Last year, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema led the red and white to their first Big Ten championship in over a decade.
Hoping to repeat, here are five things to watch for Thursday night (and beyond) when the 10th ranked Badgers play host to the UNLV Rebels at Camp Randall Stadium to kick off the 2011 college football season.
First-year transfer Russell Wilson
Let’s start with the obvious. When Russell Wilson lines up under center Thursday night, he brings with him to the field lots of talent and loads of hype.
Already a favorite to repeat after winning their first Big Ten championship in over 10 years a season ago, Wisconsin became an instant national title contender when the highly sought-after transfer chose the Badgers over Auburn this summer.
Wilson has an A+ supporting cast on both sides of the ball, and if he can meet expectations, Bret Bielema’s team could very well end their season in New Orleans playing for the Coaches’ Trophy.
Wisconsin enters the 2011 season sporting one of the top running back tandems in the nation with sophomore James White and junior Montee Ball.
The two ran for over 2,000 yards and 32 touchdowns last season while sharing carries with starting tailback John Clay.
With the ultra-talented Wilson now at quarterback and ballyhooed freshman Melvin Gordon also competing for carries, will offensive coordinator Paul Chryst find enough touches to keep White and Ball sharp and satisfied?
Senior WR Nick Toon needs to stay on the field
Senior wide receiver Nick Toon has the talent and the name to be successful at Wisconsin.
Problem is, the son of Badger-legend Al Toon has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency during his three-year career with the red and white.
After losing veteran wideouts David Gilreath and Isaac Anderson to graduation, Russell Wilson and the entire Badger offense are going to need Toon to stay out of the trainer’s room and live up to his potential.
LB Chris Borland missed almost all of 2010 with a shoulder injury.
Linebacker Chris Borland burst onto the scene with the Badgers in 2009 when he made 54 tackles and registered five sacks, earning him Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.
Borland’s sophomore campaign was derailed by season-ending shoulder surgery in 2010 before the Badgers played a single conference game.
All-American defensive end JJ Watt is a Houston Texan now, and if the Badgers are going to get back to the BCS, somebody is going to have to fill his cleats.
The Badgers hope to repeat as Big Ten Champs
Wisconsin fans became spoiled in the late ‘90’s when the Badgers became the first team in Big Ten history to win back-to-back Rose Bowls.
It took the red and white more than a decade to get back to Pasadena, and the result was a crushing loss to TCU.
This season, the pieces are all there for another repeat.
Only time will tell if Bret Bielema’s squad can avoid the pitfalls of success.