It's not often that you see a Rose Bowl team finish the season 8-6, but that's exactly what happened with Wisconsin football in 2012.
Thanks to some bizarre circumstances, the Badgers backed into the B1G Championship Game with a .500 conference record and torched Nebraska for 70 points, winning the conference title and earning a trip to Pasadena.
While Wisconsin lost its third consecutive Rose Bowl, it held its own and fared far better than anyone could have expected. That's become a staple of this Badger football team—when people count them out, they are more than willing to prove them wrong.
That appears to be exactly what's happening in 2013. Everyone is handing the conference title to Ohio State, and with the losses of Montee Ball and Bret Bielema, Wisconsin isn't expected to do any better than it did last season.
But we're here to tell you that won't be the case—here are three reasons why the Badgers are bound to overachieve next season.
The Badgers return eight starters on offense and six on defense, which is less than expected considering the early departure of center Travis Frederick and the career-ending foot injury to David Gilbert.
Even still, the front seven will feature plenty of experience (seven seniors in rotation) and explosive players such as James White, Melvin Gordon and Jared Abbrederis return on offense. Several question marks still remain—the young secondary, the offensive line and the No. 2 receiver to name a few—but there's one position that has far more stability than last season: quarterback.
New head coach Gary Andersen may have yet to settle on a starter, but both Joel Stave and Curt Phillips have starting experience, and Stave especially looked solid in 2012 and during the spring game. That's not even including dual-threat quarterback junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy, and even though the front five lost two starters, Wisconsin perennially marches out a monster of an offensive line.
There's more young talent on this team than people realize, including in the secondary, that should help make up for a lack of experience in the defensive backfield and surprise some outsiders. If the Badgers can find the right mix of talent and experience, they could challenge for a fourth consecutive conference title.
Following the 2013 season, Wisconsin is aided by division realignment as well as the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the schedule, but first it has to endure one more season in the Leaders Division.
Playing in said division requires the Badgers to play both Ohio State and Penn State, and while a late-September showdown in Columbus should easily prove to be the biggest roadblock to a Big Ten title, Wisconsin gets to host the Nittany Lions to close out the conference season.
Aside from that, the Badgers play Massachusetts, Tennessee Tech, Purdue and Indiana at home for what would appear to be four cruise-control victories. Other near-certain wins should come away from Camp Randall, against Minnesota and Illinois.
The Badgers benefit from playing tough teams like BYU, Northwestern and the aforementioned Penn State at home, and road games against a downtrodden Iowa program and a run-of-the-mill Arizona State team aren’t automatic, but they are very winnable as well.
It's that daunting trip to Ohio State that could make or break Wisconsin's season, but the fact that no other game even comes close to rivaling the difficulty of that matchup is good news for Bucky.
"For years, teams have been able to prepare for three things—the Badgers running left, the Badgers running right and the Badgers running up the middle. Whether or not they were able to stop Wisconsin's rushing attack is a different story.
That's about to change if Gary Andersen has anything to say about it, and he does, by the way, because he's the head coach. Andersen wants to move the quarterback around and implement some read-option. This may take a few years to fully develop considering the current personnel, but there will be more for opposing defenses to account for in 2013.
On defense, Wisconsin has never been very aggressive, rarely blitzing and typically keeping everything in front of them in the secondary. Not to say that hasn't been effective, but it doesn't put much pressure on the offense to force the issue, either.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda wants to change all of that. We can expect to see more blitzing, more press coverage and more risk-taking in the defensive backfield and near the line of scrimmage, and if executed properly, this could make opposing offenses more uncomfortable when they face Wisconsin.