Scott Tolzien, the unheralded offensive general for the Wisconsin Badgers, must get his team off to a quick start, with his own performance in the passing game.
The Badgers excelled in the running game last season with a three headed monster of John Clay, Montee Ball, and Zach Brown, totaling 2187 yards, and 25 touchdowns between them.
As great as the #15 rushing attack in 2009 may have been, the play of first year starter Scott Tolzien was greatly overlooked.
His ever-efficient year of 2705 yards, a 64.3 % completion percentage, and his 16 to 11 touchdown/interception ratio was very useful in Wisconsin's offensive attack, where they failed to top 30 points in just three contests.
Tolzien's efficient passing will be a big part of Wisconsin's offensive success this season, even if the team is a running team behind John Clay and Montee Ball.
Here are five games Tolzien must play well in to get the Badgers off to the right start they need in 2010.
With Scott Tolzien at quarterback, the Badgers know two things for sure:
- He will be judicious with the ball, and make sure to cut back on any mistakes.
- He is a safe passing option they can turn to when the running game is getting eaten up by stacked boxes.
For a team like the Badgers, who will rely heavily on the running game, a stable quarterback who can not only manage, but win you a game or two, is a big plus.
Early in their 2010 season, Tolzien must establish himself again in the passing game, to keep the running game open for John Clay.
Against UNLV, and any other opponent this season, the focus of defenses will be on John Clay. That is why the Badgers need Tolzien to step up and win them a game or two.
The UNLV Rebels 2009 season saw defensive breakdowns as a consistent theme, as they averaged 30-plus points allowed during their 5-7 season.
Any college football follower could tell you that as a team gets matures, the team's experience is more than beneficial. If the Badgers consistently put up 30 a game last season, there's no real reason to doubt that would be the case this season, especially against a weaker defensive team like UNLV.
Playing in the friendly confines of Camp Randall doesn't bother the Badgers or Scott Tolzien one bit.
The thought of a trap game does.
The Arizona State game has "trap game" written all over it.
What exactly is a "trap game"?
As a team is playing its non conference season, it is generally expected to beat the teams it has scheduled before the difficult portion of the year comes (Big Ten play).
Now, Arizona State is a trap game team because the Badgers will likely be favored by 15-plus, and may be looking ahead to their "important games a few weeks after.
Trap games happen, and most recently (and most notably) FCS Subdivision School Appalachian State, led by then-qb Armanti Edwards, beat Michigan in Ann Arbor, 34-32, derailing the then No. 5 Wolverines' season on Sept. 1, 2007.
For the Badgers, a loss to a team like Arizona, who boasts a stingy defense returning from 2009 (the Sun Devils allowed just 21.1 PPG, 26th in the nation) would do significant damage to any serious hopes of a Big Ten title or more.
Scott Tolzien must make a statement in this game, through his leadership and rallying ability.
For the Badgers, success through the air will set up their highly-touted running game.
If Tolzien, along with receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath and tight end Lance Kendricks can get off to a hot start in the early going, the Badgers should coast by a couple of scores.
Trivia of the day: How many batteries does it take to beat Michigan?
This year, the Badgers will host the preseason No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes in Madison.
That's a huge coup for this team, as they've struggled over the years at 'the shoe'.
The Badgers should be entering this game somewhere near the top five in the AP polls, assuming they get the job done against Arizona State and come in at 6-0.
Coming off of what will be an emotionally-charged rivalry game at home against Minnesota, the Badgers and Tolzien should be flying high with confidence as Heisman hopefull Terrelle Pryor and company roll into "Madtown".
Tolzien, who at this point in the season should have found his midseason form and be passing effectively as would be expected, and the coaching staff will surely have him prepared to face the staunch Buckeye "D", who were No. 5 in the nation in points allowed per game, giving just 12.5 meager points to the opposition each contest.
This game will likely come down to a handful of key plays on offense, and more importantly, from Tolzien in the passing game.
Can he handle passing into the Bermuda Triangle of sorts secondary of OSU?
The Buckeyes snagged 24 interceptions last season, enough to tie Boise State for 2nd in the nation.
Tolzien's accurate passing and consistency will be tested moreso than any other game on the Badgers' 2010 schedule and will have a large hand in the outcome in the game.
Another "marquee game" for the Badgers' 2010 season, will feature the Iowa Hawkeyes, as the Badgers travel to Iowa City, IA for a big (ten) matchup with potentially huge implications.
If the Badgers take care of the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall, the last real challenge will come from Iowa and quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
After losing Shonn Greene to the NFL, the Hawkeyes turned to running backs (both freshmen) Brandon Wegher and Adam Robinson.
The Hawkeyes expect to enter 2010 with Adam Robinson shouldering the load, as Wegher isn't expected to return to the team.
Can the Badgers' Tolzien make short work of the Hawkeyes who will have to contend with both the receiving and rushing threats the team has?
Iowa's 63 passes deflected and 21 interceptions last season should serve as reminders that the 'Hawk' in "Hawkeyes" means the Iowa defense is quite the group of ball hawks.
Tolzien's passing needs to be crisp on his 5 step drops, or the corners and safeties might have a chance to run one back on the Badgers.
Keeping mistakes to a minimum would go a long way for the Badgers, as they look to avoid a repeat of 2009's performance against Iowa, (Tolzien passed for just 143 yards and 3 interceptions) which saw the Badgers fall to then No. 11 Iowa, 20-10 in Camp Randall.
Lets just be frank here—Michigan football isn't what it once was, especially after the loss to Appalachian State a few years back.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez hasn't gotten this team where it needs to be to get back to Rose Bowl favorites and premier bowls.
Meanwhile, the Badgers—through home grown prospects and great coaching of the talent they have—slowly have been edging into the top three (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn St.) of the Big Ten in recent years.
Will Wisconsin beat Ohio State and Michigan in the same season?
They've got a chance, considering Michigan is on the downswing recently, and they play both teams at Camp Randall, where the fan noise level definitely makes things difficult for opposing teams to communicate.
Can Tolzien lead the Badgers to 5 "signature wins" which would solidify the Badgers' position atop the Big Ten with wins over Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan all in the same season?
It's not out of the question, considering the weapons he has on offense.
As i've said in an earlier slide, Tolzien and the Badgers offense should be firing on all cylinders, and he's got one of the better offensive lines in the country to protect him, most notably Senior Left Tackle Gabe Carimi, a projected top 15 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
If Tolzien's line can hold off the 76th ranked pass rush (just 22 sacks in 2009) of the Wolverines, he'll have the time needed to hit his targets Kendricks, Toon, and Gilreath, attacking a secondary that finished the season with just 11 interceptions, 66th in the nation.
Tolzien's patience and accuracy will be an asset for the Badgers in each game, but against a weaker defense like the Maize and Blue's, he could put this game away early, and hand the ball off to Clay for the rest of the second half.
What does all of this mean for the Badgers, and their 2010 season?
If 2nd year starter Scott Tolzien can get off to a hot start, and keep the momentum going from one week to the next, an undefeated Wisconsin team might find its way past November 20th, thanks to his arm and careful passing.
The Badgers need all their dice to roll right for them to have a real chance at the Rose Bowl.
With the players that Bret Bielema has surrounded Tolzien with, there's no reason (barring injury) to expect anything but progression in his second year, as the Badgers potent offense looks to make 2010 a season to remember.