The Wisconsin Badgers enter the first game of the 2009-2010 campaign with several "or" issues.
With Junior Scott Tolzien and Freshman Curt Phillips listed as co-starters at quarterback, and Sophomore John Clay and Senior Zach Brown listed as co-starters at running back, the Badgers backfield is far from set in stone.
Week One of this season will help to solidify the offense, as well as test the defense.
The Badgers will be facing Coach Jerry Kill and the Northern Illinois Huskies.
The Huskies' defense was stout last season, ranking 5th in the country in passing defense, and 17th in overall defense, allowing only 298.46 total yards per game.
Key losses in the defensive secondary leave the Huskies trying to fill holes, and the loss of defensive end Larry English to the NFL draft and both starting tackles leave the front four suspect.
On the offensive side, returning starter at quarterback, Chandler Harnish, led the Huskies in both rushing and passing last season.
Starting running back Me'co Brown, and tight end Reed Cunningham, and the return of three starters along the offensive line, will be needed to improve on a sub par offensive effort last season.
Harnish threw for only 1,528 yards, or roughly the same amount as Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford's total after two games.
This game will be a litmus test for the Badgers front four, with end JJ Watt looking for a big debut, and defensive tackles Jeff Stehle, Patrick Butrym and the rest of the interior linemen looking to prove they can stop the running game consistently.
The Badgers will be led at quarterback by Tolzien, but Phillips will see someplaying time.
The thinking here, is that in the three non-conference games, either Tolzien will have to prove he is more than a game manager, or Phillips will have to prove he can stop throwing picks.
By the time Michigan State comes to town for the Big Ten season opener, the Badgers need some solidarity and consistency from the quarterback position. Phillips has more potential, both with his arm and his legs, but Tolzien is more reliable at this point.
John Clay and Zach Brown will probably both rush for over 100 yards in this game.
Brown has shown flashes of brilliance in practice, and Clay is a monster coming through the line for the tough yards. look for them to split snaps pretty evenly.
This game will be won by the Badgers is a big way, based on the fact that they just have too much offensive firepower for NIU to handle.
Throw tight ends Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks, and wide receivers Nick Toon, David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson into the mix, and whoever starts at quarterback for the Badgers has a number of potential weapons.
What to Watch:
Can the Badgers' defensive front contain a mobile quarterback? On a smaller scale, this could be how the Badgers face Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. How the line and linebackers contain Harnish will be an indication of how they will be able to contain Pryor.
Which quarterback will emerge? If the Badgers want to improve on last season's performance, they need a quarterback who can do more than be a game manager. Phillips provides the potential, and could be a four year starter, but Tolzien will not make mistakes. Which one will step up and be "the man".
Brett Bielema and his staff were notorious last year for yapping at the refs, and it helped lose them a game against Michigan State. Will they start coaching, get the players to tackle and run, instead of whining? This remains to be seen. Bielema has some slack, being the hand picked successor to Barry Alvarez, but if the Badgers struggle this season, he is in trouble.
How many yards will Clay and Brown rack up?
"Jump Around" at the beginning of the 4th quarter.
The Badgers will win this one 42-17, in a rushing battle.