve yet to look anything like the team that powered its way through the conference and won 11 games last year.
Yes, Bret Bielema’s squad is 3-1 going into tonight’s game at No. 20 Nebraska. But the Badgers have not had the look of a true conference contender so far this season.
Wisconsin’s offense has looked lost without QB Russell Wilson and coordinator Paul Chryst, who both left Madison this offseason. The unit, which ranked sixth in the nation in scoring and 14th in the nation in total offense in 2011, is currently averaging just 21 points and 312 yards per game after four weeks.
Star running back Montee Ball, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting last year and was expected to compete for the award again in 2012, has seemed like a shell of his former self, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and scoring just three touchdowns.
There’s no doubt that Bielema has plenty of problems to correct if this team wants to turn it around and make it back to a BCS bowl game. However, hope is certainly not lost.
Luckily for Wisconsin, the Badgers play in the Big Ten Leaders Division, which includes two teams—Penn State and Ohio State—that are not eligible for postseason play this year.
Wisconsin doesn’t necessarily have an easy road back to Indianapolis, but the Badgers only have to get through Illinois, Indiana and Purdue in order to make it back to the conference championship game.
The team will begin that journey when it opens up conference play on the road against the Cornhuskers tonight.
The Badgers have had their fair share of notable struggles on the road during Bielemana’s tenure, and tonight’s game will certainly be a tough challenge. However, if new QB Joel Stave can lead Wisconsin to a big statement win in Lincoln, it would really help give the team a big boost in momentum for the stretch run of the season.
Some fans and voters may have written off Wisconsin after their upset loss to Oregon State in Week 2. But we’re starting to find out that the Beavers are a better team than many originally thought.
There’s no disputing that the Badgers looked downright terrible against both Oregon State and Utah State. However, this is still a team that has the pieces to contend for a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth.
If Stave comes in and proves to be a stabilizing force, and if Ball steps his game up and starts playing like the impact rusher we saw in 2011, the offense should improve dramatically in the coming weeks.
The defense definitely isn’t on par with some of the top units in the country, but it’s got enough playmakers—most notably linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland—to get the job done.
We’ll certainly learn a lot about this team tonight in a spotlight game against Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers remember what Wisconsin did to them last year up at Camp Randall Stadium when they got embarrassed 48-17, so they’re going to come out and play with something to prove.
If Wisconsin can take Nebraska’s best shot, still keep fighting and ultimately survive a tough battle and emerge victorious, it will really say a lot about this team.
A win would show that this is a group that is once again ready to compete for another conference title and a spot in a BCS bowl game.
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