In the past two articles, I looked at the offense, defense, specialists and the team as a whole. In this article, I will look at the incoming freshmen, intangibles, schedule and I will give my final analysis as to how I think things might shake out for the Badgers.
One player that will burn his redshirt is receiver Kenzel Doe out of North Carolina. Doe graduated high school early so that he could participate in spring practices. He is small (5'8") but fast and perfectly suited for slot receiver.
He will probably be the Badgers' third receiver and will compete for punt and kickoff return duties.
Melvin Gordon is a another offensive skill player that will have a good chance to see the playing field in 2011. Gordon is a running back, and the Badgers don't have any immediate need for a running back. However, as UW likes to substitute their running backs, there will be opportunity for a third player to get carries.
Finally, Devin Gaulden out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida could come in and compete for playing time at cornerback. He is unlikely to see starting minutes, but after the two starters, the depth chart is wide open.
As I mentioned earlier, Bret Bielema is a still a young coach. Even though he is the fourth-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, he only has five years experience as the head man.
Last season, he proved he could win the big games. This year, his team will have a target on its back and everybody will be gunning for them.
Can Bret do what his mentor, Hayden Fry, never could? Can he win when the spotlight is on him? If he is to ascend the upper echelon of college football teams, he will have to win this year.
And "winning" doesn't mean the Cap One Bowl. "Winning," in this case, means a BCS bowl.
Also, Russell Wilson has proven that he is a quality quarterback.
But he has to learn a new system. He has to gain the trust and confidence of his teammates. He has to play in a new conference with a new dynamic. He has to play in front of over 100,000 screaming fans in Columbus. That is 20,000 more than he has ever played in front of.
He will have to play in freezing weather, which is something that is not common where he grew up in Virginia.
Can he do these things? Of course, but it won't necessarily be easy.
09/01: UNLV. Wisconsin is the heavy favorite.
09/10: Oregon State. Wisconsin is the favorite.
09/17: Northern Illinois (at Soldier Field, Chicago, IL). Favorite.
09/24: South Dakota. Heavy favorite.
10/01: Nebraska. Slight favorite.
10/15: Indiana. Heavy favorite.
10/22: At Michigan State. Slight favorite.
10/29: At Ohio State. Slight favorite.
11/05: Purdue. Favorite.
11/12: At Minnesota. Heavy favorite.
11/19: At Illinois. Favorite.
11/26: Penn State. Favorite.
Best Case Scenario
The Badgers' offense comes out like a well-oiled machine. The defense, while not dominant, is certainly good enough to keep most teams under 24 points, which is all they have to do.
UW tears through September en route to a meeting with Nebraska. I still think the UW-Nebraska game should be for the right to wear red for a year. That said, the Badgers win a close battle and head into their off week with a 5-0 record.
After the break, they destroy Indiana and head into their toughest two-game stretch of the season. They beat MSU by a touchdown and manhandle OSU for the second season in a row.
After that, the Badgers coast into the final game of the regular season against Penn State. It turns out to be their toughest game of the season, but they pull out a win, a perfect 12-0 season, and a place in the conference's inaugural championship game.
They play either Nebraska in the championship game and the Huskers get beaten the same as they did the first time around.
At 13-0, Wisconsin is due for a trip to New Orleans and a berth in the national championship game.
Worst Case Scenario
The Badgers' offense comes out strong, but it is noticeably down from last year. Complicating the problem, Nick Toon's health is sketchy and UW has a receiver problem. This affects Wilson's ability to get comfortable on his new team.
Wisconsin sweeps its out-of-conference schedule, but the games against Oregon State and Northern Illinois are too close for comfort.
The Big Ten slate starts with the best offensive line in the conference meeting the best defensive line. The defense wins and the Badgers head into their bye week with a 4-1 record.
After the break, they beat Indiana handily, but lose to both MSU and OSU.
They win their next three and finish the season with a loss to Penn State.
At 8-4, they earn a bid to the Outback Bowl.
I do not think this team is as good as last year's Badgers. I think they will miss Lance Kendricks, I don't see any defensive lineman that can step up for J.J. Watt, I don't like the depth in the defensive back seven, I don't think the offensive line will be quite as unstoppable, and while I think Russell Wilson will be very good, I don't think he will be as efficient as Scott Tolzien.
The good thing is that none of that matters, because this year's schedule and, more specifically, this year's Big Ten, is nowhere near as challenging as 2010.
If one looks at the schedule, there is not one game in which UW shouldn't be favored.
Realistically, I don't see this team finishing with less than nine wins, and I do think they have the goods to go 13-0. I don't know if they can go toe-to-toe with the likes of Oklahoma or Alabama (as I feel they could have gone toe-to-toe with anybody last year), but they do have what it takes to get through their regular season undefeated.
Unfortunately, I see them tripping up somewhere, most probably in East Lansing or Columbus.
My final prediction is that the Badgers go 11-1 with a loss to Michigan State. They represent the East in the conference championship game, which they win, thus guaranteeing themselves a bid to play in their second Rose Bowl in a row.
Be sure to check out past installments of Big Ten Breakdown, beginning with the most recent, the Michigan State Spartans.
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