When the devastating news came out Tuesday morning that Wisconsin star sophomore linebacker Chris Borland would miss the remainder of the season, Badgers coaches, players and fans instantly recognized that Wisconsin's chances of upsetting Ohio State and Iowa and winning the Big Ten took a huge hit.
No pun intended.
Borland, last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, was supposed to emerge this season as both Wisconsin's best defensive player and one of the best linebackers in the nation.
After recording 54 tackles, five forced fumbles and five sacks as a freshman, it would be stupid not to expect great things.
Yet, off-season shoulder surgery, and recurring problems with the same shoulder these first three games, ended any hope of that.
And, it may have ended Wisconsin's hopes of going to the Rose Bowl. Borland is that important to this defense.
Despite some early season struggles, the Badger 'O' was never going to be an issue when it came to meeting expectations this year. It was their 'D.'
And, one of the reasons many people thought Wisconsin's defense might actually step up to the challenge in 2010 was Chris Borland.
Now, luckily the Badgers' linebacking corps is arguably their strongest defensive unit. Culmer St. Jean and Mike Taylor are two of the better linebackers in the Big Ten and Blake Sorensen should be an adequate replacement.
But, you can't just replace Borland.
You can't just replace his run-stopping ability, as evidenced by Arizona State's ease of running after Borland went down on Saturday.
You can't just replace his constant pressure on the quarterback, a quality that is essential for the Wisconsin pass defense.
No, it won't be impossible for Wisconsin's defense to step up and still be stout enough to put the Badgers in the Rose Bowl.
But it just got a whole heck of a lot harder.
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