Countdown to Kickoff 2009: The Preseason Top 50—No. 44 Wisconsin Badgers
Spring practice has wrapped up across the country and we are a little over four months away from kickoff. To make the time go a little faster, I will count down my top 50 teams one team at a time.
No. 45 Arizona Wildcats
No. 44 WISCONSIN BADGERS
Wisconsin was considered a sleeper to win the Big Ten title in 2008. Instead, the Badgers went to sleep and finished a disappointing 7-6.
Fans are used to winning, especially at Camp Randall. There is a lot of work to do to get back to those winning ways.
The Badgers must upgrade their offense and rebuild the front seven on defense. They need three new starters on the defensive line and two new starters at linebacker.
The biggest position battle heading out of the spring is at quarterback. The Badgers are heading into the summer for the third consecutive year with uncertainty at the position.
Dustin Sherer entered the offseason as the frontrunner to retain the job that he held for the final seven games of the 2008 season, but redshirt freshman Curt Phillips showed more than a few signs during the spring that he's going to make Sherer earn the opening-day start against Northern Illinois.
Phillips, deemed a true dual-threat quarterback, put up big numbers while running the first-string offense during Wisconsin's official spring game on April 18. In six drives, Phillips threw for 122 yards and two scores and rushed for 36 yards and another score as the offense motored for four touchdowns.
"I saw a guy, Curt Phillips, go out there and do some things," Bielema told the Wisconsin State Journal after the spring game. "I know he can do some things with his feet, but to see what he did today in the passing game made a big statement to me."
Last season, the Badger quarterbacks threw as many interceptions (11) as they did touchdown passes. That ratio must improve.
"We cannot beat ourselves before the snap or by unforced errors," Bielema told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. So when Sherer threw a pick-6 in the spring game, the coach was understandably disappointed.
"That throw came out late...you cannot have those type of situations, especially out of a fifth-year player."
KEEP AN EYE ON
Zach Brown: Stuck as a third-stringer behind P.J. Hill and John Clay last fall, Brown made a bold move this spring in an effort to claim some of the departed Hill's carries. Brown capped a strong spring with 14 carries for 110 yards in the spring game.
Bill Nagy: The Badgers lost three veteran linemen who seemed to be in Madison for a decade. Nagy, who received some experience last year when injuries hit at midseason, staked his claim to one of the open jobs with a solid spring.
J.J. Watt: He was named the scout team defensive player of the year while sitting out 2008 after his transfer from Central Michigan. Watt needs to be a star on the line if the defense hopes to shine.
"[Bret] Bielema is the worst recruiter in the Big Ten," one message board poster said.
Another replied, "He's terible [sic]. Is it too late to get [Barry] Alvarez back?"
The general sentiment in Badger forums all over the internet is that the recruiting under Bielema has regressed.
For Bielema, recruiting has just become even more of a difficulty. Three Wisconsin assistant football coaches have been admonished for violating NCAA rules by mistakenly visiting prospects during an off-limits recruiting period.
Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, recruiting coordinator Randall McCray, and wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander made the January 4 trips during a "quiet period" in which no recruiting visits can be made.
An athletic department official discovered the trips in February and the university reported them to the NCAA on March 27 as an inadvertent rules violation.
NEXT UP: The Big East makes its first appearance at No. 43. Will 2009 finally be the year this fast rising program brings home the Big East Championship?
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