2010 Wisconsin Badgers Football Preview

Jeff RobbinsContributor ISeptember 4, 2010

Regular readers of my ramblings (say that three times fast) know that in addition to football, one of my passions is CBS’s summer reality program Big Brother.

Once again, I’m enjoying Big Brother in 2010, but the last couple of weeks have really annoyed me.

My annoyances boil down to this: The fact that Matt, when he realized he was on the outs with his “Brigade” alliance, did not then align with Brendon, Ragan, and Britney to take down “Brigade” members Enzo, Hayden, and Lane.

Matt’s failure to be proactive led first to his eviction, then Brendon’s, then Ragan’s, and all but ensured that two members of the “Brigade” (an alliance that’s been about as secret about their partnership as John and Yoko were) will make it to the final vote on finale night, September 15.

Excuse the Big Brother rant, but we sports writers are prone to negativity. And to be honest, there isn’t a whole lot to complain about with this year’s Wisconsin Badgers football team.

Not like last year at this time.

When I wrote the 2009 season preview, I did all but suggest that head coach Bret Bielema, who seemed to have lost control of his team in the middle of a less-than-spectacular 7-6 (3-5 in conference play) 2008 campaign, was likely on his way out.

What a difference a year makes.

The Badgers were one of college football’s true surprises last year, coming into the season unranked and finishing with a 10-3 record. It was only the sixth time in school history the Badgers had double-digit wins.

The team led the Big Ten in rushing defense and finished 17th in the country in total defense, but the real shocker was the performance of quarterback Scott Tolzien, running back John Clay, and the entire Badgers’ offense.

Led by Tolzien, the Big Ten’s leader in pass efficiency, and Clay, the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, the Badgers led the Big Ten in scoring with 31.8 points per game. They also led the conference in total offense with 416.9 yards a game and led the country in time of possession.

Quickly glancing at the team’s body of work in 2009, it’s not hard to see why the Badgers open the 2010 season ranked a lofty No. 12 in those (admittedly meaningless) preseason polls.

Now cynics might be saying: sure, but that was last year.

What about 2010? After all, the 2008 team also opened the season ranked No. 12 and they unraveled faster than Lindsay Lohan’s career.

Well, certainly nothing in sports (except maybe the year-in, year-out ineptitude of the Brewers’ starting pitching) is guaranteed, but with a whopping 18 starters (10 on offense, six on defense, as well as kicker Philip Welch and punter Brad Nortman) returning, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the 2010 Wisconsin football Badgers.

For those that absolutely have to nitpick (you know, like people who complain when Andy hysterically tears his scrotum on The Office because the laugh it generates is “too easy”), there are things to be concerned about.

Most with reservations point to the defensive line. DE O’Brien Schofield (12 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss in 2009) is gone, drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. Both redshirt freshman DT Jordan Kohout and junior DE Louis Nzegwu will be making their first career starts September 4 against UNLV.

While coaches hope for big things from Kohout and Nzegwu, they expect that returning DE J.J. Watt can not only provide solid leadership along the line but, given a more prominent pass-rushing role, match or come close to Schofield’s 2009 production.

Also troubling is the knee injury that continues to sideline outside linebacker Mike Taylor, the fact that the cornerbacks are largely inconsistent (Niles Brinkley) or untested (Antonio Fenelus), and, oh yeah, tight end Garrett Graham is gone, drafted by the Texans (where, oddly enough, he became the second Wisconsin tight end—alongside Owen Daniels—in Houston).

Yep, nothing’s perfect, but things have rarely looked better for the Wisconsin football Badgers as they look to play in their first BCS bowl since the Clinton administration.

Here’s a quick glance at their 2010 schedule:

September 4. At UNLV

Wisconsin has won 24 straight regular-season games against non-conference opponents. The Rebels’ new coach said of the Badgers this week, “We watched all of their film from a year ago and nobody stops them much. That being said, we’re going to try.” I’ve heard more stirring words of motivation from Grandpa YeYe on Ni Hao, Kai-Lan. Final score: Wisconsin 45, UNLV 13.

September 11. San Jose State

What masochistic freak sets up the San Jose State football schedule? First Alabama, then the Badgers, with both games on the road? And the Spartans are a team that have won a total of 13 games over the past three years playing in a lousy conference (the WAC). Give the Spartans credit just for getting on the plane to Madison. Final score: Wisconsin 50, San Jose 10.

September 18. Arizona State

This game, against a team that actually led a recognizable conference (Pac-10) in defense last season should be a bit more of a challenge. Translation: There might still be people in the stands in the fourth quarter. Final score: Wisconsin 27, Arizona State 17.

September 25. Austin Peay

The Governors of Austin Peay crushed Cumberland University 38-6 in the school’s first game of the season (September 2). Hope the good feelings last. Final score: Wisconsin 35, Austin Peay 6.

October 2. At Michigan State

The conference schedule begins with an intriguing matchup in East Lansing. The Spartans had a disappointing 2009 season, but the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins (142.6 QB rating, 19 touchdowns) was a huge bright spot. Could be a shootout, but likely the Badgers’ run game will help keep the Spartans’ offense off the field just long enough. Final score: Wisconsin 28, Michigan State 21.

October 9. Minnesota

Despite being broken up into different divisions beginning next year, UW athletic director Barry Alvarez spoke enthusiastically about the fact that the “rivalry game” between Minnesota and Wisconsin would continue to be an annual tradition. Methinks that Minnesota’s athletic director is a touch less enthusiastic about that. Final score: Wisconsin 41, Minnesota 14.

October 16. Ohio State

Excuse the cliché, but Badgers fans have had this game circled on their calendars like I’ve got the Big Brother finale circled on mine. The Badgers want this game. Bret Bielema wants this game. Despite his performance in week one, I still have doubts about Terrelle Pryor’s consistency. I think the Badgers make a statement here. Final score: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 21.

October 23. At Iowa

The Hawkeyes, especially if QB Ricky Stanzi can cut down on his interceptions, could topple the Buckeyes and win the Big Ten this year. They have eight returning starters on a defense that ranked 10th in the country last year. The Hawkeyes also have the Badgers’ number, having won the Heartland Trophy four out of the six years of its existence. Make it five out of seven. Final score: Iowa 23, Wisconsin 14.

November 6. At Purdue

Last year Wisconsin embarrassed Purdue by the score of 37-0. Since that game, Purdue has a new starting quarterback and a new starting running back, along with a fairly talented group of receivers. None of that will matter, though, if the Boilermakers continue to stink stopping the run—they’ve finished last in the Big Ten three of the last four seasons in run defense. I think the stench will continue. Final score: Wisconsin 35, Purdue 14.

November 13. Indiana

Hoosiers QB Ben Chappell lit up the Badgers secondary last season for 323 yards, completing over 70 percent of his passes in the process. Chappell and much of the talented Indiana offense is back (they scored 51 points in their opener), but their questions will be on defense. This game will be tougher than most figure, but Ball and Clay should make the difference here. Final score: Wisconsin 28, Indiana 24.

November 20. At Michigan

Michigan’s football program has fallen farther and faster over the last two years than Mel Gibson’s popularity. At this point of the season, the Wolverines might be playing for Rich Rodriguez’s job. But there is absolutely no indication that the players would want the embattled coach to stay. Bad news for Wolverines fans. Final score: Wisconsin 40, Michigan 21.

November 27. Northwestern

The Big Ten’s biggest surprise over the last two seasons will no longer sneak up on anyone, least of all Wisconsin, after the Wildcats bested them last year in Evanston 33-31. If new starting QB Dan Persa can replace Mike Kafka and if the Wildcats can improve their running game behind back Arby Fields (I’m suddenly hungry for curly fries), then Northwestern will continue to compete. But those are big ifs. Final score: Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 20.

For those of you scoring at home, that’s a final record of 11-1, with a 7-1 mark in the Big Ten. Should be enough for Wisconsin to play in a BCS game come January and has to be enough to keep any negativity at bay.

Complaining is overrated anyway.



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