Big Ten Football: Why Wisconsin Is Far & Away the Best Team
The Badgers have had a magical start to the 2011 season as they have outscored their opponents 242-51 en route to a 5-0 record.
The offense has been an unstoppable force and the defense, while criticized at times, is as experienced as any.
There is a tremendous amount of buzz in Madison, including whispers that this could be the year for Wisconsin to break through and win a national championship. Starting offensive tackle, Josh Oglesby, predicted two Big Ten titles and a national championship during his time at Wisconsin.
With one Big Ten title, a second one and a national championship is not out of the question.
Here are five reasons why Wisconsin is the best team in the country and destined for a national championship.
Russell Wilson is playing as well as anyone could ask for. Before the season, people desperately tried to find any weakness in Wilson's game as the attention for Wisconsin seemed to be undeserved as they had a fresh face leading the offense. Most of the criticisms correlated with his decision making on the field.
While suspect at times with the football when at NC State, most Badger fans knew that Wilson would play just fine with an offensive line that wouldn't let a defense near him, a physically talented Nick Toon out wide, a punishing running game and an always reliable tight end to come in and replace the existing end that is now on some NFL roster.
Wilson has thrown for almost 1,400 yards along with 13 TDs and one INT that also includes a 74.8 completion percentage! Despite being in an offense that is known for the running game, Wilson is 19th in the country in passing yards per game while throwing the ball 30-plus times just once.
He leads the country in passing efficiency and averages an incredible 12.5 yards per pass attempt. As impressive as his passing has been, his ability to keep plays alive with his legs has not been seen from a Wisconsin QB since Brooks Bollinger.
Whether it's tucking it and running or throwing on the run, Wilson's scrambling ability has added a new fold to the offense that makes it the most dangerous in the country.
The Running Back Duo in James White & Montee Ball
After breaking out in 2010, Montee Ball and James White came into this season as one of the better running duos in the country. They aren't as physically gifted as the tandem at Alabama in Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.
They aren't as explosive as the duo in Eugene, which includes LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. They are, however, as productive as any.
In his last 10 games, Montee Ball has been a touchdown machine as he has racked up 27 touchdowns. This season alone has seen Ball rush for 13 touchdowns, good for second in the nation.
Ball shed 20-plus in the offseason pounds to become quicker and it has paid off as he is breaking more tackles and has become a viable pass option as he has averaged 20 yards per catch on his six receptions this season, which also includes a touchdown.
The other half of this dynamic duo is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, James White. He bursted onto the scene in 2010 as he rushed for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. His carries have diminished some this season as Ball has established himself as more of the feature back in the Badger offense, but White is still the Badgers' change-of-pace back.
White is averaging just 11 carries per game but has rushed for over 300 yards and has not been called on for a heavy workload due to Wisconsin's lopsided wins. As the conference schedule rolls around, expect his carries to rise as Bret Bielema and Paul Chryst will want to keep their star running backs fresh.
The Badger Receivers
Before this season, frustration loomed in Badger fans as it seemed like Nick Toon was never going to be fully healthy. On top of that, Toon has been known for dropping some passes.
At 6'3" and 225 pounds, Toon's speed and size is superior to his opponents and with the 2011 now in full swing, he is seeing the benefits of producing on the field. Not only does he help the Badgers become a balanced attack, he is improving his NFL prospects and is looking more and more like a first day pick.
Toon is on pace for over 1,000 yards and has multi-touchdown games twice in five games, which also includes 18 yards per catch! The son of Al Toon is finally hitting his stride in his senior year and the Badgers are benefiting tremendously from it.
Another receiver that is having a productive season is walk-on Jared Abbrederis. He was supposed to have a scholarship this season, but due to the transfer of Russell Wilson, will have to wait for that scholarship.
With or without that scholarship, Abbrederis has been a difference maker for the Badgers as he has amassed 16 receptions for 279 yards and two scores over his last three games. That is good for almost 18 yards per catch.
What impresses me most about these Badger wideouts are their run block ability. They have a non-stop motor and use their size to shield smaller cornerbacks and really makes the running back's route to the second level that much easier.
You can never mention a Badger passing attack without bringing up a tight end. The Badgers have been a tight end factory over the last several years as they have produced Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks, all on NFL rosters.
Next in line is Jacob Pedersen, a player who might Bielema says might be the most complete player at that position when his time ends in a Badger uniform.
He has been a safety valve for Russell Wilson and is known for making big plays as he has averaged 16 yards per catch including four touchdowns.
All three of these Badger receivers are integral to the Badger offense and all have shown to be big play threats on a consistent basis this season.
The Badger Defense
The defense might be the most underrated aspect of the 2011 Badgers. They have been criticized for their run defense. Against UNLV, defensive coordinator Chris Ash wasn't showing many packages as that game was out reach before the first quarter ended.
Two weeks ago against Nebraska, the defense held Martinez to 61 yards rushing on 20 carries, but many felt Burkhead's 96 yards exposed the Badger run defense. What they don't realize is 42 of those yards came on Nebraska's final drive when the game was far out of reach and when the Badgers did gear to stop the run near the goal line, the Huskers were stopped cold.
There is experience everywhere on this defense. Three out of the four defensive lineman started in 2010, Chris Borland was a former Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and Mike Taylor is an all-conference performer that has won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice already this season.
Though the secondary is thin, and Devin Smith is lost for the season, the Bret Bielema and Chris Ash can still lean on all-conference players such as Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus. Marcus Cromartie, who is starting in place of Smith, has been rock solid ever since he took over the starting role.
Overall, this is a good, but not great defense. However, with the experience across the board, this defense is capable of propelling the Badgers to the top of any list as the best team in the nation. They are yielding just 10 points per game.
The Coaching Staff
One of the most underrated coaching staffs in the country has produced one of the most consistent programs as well. As the head man in Madison for the past five years, Bret Bielema has compiled a 54-16 record, good for a winning percentage of 77.1 percent!
The Badgers also have a big ten title, have finished in the Top 25 four times and five bowl appearances.
Bielema characterizes his team as tough, physical and smart. Any player would love to hear that. Any coach is envious of that. Any traditional fan loves to hear those words. As a former defensive coordinator, Bielema can also help Chris Ash as this is Ash's first stint as a defensive coordinator...on a very big stage.
The offensive mind for the Badgers, Paul Chryst, is among the most respected in the country and has been courted by the Longhorns and Jason Garrett of the Cowboys, most recently.
As an offensive coordinator at Oregon State several years, Chryst was instrumental in the Beavers becoming the first team in history to have a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,500-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season.
Chryst returned to his alma mater and has been on the Badger staff for eight seasons. In his fifth year as offensive coordinator, the Badgers are averaging over 30 points per game (48.4 this season) and and 400-plus yards of offense (523 yards per game this season).